Six Damn Fine Degrees #2: Garfield

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

We started our free-fall association into culture with Julie’s sublime entry on John Garfield. We continue with a sudden, nauseating lurch towards something rather more ridiculous. Have you ever had a close look at the things you liked as a child… and shuddered?

To be honest, as something of a cultural snob, I tend to think that my tastes were already pretty well developed as a child. I have few regrets when I look back at the media and art I used to enjoy. But in the long dark night of the soul I have to face up to the fact that I was a fan of Garfield. I liked cats and we had a big, fat, lazy cat of our own, though he wasn’t orange and his name was Herbie. (He may have been into lasagne, but then, Herbie ate anything, in particular anything that was not supposed to be for him but for us.) We bought Garfield books. I played Big, Fat, Hairy Deal, the dreadful Garfield game on my C-64. I learnt how to draw him, and he definitely looked better than the misshapen horror that was Garfield during his first few years. I even once wrote a love letter to an early teenage crush of mine on the front of which I’d drawn Garfield.

Thing is, if I now look at the cartoons, I don’t have the slightest clue why I ever liked Garfield. Is it just the Pavlovian reflex of someone who likes cats? Jim Davis’ cartoons were lazily drawn. The humour was repetitive. There was none of the cleverness or pathos that comic strips such as Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes had at their best. Read one Garfield cartoon and you’ve pretty much read them all. The cat loves lasagne and hates Mondays. The dog is stupid, and so is the owner. That’s basically it. If you fed a deep-learning algorithm with several years worth of Garfield, the results wouldn’t be worse than the originals. In fact, it might be better.

There were various attempts to improve on Garfield, most of which consisted of removing things: the cat’s thoughts and ability to speak, finally the cat itself. Personally, I think that the best we could do to Garfield is to forget him completely… though, sadly, that would also mean we’d lose the best joke in Zombieland. Is the continued existence of one of the world’s least funny cartoons, and my childhood embarrassment that comes with it, worth it for Bill Murray’s confession of his biggest regret?

P.S.: Yup. My Garfield still looks better than Jon Davis’ early version of the character.

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