Reuben Award Weekend Notes: Garfield creator Jim Davis

Jim Davis drawing Odie

Note: If you’re coming from Twitter and have been following my tweets all afternoon, much of this will be the same, but I did expand on some.

Showing a photo of him at age 3 or 4 with a Dick Tracy comic book.
In 1969 he became an assistant to tumbleweeds creator Tom Ryan. Tom was a perfectionist and inspected every line that Jim drew.
Jim worked for Tom for 9 years. Jim also created Norm Gnat. It ran 5 years in a local paper. He ended it by squashing the bug. Nobody wrote in to object. He figured that said something about that strip.
When he created Garfield he refused to write puns and he made sure the writing to be easily translated.
He’s showing us early pencil sketches of Garfield. He spent a lot of time designing the character and writing. From conflict comes comedy
Jim created Garfield and Odie first. Then Jon. Humorous story: he was told that to be successful like Beetle Bailey someone had to get hit over the head at least once a week
The original Garfield didn’t have stripes. That was a later suggestion by the syndicate. Launched in 41 papers.
His first drop was the Chicago Sun Times. 300 people protested and got him back in.
Jim now at a sketch pad. He’s drawing an early version of a cat. Small eyes, large ears. He never smiled.
The guy overseeing the translation of Garfield into Swedish told Jim he needed to give Garfield greater range of expression. Garfield was always frowning. Having a range shows readers when Garfield is really happy or really sad.
He started to make Garfield smaller and more mobile because the strip was being printed smaller and readers were complaining.
Odie is tough to write for because he doesn’t speak.
The conflict between Garfield, Odie is needed for humor. He lets Odie win battles cause a lot of people identify with Odie. They need to win too.
In 1990 when Jim was working on an animated special it required Garfield to walk on his hind legs, but Jim couldn’t get the legs to look good by drawing them like cat legs. Charles Schulz was in the same building working on an animation project, came over, listened to Jim describe the problem and then drew over the top of Garfield drawing showing how to draw the legs to allow Garfield to walk.
Garfield strip production files are all stored online. Wherever Jim or employees are, they can download the strip an work on it.
A note from Tom Racine: Garfield all digital now since November. Cintiq, etc. Illustrator for final art.
60% of traffic to is international. They are effectively using Facebook, twitterer to connect with audience.
Jim is equally a good business man as a cartoonist. I think if he was starting his career now, he’d do well running a webcomic.
Jim confirms giving away comics online for free is good to attract readers, fans, customers.
Jim: A lot of great cartoonists in my generation never made it into papers. Today great talent can build an audience online.
Jim now showing a montage of Garfield videos, animation, movies.
Now showing strips he didn’t mean to print, or embarrassed to run, or caused a stink.
Showing 10 year Garfield special featuring mike Peters, Lynn Johnston and Dik Brown. What a gang!
And lastly showing a video clip of an evening with a lot of legendary cartoonists sketching their characters on easel boards for some charity event. Showed Johnny Hart drawing BC. Patti Hart, Johnny’s daughter, was sitting two seats down from me and unsuccessfully tries to hold back tears at seeing her father drawing again. The video closed out the presentation and Pati gave Jim a hug. Wonderful moment to witness.
Jim thanks everyone for being part of his community and journey. Standing ovation from crowd.

5 thoughts on “Reuben Award Weekend Notes: Garfield creator Jim Davis

  1. This talk sounds fantastic. Thanks for the notes, Alan. I hope someone there was able to capture video because I’d really like to see this talk.

  2. This was the program I most missed not getting to attend during this year’s gathering. I wanted to thank Jim (again, in person) for the wonderful hand-drawn get well cartoon he did for my dad after his cancer diagnosis and before lung surgery. My dad was a huge “Garfield” fan, and getting that drawing (plus the ones from Chris Browne and Marcus Hamilton) meant an awful lot to the man who introduced me to comics and fueled my desire to draw cartoons. Jim was also extraordinary in his above-and-beyond involvement with my traveling exhibition, “One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages.” Jim Davis is one of my cartooning idols who, upon getting to know him, turned out to be a great person.

  3. Spending the day with Jim at his studio with my fellow Indiana Cartoonists, was a day I won’t forget.
    Jim is one of the kindest cartoonists I have ever met.

  4. Jim warned that we’d need tissues … or, in my case, a gym towel. Thank you, Jim! Dad looked so happy! They all were so happy when doing what they loved ….. <3

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