Advertisement
Advertisement
Latest News!

Question :

Were you born to be a cartoonist?

Answer :

Yes, I was dropped on my head a lot when I was a baby.

There's a lot of dry, sarcastic wit in my family, so that part came easily to me. But, I wasn't a natural artist as a kid. I was asthmatic and spent a lot of time in bed as a child. My mom used to shove a pencil and a piece of paper in my hands and tell me to entertain myself.

My first drawings were so bad I had to label them. I'd draw a cow and label it with an arrow pointing to the cow. But, over time, I improved.

Question :

Did you study art?

Answer :

I did take art and drama classes in high school and I attended Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana) where I studied art and business. As it turns out, both have been important in doing what I do now.

Question :

When and how was the character of Garfield born?

Answer :

I worked for Tom Ryan, the creator of the Tumbleweeds cartoon, for several years. I learned the discipline and skills it takes to become a syndicated cartoonist by watching Tom. I tried my hand at my own cartoon, Gnorm Gnat; a strip based on a bug. Comics editors at the newspaper syndicates thought the strip was funny, but as one put it, “Bugs? Who can relate to a bug?” So I decided to take a hard look at the comics page. I noticed that dogs were doing well; there was Snoopy, Marmaduke, Belvedere, but no cats! So I decided to use my experience with cats when I was growing up to my advantage. That’s when I started doodling around with cat drawings. In 1977, I came up with the idea, and on June 19, 1978, the first Garfield strips appeared in 41 U.S. newspapers.

Question :

Was it hard to break into the business?

Answer :

Breaking into the business was tough. Very tough. I bet I received enough rejection notices to wallpaper a cathedral. But, I did get two important breaks. One was my job with Tom Ryan, where I was able to hone my skills and really find out first-hand what it takes to be a syndicated cartoonist. The second break came when the comics editor at United Feature Syndicate actually took a shine to my work and was willing to give me some pointers, which helped me eventually land the syndication deal.

Question :

Is Garfield in any way like you? Do you like lasagna? Did you take some of his characteristics from anyone you know?

Answer :

In some ways I’m a lot like Garfield. I love the good things in life – food, relaxing, TV, food. I do love lasagna, and just about any Italian food, especially pizza. On the other hand, I’m pretty driven and a hard worker, so in that way, I’m nothing like Garfield.

Many of Garfield’s characteristics are culled from my impressions of all the farm cats I remember from my childhood. I combined typical cat-like traits with the personality of my Grandfather, James “Garfield” Davis, who was a rather curmudgeonly fellow with a dry wit.

Question :

Do you have any tips for young comics artists?

Answer :

Yes, read, read, and read. To be a good comic-strip artist you must be a good writer. Art’s important, but writing can make or break you. Learn all you can. Watch movies and TV. Socialize. Have friends and activities. Study people and their behavior. Draw. Try different drawing tools and styles. Above all, have something to say that’s unique or different—something that’s especially “you.”

Question :

Can you describe your art style?

Answer :

I try to keep lines simple, and that's something I learned by watching Charles Schulz. My strip is pretty clean looking, stylistically.

Question :

I bet you receive thousands of fan letters from around the world. Do you answer any of them?

Answer :

We answer all of them. I don’t personally read each letter; I have someone who helps me with that. But I do read some of the ones that are singled out because they’re funny, sweet, or maybe even a little crazy. I do sign each and every reply letter and I think what the fans are saying is very important.

Question :

Which comic heroes did you like in your childhood? Which ones do you like today?

Answer :

I loved Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Prince Valiant, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Pogo, and Henry – just about all the old cartoons. They took me places I had never been before and opened my eyes to the world.

Today I enjoy Peanuts, Blondie, Cathy, For Better or For Worse, The Far Side, Doonesbury, Mother Goose & Grimm, Beetle Bailey, Get Fuzzy—my favorite is probably Calvin & Hobbes, but it’s no longer being done, which is a shame.

Question :

Do you have any cartoonists you idolize?

Answer :

I have a several idols--but Sparky Schulz is certainly right up there. Sparky taught me the incredible power in the lighthearted treatment of the gentle things in life. I idolize Mike Peters because he's so "out-there" -- his art is pure electricity and his humor is as enthusiastic as any ten-year- old. I adore Lynn Johnston's graceful style of writing and drawing and for bringing the family strip into the 90's. I admire Mort Walker's great sense of timing and his ability to distill the cartoon line to its most humorous common denominator. When I was a kid, I was transfixed by Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon. It opened up worlds I didn't know existed. And I'll always admire Walt Kelly and George Herriman (Pogo and Krazy Kat) for showing that an artist can do a feature for his own pleasure and there will still be a market for it. And, Jonny Hart does some of the silliest stuff on the comics pages. I love silly!

Question :

Could you describe your working day?

Answer :

My working day starts about 6:00 a.m. I read e-mail, answer letters, address business issues. The rest of the staff of Paws, Inc. comes in around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. I’m involved in lots of meetings and there are always business decisions that have to be made since there are licensing, publishing, TV syndication deals in almost every country.

I set aside one week each month to focus on writing the comic strip. Once I get in writing mode, the gags can sometimes really flow and I might write 4-6 weeks worth of material in one week.

I have several assistants on the comic strip who help with blue-lining, inking, lettering, and coloring.

On a normal day, I’d say I work 12-14 hours – thank goodness I love what I’m doing.

Question :

Where do you get your funny ideas? How do you know what will make the readers laugh and what won't?

Answer :

When I write for Garfield, I see him in my mind's eye. I put Garfield in a certain situation and just follow him until something funny happens. Then I back up three frames and try to record what has happened in the comic strip. Garfield’s such a strong personality—he really writes his own material these days!

It’s true that everyone has a different idea of what’s funny. I figure if I laugh at a gag, someone else will, too. You just have to trust your gut instinct in that area. I try not to cross the line of good taste, although I’ve been close a few times. I also stick with themes that are universal: eating and sleeping.

Question :

Are you bothered by the commercialization of Garfield?

Answer :

No, I’m glad people want to have Garfield on their coffee cups, T-shirts, or on a poster. He’s really a character with many expressions and attitudes, and I think it’s neat if someone can relate to the character enough to want to demonstrate that by owning something “Garfield.” It’s flattering. Garfield’s success has opened up many doors for me, allowed me to live a comfortable life, allowed me to travel and see things I might never had seen otherwise. It also allows me to wear different hats on the job. I can be an artist and cartoonist one minute, a designer the next minute, an advertising executive the next. I also happen to like the people I work with – if Garfield wasn’t a commercial success, I would never have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many nice, creative, talented, funny people.

Question :

Why, in your opinion, do people love comic strips?

Answer :

I think people need an escape from the hard news they read about and see on TV. Comics are an escape from reality. If nothing else, they force you to take a break, sit back and relax for a minute while you enjoy your morning coffee, and hopefully prompt you to think, “life’s not so bad.”

Question :

Why do you think Garfield has been so popular?

Answer :

I think Garfield takes our guilt away for being, essentially, lazy slobs. We're constantly hearing "Exercise. Reduce cholesterol. Lower your fat intake." Garfield's out there saying, "Go ahead. Have that donut!" He's an antihero.

Question :

Do you ever consider retiring?

Answer :

They’ll have to pry the pencil out of my cold dead hand.

Advertisement
Advertisement