Jim Davis grew up with cats -- about 25 at one point -- on
a farm in Indiana. He also grew up with asthma that kept him indoors, and drawing, for much
of his childhood. Davis combined his affection for cats and his love of drawing to create one of the world's most famous felines, Garfield. For a lazy cat,
Garfield is pretty busy starring
in a comic strip that appears in
2,600 papers around the world, including The Washington Post.
Garfield hit the big screen
last weekend in a computer-generated animation and live-action movie. Davis, 58, talked to Tracy Grant
about how he came to be a cartoonist and how Garfield
has changed his life.
What can you tell kids about how asthma helped make you a cartoonist?
It was the 1950s. We did not have GameBoys. This was before color TVs. We always had to entertain ourselves. To entertain myself, I drew pictures. I loved to draw funny pictures. . . . My mom always laughed at my drawings, but I was really bad. So I labeled everything. Working with words and pictures became very natural to me.
Art is a skill developed over time. The most important thing you can do [to help your art] is read. With cartooning, the words are as important as the art.
What was the first thing you remember drawing?
I remember drawing tanks and airplanes and soldiers in first grade because all the boys liked to do that. The other guys outgrew that; I never did.
Is it weird in this movie to see Garfield in computer-generated animation?
It wasn't weird. It was a challenge. I wanted to ensure for the movie that the same personality came through the eyes. As soon as the viewers see the eyes, then they can believe, "Yeah, that's Garfield."
In a live-action movie, Garfield had to work in a real world. Garfield walks like a water balloon, so every hair is animated and every hair reacts to gravity, wind, things like that. It's unbelievable the kind of programming that went into him to make him move.
Who was your inspiration for Garfield?
He's based on a lot of people, he's a human in a cat suit. He lives in a cat's body . . . but everything he desires in life [is] human: food, shelter, love.
I don't put messages in the comic strip, but I think the message comes through that Garfield knows he's not perfect but he's happy with himself.
You've been drawing Garfield for almost 26 years. Do you ever get bored?
I'm still trying for that one perfect gag that will make the whole world laugh.