When Jim Davis first created Garfield he never imagined how iconic the sarcastic overweight, orange tabby cat would become. Davis, the Indiana farm boy began making comics as a child and named his most famous character, Garfield, after his grandfather—a gruff man with a soft heart.
Since those early comics in the late 1970s, Garfield has grown to be an international brand, with movies, TV shows, books, and merchandise galore. In 1981, Davis founded Paws, Inc. a company that employs licensing experts, artists and writers who work to manage Garfield’s global brand.
But it’s the creation of Garfield musical that Davis can now cross off his bucket list.
“Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude” opened Feb. 3 and runs through Feb. 18 at Walnut Street Theater. The musical tells the story of Garfield, the overweight, sarcastic kitty who loves lasagna, excited about his upcoming birthday party. But when all his friends seem to have forgotten, Garfield runs away, only to learn an invaluable lesson in the end.
"Cartoonists are frustrated playwrights. We write the script we set the stage, we create the blocking. We are the directors and the producers,” joked Davis. “The honesty in Garfield may be what has made it such a success. Having patience and being able to speak your mind[...] You develop a relationship with characters like that, and I always thought that if I could get Garfield to last more than two or three years then I could do this for the rest of my career.”
Today, he’s busy running the licensing company, and Davis relies on a staff of cartoonists to draw the daily comic strip. However he himself drafts and sketches multiple strips at one time, and of course Davis has the final say on the finished product. With so much behind the orange tabby and for so many years, it may come as little surprise Garfield is the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip.
For Davis, the pleasure of creation is in the joy it brings others. Some of the most valuable lessons he’s learned in the comics industry have come the from perseverance.
“If you have fun doing something, then others will have fun seeing it or reading it [...] When I speak with school groups, I emphasize, do what makes you happy. That’s the most important thing.”