Jim Davis, Creator of Garfield

6 April 2001

   He's saucy, he's fat, he's lasagna-adoring and he's popular around the world. No, no... this isn't a description of Jim Davis. It's a description of his famous cartoon cat, Garfield. Garfield, Odie and their owner Jon Arbuckle (plus several other regular characters) appear in over 2600 newspapers and are translated into 26 languages. That works out to be 220 million daily readers.

    Jim Davis's motto "If we take care of the cat, the cat will take care of us" has served him well. Garfield is the comic strip of a spunky orange tabby who has much personality and charisma. He refuses to rise and shine on Monday mornings. He only peers out from under his blanket, something a lot of people can relate to. It is the fastest growing cartoon in the world. It is also a huge international business, with merchandise available in 69 countries.

    A small farm in Marion, Indiana was the childhood home of Jim Davis. He was born on July 28, 1945 to parents Jim Sr. and Betty and has one brother, Dave. The family raised Black Angus cattle, along with hosting 25 cats. Jim had asthma as a child and was required to stay indoors. His Mom encouraged him to keep himself busy with pencil and paper. He caught the cartooning bug. He spent his time away from farm chores drawing and later adding captions.

    Jim attended college, then worked for two years at an advertising agency. He obtained a position as a cartoon assistant on "Tumbleweeds", the comic strip of Tom Ryan. Jim developed several strips before Garfield came along. "Gnorm Gnat", a strip about a bug, ran for five years in an Indiana newspaper, but it didn't catch on with the syndicates. They thought that no one would connect with a bug. (Little did they know that bug cartoons would be so popular - "Antz", "Santo Bugito", "A Bug's Life".) Jim noticed a shortage of cat cartoons in the papers, and knew that the world was full of cat lovers. Thus, Garfield was born.


   The cartoon began syndication on June 19, 1978 in 41 newspapers. Garfield's main interests are food and sleeping. No doubt having grown up with all those cats gave his creator an insight into feline behaviour. Jon, Odie and the rest of the gang are outlets for Garfield's cynical views but his teddy bear, Pookie, allows the cat to confide his fears and show his softer side.

    Jim keeps his humour general so that everyone can enjoy the strip. On his website he said, "Garfield is an international character. I don't use rhyming gags, plays on words, or colloquialisms in an effort to make Garfield apply to virtually any society where he may appear."

    In Indiana, Jim Davis opened the creative studio, PAWS, Inc., in 1981. At PAWS, more than 50 people (including 15 designers and artists) manage the production of Garfield books and merchandise such as calendars, t-shirts and figurines. Jim keeps a watchful eye on all activity and nothing proceeds without his approval. But it's not all profit-making, though. Garfield and Jim assist many charities around the globe in fund raising.

    Jim is an avid environmentalist, participating in and receiving awards for, reforestation programs in Indiana, and campaigns for wetlands restoration and schoolyard wildlife habitats. He takes his environmental work seriously. PAWS, Inc. operates the first licenced, permanent solar aquatic system, a treatment plant that uses algae, fish, bulrushes and natural purifiers to clean the PAWS facility water.

    Through Garfield, Jim has won an abundance of awards including two NCS Best Humour Strip Cartoonist of the Year (1981 and 1986), the 1985 Elzie Segar Award for "outstanding contributions made in the cartoon industry" and the 1990 Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year.

    He has earned four Emmys and many nominations for the Garfield television specials. Jim was awarded honourary doctorate degrees from Ball State and Purdue Universities in 1991 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1985 from The American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

    There are many Garfield books on the market. The amazing number of 33 books have been on the New York Times best seller list and eleven have risen to Number One.

    Jim Davis has one son, James Alexander, born in 1982. He enjoys fishing, golf, and chess. It would also seem he lives and breathes cartooning. He enjoys the work of all types of cartoonists, those in the comics pages, editorials and comic books. Jim has a dog. No cats. Garfield is enough.

    Catch Garfield, John, Odie and their friends Nermal, Arlene, Pookie and Jon's family in your newspaper, on Saturday morning television on "Garfield and Friends", and on tv specials. You can also find them at your bookstore, or surf to:

 The complete and official Garfield site: http://www.garfield.com

http://members.tripod.com/~pulliamd/garfnodieslinks.html (Scroll down for lots of global links)

© Susanna McLeod 2001
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)