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As many of you will already be aware, The Hundreds are about to embark on an extensive collection with Garfield and friends. The run includes T-shirts, fleece, beanies, snap backs, New Era, skatedeck, vinyl toy, shoes, keychains, and stickers, each decorated with designs that combine recognised graphics from each contributor. As playful as you might expect, the collection is light-hearted, perfect for all those who grew up in the 80s world of Garfield. Complementing the collection, Bobby Hundreds sat down with the creator of the iconic cartoon, Jim Davis. Not simply running through a set of stock questions, the interview delves into the depths of Davis’s creation, discussing the inspiration and meaning behind the characters and as well as the way in which it has affected its audience. Some excerpts from the interview entitled “Between the Stripes” are included below.
How important is the comic format for Garfield? Is that still integral to its life?
You’re talking about the 3-panel strip? Yeah. It is for my timing and style. To me, working on the animation stuff is much easier than the comic strip be- cause you can let Garfield run, he can try to stop, there’s music, sound effects, all kinds of things. But with the comic strip, there’s no audio, no animation, plus you have to freeze-frame the character in the perfect position with the perfect expression to get the idea across. You have about 25 words or less. You only have about 7 inches within which to work. You have to set up the plot, twist it, and resolve it in that space, so it’s very tough. I love the challenge of using the economy of not only words, but of line, to get the point across. If you ever read a comic strip to someone, you realize it’s not as funny when you say it out loud as it is when you say it to yourself, in your head. So I write it for performing in your head, plus I try to get to the punchline an instant before the reader does. That’s the trick. That invokes the involuntary laugh response. If they see the gag coming, you’re dead on arrival. If it takes too long for them to get the gag after you’ve hit them with it, now they’re struggling with it or give up on it. So, it’s great fun.
Why did you focus more on Garfield instead of investing in the other characters?
Actually, I don’t really talk about it very much, but I originally created the strip to be about Jon. I was going to call it Jon, about a single guy who’s kind of shy, not socially adept, so I gave him this cat. Obviously humor comes from contrast, humor comes from conflict. If everyone’s agreeing and they’re all happy, there’d be no more jokes. So I did, I created contrast to Jon, in the cat. But every time we got to the punch line, the cat had the funny line, just zinging Jon. So as many other characters as I tried to add, Garfield literally took the strip over.
There’s something to be said about the cross-generational appeal of Garfield.
In the 21st Century Comics Poll, this really big poll that was taken by the National Cartoonists Society, and it was newspaper editors finding out what people liked about the comics. One of the things they liked, the fact that there was something they could count on. They expected to see Snoopy on his dog- house and they expect to see Garfield go for the lasagna. In these days when there’s so much uncertainty, it’s nice to go to a place where you can go back. And I think that’s why it was such a shock when Sparky [Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts] passed away. He’d been doing it for fifty years, he was supposed to do it for another fifty years. For me, it was terrible, it was just crushing. Fifty years! That’s not like a sitcom that goes two seasons, or has a great run of 8 years, it’s like fifty years, that’s your life. You grow up, you learn to read, you get married, you raise kids, reading the same comic, you know, with Snoopy laying on the doghouse.