Garfield is Dead

I was bouncing around retroCRUSH the other day, when I came across the creepiest comic strip-related thing I have ever seen: Garfield’s death. (Naturally, I have had no luck trying to find the page again. Trust me, it’s there.)

I’m sure this has been blogged ad nauseum prior to my discovery of it, but I shall cover it nonetheless. Here are the strips in question, which ran from October 23 to October 28, 1989 (apologies if they don’t fit):

Clearly, this is something with a little more punch than your average “Garfield is fat, Jon is lame, Odie is retarded” strip. This is about as bizarre and surreal as major syndicated strips can be. There is no humour. There are no punchlines. Garfield is just tossed into a horrific scenario of abandonment and isolation.

The theory regarding this strip, and the one that I personally subscribe to, is that this storyline represents Garfield’s death, almost. As we see in the final strip, beginning with that bizarre close up on a sweaty, hallucinating eye, Garfield has turned to denial. Those third and fourth panels? Denial. Garfield is clearly alone, trapped in an abandoned home, with no way out. Using sheer force of will, he utterly denies his situation, conjuring up familiar visions of Jon and Odie. It follows, then, that every Garfield strip since 1989 is just a continuing hallucination. Garfield’s mind is working at a fevered pace in the moments before death, as he imagines the same scenarios over and over again with painful repetition. His denial is so powerful that he has crammed the intervening eighteen years into the span of a few hours, while he starves to death in the empty house.

Jim Davis, of course, denies everything. In a 20th anniversary collection, he wrote:

“During a writing session for week, I got the idea for this decidedly different series of strips. I wanted to scare people. And what do people fear? Why, being alone of course. We carried out the concept to its logical conclusion and got a lot of responses from readers.”

At least, that’s what it says he says on Wikipedia. And really, it’s only natural that he would say something like that. Because the whole thing was a cover for something far more momentous: Jim Davis’ departure from the strip, and his replacement with some kind of secret ghost-creator.

Please note: I have absolutely no evidence to support this claim. But it makes sense to me. By 1989, Garfield had been running for just over ten years. That’s Jim Davis working, day-in day-out, on more and more jokes about a bloated cat and his dipshit master. How quickly do you think that would get old? By ’89, Davis was already well established. He had Garfield, and US Acres, and was rolling in money from merchandising and cartoon adaptations. He must have woken up one day and realized, “Shit, I don’t have to keep on drawing this tripe. I can hire some halfwit art student to churn out 365 strips a year while I relax on a beach in Malibu.” And so he did. US Acres folded up shop in May, but wasn’t popular enough to warrant Davis hiring a ghost. Garfield, though, was his flagship. He needed to keep it running, if only to keep the character in the minds of the people. But he planned a nice big fuck you to his millions of readers, prior to his departure. He would hit them with a surreal salvo, a brief little storyline so bizarre that his readers would be left scratching their heads for years, or as long as it took them to read the next, comfortably familiar strip. And so, with the October 28 strip, Davis faded into the background, leaving an armada of lawyers to sort out the confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements that would be hoisted upon his anonymous successors.

Don’t believe me? Honestly, when was the last time you read a Garfield strip that hasn’t already been done a dozen times? There are only so many jokes you can tell with those characters, and David told them all from ’78 to ’89. Give the man credit: he established a money-making empire that has spawned animated series, films, and countless car window suction toys. Do you really think somebody that deviously clever would keep himself chained to a drawing table churning out mindless dreck?

Doesn’t it make sense?

23 Comments

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23 responses to “Garfield is Dead

  1. Thanks for the mention. I don’t believe I actually ever published this strip on my site, but I’ve read it before on the Something Awful forums. Great analysis of it, though. I’ll link it up.

    I think in a ham-fisted way, Jim Davis was saying in that closing panel that you can imagine a pretty vivid and screwed up future, so the “alone in the house” scenes were Garfield doing just that, then he snaps out of it.

  2. This is a real gem: it has to be the oddest set of circumstances I’ve ever seen Garfield exposed to. But more than that, I think it’s the frist time I’ve seen Jim Davis ever really flex any conceptual and story telling mucles that move beyond the “set-up the punchline” strips.

    Great conspiracy theory, too. Garfield’s mainstream presence is JUST innocuous enough for me to bite on your ideas. =P

  3. Matt

    interesting theory… but don’t you think you could have seen a decent difference in the drawing style had there been another person that Jon Davis hired to draw it for him, and why the anonymous artist just sit back and let Davis take all the credit for his work, like I said it’s an interesting conspiracy, but there are just too many holes left in it to make sense

  4. Sean

    To Matt
    1. Garfield is incredibly easy to draw, and other comic’s styles of art evolve over time, except for Garfield’s. It has not changed one bit since that very day.
    2. Why sit back and let Jim Davis get all of the credit for his work? Because there IS no work that he is losing credit for, all he is doing is taking past comics and re-writing them in a differently worded sentence, or giving John a new stupid suit.

  5. It reminds me of the “Paul is Dead” Beatles conspiracy.
    And if you haven’t been reading lately, they are different than ’79 – ’89, with Jon actually getting a girl finally.
    I really don’t believe that Jim Davis would do that. Garfield was and is his creation, his baby. If you’re an artist, you draw something and you put a part of your soul into that drawing. Cartoonists aren’t any different.
    I agree with Robert Berry that Garfield just snaps out of his nightmare, rather than being dead. It is a cartoon and there’s only so much you can read into it. Also, take other cartoons in comparison to art changing. They reach a certain point and they usually stick to that look because the cartoonist can now draw each character with his eyes closed.

    It’s just so much more logical than to think the conspiracy is true. Good try tho.

  6. Prodigy

    Well, I would have to say I completely agree with Sean. Matt, you obviously lack a mind devious enough to digest the information being thrown at you. Good Day to you, moronic Sir.

  7. P.P.A.

    Heh, I’m tempted to believe this. Especially the last strip is supporting this theory a lot.

  8. Kevin

    Hole poking rebutles in paragraph form aren’t necessary for a peice that is obviously based on sarcasm and imagination.

    (Im looking at you, Matt and Rachel)

    take it easy, and start appriciating the small pleasures in life.

  9. Catherine

    Ever heard of dreaming? Garfield does sleep a lot.

  10. Kate

    Garfield is produced in a literal assembly line at Jim Davis’s studio, Paws Inc., in Muncie, Indiana. He employs several artists and writers who reproduce his formula with no deviation. It’s been like that for at least ten years.

  11. Tim

    I personally believe the explanation Jim Davis gave. Why wouldn’t someone who has to try and be funny day after day not one day decide to write a serious, existential piece? It seems to me that the problem with the conspiracy theory is that it adds unnecessary elements and conjecture to, what seems to me, to be a plausible scenario without them. Everyone is forced to think about death every so often, to be confronted with the existential. Maybe Jim was just expressing this side of his own life. Occam’s razor, people.

  12. hey, this makes a lot of sense to me.

    why else would this: http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/ exist?

    someone clearly realized what happened after Garfield’s death, and corrected the subsequent strips to make us see.

  13. Calvin

    sorry Faith, but some of the comics the guy used in that site I recognize like http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/day/2009/02/13/ I have the garfield book that has that strip in it and there IS other people (and GARFIELD) in it.

    Honestly the amount of people that are overreacting about a comic strip jim davis showed to be a bit serious is sad.

  14. Me

    It doesn’t sound like you really feel to strongly about garfield (or his author) but some of us grew up to his comics, and some of us seem to live the everyday life that is garfieldminusgarfield.net we talk to our pets because we are too weird around others. we avoid people and accept only imagination. we do this because people reject us from their society: we do this because we need our own society…

  15. my name

    anyone else realize this was THE WEEK BEFORE HALLOWEEN?

  16. Brianán Mc Bride

    What Kate says above is true, I met people from Muncie, Indiana in 199?, they where at the Dundalk, Ireland Maytime Festival, they personally know Jim and said the same. They gave me Jim Davis autographed books. Also have a look at the original Garfield strips, when Jim hired artists Garfield became more refined, did you know Jims wife is allergic to cats…. My parents where in the Jim Davis studios in Muncie back in 199?
    Brianán Mc Bride, Dundalk. Ireland

  17. ML

    “Garfield is incredibly easy to draw, and other comic’s styles of art evolve over time, except for Garfield’s. It has not changed one bit since that very day.”

    Really? You think a Garfield comic from 1988, for example, would exactly like one from 1978 or even 2008? Try a little more research.

    Heck with it, I’d say many people out there should do more research. Seriously, Garfield is repetitive, doing the same gags over and over? Are people really only familiar with the most obvious material? (And believe me; I’ve seen too much Garfield to be convinced that it’s repetitive).

    Oh, and the explanation from Jim Davis really is on the 20th Anniversary collection (20 Years and Still Kicking!). Just so you all know.

  18. Scott

    Whoa. you are seriously messing with my mind right now. Both sides have compelling arguments, but I think the conspiracy theory has more holes in it. For me, the biggest hole is that Garfield WOULD have had to have been living in the house for years for it to be in that condition. So it makes no sense that he is completely unaware of his situation when he wakes up. The very last panel is also very telling…it suggests that Garfield’s conscience was working on him, making him realize how he’s been living his life (although clearly he still learned nothing), and how it could affect his future. But the last panel also somewhat supports the conspiracy theory. No matter what, however, I doubt that this theory could ever be accepted widely as canon or even possible canon. This series of strips will always be an anomaly among fans. Then again, you also won’t here about the magic bullet in textbooks…..

  19. Pingback: Herman is Crack. Garfield is (a) Crock. « I draw sometimes.

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  21. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it,
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  22. Yelena

    Well, if Garfield was starving nearly to death, he couldn’t even rise to his feet. But he walks and runs in the strip. Also, his body don’t seem exhausted, not even thin.

  23. Pingback: 10 Crazy Conspiracy Theories From Television and Movies | @NYPNDaily

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