The day was June 18th, 1978. Sunday papers were relegated to news about unrest overseas and a manic-depressive Great Dane known as Marmaduke. A weary nation turned its head to a young Jim Davis, a cartoonist prepared to turn the world on its head. The next day, his magnum opus, ‘Le Sexe Cat’, was ready to premiere in newspapers nationwide. While the publications made Davis change the name of the comic and toned down the overt themes of feline lust, the young man was still able to keep most of his edge through the strip. Davis lit a cigarette, staring at the burgeoning sunset in a state of deep reflection. “Let’s do this”, he said, flicking the cigarette into the ocean.
The next day, Garfield fever was diagnosed all throughout America. Davis’ prowess for anthropomorphic cat humor became an overnight success, making the young cartoonist the Kerouac of the late 70’s comic scene.
It looked like Davis was unstoppable.
Flash forward to now, a culture of cynicism and irony.
This is no place for a chubby cat with a distaste for Mondays.
Where before Garfield would have something to say about American culture and suburban plight, modern comics just seem lazy.
When Davis began, his comics were able to tackle everyday issues such as the ongoing battle between feline and mail carrier, one character’s struggle to stay body positive in a world consumed by diets and health food, and the refusal to hunt mice in a nation that allows for unions.
Although his early work was controversial, Davis never stooped to the level of including sophomoric humor such as a litter box joke, showing he was an artist that could say something important to the masses without working blue. He knew you could call out cultural constructs without sinking to the levels of strips such as Dennis the Menace, the Family Guy of Sunday comics.
However, it seems like the untarnished record Davis started with appears to be dwindling. Has our beloved orange feline finally peaked? Or is this more akin to the early 2000’s comics, where a post-9/11 Garfield became more hungry for justice than lasagna?