Garfield, started by Jim Davis
in 1978, is the ultimate evolution of the newspaper comic
- an entity perfectly suited
for its niche
. Since said niche is a tiny, usually monochromal unimportant rectangle, the strip is as bland as a Pringles
tube. Not the chips - the cardboard
. It's also the most widespread comic on the planet. At this point, if you're not familiar with it you're obviously a robot yearning to learn about your creators
The formula is deceptively simple: It's designed for profit rather than quality, carefully inoffensive to everyone (which in humor means you're doing things wrong), utterly static so as to not scare readers off and simple enough to be understood by everyone - though just to make sure everything is spelled out. The end result is vaguely amusing for 1.8 seconds and bears the same relation to funny as industrial strawberry flavor has to the real thing.
To be fair, it wasn't always like this. It was never great, always repetitive, but there used to be a quite impressive cast of characters (as described above, though the rubber chicken was excluded), occasional plot and even drama! Garfield discovering his long-lost mother during a wandering that almost cost him his life was a heartfelt zenith. An actual spark surfaced in that story.
Nowadays Davis has outsourced almost the entire comic, preferring to focus on merchandising. Jon, Garfield and Odie are the only survivors of the cast - nobody else has appeared in years. The three make no attempt to fill this void. They have no life, are perpetually bored and prefer to spend a large portion of their on-panel time complaining about this. I present to you a genuine, unaltered transcription of a strip, 11th/03/03:
(Garfield is leaning on Jon's face.)
Garfield: "I'm thinking of burping"
Garfield: "I burped"
Jon: "You don't have a lot going on, do you, Garfield?"
It's funny. Laugh.
There is no plot and even interconnectedness is rare enough to be remarkable. Like some twisted version of Groundhog Day, the comic has trapped a man and his pets to the same, endlessly repeating moments of ennui and apathy.
The status quo has held sway for lo these many years, but recently (as of this writing) notable efforts to improve the strip have been made online. Perhaps it's because those exposed to the good webcomics can't see Garfield and help crying out for, well, ANYTHING, but more likely because people are kinda weird on the internet. Inexplicably, they succeeded! It's sad that this has been neglected by the mainstream media, for it's rock-hard proof of the power of the net: We have made Garfield funny. There can be very little we cannot do.
The smaller effort is the panel-picking Garfield Randomizer. With a few tries, it produces a delightful nugget of absurdity. This didn't last long against the evil lawyers, but the author was considerate enough to leave the source code in view. Frankly: When a random generator gets better results than you, you seriously fail at cartooning.
The greater is a simple but beautiful modification: Remove Garfield's thought bubbles. Suddenly the grey monotony turns into a psychedelic rainbow, punchlines lose redundant underlining, all six facial expressions get their chances to shine and Jon's true madness is exposed. Consider that he can't hear Garfield or Odie, yet he talks to his pets like it was a conversation. His animals are the closest things he has to social contacts. The setting is turned upside down as what seemed to be a loser becomes a mental patient. Personally, I support the theory that Garfield died in his sleep in 1989, driving Jon into deluded isolation.
(Garfield lies in his bunk.)
(A chandelier falls on him.)
(Jon places a bunny slipper on the table. Garfield makes no reaction to anything.)
Jon: "See the bunny slipper, Garfield?"
Jon: "The bunny is sad because he can't find his friend"
Jon: "Do you know where his friend is?"
(Garfield stares at Jon, again making no reaction whatsoever.)
Jon (to Garfield, fiercely): "I'm not pathetic!"
Jon (to Garfield, uncertainly): "Am I?"
Some claim that Jim Davis is a mad genius who has hidden a surreal and subversive comic inside an utterly mediocre one. It may even be so. Or perhaps on the Last Day he will rise up and face Bill Watterson in a battle that will shake the stars themselves. Who can tell?
http://www.truthandbeautybombs.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=4997 - Truth and Beauty Bombs, the origin of dialogue removal and an excellent source of images.
http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=1797416 - Something Awful discussion, this was unavoidable. The best source of images.
http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/natetrue/gar.html - The remnants of the Garfield randomizer.
http://www.garfield.com/comics/comics_archives_strip.html?2003-ga030311 - The first example. Would be better without Garfield's dialogue. Try it!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garfield - Data.