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A Man Outstanding In Garfield
July 12, 2006 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Garfield, Deconstructed! An engaging, adoring daily analysis of Garfield—behold such a lens through which even Jim Davis' legacy starts to seem redeemable.
posted by cortex (61 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The tracking of the on-again-off-again lefthandedness of Jon and Liz is the kind of obsessive retcon detail that I can't help but love.
posted by cortex at 11:51 AM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Huh. I'd prefer less glib conversational tone. For this to work it needs to sound like art criticism. Form meets the function and all that. If this took itself (and garfield) ridiculously serious with no jokes I'd read it every day. THAT would be funny.

As it is now the writing is just half-way into the act, halfway out of it.
posted by Peter H at 12:06 PM on July 12, 2006


It's interesting that today (Garfield is one of those comics I can't stop myself from reading as I go through the page, because it's usually so quick) of all days was the first time I've ever seen a conversation between Jon and Garfield - i.e. destroying the ambiguity over whether or not when Garfield thinks something, Jon can hear him.

Davis has done hundreds and hundreds of strips where the "dialogue" leaves open the possibility (sorry, brilliantly leaves open the possibility) that Jon has no idea what Garfield is "saying," indeed, has no idea that his cat has any thoughts at all - but this one suddenly nails down definitely that they've been conversing all along. Weird.

So I'll have to see what M. Stangl has to say about that. Maybe he can cite other, previous instances, but I ain't seen 'em.
posted by soyjoy at 12:15 PM on July 12, 2006


When did his feet get so horribly oversized?
posted by yhbc at 12:19 PM on July 12, 2006


Interesting, soyjoy. I had a long, in-depth conversation with my six year old son about that same question. He was adamant that Jon could hear Garfield, I was equally adamant that Jon could not.
I'll forward this to the twenty-six year old man he is now to tell him, just this once, that I was wrong and he was right.
posted by Floydd at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Animal facts:
-In vet school you learn to take a cat's pulse in its wrist.


I actually laughed out loud at that. It's one of those funny things I never would have noticed.
posted by thekilgore at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2006


Nice, I like the combination of snarky remarks and mock earnestness.

The bonus-level for the thinking Garfield fan is that Jon is so desperate for approval that he seems willing to follow any directive Liz would give... So surely his vet has told the man not to feed pasta and melted cheese to his 27-year-old cat.
posted by whir at 12:30 PM on July 12, 2006


I'm not entirely convinced that the earnestness is wholly mock. When you study something, you begin to love it, I think.

Which makes me think of that scene in Dr. Strangelove, where the President asks General Turgidson if the rogue bomber could get in under Russian rader and hence bring about the end of the world. And you see Buck think about it, and then he starts talking, at first thoughtful but then increasingly enthusiastic:

"If the pilot's good, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that thing in so low, oh it's a sight to see. You wouldn't expect it with a big ol' plane like a '52, but varrrooom! The jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!"

And then, in that triumphal moment of exubrance, as he finishes his adoring portrait of the beauty and power of the well-flown bomber...he realizes just what, precisely, he is saying.
posted by cortex at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


That's really weird, soyjoy. You're absolutely right-- the question has been definitively answered, and it freaks me out.

yhbc, I noticed the feet a few years ago. Garfield's hind legs have grown progressively larger over the decades. I think the gigantic feet came about at much the same time that Garfield quit walking on four legs for good.

Great link, cortex. And major bonus points for the post title.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2006


Reading these brings the Stewie Griffin voice into my head, like when he's insulting a girl's weakest link joke, "... and yet you've taken that and used it out of context to insult me in this everyday situation. God what a clever, smart girl you must be, to come up with a joke like that all by yourself."
posted by bobo123 at 12:43 PM on July 12, 2006


It's interesting that today (Garfield is one of those comics I can't stop myself from reading as I go through the page, because it's usually so quick) of all days was the first time I've ever seen a conversation between Jon and Garfield - i.e. destroying the ambiguity over whether or not when Garfield thinks something, Jon can hear him.

I'm not sure that today's strip is a conversation. It seems that Jon is setting up a joke and then delivering a punchline with a beat in the middle. It isn't necessary that he "hear" Garfield for the strip to make sense. Furthermore, Garfield's body language says exactly what his words "say." The ambiguity remains.
posted by harryhood at 12:53 PM on July 12, 2006


whir: "Nice, I like the combination of snarky remarks and mock earnestness."

Agreed. Garfield is essentially the tare of the comics page, but there's something about this blog that makes it endearing. The sarcasm is so dry that I can almost believe that it's serious sometimes.
posted by Plutor at 1:00 PM on July 12, 2006


The ambiguity remains.

You can maintain it if you try hard enough, but you really have to try. It's three lines of dialogue that logically follow each other in a way that I've never seen him do before.
posted by soyjoy at 1:11 PM on July 12, 2006


I know is popular to mock Garfield, but you are all looking at the strip in entirely the wrong context. The strip is not supposed to be edgy or controversial. It's not for you. Garfield is a good comic for the same reason that Peanuts is. They are safe harbor.

There are millions of kids out there whose parent or parents are drunk, strung out, violent, unpredictable, and abusive. It is almost the norm, not the exception.

Picture yourself as a a 9 yr old kid in some horrible dysfunctional household.

Your mom or dad just burst in drunk and screaming. They throw things, break things, they are crazy with rage. They are comgin for you, their eyes wide, their face twisted. Maybe they spend the next hour beating your brother or sister, or each other. Or you.

Eventually they fall asleep exhausted from their effort, and the apartment grows quiet. Your siblings breathing stutters as their sobs susbide. You don't talk to each other. You wish it would stay this way, but you know it won't.

This is just the space between nightmares, between the things that define your life.

Your face and hair are still damp from tears and sweat. You can't turn on the tv or radio, because it might up wake them up. A book is too much of a commitment, and you don't know how long this will last. You look for something to keep you from thinking, because thinking begets fear, and fear begets crying. The world leaves you alone for now.

There is a newspaper.


Now read the strip again.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2006 [5 favorites]


destroying the ambiguity over whether or not when Garfield thinks something, Jon can hear him

Are you talking about the "The universe doesn't revolve around you" one? Because if you are, I don't think it really shows Jon unambiguously hearing Garfield. It can be viewed as Jon basically telling a one-liner joke, which is simply punctuated by Garfield's annoyed expression in panel two.
posted by teleskiving at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2006


Whoops, what harryhood said.
posted by teleskiving at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2006


Pastabagel's comment makes me want to curl up in the corner and read Calvin & Hobbes and block out the world.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:21 PM on July 12, 2006


Garfield is a good comic for the same reason that Peanuts is. They are safe harbor.
Whoa! Early Peanuts - and that means maybe a decade's worth or more - was anything but comforting: bleak, nihilistic, and full of honestly mean-spirited behavior. Much the same is actually true of Garfield, for a much shorter span of time. I don't think it originally caught on because it was nice and comfortable at all; compared to the other strips around it was sarcastic, mean, and rude (also occasionally weird, surreal, even obscure or literary) and that made it stand out. That's not making excuses for the present day version, of course.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:28 PM on July 12, 2006


Could it be that there's no R or X rated slash fanfic about the Garfield universe? All I could find was some tame fanfic. Where do I go for Odie on Jon action?
posted by Nelson at 1:35 PM on July 12, 2006


Ever since seeing the improved Garfield strips (with thought bubbles erased) I can't look at the the regular strip the same way.


Another very funny riff on dumb comics is Joe Mathlete Explains Today's Marmaduke. Instead of analysis, he simply over-explains the premise of each unfunny joke with an absolutely straight face.
posted by O9scar at 1:49 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


You can't turn on the tv or radio, because it might up wake them up.

You could turn the TV on pretty low and sit close.

Then you wouldn't have to read Garfield.
posted by soyjoy at 2:10 PM on July 12, 2006


O9scar writes "Another very funny riff on dumb comics is Joe Mathlete Explains Today's Marmaduke. Instead of analysis, he simply over-explains the premise of each unfunny joke with an absolutely straight face."

Fucking hilarious.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2006


See also.
posted by brundlefly at 2:52 PM on July 12, 2006



Side note... Jim Davis hasn't been able to draw Garfield for at least fifteen years now. When I was a kid I went up to be an intern at the beautiful headquarters of Paws, Inc. up in Muncie, Indiana. They had everything there... gym, gourmet cafeteria, all-natural microbiotic water filtration plant, surrounded by cornfields. Definitely a Garfield factory... rows and rows of PowerMacs. Saw the strips being drawn a few months ahead of time. The one time I met the grey pony-tailed Jim Davis he was escorting a delegation of Japanese investors around the property, and introduced himself to me as the "groundskeeper." They quickly put me to work shredding a warehouse full of discarded cells from the Garfield and Friends TV show, some of which I kept (most of which was just an ear or an eye that moved or blinked over an unmoving frame.)
posted by bukharin at 3:16 PM on July 12, 2006


My secret plan to create a discussion wherein others would post fantastic related links with which I had been previously unfamiliar? A success!

That Marmaduke site has me giggling my ass off.
posted by cortex at 3:20 PM on July 12, 2006


Peter H said 'For this to work it needs to sound like art criticism. Form meets the function and all that. If this took itself (and garfield) ridiculously serious with no jokes I'd read it every day. THAT would be funny.'

I'm with you Peter H. Someone getting Derridan on Garfield's ass would be hysterical. cortex - you raised our hopes with that 'deconstructed', damn you!

O9scar said 'Another very funny riff on dumb comics is Joe Mathlete Explains Today's Marmaduke. Instead of analysis, he simply over-explains the premise of each unfunny joke with an absolutely straight face.'

I've never heard of Marmaduke before, but that is indeed fucking hilarious.
posted by jack_mo at 3:26 PM on July 12, 2006


cortex - you raised our hopes with that 'deconstructed', damn you!

Yeah, I was being cute. Misleading.
posted by cortex at 3:33 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a Garfield randomizer currently working. The thing to do is to save a local copy, of course, and then refresh as much as you like.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:40 PM on July 12, 2006


Early Peanuts - and that means maybe a decade's worth or more - was anything but comforting: bleak, nihilistic, and full of honestly mean-spirited behavior.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:28 PM PST on July 12 [+fave] [!]


True, Wolfdog. The very first strip featured Shermy sitting on the curb, watching Charlie Brown walk toward him. Says Shermy (according to this article in The New Yorker): “Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown! Good ol’ Charlie Brown . . . Yes, sir! Good ol’ Charlie Brown . . . How I hate him!”

The Portland Mercury ran a good, short article about Peanuts' early days a couple of years ago, when a new compilation was published.
posted by diddlegnome at 4:35 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, I've got to agree with Wolfdog on this one, I'm pretty sure I remember at least couple of dark Garfield comics.

The one that comes to mind has Garfield watching a tv. In the first frame the tv says something like 'and Farmer Ted wants to know what you boys and girls have learned today...', In the next frame the tv is spewing noises, screams, and the like. In the final frame Garfield is thinking 'Farmer Ted learned not to stand next to threshing machines while wearing baggy clothes'

Of course this comic would have been read 20 some odd years ago, so I could be completely making this up or conflating it with another comic.

But I'm pretty sure it was Garfield, and I'm pretty sure it was that dark.
posted by quin at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2006


I remember that one, too, quin.
posted by diddlegnome at 5:05 PM on July 12, 2006


Stangl's commentary for the Wednesday comic is up, and he didn't mention the back-and-forth conversation between Garfield and Jon. Maybe he missed it.
posted by painquale at 5:10 PM on July 12, 2006


You want dark Garfield?
posted by brundlefly at 5:21 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


I absolutely loved this. And I've always hated Garfield. When a person can make me love something I hate -- that's talent.
posted by neek at 5:25 PM on July 12, 2006


bukharin, Davis could certainly draw the strip if he wanted to. (though he is horribly out of practice) He simply gave that job over to others decades ago, preferring to simply jot down thumbnail ideas. Soon, though, he even farmed that work out. Today, his only input is a cursory nod to whatever ideas roll in from the ghost-writers. Been like that for over 15 years or so.

Could it be that there's no R or X rated slash fanfic about the Garfield universe?
Well, the artists, over the years, concocted their own, private, re-workings of the strip, not for public viewing. It was a way to exorcise the frustrations. That's about as close as it probably gets to fanfic...though I don't think too many of them call themselves actual fans, per-se.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 PM on July 12, 2006


I would say this is pretty definitive about Jon being able to hear Garfield. Except there's no reason for the strip to be consistent about that - it's not like they're trying to build continuity for their great story arc.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:03 PM on July 12, 2006


I remember that strip, too, quin, although I'm pretty sure it was a factory machine, not a thresher, and it was a Mr. Rogers stand-in. Uncle Ernie, or something. It's weird the things your brain chooses to hang onto, isn't it?
posted by EarBucket at 7:15 PM on July 12, 2006



posted by boo_radley at 7:29 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Man, I sat through that expecting some hot man-on-Duke action. Instead I get some weird spider creature.
posted by graventy at 7:34 PM on July 12, 2006


Awww! Marmaduke's summoned forth a demon! He's just like people!
posted by mr_roboto at 7:52 PM on July 12, 2006


long bit about abuse deleted
Now read the strip again.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:17 PM PST


So to think Garfield is worth ones time, one has to be abused?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:05 AM on July 13, 2006


Brundlefly: You want dark Garfield?

I came across that strip all of a piece in a book when I was about nine. It gave me nightmares for about a week. That staring eye...

*shudders*
posted by talitha_kumi at 2:54 AM on July 13, 2006


Holy shit, brundlefly. I'd never seen that arc before. What the fuck was that?

I'm loving this thread.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:56 AM on July 13, 2006


God, I was a total Garfield fanatic as a child. This thread is bringing back all sorts of memories.

About that Halloween arc: I remember that pretty vividly, and yes, it freaked me out. The thing is, I'd actually seen worse, in a Garfield-related context. Garfield fanatic that I was, I had a lot of these sort of auxillary Garfield books that weren't strip compilations- all part of the whole product machine, of course, but there was one called "Garfield's Nine Lives" which had a story that at least equalled that Halloween arc for dark and fucked-up.

I think this book might have been based on a TV special, though I don't think the special was quite like the book. It was sort of an anthology- there was a seperate story for each of Garfield's past lives, as well as his present one and a ninth future life. Each story was done by a different artist, as I recall, and each one had a very different style of illustration and tone. There was one(life six or seven, I think) which caused my rather sensitive ten-year-old self to put the book away and not dare look at it again for months.

It was drawn in this sort of EC-horror-comics style, and it was about an orange housecat who one day sees this black demon/phantom cat burst out of the wall and enter his body. A few surreal panels filled with dark predator-type imagery follow, apparently representing the cat's nightmarish hallucinations, and then the last one of these has a word balloon intruding- "Come here, Tigger."
And then there's this final splash page panel, of the cat's grandmotherly-looking owner sitting in a chair, saying "Come play with Momma", and behind her, unseen by her, a completely crazed, feral-looking Tigger is leaping at her, fangs and claws bared...

Yeah. I should note that not all the stories were like that one, but... yeah. The whole book is just a fascinating artifact. I have no idea who the target audience was. I think they must have just let the artists basically do whatever they wanted to. It certainly is the most... artistically ambitious thing I think PAWS Inc. ever produced.
posted by a louis wain cat at 5:29 AM on July 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


I remember that book alwc - a primary school friend was a Garfield obsessive (he would quote from and describe strips at great length, retrospectively I suspect that all was not right with his brains) and that was the only book he didn't like, and the only one I did, becauase that section was so bloody terrifying.
posted by jack_mo at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2006




Garfield's Nine Lives was all kinds of fucked up.
posted by EarBucket at 7:19 AM on July 13, 2006


Yes! Garfield's Nine Lives. What a marvelously disturbing book. I think I need to pull my copy off the shelf and give it another look.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2006


Ohhh-die and John.

(careful, it's loud)
posted by mosessmith at 10:23 AM on July 13, 2006


See, I thought this was another trendy revisionist history site that was trying to get us to appreciate the tragically short presidency of James A. Garfield.
posted by norm at 10:32 AM on July 13, 2006


I also thought Garfield's Nine Lives was really scary. As a nine-year old kid, that strip about the cat who remembers its feral past and attacks its little old lady owner gave me nightmares.

Especially when you read stories like this
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:02 AM on July 13, 2006


Holy crap! I had forgotten that story from Nine Lives. Wasn't there another one involving a cat detective named "Sam Spayed?"
posted by brundlefly at 11:12 AM on July 13, 2006


I remember the detective story. I remember especially the coda at the end—Garfield and the Jessica Rabbit clone sitting on the couch. She has a glass of milk. He asks what it's for. She turns out the light.

That was some goddam puzzling stuff for a nine-year-old. "What the fuck," I found myself asking. "Is this a sex thing? I guess it's a sex thing? A glass of milk? What? What the hell, Garfield?"
posted by cortex at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2006


There was also a Nine Lives story about a group of low-rent Vikings, with a great visual gag wherein one of them was such a shitty Viking that he was just wearing a MN Vikings football helmet. I still think that's pretty funny.
posted by COBRA! at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2006


I liked the space story in Nine Lives. But it is one of those things I'm afraid to dig out of the attic – I'm sure I'll be terribly disappointed.
posted by furiousthought at 12:58 PM on July 13, 2006


Yes! Yes! Yes!I remember we had Nine Lives on VHS, and being the Garfield fiend that I was as a child, I would watch it over and over. It was at times funny, but basically dealt with issues of mortality as discussed above. Despite Garfield's status as a cookie-cutter/mass-production/pop-culture sell-out, it had at one point some good sarcastic humor and some intelligent content.The television show also had a way of tearing apart popular culture... mainly, stupid television shows/commercials/movies, but also corporate America (eg. the episode where the mega-grocery puts the old mom-and-pop store out of business). I remember it as one of those kids show that was saturated in adult references, a la older Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, and (surprisingly) Tiny Toon Adventures.
posted by themadjuggler at 1:03 PM on July 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


although I'm pretty sure it was a factory machine, not a thresher, and it was a Mr. Rogers stand-in. Uncle Ernie, or something.

Thanks EarBucket, your description rings very true. I have no idea where I got the idea that it was a farmer. My brain no worky on occasion.

And yeah, the Nine Lives story that a louis wain cat referenced, creeped me right the fuck out.
posted by quin at 3:45 PM on July 13, 2006


I have the same birthday as Garfield. As a kid that gave me a weird kinship with the character. As an adult, it's just depressing.
posted by macmac at 4:10 PM on July 13, 2006


Wow, I didn't expect that so many other people would remember the Nine Lives book- this prompted me to dig it out again. It's just as odd as I remembered. Some of the stories are just typical, silly Garfield stuff, but then there's some others(besides the Tigger one) which are, well, not. For example-

brundlefly: Holy crap! I had forgotten that story from Nine Lives. Wasn't there another one involving a cat detective named "Sam Spayed?"

Ah, yes, the detective story. I just re-read it. It's actually an illustrated short story as opposed to the rest of them, which are comics, and it's essentially a straightforward pastiche of hard-boiled detective fiction, except all the characters are (realistic) anthropomorphic cats. There's a line near the beginning- "Being a private dick isn't easy with a name like Sam Spayed."

The plot line from there, briefly summarized- the usual beautiful female client hires Sam to investigate the suspicious death of her husband, a Greek Orthodox priest. Sam's investigation reveals that he was murdered by another, older priest, jealous of the younger priest's beautiful wife and his position in the church. The whole scene at the end cortex described is there, but it's not milk- it's actually scotch. I think there was a whole separate TV special made out of this story later on in which it was, needless to say, heavily altered to make it more appropriate for the target audience, and it was milk there. As a kid, I remember this one was actually one of my favorite stories in there, and all the adult content basically sailed right over my head, but reading it today... wow.

I'd never heard of the "private re-workings" of the strip Thorzdad describes upthread, but it doesn't surprise me. I suspect there are, or were, a number of frustrated artists at Paws, Inc. who would rather be doing less hackish work, and I imagine that things like that Halloween arc and some of the Nine Lives stuff were the result of some of those private re-workings creeping into mainstream Garfield product.

furiousthought: I liked the space story in Nine Lives. But it is one of those things I'm afraid to dig out of the attic – I'm sure I'll be terribly disappointed.

I'd recommend digging it out, personally. As a graphic novel, it's pretty safe to say that you wouldn't confuse it with Sandman or Akira, but at least parts of it are better than you'd ever expect something like this to be, and the whole book is just so weird. It can be appreciated just for the sheer oddity of what it is- a Garfield book in which there is murder, religion, demonic possession, sexual innuendo, and artistic experimentation.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:17 PM on July 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Okay, here we go:

Sometimes the writers forget that Jon can't hear Garfield, or it's a rule that gets discarded for a short while. There *have* been prior strips in which Jon seems to hear Garfield's thoughts, although I can't name one off the top of my head. (I gave up the strip over a decade ago, but I used to read it a lot. It used to be much better.)

The "abandoned house" series was cool for its time, in its context.

Garfield: His Nine Lives (the book) predated the special by a good number of years. It was surprisingly cool not because it was disturbing, but because it contained a surprising mixture of material, including the Sam Spayed story (mostly text with a few illustrations), two disturbing stories (the lab animal one and the "Tigger" one), and a fantasy story (the one with Cloey and the Kitten, which had a cool ending) in addition to the more traditional comic stories.

Interesting (allegedly) factoid: Garfield was actually cancelled early in its run. The last strip in the first compilation is obviously a kind of conclusion, but reader response forced its return. Davis' next strip, U.S. Acres, wasn't so lucky, its Saturday Morning incarnation outliving the newspaper comic by a couple of years.
posted by JHarris at 5:45 PM on July 13, 2006


Whoa, totally forgot about US Acres.
posted by everichon at 7:05 PM on July 13, 2006


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