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Comics: Meet the Artist

Jim Davis
Cartoonist, "Garfield"
Friday, January 28, 2005; 1:00 PM

Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin online once each month to discuss the comics pages. From artists to writers to editors, Tobin is joined by a different guest for each show. This week, Tobin was joined by cartoonist Jim Davis to discuss his long-running cartoon strip, "Garfield."

Tobin and Davis were online on Friday, Jan. 28, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the art of cartooning.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Japan: Out of curiosity, how long does it take to get one Garfield strip done?

Also, I'm an aspiring cartoonist, and do you have any helpful tips?

Jim Davis: It takes about three hours to do a strip, not counting the coloring. My advice to you is to read a lot. That will give more depth to your writing. Learn to draw well, realistically. That helps your characters be more believable.


Suzanne Tobin: Mr. Davis will be with us in a just a minute.


Laurel, Md.: Love your strip. Any thoughts of retiring Garfield to start another strip?

Jim Davis: I've worked on two other strips; US Acres and Mr. Potato Head. That's quite enough, thank you. It's me and the cat from here on out.


Sydney, Australia: Hi Jim Davis,

I'm 15, my name's Patrick and I live in Australia. I've gotten up four hours early (it's 5 a.m. here) to see you! I am a big fan of Garfield, I love the comics, the cartoon and the movie.

Thank you so much for making the cat cat, I love his attitude and humor.

Will you ever be touring to Australia? (You can stay at my house!) Sydney in particular? I really want to meet you one day and when you went on tour for "Garfield at 25: In Dog Years I'd Be Dead" you only seemed to go around America...

Also, is there any way I can help out Paws Inc from Australia? (I've also wished that I could work at Paws Inc and see how everything's done, but it's all the way in America).

Jim Davis: Thanks for being a fan. I've been to Australia twice. I love the Sydney bay oysters! No plans to return in the near future, though, but I'll keep you in mind. Thanks.


Vacaville, Calif.: Hi Mr. Davis.

I am eight and have just started reading Garfield.

What kind of animal is Opie? Is he another cat?

Jim Davis: Odie is a dog. Kind of a goofy beagle.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Jim,

I am big fan of your strip, keep them coming.

Anyway, I am just curious as to how do you respond to your critics? Slate for instance has accused your strip of being a vehicle for mass merchandise, does that ever bother you and how do you handle it?

Secondly, I remember a secondary cartoon on the old cartoon, "U.S. Acres." Are they all done and retired now, have you ever thought of incorporating them into their own strip?

Anyway, thanks for many years of enjoyment.

Jim Davis: Critics are entitled to their opinions. Doesn't bother me.

The U.S. Acres characters are still being animated but I don't think the strip will be back.

Thanks for asking.


New York: Why have you stopped making episodes of Garfield for TV? I think that was one of the best cartoons of all time.

Jim Davis: We stopped because CBS stopped buying them, but now we've been busy with the movie and are considering more episodes for the future.


Arlington, Va.: What is your personal role in producing Garfield these days? Have any of your assistants gone on to successful strips of their own?

Jim Davis: Fortunately, my asistants have all been failures. (Laughs) I still do all the writing and work with the assistants on the design.


Martin, TN: This is about your pre-Garfield comics
called "Gnorm Gnat"

Do you still have the final GNORM where
a giant foot squished him? I would love to
see that.

Jim Davis: Yes, I do have the GNORM GNAt strips buried deep in a vault where I hope they'll stay for some time.


OHIO Kirtland: is it hard being a cartoonest?

Jim Davis: Being a cartoonist is the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do is draw reasonably well and have a love for laughter.


Catskill, N.Y.: If you could have three wishes, what would they be?
P.S. Keep writing Garfield. He cracks me up.

Jim Davis: That's a toughy. I'd like to be able to do Garfield forever. I'd like to have more hair. And, I'd like to write that one gag that makes the whole world laugh.


San Francisco, CA: How much creative input do you have with your comics lately (as in how many of a given month's strips are written specifically by you)?

Jim Davis: I've written them all. That's what I do and it's still my favorite thing to do.


commerce city colorado: Why was Garfield created? What is the first memory you have when you thought of him?

Thanks. Jim Davis: I took a hard look at the comics and noticed dogs were doing well, but, no cats! So, I tried to give cats their due.


Angels Camp, CA: Do you feel that the film was an adequate adaptation of your comic strip?

Jim Davis: I loved it. It was true to character, warm and down-to-earth. I had a lot of creative input so I was very pleased.


Odessa, TX: What ever happened Irma the Waitress she hasn't been seen since 2002 did you retire her or is she removed from the strip until futher notice.

Jim Davis: Funny you should mention it -- I wrote a couple Irma gags just last week. They'll be out in a few months.


Dallas, TX: How much longer do you plan the comic to run for?

Jim Davis: For as long as I'm funny. Or maybe even a little longer than that and the papers just stop running them. I have no plans to retire.


Virginia: What other syndicated comic strips have you created in
addition to America's favorite cat, Garfield? And didn't I read
once that you worked as an assistant to another comic strip
cartoonist early in your career?

Jim Davis: Mr. Potato Head and U.S. Acres were the other two strips I worked on. I was an assistant for 9 years to Tumbleweeds creator Tom Ryan.


Chesapeake, VA: Mr. Davis,

Is the perpetuation of the Garfield Empire purely motivated from a monetary standpoint? It is one of the least funny comics in the newspaper, and I'm sure it is designed to be that way. The committee that writes the comic (my understanding is that you are no longer directly involved in that process) intentionally picks old, worn jokes that have long since lost their humor just to avoid offending people so that the licensing side of Garfield can be maximized. If I am wrong, please correct me. But otherwise is there any defense for allowing Garfield to take up space on every newspaper comics page that could be much better utilized by a young, funny writer?

Jim Davis: Actually, I do write all the strips. On the art staff we have a lot of young great cartoonists who work with the art and it's the most important thing I do. All the licensing stems from the popularity of the comic. Even though I've done nearly 10,000 gags now, if anyone spots a gag that may have stemmed from another joke, we yank it, hopefully before it gets to publication.


Wilmington, Delaware: Hi Mr. Davis,

I love your strip!; I think Odie is the cutest!; How can i get your autograph, and will you be touring anytime soon?

Jim Davis: Just send a note to your local newspaper and they'll forward your note to me. I sign everything. Happy to oblige. I toured last spring to promote the movie and no doubt I will again if we get a sequel.


Bangkok, Thailand: Are you really a fan of Gene Weingarten's humour?
When you two get together, is it just a great big
mutual admiration society?

Jim Davis: I'm a huge fan of Gene's I have all his albums.


Oxford, Mississippi: Since you're here at the Post, you have to tell us...what do you think of Weingarten??

Jim Davis: Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Humor is such a subjective thing. It's really not for me or anyone else to say what's truly funny. It's a guess at best.


Ryan, Alexandria: I read you went to Ball State in the 60's-70's and was
involved with the Radio/TV Production Dpt. Why has that
program been so successful, especially early on, turning
out such successful entertainers such as yourself and
David Letterman?

Jim Davis: It just happened to be a time when a few good talents happened to be attending the University who helped define the program.


Turtle Bay, Alaska: There must be a close friend or relative of yours who
doesn't find your strip funny. You don't have to
name names, but a little anecdote where a fine meal
turned into awkward silent aggression would be

Jim Davis: My Dad's favorite strip is Beetle Bailey. How's that for awkward?


McLean, VA: What do you think of the comic strip "Cats With Hands"? Do you consider it a rival to the "Garfield" throne?

Jim Davis: I like it. I don't really consider any strip a rival. Every strip is very unique in its own style and statement.


Bronx, NY: Hey Jim, I enjoyed Garfield so much when I was a child and I will pass Garfield on to my kids. How many episodes of the Garfield TV show were made? Thanks

Jim Davis: We made a 121 Saturday morning shows and 13 primetime specials. Everytime I think about that, it makes me tired.


Sydney, Australia: To Jim Davis,

How much of the Garfield strip do you do yourself now? Do Paws Inc help with the strip and in what ways?

Thanks once again for the strip!;

Jim Davis: I do all the writing and most of the design. We have a couple of assistants work in the writing sessions and we laugh and doodle a lot, then other staffers help with the finished drawing and inking. I then sign and date, it's colored, and sent out on the wire.


Arlington, Va.: Who would win in a fight between Garfield and Get Fuzzy's Bucky Katt?

Jim Davis: They both talk a mean fight but I'd have to give the nod to Fuzzy. He's younger and faster, unless of course Garfield could sit on him.


Suzanne Tobin: Excuse the interruption, Jim, but I just wanted to let all the readers who have asked about your background that they can access a good biography here.


Los Angeles, California: Shame on Gene Weingarten for saying some mean things
about "Garfield" in the press recently when the L.A. Times
dropped it. If he had his way, there would be no strips
that can be enjoyed by the entire family. I understand he
is writing jokes for "Pearl before Swine", which isn't nearly
as well drawn as "Garfield".

My question is: in some photos you appear to have a
ponytail and in others you don't. Which is true?

Jim Davis: The ponytail got in the way of my golf cap. I chopped it off a couple years ago.


Suzanne Tobin: Jim Davis: The Man Behind the Cat


Sydney, Australia: What ever happened to Lyman, Jon's friend who previously owned Odie? Did he just disappear or is he really in Jon's basement? I'd love to see him again (even just in one comic).

Jim Davis: I joke about the basement thing. Actually he joined the Peace Corps and was never heard from again.


Bowie, MD: What happened to you? Garfield used to be one of my favorite cartoons? But the jokes never change. Its the same old material all the time. Are there any changes coming in the near future?

Jim Davis: What happened to me is that I haven't changed either. I still love sandwiches. Garfield still loves lasagna. I still love golf. Garfield still loves sleep. However, I'm not saying there won't be some interesting changes in the future.


Torrance, CA: Garfield is great!; I know a lot of schools use him to help teach kids. Do you have any big plans for Garfield and education?

Jim Davis: We recently established the Professor Garfield foundation dedicated to providing to providing entertaining educational content online to students, teachers, and parents -- for free.


Wilmington Delaware: No question. I just wanted to tell you Jim how much I have enjoyed Garfield over the years. I start each day going on to Garfield's web site and reading the today's strip. It is a great way to start a day with a chuckle and a smile.
Thanks. Jim Davis: No, thank you!


Silver Spring, MD: Is there room for religion in comic strips, a la Johnny Hart?

Jim Davis: There absolutely is room for religion in comic strips. The different approaches really lend spice to the comics page. I don't personally do political or social comment, but that doesn't mean other strips wouldn't benefit from it.


chagrin falls, ohio: what's the hardest part of been a cartoonist?

Jim Davis: I guess it would be doing all the business around doing the comic strip. You know, like, paying bills, having the studio cleaned, and all that really practical unfunny stuff. The job itself is a joy. Nothing is hard about it.


Reston, VA: 1.What happened to the other human characters, such as Lymon?

2.Why does Garfield's owner always seem so depressed? Can't he ever have any friends? Even the guy in "Get Fuzzy" has friends.

Jim Davis: Glad you asked about Lyman. He went to an Amway convention and was never heard from again.

Jon's depressed because he's a loser. When was the last time you saw a loser laughing?


Steve, Olney, MD: How does a cartoonist feel when other cartoonists poke fun at him/her in their strips. Example: Pearls Before Swine trashing Cathy. The Post's own Richard Thompson jabbing at Mark Trail.

Jim Davis: That doesn't bother me. Only this morning I swapped strips with another cartoonist who used Garfield in his feature. By in large the mentions are for fun and usually kind.


Dobbs Ferry, NY: How much in royalties did you get for the
blockbuster movie "Garfield"?

Jim Davis: There's been no accounting on the MOVIE. We really did very little movie-related product. The "classic" Garfield is by far the more popular character.


Sydney, Australia: Hi Jim,

Is there anyway that I can send you a letter from Australia rather than an e-mail? I'd love to write to you and possibly get your autograph but have no idea where to send a letter to in the first place!;

Thanks for years of entertainment!;

Jim Davis: Just send it to Garfield in c/o your local paper and thank you!


Philadelphia PA: Considering the popularity or Garfield with people in my are range, would you ever consider having our feline friend switch to a low-carb diet? You know, slim him down a bit, kinda like what they did for Godzilla.

Jim Davis: If Garfield ever lost weight I'd lose my job security.


KIRTLAND OHIO: im 8. i love garfield!;!;!; can you give me tips? im working on a comic book.

Jim Davis: Do a lot of reading. Try lots of different papers and pens and pencils. Learn to draw well. And above all, have fun. If you make yourself laugh, chances are you'll make someone else laugh as well.


Denver, CO: Jim, what's YOUR all-time favorite GARFIELD strip?

Jim Davis: (Thinking...) Wow. It was probably the introduction of Pooky. It was the first time Garfield revealed his soft side.


Upper Wheaton, MD: If something akin to a Dysfunctional Family Circus site popped up to parody Garfield, would you let the lawyers loose?

Jim Davis: Parody is a perfectly legitimate art form and it's one of my favorites. Let them have at it!


London, U.K.: Did you expect Garfield to be the huge smash he's turned into?

Jim Davis: No. I was hoping to earn enough money so that I didn't have to take a second job to support the strip. Mission accomplished!


Minnesota: If anything should ever happen to you, who would take over Paws Inc.?

Jim Davis: Okay, is this someone on the staff?

Actually, we have a lot of good folks to handle the business side. I honestly don't know who would take the strip at this point in time.


Not Gene Weingarten's Family, Honest: We know you are joking about Gene. Have you read any of his books or columns? Even though you two have different types of humor, and he is critical of your type of humor, do you respect or fault his type of humor?

Jim Davis: To be honest, I'm not that familiar with Mr. Weingarten's writing, but no one kind of humor has ever made everybody laugh (to my knowledge.) If my humor isn't for him, or his humor isn't for everyone, it's no big shakes. We both make somebody laugh and that's the important thing.


Cleveland, OH.: Did you and David Letterman ever share a cola and discuss comedy while at Ball State?

Jim Davis: Actually, shared a lot of beer and offended a lot of people. David is one of the funniest people I've ever met. Don't try to match wits with the guy after a pitcher at Manor's.


Chevere, Spain: In Spain Garfield speaks Spanish. Do you check
translation of them because I can not understand.
Or rather I understand but can not laugh. Thank
you. Sorry for my English is not good.

Jim Davis: We translate Garfield into 9 dialects of Spanish. Try as we may to spot check all the languages, ocassionally a new translator struggles with the feature.


Aspen Hill, MD: I heard the French love Garfield. Does your brand of humor go over well with foreigners?

Jim Davis: When it comes to humor, it seems to be small world. Everyone loves to laugh. Some cultures do seem to enjoy him more. I'd say the toughest language for Garfield is Japanese because they tend tell stories than issue one-liners. I did a gag where Garfield said, "I'd like mornings better if they started later." In Japanese it translated to, "It's quite early and I wish it weren't so." Enough said.


If Garfield could be a superheo who would be his nemesis?

1: The mailman
2: A giant spider

3: Nermal!!!

Jim Davis: Nermal! Nermal reminds Garfield that he is old and overweight. Merciless and indefensible barbs if ever there were any.


Eugene, Oregon: I don't like "Garfield" either but I do admire your intestinal fortitude in appearing at such a hostile forum as the Post.

Jim Davis: Hey, this stuff keeps me young. Thanks for your candor.


Minneapolis,MN: When was the last time that Garfield went to the vet? It seems like we havn't seen Liz in a while.

Jim Davis: You're right. Got to make Garfield sick soon. Jon would like that.


Fredericksburg, Va: Will Odie ever get Garfield back for all the tricks & kicks?

Jim Davis: Neil Simon said, "no one character should always have the upper hand." I try to let Odie get Garfield back every few months but he could probably stand to do it more.


Bethesda MD: You mentioned that US Acres is still being animated. When/where is it being shown? How many episodes? Phil Roman considered Garfield one of his best productions, are you going to be working with him again in the future?

Jim Davis: Actually, we did just put them on DVD -- 121 episodes will be released when it's all said and done.

I have no plans to work with Phil right now but he's a great guy.


somewhere in cold MD: What might prompt you to phase in a new character into the strip?

Jim Davis: A theme ... a new theme would dictate a new character, i.e., a camping trip to the wild, a trip to the farm, etc.


Washington, DC: Have you ever visited (President) Garfield's tomb in Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, OH? If you climb to the top, it provides a lovely view of Cuyahoga County.

Jim Davis: No, I haven't. Sadly, more school children think of Garfield as a cartoon than a President these days, but hey, I guess my Garfield is a bit funnier.


Clovis, Ca: I think it would be great for Garfield to re-visit his place of origin. Mama Leone's Restaurant!;!;

Jim Davis: He would certainly have no problem with that.


Washington, D.C.: If someone offered you a billion dollars to stop doing
Garfield, would you take it?

Jim Davis: No. Two billion and we'll talk.


Trenton, NJ: 1. What cartoons do you like to read?

2. What mediums do you use to draw garfield?

Jim Davis: Get Fuzzy. Mother Goose and Grimm. Beetle Bailey. B.C. Blondie. And a host of others.

On the comic strip, I use India Ink, a #2 brush, and a Speedball pen for lettering on a Strathmore 2-ply board. Nothing fancy.


Arlington, Virginia: Hey Jim,

Will Jon ever settle down and get married, like Cathy?

Jim Davis: Gee, Cathy was Jon's last hope.

Jon works so hard at relationships, he tends to scare people off.


Minnesota: Will there ever be a new character?

Jim Davis: Yes. I don't know who it would be right now. It's up to Garfield to decide.


Emmaus, PA: Hi Jim

I was wondering where Jon lives in the comic strip.

Jim Davis: Jon lives in your neighborhood!


Sydney, Australia: Hi Jim Davis,

Garfield's appearance has been constantly changing since he first started, will it keep changing or are you happy with how he looks?

I love the way you draw Garfield and the strip now, he looks great.

Jim Davis: Thanks. I never notice him changing because I never change him on purpose. He just seems to evolve. So, with that in mind, I guess he will change, but it will be slow, if at all.


Washington, DC: Ever thought of doing a week on the Origins of Odie, the story of how Lyman found him back in the Pre Arbuckle era?

Jim Davis: Nice idea. Duly noted.


Blyth, WI: What sort of pen do you use to draw Garfield? Or do you
use a brush? Do you hand letter or is it a computer font?


Jim Davis: #2 Windsor & Newton Red Sable brush.


anywhere in MD: What do you think about papers pulling controversial strips? Not yours, but other more outspoken cartoonists.

Jim Davis: I think it depends on the nature of the controversy. While I defend free speech, it's hard to defend bad taste at times.


Chantilly, VA: Hi Mr. Davis,
I can't help but compare you to Bill Watterson when it comes to merchandising comic strip characters. He has never licensed any character because he doesn't want the strip to lose any integrity. Yet Garfield is on just about everything he can get his paws on. Are you not concerned about the strip's integrity?

Jim Davis: The comic strip and the licensing programs are two independent entities. To be honest, I've learned a lot about Garfield from working on plush and in animation. I get to see more sides of his personality working with him in other mediums. So for me, it's helped the feature.


Hollywood, CA: What's your version of The Aristocrats joke?

Jim Davis: Have to plead ignorance. I don't know the joke.


Kansas City, KS: How did your family and friends react when they found out that your comic would be published?

Jim Davis: With jubulation. Trying to get syndicated was like going to school for 32 years but not knowing on exactly what day you'd graduate.


Olney, MD: How many vacations do you take every year? Do you work while on vacation or just relax?

Jim Davis: I try to take a week off every year. I have to admit, I take the laptop with me.


Minnesota: Will you ever have another chat like this on garfield.com? I thing you should!;

Jim Davis: Duly noted. Maybe...nice suggestion.


SA, Tx: Hi Jim, how long have Garfield and Arlene dated? Who introduced them?

Jim Davis: It's been over 25 years. I'd use the term "dating" loosely. They're more like buddies. Garfield's affection is for his mirror.


Tomatillo, CA: Since not many people know your face (although
you're world famous), do you tend to introduce
yourself at parties appending the phrase "the guy
that writes Garfield" to your name?

Jim Davis: I have to do that with my senile uncle, otherwise, I'm just Jim.


Silver Spring, MD: Do you think it is ethical to farm out jokes or art to other people and reap the benefits of their creativity?

Jim Davis: Any gag in a storm, I say.


Emmaus, PA: 1. At what age did you start cartooning

2. How many comic strips did you try until you got one syndicated.

Jim Davis: I don't remember "not" cartooning. I learned early on I could make my mom laugh with my funny drawings. The only strip I tried before Garfield was a locally published strip called Gnorm Gnat which I did for five years.


Minnesota: Who is Arlene's owner? Or is she a stray?

Jim Davis: Arlene is a stray.


Arlington, VA: Charles Schulz did a lot of licensing as well, and apparently donated a bit to charity although he wasn't willing to talk about anything but the skating rink in his Comics Journal interview. And now his museum is obviously funded by his estate. Are you donating to a cause or foundation? Or planning on setting up a museum?

Jim Davis: We have no plans for a museum. We work with and support literally a hundred worthy causes. We do a lot of work with education and I have a personal affection for the environment.


Washington D.C.: I grew up with a cat my parents named Garfield, he was orange and round like the one in the strip. Was there/is there a real 'Garfield' in your home? Dont listen to the naysayers, Garfield IS funny and deserves to thrive on and on!;

Jim Davis: I was raised with farm cats, none quite like Garfield. I now have a fat tiger cat who lives at the studio named Spunky, and three days ago, we adopted a brown tiger kitten from Action for Animals, via PetSmart. We renamed the kitten Nermal...it was originally named Charlie Brown.


Leisure World, MD: Ever feel like having Odie get run over by a car or Jon marrying a gorilla to see what kind of reaction you'd get?

Jim Davis: Funny! Not seriously. Did I just say "seriously"?


Washington, DC: Can you compare and contrast Garfield and Heathcliff?

Also, you mentioned that one impetus in creating Garfield was the dearth of feline characters in the comics. Didn't Heathcliff precede Garfield?

Jim Davis: Heathcliff's humor is broad. He can be on a desert island one day, and drive a car the next. The reality level in the Garfield strip is a little higher. Heathcliff, being a panel, helps with popularity. Panels seem to get a good following.


Spartanburg, SC: When and where did Garfield get Pookie?

Jim Davis: Garfield found Pooky in a dresser drawer in 1978.


Sao Paulo, Brazil: Hey, Jim.

What is your favorite musical style? Do you play a musical instrument?

Jim Davis: I love jazz and I'm learning to play the piano.


Austin, Texas: Why is Jon so mistreated?

Jim Davis: Because that's the way it is when you have a pet. Owners supply the affection, shelter, and food. Pets provide the abuse.


Washington, DC: Jim:

I am an old Ball State alum and had the chance to visit
your studio a few years back in Albany, IN. I was so
impressed with your facility and crew during my visit and
it made a lasting impression on me. Do you still stay
active in the BSU community?

Jim Davis: Absolutely. I really enjoyed my college days. Go Cards!


Indianapolis, IN: I have seen early Garfield strips where Garfield was on all fours. When and why did you decided to make him stand upright?

Jim Davis: I needed to put Garfield on his hind feet in order to let him dance in his first animated special. I liked it so well, I left him upright. It was actually Charles Schulz who did the first drawing of Garfield standing on his back feet.


Paris, France: Why is Garfield orange?

Jim Davis: The sky is blue. Grass is green. And cats are orange. It never occured to make him any other color.


Myrtle Beach,SC: My daughter would like to know what Garfield would look like if he was a long hair cat?

Jim Davis: Fatter yet. Hard to believe, huh?


Jim Davis: This has been a blast. Thanks everyone for writing. I have to get back to the drawing board, as they say. See you in the comics. I'd better get out of here before I use another worn out idiom.

Thanks for your time. I hope to keep you all entertained for a long time to come.

Jim Davis


Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much, Jim, for being so generous with your time and for being such a great sport! And, thanks to Kim, your director of public relations, who did your typing. I hope everyone will join me next month, when "Comics: Meet the Artist" will begin a once a month format.


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