Monday Blues | Daily News

Monday Blues

“Like every great lasagna, Garfield was born in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant on a winter’s night in 1978, while outside snow fell like grated Parmesan cheese. He weighed five pounds, six ounces at birth-that’s big for a kitten! And right from the start showed a passion for Italian food. The restaurant owner, forced to choose between Garfield and closing his doors for lack of pasta, sold Garfield to a pet store. Garfield thought he was a goner until Jon Arbuckle walked in the door.

The rest is history. Or, more likely, this article.

A lot has changed since that day, 40 years ago. Technology has scaled the clouds, mobile phones have taken over a majority of the activities that existed back then. All human emotions – at least the good ones - have shrunk into the size of tiny pebbles represented by emojis. But there is one entity that has not changed an inch – Garfield.

Whether you are an animal lover or an avid reader of cartoons or not, you are bound to be familiar with him. His grin, when he is in a good mood is too big to go unnoticed for one thing, and it is all too easy to identify yourself with the hard time Jon goes through, cooking meals for him if you are the proud albeit harassed owner of a cat like him. The lasagna loving-too big for his boots-overweight Garfield who celebrates his 42nd this year, and who is read by 200 million people daily, is the creation of Jim Davis. This was the result of Davis’ wish to step away from the dominant dog comic market, incorporating everything he knew about cats and their owners.

It is easy to love Garfield, especially if you are a Sri Lankan. Garfield is lazy, hates hard work and Monday mornings. Attitudes, that are the most prominent features of our nation, it appears. But when it comes to the cartoon series Davis expands this view to encompass the entire world. “I think deep down inside there’s a little Garfield in all of us,” he says in an interview with the Economic Times. “I’m an optimist, but even so, we all have days where we just want to crawl back under the covers and go to sleep. We all have days where we can’t stick to our diet.”

It is no surprise Davis knows so much about animals when you consider the fact that he lived with his parents and younger brother on a farm as a child, surrounded by cows and 25 cats. Although he hoped to become a farmer (like his father) when he grew up his frequent asthma attacks led him to avoid the outdoors, which eventually led him to discover a love of drawing. “Being asthmatic, I spent a lot of time inside. TV wasn’t as prevalent in the 1950s, so my mom would shove paper and pencil in my hand to entertain me,” he revealed in a 2009 interview.

Davis named Garfield after his grandfather, James Garfield Davis who in turn was named after President James Garfield. He also based Garfield’s personality on his grandfather, a large, cantankerous, curmudgeonly man with a gruff exterior but soft heart. Using even more inspiration from his own life, Davis set the comic strip in Muncie, his Indiana hometown, and made Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle, a cartoonist. But, except in the very first cartoon strip Davis refrained from referring to Garfield’s location or Jon’s profession leaving most casual readers of the comic strip unaware of either, because he wanted to make the strip as universal and close-to-home as possible.

Early Garfield strips realistically depicted the cat with four small legs and paws. It is said that after Garfield had been running for three years, cartoonist Charles Schultz looked at Davis’ drawings and made a suggestion: “Give him big human feet.” Schultz drew the cat standing upright with large human feet, allowing Davis to make Garfield more anthropomorphic.

Yet, Davis’ attempts to make Garfield as universal as possible backfired when a controversy arose over whether Garfield was male or genderless. The war was instigated when Davis said in an interview, “By virtue of being a cat, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old.” This lead to one reader claiming Garfield is genderless, thus sparkling a frenzied, days-long dance of edits, reverse-edits and earnest dialogue over Garfield’s gender. The page’s furious editing activity, first reported by the Washington Post, prompted Wikipedia to lock it down.

One editor’s “cursory search” of the comic strips unearthed dozens of examples in which Garfield is referred to as male: “Arlene refers to Garfield as a ‘him.’” “Jon refers to Odie and Garfield together as boys.” “Garfield thinks to himself he’d ‘make a lousy father.’” But there were those who preferred otherwise. Finally Davis stepped in to usher in peace. “Garfield is male,” Davis told The News via his publicist. “He has a girlfriend, Arlene.”

His previous comments on the subject, he added, had been “taken out of context. “I’ve always said that I wanted to work with animals because they’re not perceived as being any particular gender, race, age or ethnicity,” Davis added. “In that sense, the humor could be enjoyed by a broader demographic.”

Others who have examined Garfield with a seriousness he does not deserve have compared the humour in the comic strips with Aristotle’s philosophy. According to Joshua Engles, “The strips aren’t exactly uproariously funny, but the fundamental building blocks of humor are there. It’s kind of Aristotelian, actually. From the Poetics: Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type—not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists of some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. We can definitely quibble with Aristotle’s definition, but it’s the essence of Garfield. Jon is both ugly and defective, but not generally in a painful way. Aristotle’s definition of comedy relied just on our feeling superior to him.”

But no matter how you slice the lasagna, whether Garfield is belly-achingly funny or tearfully tragic, there is not doubt, if Garfield ruled the world: Mornings would start later in the day, you will work two weeks and vacation the other 50, and chocolate would be a diet food. Also, the world will never ever wake up to a Monday!

Garfield, wish you are here, this morning.

[email protected]


More about Garfield Arbuckle

Starting syndication in 1978, Garfield has led a decades-long tirade in invading coffee mugs, car windows, animated cartoons, animated movies, and, most of all, people’s hearts. If you continuously find yourself grumbling about “Mondays,” thank Garfield and all his laziness and sarcasm.

While it may be disheartening to some fans and even a little bit disillusioning, Jim Davis is no longer directly involved in the drawing and production of Garfield, though he still maintains final say on all of his strips.

There are some arguments that his decreased level of involvement may have affected the quality and integrity within the strips, but it makes sense nonetheless for Davis to move away after decades of work. The world of cartooning is a little more strenuous than some may think; and if one had the opportunity to retire a little early while still making a ton of money, who could blame them? This just means that future fans can still look forward to having their own Garfield comics.