Jim Davis’ Comic Strips Before Garfield

Despite being the world’s most syndicated comic, pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars every year, Garfield was originally meant to be very different, even following a different character in Jim Davis’ original vision. The cynical, always hungry tabby has appeared on endless merchandise, starred in various movies and TV shows, and is instantly recognizable by fans across the world – however, he wasn’t supposed to be the focus of his own comic.

Jim Davis’ comic success didn’t happen overnight, and he actually launched a totally different franchise before ever thinking up Garfield (more on that shortly.) However, even in the case of the lazy orange cat, Davis’ original vision was a comic starring Garfield’s owner Jon Arbuckle. In fact, when Davis’ strip first appeared in The Pendleton Times in 1976, it was titled Jon.

Robert Wood for Screen Rant delves into the early cartooning career of Jim Davis at The Pendleton Times, including Jim Davis’s first published comic strip.

Before Garfield, and before even Jon, Jim Davis’ first professional comic was Gnorm Gnat – a newspaper strip about a sarcastic, fourth-wall-breaking bug. Preceding Jon in The Pendleton Times, Gnorm Gnat began publication in 1973, but wasn’t picked up by other newspapers despite Davis’ best efforts. Tonally, Gnorm Gnat is very similar to Garfield, and indeed many jokes from Davis’ original comic made it into Garfield later with minor changes. One place where Gnorm Gnat is unique is basing gags on the character’s size, with the strip’s insects sometimes being randomly crushed by clueless humans.

Further reading:

The Garfield Wiki has more background on Jon and has the comic strips.

The Garfield Wiki also has a history of Gnorm Gnat and those comic strips.

One thought on “Jim Davis’ Comic Strips Before Garfield

  1. For comparison, here is the syndicated version of Lyman’s first appearance, dated 7-Aug-1978:

    P.S. It’s not the original artwork, of course, because Davis had someone on his staff go back and colorize the original strips. I don’t think it was an improvement.

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