“Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges,” Fairmount-born cartoonist Jim Davis once suggested. “Cats have the courage to live by them—that’s what Garfield is all about.” Davis must have been on to something—his comic strip about the fat orange tabby that debuted in 1978 is now the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world.
Having grown up on a farm with 25 cats, Davis spent his asthmatic childhood indoors doodling, dreaming of becoming the next Charles Schultz. But Garfield the cat, christened with the middle name of the cartoonist’s curmudgeonly grandfather, couldn’t be less like Snoopy. The lazy, wisecracking, mildly vicious feline with a taste for lasagna begrudgingly shares a domicile with dog Odie and human Jon Arbuckle.
Davis spent a few years racking up one of the lowest cumulative grade-point-averages on file at Ball State University (a dubious distinction shared by talk-show host David Letterman) before assisting cartoonist Tom Ryan with his strip Tumbleweeds . After five years drawing his own strip, Gnorm Gnat for the Pendleton, Indiana daily, Davis moved on to a mammalian protagonist.
Two syndicates turned down Garfield before United Features bit in 1978. After running it for a few months, however, the Chicago Sun-Times , along with several other dailies, canceled the cartoon. Readers’ immediate protests brought Garfield back, ultimately resulting in its current distribution in 2400 newspapers, to 200 million daily readers. Since 1981, Jim Davis has managed Garfield’s empire of related merchandise from his Albany-based headquarters Paws, Inc. In addition to having accrued several Emmys for Garfield’s TV ventures, Jim Davis has been named a Sagamore of the Wabash, a Distinguished Hoosier, and an Indiana Living Legend.