Garfield is a terrible comic. I hate to say it, but there’s no two ways around it. Whatever pep, zang, or originality the comic may have had at its inception has long since been drained over its twenty-two year continuing run. The sad fact is that nobody, not even the best person who ever will live, can make a daily comic for twenty-two years and have it be good. It’s not physically possible.
Garfield’s problem is not that it relies on lazy writing or lazy art or a complete lack of social or political awareness or anything like that. These are merely symptoms of the larger problem: Garfield is based around a premise that is fundamentally broken, that being Garfield himself. To unpack that a little bit, let’s run down Garfield’s defining qualities.
• __Garfield hates Mondays__ – Garfield is a cat. Garfield does not have a job. To Garfield, Monday is just another day, no different from Tuesday, Wednesday, or even Friday. Furthermore, one of Garfield’s essential character traits is that he is incredibly lazy. Even if he could work for a living, would he? I doubt it. You might try to counter by suggesting that what Garfield might hate about Mondays is that it signifies the beginning of another work week for his owner Jon, upon whom Garfield relies for sustenance and attention. You are a goddamn fool. Jon is a jobless loser who lives alone and talks to his pets. This is well-established.
• __Garfield loves lasagna__ – I have never tried this, but I am willing to bet that if a cat ate an entire platter of lasagna, it would die.
• __Garfield hates spiders__ – Everyone knows that cats and spiders are not natural enemies, and, furthermore, if raised together from pups, they can become fast friends.
• __Garfield talks by projecting his thoughts directly into Jon’s head__ – This is just ridiculous.
Clearly, this comic straight up blows and makes no sense.
But what if it doesn’t and does?
What if Jim Davis is actually a spectacular genius who has created one of the greatest comics ever written?
It’s not so hard to imagine when you consider that Garfield is dead.
Dream along with me here: Before the narrative of the comic ever began, Jon Arbuckle had a cat. This cat may or may not have been named Garfield. And before the narrative of the comic begins, that cat died. Jon, whose mental stability may already have been questionable prior to the beginning of the comic, was unable to cope with the death of his cat. In order to prevent himself from committing suicide on the spot, his mind constructed for him a new cat. The “Garfield” of the comic is a construct of Jon’s subconscious, manifested as a means of coping with the death of his cat. Jon is the main character of the comic, not “Garfield,” but “Garfield” is the central focus of the strip because he is the organizing principle of Jon’s life.
By having “Garfield,” Jon is able to externalize and justify the darker aspects of his psyche to prevent them from overwhelming him. Since the death of his cat, Jon has been unable to hold down a job. “Garfield” becomes the vessel for his shiftlessness. What a lazy cat, just sitting around and watching TV all day (never mind that a cat can’t work a remote control)! Too much of a pussy to turn to drugs or alcohol, Jon resorts to binge eating. Who ate all the lasagna? Oh, it was “Garfield” again. Jon is able to “hear” “Garfield’s” thoughts because they are, in fact, his own thoughts.
“Garfield’s” hatred of spiders further corroborates his role as a psychic defense mechanism. While it would be reasonable to assume Jon’s house to be overrun with cockroaches, that it would be overrun by spiders seems unlikely, since such infestations occur mostly in the American southwest, whereas Jon lives in a temperate climate. In fact, the spiders are Jon’s hallucinations, cracks in the veneer of his constructed life, and “Garfield’s” swatting them keeps his schizophrenia at bay, allowing him to continue to (barely) function.
This also explains why Jon feels such a strong attraction to Liz, the sexy veterinarian (Incidentally, “sexy veterinarian” was my costume last Halloween). She has the power to heal animals, and, symbolically, the ability to revive Jon’s cat. However, she also has the power to euthanize them, giving the owner a feeling of closure and control. She alone has the power to euthanize “Garfield” thereby releasing Jon from his state of limbo, but his perpetual inability to woo her makes this impossible. Thus, “Garfield” continues to exist.
I still don’t have an explanation for Odie. Maybe he’s gay or something?