The decline of the feline

When you hear the term “newspaper comic strip,” what do you think of? Some people’s minds are drawn to the misadventures of Charlie Brown in Peanuts, while others might think of the imaginative and colorful adventures of a young boy and his tiger in Calvin and Hobbes. Among all the other comic strips, the one with the lazy orange feline is the one that reigns supreme, Garfield.

Garfield is one of the most important and influential comic strips. Over its 43-year run, the comic has provided endless hours of entertainment to millions of fans across the globe. However nowadays, Garfield isn’t as popular as he used to be in the 1980s and the 1990s, and most people want to know “what happened?” Slowly over the years, the comic has been on a slow and steady decline in its quality, with seemingly no end to the strip and its downward spiral. Garfield is a former shadow of itself, failing to deliver the same enjoyment and iconic status that it once held, however all hope is not lost, as there are things that can be done to improve the comic to its legendary status.

After Jim Davis had canceled his earliest comic strip, Gnorm Gnat, he began working on a comic strip simply titled Jon that ran in the Pendleton Times newspaper from 1976 to 1977. Soon, the comic would be renamed to Garfield, and would begin its syndication in newspapers on June 19th, 1978. This comic strip followed the daily adventures of Jon Arbuckle, a freelance cartoonist living with his obese, orange tabby cat, Garfield. Together, the two would experience many exciting mishaps, specifically surrounding Garfield’s laziness and constant bothering of Jon. With its deadpan sense of humor and a feeling of sarcastic, dry wit, the comic instantly became a smash hit, with a Sunday strip being added to the comic’s lineup only a year after release. The comic was becoming one of the most popular strips in newspapers. For a brief time, Garfield seemed unstoppable, and would lay the groundwork for hundreds of many future comic strips through its influence on millions of people. However, Jim Davis didn’t wait very long to cash in on his favorite feline and little did he know that this would lead to the downfall of the very thing he created.

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Most people would say that Garfield peaked between the late 1980s to the early 1990s. This was when the comic was at its all-time height of popularity, and Jim Davis wanted a piece of the orange pie. Two years after the comic’s debut, with the comic strip appearing in over a thousand newspapers at the time, Jim Davis founded Paws Inc., a company that would handle the merchandise distribution for the franchise. With the ever-growing popularity of Garfield exploding into pop culture, merchandise sales for the franchise increased as well. Jim Davis would then spend more of his effort and time as a businessman managing the merchandise sales of his comic strip franchise, rather than spending time on the actual comic strip itself. This is the start of Garfield’s slow decline: a push to focus on merchandise on promotions rather than the center of the content. Many would argue that the shift to marketing for the franchise is what got the comic into the state that it is currently in, but I would argue that the comic is not completely lost.

Even after all that has been previously described about the comic’s critical status, the comic is not completely gone. There is a way that Garfield can return to the iconic and legendary status that he once held. The simple answer is that Jim Davis would just have to return to the comic and continue to contribute more. While Jim Davis wouldn’t have to be the head writer for the comic anymore, if he at least were a more involved creative supervisor over the ghost writers and authors, the comic’s quality would absolutely see a positive growth.  It’s no secret that the Garfield comic is mainly handled under unnamed writers and artists under Jim Davis’ name, but if the comic had a more solid direction from Davis himself, chances are the comic’s quality can be improved for the better.

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Garfield has been running for several decades and doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon. The comic has had a massive influence on millions of people across the world and has inspired future generations of comic artists as well. It’s impossible to deny the huge presence and iconic status that Garfield has held, even if it is a simple comic strip about a fat orange cat and his cartoonist owner living in Muncie, Indiana. Even though the comic might be in a quality rut nowadays, hopefully it won’t stay that way forever. If Jim Davis understands why people love Garfield and company so much, then maybe one day he can return to write for his magnum opus. While the comic is not on the same quality as it used to be, the fact the comic is still running is a testament to the legacy of the strip and the characters that Jim Davis has created, and I’m looking forward to reading Garfield for years to come.

Jackson Reichardt is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class