Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Nerd in the Door

In every world except Garfield's, automatic doors have sensors to protect people from being smashed in their mighty jaws. In Jon's double-barreled dumb-move, he not only managed to injure himself in an impossible way, but wants to twist the focus into a joke about our horrible relationship with technology. It's not that joke. It's a story about Jon's good intentions being squashed under the weight of his zealousness. It's about unnecessary, overwhelming desire to please others, and being thwarted by your own stupidity and inabilities. Jon feels on some sublimated level that his chivalrous intentions are a positive trait, and refuses to acknowledge that the automatic doors of the Garfield world are telling him otherwise.

Garfield, meanwhile, has concocted a coping strategy that leaves his arm unwrenched and ego unbruised: he doesn't try to impress anyone, and pretends he doesn't care about them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

They Shoot Garfields, Don't They?

Jon's father is such a dyed-in-the-wool hayseed that he can only think of women as breeding stock, and on top of that, absurdly evaluates them using livestock-judging criteria. That's solid enough, but elevating the primary gag is Jon's bored here-we-go-again response. In panel 2, he suddenly remembers his father is insane. His expression in the remaining panels is that of a man disappointed: with his father, and with himself, for thinking for those fleeting seconds that this conversation could be normal. He was calling his father for approval, because he has finally achieved modest success in a basic area of human life, and all he got was a white slavery joke.

Garfield, too, lets us know he understands the joke of the senior Arbuckle's questions. But since he has no vested interest in Jon's dad's reaction, Garfield instead responds to Jon's weary disgust. And it makes him happy. These things matter to cats.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scent of a Veterinarian

In this strip, Jon tries to reconcile his former glumness about women with his recent successful relationship with Liz. In the first panel, Jon repeats a customary lament about the supposed inability of the sexes to relate to each other. In the second panel, something clicks, pops, or lights-up inside Jon, and he realizes the accepted truism doesn't ring true. There are platitudes that are not cosmic truth, but trite ways to justify whatever bad mood you're in, and I think Jon recognizes the tinge of shrug-shouldered misogyny in "women are a mystery".

But Jon doesn't discard the idea entirely. He appends it with affection and admiration that closer approximates his experience with Liz. The new, weighted shift in meaning still holds, even if the punchline is motivated by a general affection for women and not Liz specifically, though that makes it sweeter. Women may be a mystery, after all, but Jon cannot pretend to be irritated or frightened of the idea. His method of expressing this is silly, but the sentiment is strong and positive. Little wonder, then, that Garfield would feel the need to belittle it, and therefore Jon and Liz's relationship, and by proxy all those with romantic interest in women. We don't need your hate speech, kitty cat!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Video-Watching Dog

Title Panel: In the spirit of radical, twisted Garfield self-referentiality, investigate the obnoxious/ funny Bean Me! non-game on the official website. Yours truly chugs enough coffee every day to kill a tabby several times over, and few graphical representations of the queasy ecstasy of caffeine jitters have achieved the subjective accuracy as Garfield.

Since You Asked: A lot of readers left comments or e-mailed, specifically asking for either explanation of the joke or... well, mostly people are just baffled by the joke. Not to boast (as I regularly misread or can't figure out Garfield gags), but I thought it was pretty clear, though that is bolstered by familiarity with Garfield gag techniques. It's a patented Inexplicable Behavior Explained by Last Panel Reveal strip.

The Plot: Jon and Garfield look increasingly anxious. Eventually their frenzy peaks, and they run screaming from the room. Odie sleeps calmly through the outburst, and in the end, reveals the TV remote control, secreted under his body. It seems Jon and Garfield were driven to the brink of madness because they could not find the remote. With his newfound power to choose stations, Odie selects a program about a dog waving at the camera.

The question of when a mini-TV was put on The Table remains unanswered.

Man and His Machines: Odie dupes his intellectual superiors by striking at their cultural Achilles heel. The readership may find it fair or unfair, but television in Garfield is always depicted as idiotic and intellectually corrupting. Today, being deprived of this commodity of idiocy causes panic and eventual degeneration into helpless, preverbal animalistic frenzy. There are any number of icons of sustenance Odie could withhold from the Garfield cast, to cause such a meltdown. Garfield without coffee, Pooky or lasagna or Jon with a locked sock drawer might react the same way, but it is telling that the stupidest character achieves power over the others by mastery over their stupidest addiction.

So pervasive is Odie's conquest that he summons programs that do not seem to otherwise exist, and he has made Jon and Garfield forget that the main, full-size television is still available for use in the living room, and probably uses an entirely different remote control.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dog Bytes Man

At a glance, it may be a standard-issue "These Days Everybody Is On The Internet!" joke. Garfield is usually surprisingly in-touch with technology for a strip about a cat and a guy sitting around at a table; it's in a rare league with Dilbert and Fox Trot of strips that don't blow it every time a computer appears. Everybody Is On The Internet is not a particularly offensive or ignorant joke anyway, and this one comes with added Garfield venom.

Everybody is on the Internet, even those people with no real reason to be. If there is any knowledge or entertainment to be gained from the official Tabasco Sauce website, we are hard pressed to find it. Garfield's joke points out that not only is everyone on the Internet, and not only do they not need websites, but some individuals and experiences cannot/ should not be translated to the medium. The dog is so swept up in the perception of a website as modern necessity, that he contradicts the purpose of his sign in the first place, namely as a warning to avoid the dog. As a MAD Magazine fold-out poster said, "DO NOT READ THIS SIGN".

The strip confirms the central hollowness of virtual replacement for real-world experience, no matter how miserable (e.g.- getting bitten by a crazy dog). All Garfield has to see is "www" before glancing out at his audience to confirm our mutual disgust. Do not read this Internet.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Choose which joke you like more:

1) There was a rabbit in this yard, and whether ironic or not, the passers-by were alerted to the pet by a "Beware Of Bunny" sign. Then a huge dog ate the bunny. Then Garfield came by, wondered where the rabbit was, and was horrified when the dog revealed his massacre by loudly belching.

2) The purple-gray Madame Mim-esque animal sitting in the yard is supposed to be a grotesquely outsized man-weight rabbit. Garfield is aghast that such a monstrosity could be called "bunny".

3) Some unfathomable conflation of #1 & #2.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Waiting for Dogot

Garfield loves jokes that point out our conditioning to rules, control systems, and society's behavior restrictive constructs. By extension, Garfield questions and draws attention to ideological apparatuses, though the conclusions drawn are largely more observational and defeatist than progressive. As today, this is usually manifest as i) the application of a familiar rule system to a situation in which it cannot logically restrict, or ii) the continued cooperation with outmoded rule systems well past the point of usefulness, outside logic, or the original intention.

This is best demonstrated, as above, in individual strips and jokes, but is reflected to a degree in the general plot/situation and regular behavior of characters. Garfield continues nominally behaving like a cat, despite opposable thumbs. Jon and Garfield watch endless amounts of television less out of enjoyment than cultural obligation. Odie frequently puts himself in position at the edge of the table, waiting to be kicked, because he has internalized his role in the stock situation.

The Beware of Dog strip above relies first on our recognition of the omnipresent deli numbered waiting system, and the absurdity of a dog having access to and understanding of this system, and the mechanical ability to install it. That is fine and good, but the real mystery and contradictions are dense and endless. Why would anyone wait in line to be bitten? Don't we sometimes wait in longer lines for equally miserable, arbitrary tasks? Doesn't the acceptance of the waiting line by participants negate the purpose and message of the "Beware" sign? Why do people choose to obey one sign over the other? Do we simply try to compute every fresh directive, even when it contradicts prior knowledge? Why does Garfield take a number and take his place in line? His weary sideways glare tells us that he has the ability to see through the inanity of the situation. The Garfield conclusion tends to be that self-awareness is not a free ticket self-improvement. Knowing where you are does not set you free.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Canis Complexo Cattus

Affection in Garfield is an aggressive emotion, its most frequent expressions normally portrayed as unwelcome and overbearing. In its most common manifestations, we see Jon's desperation for love from Liz, and companionship and respect from Garfield, Odie's indiscriminate attacks of physical ardor, Nermal's narcissistic longing for praise and attention. This is not to say it is a negative, or destructive impulse, just that the infrequency of characters exhibiting reciprocity to caring and understanding give affection a specific power and commodity in the world as Garfield sees it. The means by which Garfield copes with this shortage is to channel desire into aesthetic passion for food, sleep, TV, flowers, etc., which he variously decimates or overindulges and exhausts the love-object. This is less self-delusory than an act of self-deprivation; in the interest of sustaining control over his surroundings and self, Garfield eliminates from his nature those desires which cannot be reliably self-fulfilled. In effort to maintain his Cool, love takes a backseat.

So when faced with warning that his tactics for moving through the world emotionally unscathed may be undermined by force, Garfield panics, and casts his normally cooling, penetrative gaze about in comic impotence. Love comes crashing, blundering in sudden and huge, but unstoppable even with forewarning. Garfield finds himself pressed face-first into a heart that mirrors his own technique of avoiding communication by taking what he wants by force; his eyeballs smushed the unavoidable reality of love's existence. You may be scared, but can't deny it, when it its clutch.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sixteen, Canine and Shy

Garfield often trades in the absence of objects, ideas or feelings to conjure the presence of a joke: food Garfield has stolen, Garfield's failure to respond verbally to Jon, or lack of empathetic response to Jon's problems. Above, the absence of the dog itself seems at first to inadequately justify or explain a sign warning against it. The 1, 2 count of the joke being if the dog is shy, the (sign) reader needn't be wary, and the sign is the only testament to a dog that is so shy it would not otherwise appear. That is, the sign contradicts itself in multiple, self-defeating ways, while serving only to put the dog, who wants to be left alone, front and center in the reader's mind.

A knee-jerk response might be to say the strip would be funnier and achieve the visual sparsity in Garfield that I'm always talking about, if the dog did not appear at all in the final panel, leaving only the empty lawn and sign. This was my own reaction on first read, but the reveal of the dog confirms its existence, and further extends the complex play between language and visual . The already confused sign, which has the appearance of making sense while seeming to achieve opposing goals, finally does protect the dog, in spite of itself. First, the dog is visually concealed by the sign. The most basic level - the physical impossibility of the large dog squeezing itself behind a small sign - doesn't concern us so much as that the signifier ends up physically masking the object signified. Secondly, the language on the sign is so muddled that it cannot be decoded properly; unable to entirely map the territory to which the signifier points, Garfield chooses "SHY" as the key idea over "BEWARE". Despite approaching from the side where the dog is hiding, and seeing the dog, Garfield walks past without a glance, assured not to worry by a sign that would seem to say the opposite. The dumb-tongued intent of the warning ends up functioning to protect the dog's feelings and the passer-by, leaving only the third party in the audience with full comprehension.

The whole episode points to another Garfield truism, that announcing one's own failings and negative traits loud and proud tends to help you get what you want, for better or worse.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bag the Dog

The form of the Garfield Beware of Dog sign joke is normally that the sign seems absurdly specific or unlikely, then Garfield finds out it is accurate or ironic in a way that effects the degree to which one should be concerned about the dog's propensity to attack. This looks like it may be a different joke, but at heart it is not. The dog having a bag on its head does not render it unable to attack, though Garfield stands by comfortably, as if now that the sign's message is reconciled, he is safe from harm. The sign does not warn of traditional attack, but an assault on aesthetics: the dog's ugliness itself requires wariness. The bag on the dog's ugly face neutralizes the threat, so Garfield is "safe" and unharmed, though standing within inches of a growling dog twice his size.

But Garfield still favors us with his sidelong glance of revolted disappointment. Casual readers will probably interpret the expression as acknowledges of the outlandish image, or even the half-heartedness of the joke. I propose the strip is also about the aesthetic of Garfield itself. Garfield passes contentedly through the first panel, an uncluttered ideal Garfield landscape, with a mid-frame horizon line, and utter void of other details; most Dog Sign strips do not start with such an image. Piece by piece this ideal is cluttered with props debris and partially-coherent raw joke-material, first shocking, then disgusting Garfield as he forges further ahead into the mess and mystery. After the release of the punchline, Garfield seems less impressed by the resolution than repulsed by the effort of resolving the illegible. Garfield is happier with no one, and nothing else crowding and complicating the space without permission.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Jon-derful Ice Cream SQUIRRRRRRRT

Title Panel: Oh boy, Garfield, the gooey scrapings off your greasy spoon's grill are gray? Please serve me a pastrami sandwich and a foot-long pickle spear.

Bottom Left: The panel at the extreme bottom left corner is a prime opportunity to see just how flexible Davis is with Garfield's anatomy. The left arm needs to be 12 inches long? No sweat. Don't need the other arm? Fine, it's 12 millimeters long.

The Gesture of Kindness, Rebuked: Jon is so generous as to not only give ice cream to Garfield, but to serve it for him, and even allow Garfield to administer his own chocolate syrup. It is an act of sharing, and faith in Garfield's responsibility, and trust that he will not abuse this trust. Garfield makes good on none of Jon's good faith. The cynical observation is not to trust anyone, not to share without limit, and to take what you can, when you can. The less cynical observation is that Garfield, contented and oblivious, or maybe simply not caring, as he totally shafts Jon on the syrup, is not the role model to follow here. It is a joke about nice guys finishing last, but given no indicators of which character to empathize with, Garfield is less about lessons than observations about How Things Are.

The meek shall inherit the earth, but not before they are taken advantage of, squirrrted, guck-ed and left with naught but an empty plastic bottle.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Garfield Walk With Me

Beneath every close friendship runs a terrifying undercurrent of hatred. You know each others' pressure points, anxieties, and secrets. The tension is in the knowledge that these powers could be unleashed, the pact is that they will not, the reality is that they seep out in small doses all the time. An enemy cannot cause you quite so much pain as a friend.

The stare Garfield gives Jon, that makes him so uncomfortable, is administered on almost a daily basis. It is practically Garfield's default expression. The above communication, acknowledging as it does, that Garfield trademark derisive glare is as much for Jon's benefit as his own or ours, adds even further sadism to the last 28 years of strips. That Jon receives this treatment when only offering to have fun with Garfield, or offer assistance with light self-improvement (walking with your friend is probably the least taxing exercise possible), extends Garfield's reaction into mild overkill. Refusal is not enough, smart comeback is not enough. Garfield has to respond to an innocent question by pulling out a move designed to hurt Jon; the condescending stare-through is doubly-annoying because it's being employed after entreaties not to.

Garfield is trying to get across the relativist idea that what sounds "nice" to Jon may not sound nice to Garfield. All Jon ends up hearing is crickets, as Garfield's silent stare continues to burn through him. I'm reminded of the Beavis and Butt-Head Zen observation "I don't' like stuff that sucks"; Garfield inverts even the inarguable. In "You know how I hate nice walks," the implication is partly that somehow Garfield is so overwhelmingly negative that he's able to reject things that are empirically pleasant. Next time some one tells you Garfield is stupid, feel free to tell them that stupid is the new "brilliant."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Garfield After Dark

Garfield could have, and would have done the same thing with his evening, whether Jon was home or not. One might protest another problem with this joke about how Garfield's plans to cut loose without any authority figures around: not only does Garfield not respect the authority or find Jon much hindrance, but his goals are so mild. I don't have a problem with just this low key observation; eating junk food and watching TV all night is probably how a lot of us kick back and enjoy a night without the roommate/spouse/whatever,-it's-your-business.

The semi-joke is bolstered with slight, telling uneasiness when Garfield lovingly includes his food and electronics in a collective pronoun. There's also the implication that Garfield is using Jon's absence as an excuse for binging and being sedentary; telling himself he's only doing this because Jon's not here to stop him, as if he would behave differently otherwise.

The potentially awkward situation of a cat thinking silently to no one/the fourth wall but still setting up a joke with a visual reveal is cleverly handled with a contact-print style symmetrical layout. I can't really say the suspended thought bubble in an otherwise empty panel two exactly generates suspense for the punchline, but it's a nice layout. But yeah, it's mostly a strip about how fun it is to be home alone, even when you're just going to goof off in an unexciting way. That's actually kind of a nice observation that I don't see too often, so, uh, enjoy your "TV remote", Garfield. Do you plan to use it on the TV, or just eat cookies and look at it?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Clothes Make the Arbuckle

Jon may not know what a dress code is (seriously?), but it probably won't matter, since he customarily wears a jacket and tie on dates anyway. There must be some note of social idiocy in Jon's voice that indicates to maitre d's that he is unfamiliar with basic rules of dining etiquette. Even better, it turns out to be true. Somewhere deep inside, I know this joke pushes Jon's social retardation a little too far: he not only doesn't know what a dress code is, but doesn't know what kind of clothes are for girls and which are for boys (seriously?).

Hey Garfield, so far as I can tell, Jon's had dates three nights in a row. And he may not know that ladies don't wear ties, but when was the last time you "got out"? And yes, Jon has a look of wonderment because a restaurant requires jackets, but still, good job sassing a guy who has a date by confirming that he needs a date. Witness the desperate lengths to which a lifelong curmudgeon must go when faced with a man making self-improvements.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Orange Violin

Clarifications for the Curious:
-We may assume Jon is not still making his Chuck E. Cheese requests from yesterday, but making reservations at another restaurant for another date. The immediacy of placing the two strips next to each other might seem confusing, but Garfield tends to group running gags as close together as possible. This is not a technique utilized by many other strips, because it tends to draw attention to the format, and may indicate to the audience that the writer is idea-starved. Garfield, on the other hand, takes care to highlight its stock situations, which goes hand-in-hand with the strip's ongoing mission to provide variants on a narrow range of interests. This trait that does not go unappreciated by fans, as indicated by the nearly illiterate Wikipedia article (ugh) which attempts and fails to catalog these situations. The good news is that Jon is organizing another date, which means Liz wasn't put off by the robot mouse. Take that, Garfield!

-The "juice harp" Jon speaks of is chicken-speak neologism for Jew's harp. Jew's harp is not an antisemetic term, as far as etymologists know, though all the dictionaries I consulted (and followed by the presumed experts at the Jew's Harp Guild website) are unsure about the derivation. I can't fault Garfield for the editor-pleasing, nonconfrontational choice, but the uncommon terminology does confuse the gag a little. Why not just say "jaw harp", which is equally wrong, but more recognizable?

In any case, forget the poor romantic substitution of a Jew's harp for a violin, and Jon's dismay at how weird the world is: the real joke is that Jon turns to his cat to help him decide if he should accept the proposal. Garfield, either hoping to sabotage the date, or figuring it's going to be an evening of idiocy anyway, silently nudges Jon toward disaster. Leave it to Garfield to find a way to turn affirmation into a way of being negative.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rock-afire Pizza Cats

There exists the level on which this joke is simply that Jon plans to take Liz to Chuck E. Cheese, and naturally a woman of Liz's refinement will not appreciate the child-oriented restaurant. The scenario may or may not be true, but it's why Garfield is sarcastically comparing Jon's date to A Night to Remember, the ironically-titled movie about the Titanic disaster. I've pointed out before that the kind of innocence and enthusiasm Jon displays in panel 3 is probably the reason Liz likes him. It is, naturally, the same quality Garfield frequently attacks in Jon, because he does not possess it himself.

It's dorky to take a grown woman to a kid's arcade/pizza joint (unless it's some puzzling form of slumming?), but Jon keeps doing things like this, and Liz keeps dating him. The long-term reader realizes Garfield is essentially sniping about nothing, and projecting his feelings onto Liz. One of those feelings is insecurity. Whatever, Garfield, like you don't like pizza!

Further Reading!:
In a weird reality-twisting moment, I wonder if Garfield is acknowledging a historical close-call: in the early '80s during a period when the merged (Chuck E. Cheese's) Pizza Time Theater and ShowBiz Pizza Place were struggling to unify their identity, and unable to sustain exclusive contracts with their animatronic developers, Creative Engineering, the company looked for ways to phase out the ShowBiz house robot-band, The Rock-afire Explosion. The plan was to introduce animatronic licensed characters from other media. Spider-Man was considered (?). Superman was a contender. And Garfield was in the running. Yogi Bear won. The plan failed. The Rock-afire Explosion was abandoned, the Yogis dismantled, the ShowBizzes re-converted into Chuck E. Cheese's. We missed our chance for a giant animatronic Garfield to sing doo wop while we ate crappy pizza.

Special thanks to the ShowBiz Pizza.Com archive for absolutely all the above information.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Meows in My Coffee

Disconnected Thoughts:

-I've got to confess unusual amount of persona bias today, even for Permanent Monday. I love spit takes. In physical/ photographic productions, spit takes are not only cheap, easy way to provide a striking visual image, and generate a surprising shock effect more interesting than a scream, but they externalize an emotional reaction in a semi-abstract manner only partially based on real behavior. You know what a spit take "means", even though people rarely, if ever, actually "do" spit takes.

-Garfield, toying with form, withholding spectatorial expectations, and conventional comics wisdom, eliminates the moment of release. The spit take itself falls between beats in the visual rhythms of the panels. The result is mildly deconstructive of comedy language, and a contribution to Garfield's running experimentation with denying the reader the moment of comic pleasure he is expecting, while supplying something he didn't know he wanted. Namely Jon covered in cat-spit and coffee.

-It is ambiguous if Garfield's spit take is motivated by skepticism that Jon is learning about women (uh, isn't he, probably? If anything, it's an honest admission that prior to having a steady, he didn't know anything about women), or he's amused by the unintentional (?) double-entendre Jon's made. I guess it's not really a double entendre, so much as the possibility he's talking about sexual knowledge. I don't see the point in being coy when talking about a comic strip about a cat spitting coffee on a nerd.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cat Scratch Fever

Title Panel: Normally a non sequitur opportunity to place Garfield and his name in unfamiliar context for no reason, today the title panel takes advantage of the forum's allowance of exaggerated artwork to create an impressionistic emblem of the character's key passions for food, sleep, and outrageous laziness. The drawing is stretched and grotesque enough that only by familiarity with Garfield iconography we even recognize what we're looking at. It is an image of comical concentration that could have run by itself as a daily strip.

Garfield: With just as much exertion of his arm muscle, could have scratched his own back. Or he could have done what other cats do, and curled up in Jon's lap for a petting. But achieving simple goals through psychological gamesmanship is a Garfield habit, and most of the time proving his manipulation skills seems to mean more than taking pleasure in the desired result. There are times in life when enjoying the journey over the destination is healthy and meditative. This is not one of them.

Jon: Jon has a great series of takes in the bottom row, in which he thinks he has Garfield's hand-signal game figured out, then for some reason starts really getting into it, and ends with an Arbuckle slow-burn... as he continues scratching Garfield's back. There are few things in human psychology more hilarious to behold than someone confidently plowing forward when we know he is clueless, and a man trudging forward through an activity he hates as he complains about doing it.