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Interview with Jim Davis

American cartoonist Jim Davis created the popular comic strip Garfield in 1978. Prior to creating Garfield, Davis worked for a local advertising agency and later was an assistant on Tom Ryan’s comic strip, Tumbleweeds. On June 19, 1978, Garfield started syndication in 41 newspapers. Today, it is the most syndicated Sunday cartoon in the world.

You can enter to win the Garfield Brings Home the Bacon Book autographed by Jim Davis in our 30 Days of Giveaways contest! We have several other great prizes to give away in November as well.

When did you know that you wanted to be a cartoonist?
I don’t remember making a conscious decision. I was always just a cartoonist. I remember growing up and drawing funny pictures, mainly to entertain my mom. But the drawings were so bad I had to label them. I’d draw a cow and then an arrow pointing to it with the label “cow.” For me putting the pictures with words came naturally. When I got old enough that I knew I had to make a living, I was already a cartoonist and I decided to go with it.

What was the inspiration for the Garfield strip back in 1978?
I had worked as an assistant for Tom Ryan on Tumbleweeds – a western strip – and during that time I began to study the comics pages. I noticed a lot of strips about dogs – there was Belvedere, Snoopy, Marmaduke, Fred Bassett – but no cats. I figured if dogs were doing so well, why not a cat. I grew up on a farm with 25 cats so I knew enough about cats that I just thought I’m going to do a cat strip.

 Is the strip autobiographical? Are you Jon or Garfield – or perhaps both?
When I was putting the strip together and creating personalities for the characters, I recognized that what the great cartoonists and comics were doing was a study in contrasts. Put smart with stupid, tall with short, fat with skinny. Garfield had a strong personality and was patterned after my grandfather, James A. Davis who was a strong, opinionated and stubborn man – hence the name Garfield. Jon is patterned after me – I’m rather easygoing, wishy-washy, have chubby cheeks, and am positive about life. Garfield is the pessimist.

Do you ever suffer writer’s block?
I only write when I feel funny. If I don’t feel like any funny ideas are coming to me, I don’t write, so it’s impossible to have writers block. That’s the advantage of doing a comic strip. I get to work far enough ahead that I can wait for the funny days to do my writing.

Who or what has inspired or influenced you the most in your work?
When I was working to create the comic strip I was influenced by the established strips – Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois … Mort Walker was a big hands-big feet cartoonist and he knew how to create personalities. Sparky Schulz with Peanuts taught me the power of gentle sentiments in everyday situational humor. Milton Caniff with Steve Canyon took me places I didn’t even know existed. And Johny Hart (B.C.) was just off the wall – he cracked me up with his humor. All these great comic strip artists influenced me and still do.

Andy Warhol’s favorite comic strip was Nancy. What are some of your favorites, past and present?
As far as all time favorites, Blondie, Beetle Bailey, B.C., for its general goofiness – Mother Goose and Grimm is just silly – it’s great art and Mike Peters is a nut and it’s great fun to read. There are an awful lot of great cartoonists out there – I hesitate to name them all. There’s a ton of great stuff online these days. These new young cartoonists keep me looking over my shoulder.  

What and who makes you laugh these days?
I grew up laughing at The Three Stooges – today it’s America’s Funniest Videos. I swear you can’t improve on real life. These are real people doing really funny things. I try to bring that kind of situational humor to the Garfield strip. And I have to tell you my guilty pleasure is YouTube. There’s so much funny and stupid stuff out there. It’s hilarious. Like the guy who talks to his dog. The guy says, “I went out and got some bacon today” and the dog says “Ruuh.” It’s funny stuff. Sometimes the dumber the humor is, the harder I laugh.

Are you a fan of technology? How has it impacted your work?
I have to admit I’m a technology freak. One reason is that I’m lazy. Technology makes everything so much easier. At Paws, Inc. we have a small staff working with a lot of companies worldwide. We do art and approvals electronically and it makes life so much easier. Last year we even started doing the Garfield strip digitally – this helps with quality, consistency, and it’s easier to deliver and translate. I always look forward to the next new technology coming out. It’s kind of like power steering – everything runs smoother. It also opens up a whole new world. In this case it’s information and influences that feed the writing process. It gives me a better perspective of the world at large and I feel better equipped to entertain people in other countries. Also, technology makes life a little easier and gives me a little more time on the golf course.


Does Garfield use Facebook? Do you? 
Tell us about some of your recent and/or upcoming projects.
We have a lot of exciting things on our plate. We just finished Season 3 of “The Garfield Show” and we’ve been given the green-light to begin production on Season 4. We’re already doing treatments and will begin recording this month. Also, our first comic book with Boom Studios came out recently. Garfield #1 is selling well online and getting great reviews. We’ve focused on the digital world with new apps – two are rated tops at Amazon and iTunes. And we’re taking our publishing program digital as well with releases on Barnes and Nobles Nook and the digitization of the Garfield comic strip compilation books. The licensing program in China is growing too – so it’s an exciting time for Garfield.

Garfield has taken to social networking like a duck to water. Facebook seems to be right on for Garfield because he can toss out a bit of humor every day.  Personally, I don’t use Facebook that much. I did open an account – after about 20 seconds I had already heard from my first date to the junior prom – she lives in Arizona now. I’m afraid I wouldn’t get anything else done if I was on Facebook. But Garfield has almost 5 million fans so it’s working for him.  

What’s your favorite book?  
My favorite book is Jack London’s The Call of The Wild which I read in junior high school. That book was magical and the first time I was taken away by a story. I was up north with this dog. It really got me hooked on reading and after that I tried reading a new book every week.

What advice would you give young cartoonists?
The most important piece of advice I can give to young cartoonists is to read. Believe it or not. Read. The more you read, the more depth you have. Remember, as a cartoonist you’re not just an artist; you’re a writer. As far as drawing goes though, the more you draw, the better you will get. Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes) used to say that every artist had about 100,000 bad drawings in him and the sooner you get those out the better. After the first 100,000 bad drawings, every drawing is going to be good. Also, draw realistically. Your characters will have more natural movement that way. Also, you can’t fool the readers. If you’re having fun doing your strip, the reader will have fun reading it. Try using a bunch of different materials, too. Pencils, crayons, sidewalk chalk – this will give you a wealth of experience.

Most importantly, relax and have fun.

You now have grandchildren. Do any of them show interest in art?
I have four grandchildren and they’re all interested in art. But I think most kids are and then they reach this thing called maturity. Some of us make it through still wanting to do art.

I get together with the kids every Friday afternoon. We have a lot of fun and it’s a great excuse for me to stretch my drawing skills. It’s fun for them, too. Having an art studio to hang out in with drawing paper and markers and crayons is neat for a kid. There’s some potential there, too. Who knows, maybe one of them will take the strip over someday.

What would you be doing now if you weren’t a cartoonist?
If I weren’t a cartoonist, I’d probably be a farmer. I grew up on a farm and loved it, but I had asthma as a kid and for that reason I was forced to do something else. I think if I weren’t a cartoonist or a farmer I’d have to find something to do in the art world – advertising or illustration maybe. I love drawing and to visualize things. I love entertaining and to make people laugh.

Tell us about working on the Garfield Calendars.
Every year here at Paws, Inc. we work on a calendar and it’s always considered a “treat.” We all want to work on it. We do it differently each year – different art styles, different writing styles and themes. We get to stretch Garfield a bit and see a different side of him. We laugh a lot when we’re putting the calendar together and probably spend too much time on it – it takes about 6 months of writing and drawing. But it’s something you put on your wall and have to look at everyday so I want you to look at it and laugh. The calendar is really an extension of the comic strip and it’s one of my favorite things to do all year long. 

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