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.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Keystone Clops

p1. Miserable as Garfield may make him (see panel 3!), if this is what Jon does with his spare time, keeping Garfield around may also serve the function of keeping Jon's life interesting. Not that this is much different than how I spend my spare time. Note also that Garfield himself spends even more time "zoning out", but less for the reason that he is dull, than a deep satisfaction with himself.

p2. Comics Technique 101: The relative size of the onomatopoeia sound effect is most frequently depicted in correlation to the volume of the sound it depicts. This is not the only possibility, however, and equal power may be derived from a subjective depiction of the sound. In the above Garfield strip, the sound of a plastic dish full of soft canned food landing on a man's skull which is padded with poofy hair, probably does not make such a loud "clop" as to warrant filling the entire panel with the noise. But the effect of portraying the sound as Jon hears it, and the added ability of the lettering obliterating our view of the action, maintains the mystery of the source of the noise for the third panel reveal.

p3. Bless again the decades of winnowing down Garfield comics shorthand. Three lines under Jon's eyes are all the "reaction" needed to convey his exhaustion and frustrated acceptance of Garfield's antics. We do not need to see the perpetrator to know that Garfield threw his dish, nor are we confused by the single-word horseshoe pitching joke in a thought bubble extending from off-frame. In Garfield, every simple element is weighted and clear, a model of comics refinement.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Cat's Donut Dance

Panel 1: Damn it, Jon, seriously, you left a plate of donuts out on the table unguarded? You expect to be eating any donuts today? Though he is not in it, this panel tells us more about Jon than Garfield; about his bottomless capacity for trust, and refusal to admit how his friend treats him. Fall guys are funniest when they set up their own fall.

Panel 2: Well. At least Jon was only expecting "a donut" out of an entire plate of sinkers. When a man's dreams are so small... it just makes them easier to crush.

I haven't anything insightful to add about it, but Garfield standing with hands on hips and expression of satisfaction at a mouthful of fried dough gave me a laughing cramp.

Panel 3: The giant cat tongue is a good sight gag, offering saliva-drenched food a good gross-out gag, and the conciliatory gesture Garfield knows Jon would never accept a sharp character note about remorselessness and insincerity. Note also: It is impossible to know how much time elapses between Panels 1 and 2, which is the secret power of the punchline. In Panel 2 it looks for all the world like Garfield is chewing the donuts. Surprise! This begs another question. If all six donuts visible on the plate are accounted for on his tongue, plus another presumably buried in the stack, plus another now mushed into his cheeks, where in his anatomy was Garfield concealing the 8+ donuts? And where might we get a donut with pale blue frosting?

Verdict: Garfield donut jokes are hilarious.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Cookie, The Thief, His Stripes & the Poster

A good comedy rule of thumb is that passive aggressive behavior is usually funnier than confrontation. Admittedly, Garfield frequently disproves or at least flaunts its disregard for this rule. Today we see it fully embraced, however. At first a normal person would wonder why a man would avoid direct confrontation with his own cat. The stakes are low. The offense of having eaten the last cookie is petty, and probably not even punishable. There is no mystery about the offender: Jon knows perfectly well that Garfield is guilty.

The lengths Jon goes to in forcing Garfield's confession may not seem as excessive as Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2, but relative to the crime, maybe they are. And Garfield reacts with glaring rage, but doesn't apologize. What else could Jon have expected or wanted? And yes, that last poster likely says "REWARD," and Jon is taping it up in his own home, as if anyone were there to see it and collect such a reward besides Garfield or possibly Liz. Well, sometimes our desire for small, meaningless vindication is enough motivation.

Q: It is impossible to tell in the context of Garfield artwork, but has Jon done an artist's rendering of the lost cookie? ... Or had he for some reason taken a photograph of the cookie before its disappearance, in anticipation of just this situation? One hopes for the latter, as it indicates a sad acceptance by Jon of Garfield's ability to shape his life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

La Can aux Folles

Jon's surprise in the second panel is, for me, what elevates this slightly from a normal "pet food is gross" joke. It's also an observation about the unpleasant information revealed when reading in full any food label. Since he obviously purchased the Winged Things cat food, brought it home, and got all ready to feed Garfield before even glancing at the contents: "I bought this?"

More startling than a cat's blind desire to eat any kind of bird, regardless of how good it might taste, and the disregard for human squeamishness on the part of the pet food manufacturers, is the third panel revelation that the key ingredient is an artificial additive. Perhaps "zing" isn't the only flavor-experience Winged Things has going for it, but Garfield seems unimpressed until he hears about the sparrow-flavoring. For our purposes, this means the food company is blithely killing exotic animals and violating a minor cultural taboo against eating raptors, pretty much for no reason. Garfield can get his fill of real sparrows in the backyard any time. For Garfield, even eating his dinner today becomes less about nourishment than making Jon squirm, and unnecessary destruction of animals more beautiful than himself. Good show.

As always: would any other strip make a running gag out of reading a canned food label?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Cat and the Cannery

Panel 1: Between the snooty expression and extended pinky, Jon's body language while reading food labels to Garfield is one of a man trying to placate his friend's unhappiness with reality by gussying up the ugly truth. This is even funnier because the circumstance is his cat's dislike of gross canned food.

Also: is Jon reading from an unopened can? It is not outside the realm of possibility that there's a second can of the same food, but why confuse the issue?

Panel 2: That's a "pie"?

Panel 3: Garfield's sudden enthusiasm for the meal has nothing to do with how good vulture may taste, but in a scavenger becoming the scavenged. Garfield is motivated by A) the sense of satisfaction and purpose we derive from seeing karmic justice dispensed, and B) the sense of power derived from participating in the same. There's an uneasy tinge of sadism in the scenario for those in the witness stand, but stranger still is our hero's personal vindication. What have vultures ever done to Garfield? Picked over his corpse and disgorged strips of his fatty orange flesh into the open mouths of their young? Certainly not. Perhaps it is the pride of a hunter, in this case the domestic cat, who resents the parasitic air that scavengers have been shouldered with in human anthropomorphic thinking. I doubt it, since Garfield does not look down on thievery, underhandedness or laziness. Instead, he just enjoys exerting power over a creature that has been weakened, sapped of challenge and ground into a brown paste. Garfield is a bully, even when taking unmotivated revenge on a bowl of reeking canned sludge.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hungry Pets 2

Every reader understands the basic gag today, and that it is accurately portrayed cat activity to get up in your face, disrupt what you're doing, and sit on your reading material when they want something. Like it or hate it, the self-centered rules of the cat world can be a funny, blunt mirror of how people treat each other. It's an especially nice touch the way they purr and try to look cute as if you should appreciate their demands for attention.

There are subtle shades to Garfield's particular brand of amalgamation of cat behavior and human behavior. Garfield, perfectly capable of getting his own food, likes being a bother. Likes it very much. Garfield's lazy desire to be waited upon, and the way he sort of exploits the situation to provide an excuse to be rude are distinctly human. While he may not look happy about what's going down, Garfield does throw the audience the loaded glance that means he's about to roll up his sleeves and get to work. I would not hazard to say that Garfield would enjoy being hungry for the mere chance to pester Jon (some priorities outweigh all other considerations), but when opportunity pops its head, the man-cat pounces.

Meanwhile, panel three provides an unfortunate reminder of Garfield's salami-thick tail.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kitteo Rewind

Garfield takes frequent aim at those elements of its own fabric most complained-about and misunderstood by critics, and in the process lays to waste the complaints and successfully turns the mirror on the strip. This Sunday strip is a prime example.

Title Panel: Between the apparent whimsy of the lovable cartoon cat and the reader's heart is the cold reality of the PAWS merchandising interest. Playful, colorful fish leap about, google-eyed, their doom in Garfield's stomach already written upon their very bodies. The last in line bears the Registered Trademark symbol upon his scales.

The Strip: The same two drawings repeated 2.5 times (and with the implication of endless repetition) become the raw material for the joke. The content, you've seen before - Garfield kicking Odie off the table - and seen for years, the same joke repeated in variation ad nauseum. You've heard the complaint that Garfield is the same jokes every day - Garfield is fat, Garfield is lazy, Jon is a nerd, Garfield is mean - but if you think Jim Davis doesn't know this, or it is an insult to your intelligence, or even a flaw in the comic strip, you are missing the point.

I Guess: Garfield set up a camera to capture his own exploits? This doesn't surprise me, and I certainly don't put it past Garfield, but it says a lot about the nature of kicking-Odie-off-the-table gags. Like most of Garfield, success in life isn't about grabbing surprising opportunities, but exploiting the patterns of predestination all around you.

The Punchline: Garfield rightly identifies perusing his adventures as "treasured memories." I get a lot of email that boils down to "I used to like Garfield as a kid, but the apparent lack of sophistication drove me away as an adult." The pleasure of the strip is Davis' ability to conjure infinite variations on the same jokes, daily stories from drawings that look more or less the same, and characters who remain in relative physical and emotional stasis. When Garfield is at its best, these regulatory boundaries themselves become the subject of the jokes. So "whatcha' watching?" = "why are you looking at the same two drawings over and over?" The answer is: it may be an exercise in cruelty, but I like it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stovepipe Cat

Garfield does have an aptitude for bending others to his will, usually by bullying, physical or otherwise. This is usually with little or no regard for how his actions affect those around him; joys of food especially prompt Garfield to lie, steal and hurt Jon, who rarely finishes a meal at home anymore without having his food violated or stolen from his plate. I like strips in which Garfield's scheming and gluttony combine as a force to be reckoned with but his tendency to overkill thwart his lowly goals in the process.
(like this, for random, recent example). In today's plot, Garfield's scheme to force Jon into ordering pizza isn't specifically foiled; the joke is primarily about his ability to intuit how Jon will respond to being unable to cook at home. Notice how in his supreme confidence in the plan, Garfield seems to have forgotten that he began the strip with a direct address to the audience, and happily, silently places his topping requests to someone who hasn't mentioned pizza, hasn't heard Garfield mention pizza, and cannot hear an animal's internal monologue about pizza.

Reason to Love Garfield #1 Million: Jon dresses up in full toque and apron to cook dinner every night. For his cat.

Autobiographical Note: I have done this practical joke to people. I did not get pizza out of the deal.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Orange Cats Can't Polka

The solidly funny reveal of Jon's idea of the relationship intensity-level between attending professional lectures and looking at hosiery is supported in each panel by more-or-less normal interaction turned into comedy mirrors by the various failings and passions of the characters. This is, in the end, a strip about how goofy and bad Jon's taste is, while straight man Liz is wearing a lemon-lime tube top.

1: Jon's sentiment is not unwelcome (Liz returns it), but the thrust of his character is in how he earnestly announces "I like you" as a way to start a conversation. Garfield stands by watching, though he is not usually interested in Jon's doings, which makes us ask: what was going on before this scene?

2: I cannot praise enough, nor do I need to unpack the image of a man announcing "I think it's time we took our relationship to the next level" as he simultaneously makes a mad dash away from a woman. It is maybe not as relevant to Jon and Liz's lives as some other people's, but it is a fine portrait of human romance through the ages.

3: Pointless observation (!): seven bubblettes is a lot of little circles to descend from a thought bubble.

If Polka-Karaoke Night sounds fun to you (it kinda does to me), and/or you don't think polka is inherently funny, you have fallen prey to a trance effecting many Garfield readers. After 27 years, it's easy to forget Garfield is a cat. The joke is that Jon has a designated night that he sings polkas to his cat. Normally he is alone for this, but now that he has a girlfriend, she and Jon get to take turns singing to each other... and the cat. God help me, I want to see the strip where Jon spends hours trying to coax Garfield to do a Frankie Yankovic number.

Unlikely: -That Jon is able to hook up a microphone and amp and lug a full-sized accordion (they're heavy, folks) into the room with enough speed to surprise Liz. This is timing that works pretty well in Bob Clampett cartoons, and can be done in radio, but functions effortlessly in comics.
-That the karaoke festivities require live instruments, which would be more of a "Sing-Along as Jon Plays Accordion Night."
-That Garfield would be so happy about polka karaoke night. Unless he's being sarcastic and/or rubbing it in to Liz that this is what her life has become.

Meanwhile... The Let's Polka blog is incensed over today's strip. Please let this start a war between a polka blog and a Garfield blog: WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY! The critics say Garfield is toothless; I say let 'em eat my big fat hairy deal.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Naked and the Vet

Oh, weird. Sometimes in Garfield the Joke Logic gets so thick it's hard to tell if the gag is being mangled by the rules and realities of the strip, or if the writing is playing with the conventions of the same.

Panel 1: Liz, a professional who works with animals, tries to win a cat over not with treats, petting, or attention, but diplomatic conversation as if he were a respected equal. She is not without a history of speaking to Garfield, but it is usually to threaten him about holding still for shots, or as an ironic confidant for sarcastic remarks about Jon; the excuse for most other instances has been that she's talking to Garfield "as if" he understood, knowing that he does not.

Panel 2: Whether she pulled Garfield aside when Jon stepped out to the bathroom, or she has requested a moment alone with Garfield to have this important talk, the situation is so creepy, it's no wonder Garfield is frozen in disbelief and fright before discussion starts. Liz also doesn't have Jon's ability to hold naturalistic one-sided conversations with Garfield that make sense: as far as Dr. Wilson is concerned, she and Garfield spend the remainder of the strip standing there staring at each other.

Panel 3: Here's where I'm positive the Joke Logic is the joke itself; Garfield's discomfort is crazy, out of character, and silly on many levels. Not the least of which is that everyone sees him naked all the time. Not the least of which is that friends may see each other naked under all sorts of circumstances. Also-not the least of which is that Garfield's lament is supposed to parallel an uncomfortable turn in the doctor-patient relationship, but he doesn't disrobe before or share any personal information with the vet. Aw. He thinks he's people! And so the way a simple joke has confused itself becomes the joke itself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Day the Clown Sighed

Groucho Marx's observation that he wouldn't belong to any club that would have him as a member has slowly been robbed of its stinging subtext of Jewish self-loathing and has become cultural shorthand for more universal self-loathing. Jon's dilemma today probably has more resonance for the post-Baby Boomer generation, with our special blend of ironic/neurotic whine, but I suspect it's a fear that always lives in humanity and emerges most fiercely in those eras when we don't have better things to worry about. In short, it's nice when someone likes you, but only until you can't help but wonder if that means they're screwed up. Groucho's line has a lot to do with his comic persona as a letch, rascal and ne'er-do-well, the character reveling in the contradiction he has willfully caused. The Gen X neurosis is fueled by genuine self-esteem problems and existential confusion. This is why Kurt Cobain shot himself.

Jon Arbuckle does not hate himself, and is in a third, slightly different position: he has plenty of objective data that he doesn't have any friends, and the few creatures who sort-of like him certainly don't appreciate his sense of humor. The method by which the crestfallen Jon of panel 3 might be cheered-up is practical application of Liz's sense of humor. He doesn't suggest that Liz was faking her laughter, just that she was entertained by a man of his meager comedy skills (if it makes you snicker to think this is some kind of coded sex-talk, feel free). If you share the same lame sense of humor, does it matter if you know it's lame? A lot of good, normal couples are united by a mutual bad taste. That taste is frequently in each other. Jon's got nothing to worry about. I mean, except that he runs home and reports to his cat after every date.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


It may not have the iconic value of Pooky, or Garfield's box-bed for the public at large, but Jon's obsession with his own sock collection, and association of his dedicated sock drawer with the most intimate aspects of his life is well documented in Garfield. Overlooking the obvious weirdness of the premise, Jon's sentiment is a little heartening, because it shows that some part of him is trying to stay even-keeled on the subject of Liz. Given the excitement of any new relationship, compounded with Jon's extraordinary circumstances of loneliness, the overzealousness he's demonstrated already is being surprisingly well tempered by sweet concern for Garfield's feelings.

The Garfieldian thing to do is for Jon's happiness to, well, ruin his own happiness; the easy way would be if Jon smothered Liz with too much attention. This strip takes a trickier tack: Jon's idea of maintaining personal boundaries is confused and a little neurotic. While the sock drawer is a more intimate than public space, it's also a boring, commonplace space. So the Dear Abby advice we imagine when hearing Jon's version of privacy is nothing compared to the scene Garfield visualizes/ knows is coming. When Jon finally presents his sock drawer to Liz with some pride and a little embarrassment, I can only imagine she would not care at all. Disinterest in a man's sock drawer will be the unkindest cut of all.

Besides the mild perversity of Jon's fixation on his socks, the backbone of the joke is that even when Jon is ready to open up, there may not be much to reveal. The Garfield in us explains: Jon is boring. A happier explanation, and the reason Liz ultimately likes Jon: he has nothing left to hide, because he wears his heart on his socks. I mean "sleeve."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Speak! The Cat

What an odd pregnant pause that is in panel 2, as Jon waits for a response from Garfield. So today the gag is that Garfield sort of silently "pleading the Fifth", as it were, until he cannot avoid the question, and his silence insults Jon by implication. That's a standard enough joke, but the complicated part for this strip is that Garfield can't speak; silence is expected from a cat in reply to direct questions.

Now, careful readers who are not smart-asses about such things, understand that while Jon cannot "hear" the cat, he is generally able to read Garfield's responses from nonverbal cues. This means Garfield is not only hesitant to provide Jon an answer he can understand (rolling his eyes, walking away, etc.), but also refuses to "think" an insult, which the reader and Garfield would enjoy. The timing of this gag involves a second panel that looks empty, but is actually playing with the expectations of the characters and reader, and the established rules that govern the storytelling. This is all in service of a bigger and better dis, which is to entirely ignore a man, and stare right through him, implying that his expression of concern for your feelings means nothing to you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Kitty in the Water

Title panel: This dire possible-Phantom Menace-reference image sort of summates an idea intrinsic to Garfield, unlike most Sunday title panels, which normally have nothing to do with anything. Garfield confidently moves in on his prey with a combination of cat-like hunting skill, human-learned traits, both of which he is abusing: snorklers are not supposed to murder the fish they observe. While he takes visible satisfaction in this, the cosmos are going to collect a hefty fine from the meek and the mean alike. The idea actually plays out in today's strip, too.

Panel 1: Cats have little narrow tongues. While I appreciate Mr. Davis' ongoing effort to demolish standards of feline anatomy at every turn, his depiction of Garfield's tongue always grosses me out a little.

Panel 5: The Garfieldian version of cause and effect has little to do with karma, or swift justice, or even a universal morality meting out punishment and reward in a pattern the characters can understand. But perhaps we can discern a kind of fatalistic irony anyway. What has Garfield done "wrong" today? He fails to look before leaping, literally not checking the wading pool for water. He seeks to sully a neighbor's property -- in Judeo-Christian terms, we might say he is "stealing" -- without second thought. Overcome with excitement, he showboats with an overzealous leap, boastful and prideful. But those are normal, petty sins that in the laws of Garfield's universe are not as funny to punish as the self-satisfaction of someone who thinks they have it all figured out.

Buster Keaton's physics often worked on a similar principle: dumb luck will save your life, but any plans will be demolished in the process. Garfield supposes you might also smash your face into a tree. The difference between this lesson and a Chuck Jones Roadrunner cartoon, is that there is nothing harebrained or elaborate about jumping into a swimming pool. The margin for error is small enough, the scene mundane enough, that only Garfield would see it as an opportunity for punishing a character so harshly.

Panel 6: Here was a chance to reward Odie by having him splashed with a pool full of water, or indicating that he is granted some relief by the shade of the pool on his head. No: he just gets a pool on his head.

Also: Garfield jumped into the pool so hard he reversed the color scheme? Bravo.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Purr-ning Bed

Any casual acquaintanceship with Garfield will tell you that the cat spends heroic amounts of time sleeping, eating, watching TV and lazing because he loves doing these things, and hates denying himself anything. Too true, but unlike his cartoon glutton layabout forbearers like Jughead Jones, Shaggy Rogers, or Dagwood Bumstead, Garfield is not motivated solely by joie de vivre. A true divergent thinker, he also tends to take up an oppositional stance for the purpose of flustering others, bucking expectations, and making excuses to himself for his actions. In concrete terms, Garfield not only stays in bed all day because he is lazy/ has nothing to do, but because he knows it bothers Jon. Why it bothers Jon is another set of issues. For the most part we can assume that he sees in Garfield's refusal to get out of bed the futility of his daily life, an acceptance of laissez faire "why bother?" nihilism that Jon is not prepared to make.

Who knows what Jon is really up to, but Garfield is so entrenched in habits of manipulation that he can only assume that acceptance and support is the kind of scam he's used to pulling himself. The panic in Garfield's eyes when Jon seems to approve of the cat's plan to stay a-bed all day is that of a master reverse psychologist faced with his own tactic.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The G and Cake

I frequently point out how Garfield uses pride in his own shortcomings to cope with the world depicted in the strip. Which is not to say he doesn't receive the same punishments or suffer the same miseries as the rest of the characters (or the rest of humanity). He takes comfort in lack of adventure or any basic activity including movement by scoffing at its value, associates negativity with happiness, and boasts about things others would not even speak of, etc. Extending the tendency to its logical conclusion, Garfield often takes masochistic pleasure in misery itself, even when as experienced by himself; this doesn't relieve him from the circumstance of his existence, and other characters deal with the Garfield world in their own ways, but Garfield's defense mechanisms allows him to face it with less agony than Jon and more integrity than Odie.

So lest we think Garfield gets his comeuppance for his gluttony, when the expansion of soft baked goods fracture his skull into a perfect cylinder, think again. Part of the joke is the improbable ability of partially chewed cake to suddenly regain its shape, and several layers to spontaneously stack themselves with such force as to shatter cranial bone from the inside while powerful jaw-muscle pressure is being exerted on it. The other part of the gag, the real biting edge, has to do with Garfield refusing culpability for his gluttony and thievery. No, it is not Garfield's fault that he ate hot cake batter which he stole from the oven: not even bothering to twist logic, but leapfrog it entirely, this is Jon's fault.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cat Fight

Garfield is a bully; all trickster characters who achieve special mastery over their universe (Bugs Bunny, Axel Foley, Brer Rabbit, etc.) press their intellectual advantages to some degree, and could technically be charged with emotional and mental bullying. But Garfield regularly physically assaults Jon, Odie, Nermal, spiders, mailmen and others when manipulation fails or is just too taxing for his liking. This is one of the qualities -- if not the quality -- that makes Garfield a uniquely and specifically American pop culture icon, and is the source of a lot of his power as an instrument of social criticism.

On one hand, we have the small, bitter ironies of a self-fulfilling prophecy: both the dog's sign (which in part inspires the cat to retaliate), and Garfield's threat (a cruel response to accusations of cruelty) elicit exactly the reply they were intended to avoid. The supreme comic contradiction of Garfield is his utter narcissism despite failing to manifest many positive characteristics. The masterstroke, as in Confederacy of Dunces, is to position the ill-tempered slob as the hero, by placing him in a world so screwed-up that his stubborn egoism looks like integrity. Whether that little gay dog takes the sign down or not (and who made that sign for him?), Garfield, ever a credit to his race, is going to pound the bejeezus out of him anyway.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Little Orange Lie

Garfield, that cartographer of barren landscapes of human existence, takes aim at anyone who thinks they can accomplish anything, achieve the smallest triumph, or even occupy their time in any meaningful way. Jon deludes himself and tries to lie to his cat (who is having none of it), that not only will his life be imbued with meaning by completion of tasks, but that he has such important occupations ahead of him. The enthusiasm of this announcement is perhaps the saddest, funniest thing in the strip, unless it's Garfield's knowing acceptance of an essentially empty existence in panel two. Only in Garfield is sloth to the point of pride in avoidance of any movement or responsibility equated with a kind of Zen perfection.

Garfield's assurance that the lowliest of human behaviors qualifies as an activity worth consideration is not totally inaccurate, but holds no comfort for Jon, who was surely looking for a way to inscribe positive meaning on his day. Now he has to look in the mirror and say "all I did today was lie to my cat, who didn't believe me in the first place." Confessing your shortcomings also counts as doing something.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cat-tle and Hum

The most unlikely part of this dilemma is that he asks his cat if he ever hums. Everyone gets songs caught in their head. Everyone knows at least one cat food jingle, probably the Meow Mix song, because it is diabolically catchy and hilarious. I don't know if Alpo used to have a jingle of any note, but maybe Garfield also remembers that one from his endorsement deal back in the day. But Jon has been under a daily barrage of un-catlike behavior from Garfield, and constantly treats him as an equal. I love those moments when the unreality of this world becomes such a matter of course that Jon can just assume that Garfield has the ability to hum.

Mechanics of Garfield Thought Bubbles: Garfield is usually able to prompt Jon's disgusted sideways glance through meaningful silences and body language. Today a lack of verbal response and movement would indicate tot he casual reader that today violates the cardinal rule that Jon cannot hear Garfield's thoughts. Among the possibilities is a subtle version of: "Did I... really just ask my cat if he ever hums?"

Monday, September 11, 2006

If You Give a Mouse a Coffee

Garfield's imperviousness to abuse in the second panel lets us know something is "up", and then points out one of those funny rules life. That cheese is to mice as coffee is to humans, and, er, cats (and comics bloggers) is not the most crucial point. There are times in life we will forgive, or at least overlook, personal insults, short tempers, and general bad behavior, and one of them is excusing grumpiness in people who haven't had a cup of coffee. This grace period for manners is actually nice, and I wouldn't imply it is a hypocritical standard or anything; it's just funny. Garfield forgives the mouse for being rude out of a common courtesy, and explains this to us. Garfield feels no need, however, to explain why he regularly allows the far more outrageous lapse of manners toward his housemates, of allowing vermin to cavort around the house, and in fact encourages the mice to steal food. Lest we think Garfield is being too soft letting a mouse call him "Fatso," do not lose sight of the larger discourtesy he commits in the process.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Jon Candy 2.0

Title Panel: When Hippie Garfield hallucinates, he sees letters spelling out his own name and built of his own flesh. He is so self-involved that while pursuing enlightened states, he ends up deeper inside a maze of his own identity so encompassing it threatens to edge his physical form out of the frame.

The Journey of the Candy Bar: An allegory about the pleasure of anticipation, the power of guilt, and the eternal cycles that leave no hunger satisfied and no behavior rewarded. Though if we think about the individual characters, it is unlikely Odie has the power to guilt-trip Garfield into relinquishing the chocolate bar, Garfield sometimes (frequently on Sundays) asks the cast to enact jokes with full awareness of their own archetypes. The strip plays on the dynamic that Garfield will shamelessly steal Jon's food, and that Jon is so used to defeat in all things that he gives up without a fight. It also sets up an endless loop; these three have been through the scenario so many times, it's hardly about getting to enjoy the candy anymore. Nobody ever will; it's a Milk Chocolate Maltese Falcon. The power isn't with you because you have the material goods, and it's not in the McGuffin itself. It's in knowing you can wrest the chocolate from Jon at any time.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Jon-queror Worm

Jon consciously attempts to blind himself to any negative associations about time spent with Liz, only to crash back to reality. The intoxicating powers of romance can effect even those characters inhabiting a world as thick with ennui as Garfield, but the small happiness of time spent with a woman he likes is not enough for Jon. He has to build a scaffolding of self-delusion (look at that lost expression), and fight off even the tiniest unpleasantness. That the date activity was kind of poorly chosen is not a big deal, it's not a character flaw in Liz, and Jon's discomfort could've been avoided by better communication; part of this story is about a thin facade of perfection Jon puts up around Liz. Alternate reading: Jon's horror at the lecture was largely because being reminded of the vulnerability of household pets to tapeworms, i.e. the evening spent with Liz clarified the potential for repulsiveness deep inside his best friend.

The other part is about how Jon and Liz had a good time even though Jon was variously bored and disgusted during the medical lecture. Because while a lot of Garfield is about pointing out how empty and unhappy-making our culture is (Jon's 27 year string of failed dates, Garfield's TV-watching habits), a lot of it is about rooting out the small joys we root out of unexpected crevices. Maybe it's self-delusion in panels one and two... maybe Jon got a weird charge out of getting sick looking at pictures of gastrointestinal systems with his girlfriend. And if the Garfield audience laughed, then maybe we all did.

Q: What does Garfield's rejoinder mean? Is he sarcastically pointing out that since Jon is sick to his stomach he obviously wouldn't want to eat? Or is he implying Jon vomited, and may actually be hungry again? Why do I care about this tiny variable, when the overall meaning of the joke is the same?

Either way, it looks like Garfield is trying to sleep while Jon keeps him awake, babbling about his new girlfriend. The only part that catches his attention is about spaghetti. Who has their priorities in order?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Paws for News: Feeding Time & Trouble in Crustwood

Site Feed

Because of time wasted goofing around with Blogger Beta (Yawn! Nap attack!), Per-Mon got a even more behind than usual this week; I expect this will happen now and then. It is my understanding that newsfeeds do not update with backdated posts, so to avoid undue anxiety, I assure Atom subscribers that no day's strip will be skipped. If Permanent Monday gets behind, you can always check the blog and find the missing goodies.

Dinette SetScandal!

Sadly, to say nothing of ominously, Per-Mon's favorite daily comic strip criticism journal, Dinette Set Deconstruction has fallen under legal threats by singularly perplexing cartoonist Julie Larson. But hoorah, it moved to: Blather 'bout Burl, including the old archives but minus the strips. Viva critical theory!

Throwing In The Bowel

Jon, Panel One: Childlike, questioning, possibly concerned about strange but certainly innocuous practices he does not understand, like "slide projection".

Liz, Panel One: Sweet, amused, slightly condescending in that approving way that only your mother or girlfriend is allowed to speak to you.

Jon, Panel Two: Though already excited for the lecture to begin, the promise of such minor embellishments as pictorial slides pushes the deal into entertainment territory for Jon. What sort of avant garde "shows" Jon is used to attending, I cannot say, though I do know he is easily shocked by exotic sights in motion pictures.

Liz, Panel Two: Knowing silence, as with all silences in Garfield, gives us special windows into characters. Anticipating the disaster of the next panel, and possibly just the refreshing company of a man thrilled by the prospect of slides.

Jon, Panel Three: Garfield Storytelling 101: Audience reaction is a funnier reveal than seeing a picture of a diseased intestine.

Liz, Panel Three: The moments when we can stomach repulsive sights our friends cannot is a small joy not documented often enough. Savor them. They bring us closer together, even when those moments include a woman's high tolerance for photos of rotten colons.

Recurring Gag: Jon has an unfortunate tendency to demonstrate willingness to participate in Liz's life by faking fascination with animals' excretory systems.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Concession Stand: Complete and Unbuttered

In a room where even the vets in attendance look unhappy, and professional decorum is stifling any pre-lecture chat, Jon manages to amuse himself and his date. Jon's baseless enthusiasm and silly optimism (squelched easily enough though it may be; confidence is still not Jon's strong suite) are the same low-key, uncelebrated traits that get any of us through the day. In Jon they're a little heightened, and while not a man of burning Wuthering Heights passion, this is a good demonstration of Jon's appeal. Boyish enthusiasm, ability to make fun for oneself, and curiosity about new experiences, however minor are all are among the qualities in this man of little personality which I suspect Liz sees in him. Doubters would do well to ask themselves if they are fun-loving enough to bring their own big bag of theater popcorn to a medical lecture.

Veterinary Fashion Beat: In for Fall '06: extra-wide ties and neck scarves.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm So Bored With The AVMA

Jon does not simply observe that his typical night at home might be about as stultifying as listening to a professional address on a subject he knows nothing about. He suggests that his personal expertise might coincide with and enhance a perverse appreciation for the lecture. Jon's connoisseurship of dullness is a joke about the empty plains of his personal life, but when sized up next to the gradual triumph of cult, camp and divergent art criticism in the 20th century, it is not far-fetched. As Andy Warhol said, "I like boring things", an apparent contradiction (If you "like" it, can it be "boring"?) that bears an outrageous truth on its back. What is Warhol's greatest legacy, but a meta-joke he shared in common with Garfield?: the cultivation of ennui as a cultural commodity and pursuit unto itself. But there's a difference. Where Warhol ironically regurgitated the used-up spectacle of celebrity culture as a demonstration of how our preoccupations are hollow and malnourishing, Garfield never got worked up about anything in the first place. There is not an ironic turn when Jon explains why he's anticipating a lecture he won't understand.

Intricate discourse on hyperspecialized topics obviously interests me, and some days Garfield seems to comment or speak indirectly about the journey of Permanent Monday itself. It may not be that anyone reading is a Garfield expert. From the hate mail, I presume a large portion of the audience is not even Garfield fans. But during some lectures, it's not the topic itself.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Feignable Lecture

Jon begins his discovery of how being in a relationship can make one as profoundly unhappy as not having a girlfriend. Today (and potentially this story arc) is about the increasing phenomenon of being forced into things you don't want to do to spend time with someone you like. This factors into all intimate human relationships, but perhaps it is one of the primary differences between a girlfriend and a platonic friend: they expect more attention and indulgence. Not that Liz makes particular demands of Jon, and seems to be simply inviting him to the lecture if he feels like going; the telling moment is Jon's eagerness regarding all things Liz Wilson. He's beginning to lose both a sense of self and in the process of overdosing on Liz, risking the mystique of a new relationship by spending an increasing amount of time in activities that bore him. At some point the average person would begin associating the activity partner with the experience of boredom and disinterest, but luckily for Jon, his own hobbies lean toward the dull and/or nonexistent.

Garfield, it is good to know, is such a studied liar and so accustomed to zoning out while dullards babble at him, that he immediately knows how to handle the situation, and advises Jon thus. Garfield has also been so long and so deeply mired in boredom that he believes sincerity itself can be faked. One may wonder when Garfield, who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve and speak bluntly, would have cause to present a facade of interest; the answer is: every day that he bothers to get out of bed and face the world.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cat Bites Lip

Biting his lip, presumably that he does not laugh or say (read: "think) a rude rebuttal. Jon obviously understands the signal anyway, and is hurt and angered, so if this were an attempt by Garfield to save Jon's feelings, it's backfired. In the instant karmic/insano-cosmic retribution of the Garfield-verse, your internal negative thoughts and judgment are going to shine through half-hearted attempts to be nice anyway, so why bother?

Or does Garfield really try to hold his tongue? Normally, snappy answers to Jon's stupid questions are Garfield's stock-in-trade, so why would he censor himself today? The cat is unable to speak, and in strip production considerations, having him laugh at Jon out loud was a gag used last week, but the requirements of the scene are that Jon lose his cool because he understands Garfield's thought. Garfield is able to convey skepticism and condescension through expressions normally signifying an attempt not to communicate, here the lip-biting ironically reveals more than Garfield could express without it (i.e. - he can't talk). And this, we may suspect, and surely Jon does as well, is a calculated move to have it both ways: Garfield gets to look like he didn't want to burst Jon's bubble, and gets to insult him by implication.

Bonus Funny: Man plagued by self-doubt even after new girlfriend gives him first confirmation of basic human worth in years, takes this problem to the source of most of his self-esteem issues.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pudd'nhead and Dr. Wilson

Jon rolls out the front door, and back in again after his date. The creepy part is not that Garfield has not moved over the course of several hours (he's barely moved over several years, after all), but that Jon is sliding around the house in a blissed-out love trance. Garfield can always tell how Jon's date went, because Jon is so expressive he either looks happy or like he's been hit by a train.

So again, the unsettling thing is that Garfield can normally count on Jon sharing all sundry details of his date, but Jon, driven to distraction, isn't speaking. In a way, he doesn't have to: the onset of twitterpation is one of the times the world can not only read you like a Denny's menu, but the world doesn't probably care to. Here is probably where Garfield's world will "change forever" (as we were promised by ballyhoo on when Jon and Liz started dating. Garfield, rather than being glad for Jon, is disgusted with his idiotic, face-mutating grin. But do we sense something else? I think that undercurrent is not simple jealousy that Liz is taking up Jon's time, but not wanting Jon to be happy. Because Garfield likes to make jokes about Jon being a loser. Because Garfield has a perception of his friend that he wants Jon to live up to. Because Garfield needs a victim, an abuse object. And Garfield needs someone who needs him. That may be so he has the opportunity to withhold or dole out affection as he wishes, but it is endearing nonetheless.

Fan Edit Suggestion: The same story could have been told using only Panel One, and the last two frames. This would have preserved Garfield's determined lack of scenery, but robbed us of knowing how much Jon and Liz love seeing ill-attended movies after filling up on twin helpings of meatloaf.

Arbuckle Fashion Watch '06: It's great to see at least the blazer from the old Ugly Date Outfit back in action, after its recent banishment in favor of more dignified threads.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bad Day at Cat Rock

Garfield frequently takes pleasure, brags about, and shows off his bad behavior. Today he is amazed and held in thrall by the power of negative feelings to overwhelm and transform him. Similar to a recent gag in which Garfield finds amusement in his own boredom. To a point, Garfield always likes to wallow in negative emotions, which is why he insults those he cares about and frightens and hurts the innocent. But those are behaviors that allow him to victimize others to make himself feel powerful. There is a certain usually unspoken thrill in the feeling of giving way to damaging emotion (the comfort of feeling sorry for oneself, the adrenal rush of anger). To be sure, Garfield is feeling this in panel one. But by the end, where the cat is delighted by the physical transformation caused by grumpiness, and fascinated by his apparently unmotivated mood swings, he's degenerated into pure naval-gazing. He just finds everything he feels and does endlessly interesting, and wants to tell others about it. This is a testament to Garfield's dedicated brand of narcissism.

Panel Three: all tied up in thinking about his own mood, Garfield attempts to summon Jon from another room by "shouting" - i.e. thinking loudly at him.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Live Free or Lie Down, Roll Over

It's the kind of punchline whose brazen cynicism you have to admire, no matter what the political clime of the day. Garfield does not just propose that incarceration may be necessary when crimes have been committed. Nor is he saying that having personal freedoms stripped may be necessary when an individual proposes a substantial threat to the safety of society. Garfield says unrestricted liberty has been ignorantly championed, because it is dangerous.

Is Garfield really a fascist? I doubt it. His rebellious streak is too strong. Garfield's closing comments are usually to be read as sarcasm, and today is no different. "Freedom is overrated" is simultaneously the reasonable conclusion of fear of others, and the ill-reasoned results of a flawed premise. Since Garfield's goals are unambitious to start with, if we subtract the quotient of his cynicism and self-pity, the philosophy is better stated: YOUR freedom is overrated, while mine is sacred.

If one extrapolates Garfield's combined beliefs and desires to a logical conclusion, everything in all creation - except the fulfillment of basic hungers - is overrated. So don't be too shocked when that includes your dearest ideals.

Also: That dog's head is the size of Garfield, who is in turn half as tall as Jon. I know the joke is bolstered by a big dog, but is some kind of Ice Age terror-dog necessary?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

License to SNATCH

Panel One: A classic Garfield last-panel-reveal joke. These usually sustain our interest because of a character's inexplicable, strange behavior, or an out of place, unfamiliar element. Today we join the action midstream, and all the reader wonders is "what is Garfield taunting Jon about this time?"

Once we find out the answer and reevaluate the story, a new question is provoked: did Jon come home from the DMV and ask his cat's opinion of his new photo? Well of course he did.

Panel Two: Jon's arc through these three panels is not the simple embarrassment of a bad driver's license photo, but the dual-motivated surprise and hurt of ego deflation and betrayal by a confidant. Jon obviously thought the picture was either flattering, requested damage-assessment, or had handed over the card for unrelated inspection, and reacts as if not expecting this jarring outburst from Garfield. As Tweetie once said, "he don't know me very well, do he?"

Panel Three: Garfield's ironic appreciation of the photo because it embarrasses Jon has further weight than simple insult, because Garfield makes no effort to improve his personal appearance. Though the cat is outrageously vain, the quality is baseless pride, entirely delusional and narcissistic. When Garfield teases Jon about the photo, the taunt carries the implicit message that since he could not be wounded in the same way, Garfield is laughing at. Not with.

Also Garfield seems to inflate in size for no reason.