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Origin Stories: Jim Davis and Garfield

The Ball State Daily News is celebrating some of their famous alumni – Jim Davis is one.

Eventually, Davis studied art and business at Ball State before going to work for Tumbleweeds creator Tom Ryan. Shortly after, Davis began his own strip called Gnorm Gnat.

Davis, who still serves as president of Paws, Inc., maintains connections with Ball State. He founded The Professor Garfield Foundation, which supports children literacy, in collaboration with the university.

In between the two excerpts above is Ball State’s profile of its (most?) famous graduate.



Far more cynical is Karl Smallwood and Matt Blitz‘s account of Jim Davis creating Garfield.

They take a Jim Davis quote – “Garfield was nothing more than ‘a conscious effort to come up with a good, marketable character'” – and run with that.

The article gives a decent history of Garfield (and Gnorm the Gnat) but from the viewpoint that it was all motivated by greed, not by a cartoonist creating a good, popular comic strip.

I do take exception to a few points:

At the same time, Davis noticed that nobody had yet created a popular comic about a cat, which he saw as being a huge gap in the market.

George Gately had created Heathcliff earlier in the decade and it was successful, though not Peanuts/Blondie successful. Also, a couple years before Garfield was the Kliban Cat phenomena.


Using this platform of the most read comic in the world, Davis was able to easily execute stage two of his, quite frankly, genius plan- merchandising…Davis had no qualms about leveraging his ingenious creation to squeeze every dime possible out of it.

Only in an end note do the authors hint (but not state) that Jim does insist on quality from his licensees.

A few more things bother me, like taking quotes out of context (see that “conscious effort” quote above) to further their approach, but I’ll let others pick those nits.

They do end the article with a kind of backhanded compliment:

Davis also is noted for being great on collaborations and apparently a really cool guy.

The feature can be read at Today I Found Out.




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