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Eric: Would the Nermal strips become pantomime?

Truth and Beauty Bomb

(From Truth and Beauty Bombs. Er... well, actually, Truth and Beauty Bombs is a blog and forum for several comics, as opposed to being a comic itself. But that's as may be. Technically, the artwork is from Garfield. Anyway! Click on the thumbnail for the surreality!)

By now, many if not most of you will have seen this. For those who haven't, a fellow called MackJ posted a thesis over on the Truth and Beauty Bombs forum a week and a half ago. You see, it was his belief that Garfield would be funnier -- or at the very least, wouldn't suck so much -- if all of Garfield's dialogue were cut out of the strip. And he posted a number of examples -- the art unchanged, Jon's dialogue untouched, but Garfield's thought balloons excised.

And he was right. It was significantly funnier. It was oddly surreal in places. Darker in others. Solitude and loneliness have driven Jon 'round the bend -- and the strip takes on an antihumor dimension.

And it possesses an order of magnitude more pathos. Jon is not Garfield's comedic foil in this variation. Jon is clearly the strip's protagonist. And if you think about it, Jon hasn't really been able to hear Garfield all these years. They're thought balloons. If Jon is able to use the power of his brain to read the minds of others, I'm not willing to accept that he can't get a date with a Veterinarian.

So. Now we see the world through the eyes of Jon. And we see completely one sided conversations between him and his cat. And it is truly sad. I mean, I talk to my cat, but I'm not this pathetic. Also, I never believe my cat's answering me1.

But does that explain why it's better? No, not really. I mean, yes, Garfield isn't talking any more, but he's still doing takes to the camera. he's still drawing on paper that Jon managed to glue to his face. He's clearly not a realistic cat with a brain the size of a walnut. He's a cartoon cat.

So... what, then?

Well, let's look at a test case -- one I doctored up myself. Here's the original, which was first published on November 9, 2000:

As a side note, I got this off Garfield.com. Now, most free archives of syndicated cartoons have thirty days worth of comics at most. They want to tease you, and then get you to buy a collection (which may or may not exist.)

Well. Garfield has a quarter billion collections available for purchase... but their online archive goes back to June 19, 1978. The very first strip. They have their entire twenty-eight year archive available online. For free. I'm not a Garfield fan, but that impresses the Hell out of me.

Now, look at that strip. It's an obvious joke. It reiterates one of the most basic jokes of Garfield -- Garfield is lazy and somewhat deluded. And... well, it oversells, just a little. And the combination... well, isn't funny.

Now, have a look at the same strip sans Cat Thought Balloons:

Garfield Revised

It's essentially the same joke... but instead of beating you over the head with the setup and punchline, it just shows without telling. And that makes it stronger.

And that's the key. Jon performing monologues with Garfield is somehow even more pathetic, and the humor becomes visual instead of overwritten. I know I'm the last person to complain about overly long posting, but seriously -- Garfield is improved not just because of the surreal shift of focus onto Jon, but because the jokes work better when they're not being hammered into your brain by a combination of the visual impact, a take to the audience, and Garfield announcing the punchline a third time. Less really is more.

Go and have a look at the forum discussion. Read through the strips put up by a number of people. See the darker figure Jon becomes. And discover for yourself. Muzzle that cat, and the strips are funnier.

Something a whole lot of cartoonists and cartoon writers -- myself included -- need to remember more often.

1 Well, that's not true. I've clearly heard my cat say "why aren't you eating cheese?!" and "God Damn, I hate you! Eat cheese!" But that's really not the same thing.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 10, 2006 2:49 AM


Comment from: david malki ! posted at February 10, 2006 3:06 AM

I'm part of that discussion on T&BB, and I made some of those strips, and I laughed my ass off at the ones others made. I pointed out in the thread that not all the strips work -- some of them are funny only because they're Garfield recontextualized, and don't work objectively. But the majority of them indeed make serviceable comics, even if not brilliant ones. Silent Garfield pantomiming the punchline to the above strip is funnier than the original version of the comic, but it's still nothing outstanding as comic-strip humor goes.

Over at The Comic Strip Doctor I point out what everyone's known for years -- that Garfield isn't funny -- but people forget that it has the potential to be funny. Get Fuzzy proves that; the Garfield Randomizer proves that. So does this.

Also, I think it's fair to point out -- like the T&BB thread mentions, the "silent Garfield" idea was also done by Jack Masters at CastleZZT, years ago. But it was buried under a lot of other esoteric and confusing stuff, so it sort of got lost.

Comment from: sun tzu posted at February 10, 2006 3:29 AM

Interesting...But I'm not sure it'd be that funny without the original Garfield to compare to.

Comment from: baf posted at February 10, 2006 3:46 AM

Silent Garfield reminds me a little of Gromit.

Comment from: Archon Divinus posted at February 10, 2006 3:47 AM

It's amazing how well this works. II think I'm going to have to try this for my self.

Comment from: chalcara posted at February 10, 2006 4:01 AM

Excuse my ignorance - but why is Garfield still printed if it's not funny?

Are people reading it in order to complain about it?

Comment from: LessThanKate posted at February 10, 2006 4:27 AM

God, these are just too much. If only Jim Davis would embrace his destiny...he could save newspaper comics.

Comment from: Harry posted at February 10, 2006 4:36 AM

And with one fell swoop, Garfield goes from the worst comic in the newspaper to one of the best.

What's really shocking is how well this works. There really is a punchline just in the art, which works a lot better than the one in the writing.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at February 10, 2006 4:48 AM

Of course, you have to recognize that this works because Garfield is a well-engineered comic. Not funny in the last few years, but still with well-drawn expressions, good pacing and professional consistency.

It also works because the setup is almost entirely predictable. When you realize that the dialog your brain created wasn't actually there, you can't help but laugh, and understand Jon completely.

Maybe all that Garfield needs is new writers. Never forget that it used to be funny.

Comment from: David Morgan-Mar posted at February 10, 2006 5:35 AM

Muzzle that cat, and the strips are funnier. Something a whole lot of cartoonists and cartoon writers -- myself included -- need to remember more often.

Recently I've found myself doing something like this in my comic quite a lot. I write a gag, and then when I put it together days or weeks later I find it works better if I just remove some of the dialogue. Fewer words is indeed often better.

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at February 10, 2006 5:41 AM

So if Ryan North made his dinosaurs no longer talk would he have created an infinite comic? One that would transcend time and space? Books would be nice, a 3000 strip collection could be printed on a single sheet of paper.

Comment from: Tangent posted at February 10, 2006 6:29 AM

But... but... you wrote a YHMAYLM about Garfield!

The world is coming to an end!!! *flrrd*

Rob H.

Comment from: megs posted at February 10, 2006 7:44 AM

I could have sworn Lesnick did this months ago. And yes, it works. My theory is this is funny because it's deconstructing Garfield. It wouldn't work if you don't know the strip as is.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at February 10, 2006 8:06 AM

Garfield is still in papers because it strives to do all the things that are important to syndicators...being funny isn't necessarily one of those things (although it does manage to be funny occasionally).

Mute Garfield doesn't always stand on its own, but some of the examples are quite funny even without the reference to the original. And many are, if not surreal by a strict definition, very odd.

And why AREN'T you eating cheese? :)

Comment from: Bahimiron posted at February 10, 2006 8:19 AM

Same thread.

A challenge was issued to figure out a way to do something similar to Cathy which would result in it being funnier.

This was the submitted response.


So much better.

Comment from: jurijuri posted at February 10, 2006 8:24 AM

Wow. Just wow. I can't believe how much better this strip is like this!

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at February 10, 2006 8:56 AM

Between the Garfield randomizer and this, I have dedicated more time to Garfield in the last week than I have in the previous decade combined.

That worries me a little.

Comment from: kiwi posted at February 10, 2006 9:59 AM

I'm pretty sure CastleZZT, an excellent internet graffitti artist, was the first one to think of this - many, many months ago. Google him and hope your internet holds out.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 10, 2006 10:12 AM

Eking an individual observation out of CastleZZT is hard at best -- there's an overwhelming number of things going on all at the same time, at least on his home page. When you tunnel down and look at the elements, you see some really amazing things, and if you pull back and try to look at the whole you see some amazing things. But it's hard to simply point and say "see? Garfield isn't talking!"

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at February 10, 2006 10:24 AM

Wow. That is actually funnier. Though I'd disagree that it's pathetic - that's exactly like the conversations most people I know have with their cats. "Are you getting enough exercise?" "What did you do with my $shiny_object?" "I've done something stupid!" "Damn stoner kitty." What makes this funny, though, is that Jon's not talking to a real cat. He's talking to a cartoon cat, and he's not aware of it.

Jon's still Garfield's straight man. But in this setup, like (IIRC) many of the early Garfield comics, he doesn't seem to know he is. And that's what makes it funny. Despite obviously living with a cartoon cat - real cats don't nail your shoes to the mantle, or draw on pieces of paper, or give you advice on your clothing (though I wouldn't be surprised if one stole a pair of pants) - he never catches on.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 10:41 AM

Wait, I thought that all Get Fuzzy proved was that you can take a talking animal strip and make it unfunny in much less time than it took Jim Davis with Garfield.

Admittedly, some of the gags don't quite work (I'm quite unimpressed with the one where Jon just walks back and forth), but others are sublime (like the one where Jon is asking about his pants). OVerall, a significant improvement.

And my cats never talked, per se. However, whenever any of them attempted to headbutt the controller out of my hands, I got the message pretty quickly.

Comment from: Scarybug posted at February 10, 2006 11:04 AM

Looks like you broke it! I'm getting a database connection error.

Comment from: Nate posted at February 10, 2006 11:12 AM

Garfield indeed has all the pieces to be funny. In some ways, that's what makes it more sad. Just compare the Garfield cartoon to the comic. Jon can't hear Garfield in the cartoon, and it's many times better.

Comment from: enchiridion posted at February 10, 2006 11:17 AM

Waterson knew this implicitly. The funniest Calvin and Hobbes strips are those without dialog, though occasionally one character would have to chime in on the last panel with the punchline. Comics are a visual form; more should be done with just the pictures.

Comment from: kiwi posted at February 10, 2006 11:36 AM

"But it's hard to simply point and say "see? Garfield isn't talking!""


Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 11:38 AM

Last I checked, I needed my vision to read the words, though.

I wonder if Cathy could be improved by translating all her dialogue into Spanish, but keeping everyone else's dialogue in English (obviously, for foreign language editions, translate everyone's dialogue but Cathy's). Maybe it would emphasize the whole Mars/Venus thing, Maybe Cathy would seem like a more entertaining nut. Or maybe it would just be stupid. But odds are, it wouldn't hurt.

Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 12:39 PM

Tangential to megs's theory about this being an exercise in deconstruction (though I wouldn't agree that it doesn't work at all, per se, without prior familiarity) -- I believe that the effect of these neo-Garfield strips is possible only through the distillation of the originals, i.e., Jim Davis couldn't directly create strips without Garfield's dialogue and be as consistently funny as they are after alteration. He would have to realize and accept how inane Garfield is in its present state, and agree to continue to create it that way solely for the purpose of allowing it then to be perverted (or improved, as is the general consensus).

It would be daring, but not to an extreme, because I think that a good number of Garfield fans would furrow their brows, check the date to see if it were April Fool's Day, and then perhaps even write a letter...but they wouldn't get that the length and weight of the history of Old Garfield would necessarily (if not intentionally) make New Garfield a rather biting commentary both on the Old and on those who scowl at and feel betrayed by its maturing. And maturing it would be, because such a shift would signify a loss of innocence by a gain of self-consciousness; to force such a loss on a group of people (after nigh 28 years of their daily Fat Cat) -- most of whom probably thought that they were done with that sort of trauma -- is a responsibility that in general too many are willing to undertake, while too few are fully able to understand. Is that something any of us could truly bear with any degree of magnanimity, rather than malice?

The answer is: Of course. This is fucking Garfield we're talking about. People need to be made to think, not spoon-fed the same mind-numbing crap day-in and day-out, unless...hey, I wonder if Garfield is government-sanctioned and thought-suppression?

*hears a sound, looks behind him*

Hey, who are y--oooh, chloroform!


Comment from: TheNintenGenius posted at February 10, 2006 12:40 PM

Holy shit. I never actually expected myself to laugh at Garfield comics again that weren't randomly generated.

This makes me want to go out and give the same treatment to some Garfield comics to see what I can come up with.

Comment from: Ford Dent posted at February 10, 2006 12:41 PM

I am shocked that Garfield is suddenly...


Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 12:42 PM

Er...that random "and" towards the end was supposed to be followed by "-funded."

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 12:54 PM

"People need to be made to think..."

To be fair, nobody wants to think all the time. Some people obviously don't want to think at all. While I'm all about encouraging people to think, nobody should mandate it. Although it gets abused, I'm all for the inherent right to be stupid.

And it's a short leap from that statement to defining thoughtcrime.

Comment from: TasteMyHouse posted at February 10, 2006 1:05 PM

Oh My God, Jon is a HORRIBLE person in those castlezzt ones.

there was another comic up on castlezzt a few days back where it was tw ostick figures talking....


that comic is dear to me.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 10, 2006 1:30 PM

To be fair, nobody wants to think all the time.

Good to know! (Geez, even when I get deliberately shedded, it's generally to get the extraneous nonthought out of the way.)

I tried the thread on my housemate and two guests last night, before this post was made. The guests dug it; the housemate was mildly amused at best, unimpressed in the general case.

Comment from: Connor Moran posted at February 10, 2006 1:32 PM

I like how many of the edited Garfields have third panel beats, since Garfield was delivering the punch line in the third panel. I happen to loooove third panel beats. Ergo, I love this.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 1:57 PM

This is probably just the result of a bad day on my part, but I have no idea whether or not you're cross at me, Weds.

Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 1:59 PM

That's a very good point, 32_, one I'll admit I hadn't considered. And I certainly wouldn't want to advocate thought-control in any way (indeed, just the opposite), though as you suggest, it's a fine line between telling people to think, and telling people what to think.

But at what point do people stop choosing for themselves not to think, and instead are convinced (or coerced) not to think by myriad societal forces, even if they don't realize it? Advocating active non-thought (rather than the freedom to choose not to think) for other people seems just as much a thoughtcrime as forcing people to think a particular way. But that's not even as pertinent a question as: At what point is some form of action or intervention called for when the choice of others not to think begins to affect those around them adversely? As an example, I would fully favor (in theory, since this would be impracticable) a minimum-competency quiz for the right to vote each presidential election. It's one thing to say that everyone is an individual and has the same inalienable rights as far as to how one lives one's life. But voting affects others, and when enough uninformed or misinformed people participate, the result can be the choice of a leader who may not actually be in the country's best interests (note the deft avoidance of a direct allusion to recent history...d'oh! Never mind). One does not vote for oneself, one votes for everybody. While the pursuit of intelligence may be the birthright of every human being should s/he choose to do so, intelligence itself is not innate and most definitely not equal among all people.

However, this is an extreme example, and the discussion as it relates to Garfield is almost entirely academic. One does read Garfield (mostly) for oneself, and not for everybody. It's the tiniest speck of dumbing-down in a person's otherwise maelstrom-like day of cultural saturation, especially when compared to other entertainment media (although now that Garfield has been made cinematic, the bar has been effectively raised a little). But comics are the chosen world of this forum, so here it becomes a bigger issue. When enough people are affected by Garfield to the point that they form an opinion favorable to it -- mechanical tripe with little or no redeeming value -- the creative progress of comics as a whole is slowed. Bill Watterson fought against this tide for 10 years; who knows how much longer he could have kept doing Calvin and Hobbes if he hadn't had to contend with industrial forces (motivated by the success of strips like Garfield, among other reasons) that muted his freedom of expression?

Comment from: Nate posted at February 10, 2006 2:06 PM

By the by, the TaBB forums seem to be coming up with an "this account has been suspended" message. I think the linkage here (plus on the front page of Qwantz.com, and apparently the Penny Arcade forums, and several other places) has brought them down.

Comment from: Erik Larsen posted at February 10, 2006 2:09 PM

Holy shit freakiness. I had the page up and was looking at the cartoons (which absolutely rock, by the way, I've got a whole stack of old Garfield books that I have to try this with), and the account was suspended as I was reading the page. So link no worky no longer, as apparently the Paws Inc. legal team has swung into full force. Same thing happened with the Garfield Randomizer, which has been replaced with an attempt to cause mass seizures. Damn you, Jim Davis!

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 2:16 PM

I'm in a bit of a hurry, but wanted to mention, if you've never read this article about Garfield before, it's worth mentioning... I looked over the thread but I didn't see that anyone's mentioned it:


I used to really enjoy Get Fuzzy, but I kind of quit reading it a few months ago and I don't really know why. Maybe

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 2:17 PM

And that is what I get for operating on 3-4 hour naps instead of real sleep for like a week. I should just refrain from posting here any more. ;_;

Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 2:29 PM

Actually, upon further re-reading of my last diatribe (specifically, the end of the first paragraph), I realize that telling people to think can itself be a form of control, and isn't what I intended to imply. Perhaps it would be better to have said: "...it's a fine line between telling people to choose to think or not, and telling people to think or not, or what to think or not think." But that does need to be succinctified, somehow (yeah, I know it's not a word. To quote the aforementioned Calvin, "Verbing weirds language.").

Comment from: david malki ! posted at February 10, 2006 2:32 PM

Guys, if the T&BB link isn't working, here is another forum where someone's mirrored most of the comics.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 2:39 PM

Why, Jin? I liked the article... I just want to hear the rest of your thoughts.

See, Christian, I think your attitude goes a bit too far. Let's take your example of a competency test for voting rights. First off, that's pretty insulting, like a class of people are too stupid to have basic rights (and yes, I believe deciding on your leader is a basic right).

Also, who gets to decide what info gets on the test? You already have one level of cultural elitism in play here - who is to say a few more levels aren't in the cards?

Ultimately, I think people need to be encouraged to think. And honestly, I think there are already quite a few sources (such as this one) that already are doing that. Maybe there needs to be more, but mandates from a soapbox aren't going to do anyone any good.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 2:54 PM

Because I used the word "mentioned" three times in one sentence and evidently left a random word hanging on the end.

I don't really have any thoughts on the matter beyond Garfield sucks. But you know, I just don't read it, I don't really have any animosity towards things I just don't care for. The creator is pretty straightforward about what he intended to accomplish when he started the strip, and I think that shows. It's offensive in its blandness. It's deliberately made to be that way to appeal to the broadest audience.

The randomized text and removing the dialogue add a surrealness that I do find amusing, but it's on the same level that I laugh when Peter Griffin on Family Guy spends ten minutes fighting a giant chicken. It's because it's unexpected.

I personally never really liked Calvin and Hobbes, but I understand the influence it had on newspaper comics. Without getting into details, I don't really have many pleasant memories of being a child (of what I remember at all), and so I don't tend to find things that are made from a child's perspective to be that interesting. I guess I just am not able to empathize with it. My father and Matt both love it. I like the strips with the snowmen in them, but that's about it. I was never a ten year old boy, and I was never much of a kid at all.

To be honest I'm pretty useless in a discussion about comics so it's a bit of a waste to ask me about them. I can count the webcomics I read on one hand (Girly is my favourite), and I don't care for comics much in general. I can recognize a well-made or good comic when I see one, they're just not my thing, so I don't really feel qualified to intelligently discuss them.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 10, 2006 3:15 PM

Jin, I spend over 40 hours per week playing video games, and probably another 20 discussing them. And you actually make a comic, a damned good one at that. Which of us here is the unqualified one?

I was actually hoping you'd have a thought or two on Get Fuzzy, but I can just be satisfied with what has actually been said.

Of course, after that last post of yours, Jin, it seems ironic that you could lay out several intelligent ideas and then say you're unqualified to talk about comics intelligently. At least, that's my opinion on the matter.

Comment from: Tangent posted at February 10, 2006 3:17 PM

That's a shame, Jin. There's plenty of really good comics out there. Like yours. Now go update, I'm going into withdrawals... *twitch* oh wait, that's caffeine withdrawals, nevermind. *shiftyeyes*

More seriously, there are tens of thousands of comics out there. Undoubtedly we could find twenty or so that you'd actually enjoy. Which I suppose means I should start reviewing some more...

Rob H., Tangents Webcomic Reviews

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 3:47 PM

Eh, sorry Rob H; Eric is the only comics-related review site I read, so don't feel obligated to post more reviews for my benefit. I'm less interested in reading reviews of comics than I am in reading comics in general. But the reviews here are written in a way that I am usually interested in what he has to say about it than the source material. This site brings up a lot of interesting topical points, and I can enjoy it in the same way that I like reading Penny Arcade while not knowing what exactly it is they're making fun of most of the time.

I just don't like comics. The fact that I make one isn't really related. I'm a performer, I have always enjoyed putting on a show and entertaining people. I was in theatre in school. I have wanted to dabble in stand-up comedy for a long time. Failing my ability to do that, I just started using pictures to tell my jokes instead because it was convenient. The process of creating a comic, and enjoying a comic, has an entirely different appeal. I like to create things more than consume them. A comic or book or TV show needs something really and truly unique about it before it can distract me from the active things I want to be doing. And TV as at a bit of an advantage, because I can watch it while I'm doing other things. My lack of reading or enjoying comics isn't going to be altered by showing me really good ones, the desire just isn't there.

As for Get Fuzzy... I think the dog and cat are perfect. If dogs and cats could talk, that would be how they are. I think I just got bored of it because it got monotonous after a while. It acts like it wants to be story-based, but nothing ever changes or really goes anywhere. And I have a short attention span.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at February 10, 2006 3:50 PM

Interesting to me is that I should read this and then look back on my own week and find two instances of nonverbal final panels. I bet you couldn't find two other instances in my archives that were less than seven days apart, if you could find two others at all.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 3:51 PM

Sorry for the typos, I have a brace on one hand and band-aids on the other.

Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 4:00 PM

Well, I'm not trying to be elitist, 32_, but I do believe that some people are smarter than others. I also believe that there are different forms of intelligence which are all equally valid, and for the most part, I would never deign to determine who is smarter than whom. Neither is that to say that only those of a minimum intelligence are allowed to have opinions; anyone can think or believe whatever they want. But when it comes to affecting the general population, I would prefer the decision be left to people who are at least basically aware of the issues that matter to them as far as the governance of the country goes. Hell, this is what we do already by electing congress, the senate, and the house: allow other people to make decisions for us. I realize the key word there is "allow," but I find it irresponsible to let someone affect my life and the lives of everybody in this country by (for example) casting their vote based on the different colors of the candidates' suits (it's hard to believe anyone would be this dumb, but I've been surprised before. And if nobody is that dumb, I'm not saying to tweak the system until I get the results I want, just to set a standard and let it be). I don't think it's a stretch to say that such a decision would be immature, and maturity (or some general sense thereof) is why we have an age requirement for voting at all. But while age is about as hollow and obtuse a measurement of a person's maturity and intelligence as you can find, it's also just about the only practical recourse we have. So that's how things are done. I accept it, but I don't have to like it. Why do we have to get a driver's license? So we don't figure out how to start a car without knowing how to drive, then go out and hurt ourselves or others. Voting has real consequences, and if some people aren't going to take that even slightly seriously, then they shouldn't be afforded the same abilities as those who do.

(As for what would go on the quiz or who would construct it, I have no idea. Again, I don't think it will ever happen, or is even possible. My point is more to say that people need to make a choice that is informed and responsible to a very minimal degree. But theoretically, I would make it pretty damn easy, because the point isn't to exclude a large number of people, only those who know next to nothing or simply don't care.)

Lastly, what are message boards if not one big soapbox? Of course my words here aren't going to change anything, be it about the electoral process or comics. But if there's a place for voicing opinions, it's here. Granted, this isn't a political site; I apologize for going so far off-topic, and I'll shut up about it (not to cut you off, though, if you want to say anything further. Feel free to email me if you like and I'll be happy to continue). I'll also shut up about thinking, since that wasn't my original argument. I just want to clarify that I'm not trying to effect anything here, merely state a belief/thought (or three).

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 10, 2006 4:20 PM

Typos always welcome.

As are you, Jin. I think your insights are... um... insightful.

Comment from: Tice with a J posted at February 10, 2006 4:32 PM


In which Garfield takes pleasure in John's suffering.

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at February 10, 2006 4:35 PM

To answer the question asked in the subject line... the Nermal strips would not be pantomime. They would be unnecessary.

Garfield sans Garfield's dialog is brilliant. BRILLIANT.

Comment from: xmung posted at February 10, 2006 5:01 PM

but... but... what about ODIE????????

Comment from: Denyer posted at February 10, 2006 5:32 PM

To those who mentioned it, I don't think it's just the deconstruction... Garfield does have adequate facial expression, it's just less noticeable with the thought balloons everywhere.

that's pretty insulting, like a class of people are too stupid to have basic rights (and yes, I believe deciding on your leader is a basic right).

Let's import all of the other primates before another election.

Comment from: Godspiel posted at February 10, 2006 5:57 PM

I have wanted to dabble in stand-up comedy for a long time.

Need... more... tangents....


Comment from: ItsWalky posted at February 10, 2006 6:45 PM


Yeah, I had fun with this a day or so ago. Oh, man. Thank you, Truth and Beauty Bombs. You make my life whole.

Comment from: Klein posted at February 10, 2006 6:47 PM

I'm just happy that this was snarked.

But bummed that Truth and Beauty bombs is down. I hope its only bandwidth issues.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 10, 2006 7:09 PM

32: Not cross, just figure it's worth objecting to "no one likes X" when I like X.

Comment from: lochinola posted at February 10, 2006 7:11 PM

This is *exactly* like America's Funniest Home Videos.

Comment from: lucastds posted at February 10, 2006 7:23 PM

i love the blank Cathy comic. Funniest thing I've seen in forever.

Comment from: Meelar posted at February 10, 2006 7:56 PM

Just a note about choosing candidates based on suit color, Christian--it's a lot more common than you'd think. Studies have repeatedly shown that if you show voters pictures of two candidates from other states (e.g. show Colorado Senate candidates to Oregon voters), then the Oregonians can pick the winner correctly about 80% of the time, based solely on looks.

Great, now I've destroyed yet another person's faith in democracy.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 8:16 PM

Need... more... tangents....



You have to be willing to devote a signifigant portion of your life to something like that to be able to do it. If I were going to pursue something like that now, I'd have to give up a good chunk of my current work, and that's not something I'm willing to do. I've already been working 8-10+ hour days since the beginning of this year. I have way too much on my plate.

Plus it's more efficient to use cartoon characters like puppets for my voice, and, I daresay, probably pays better with moderately less heckling.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at February 10, 2006 8:17 PM

Can someone please tell me how to quote posts with this thing? I give up.

Comment from: Ununnilium posted at February 10, 2006 8:28 PM

Firstly, I disagree with the main thrust of http://www.slate.com/id/2102299 - even if Garfield comics have always been cynically designed for marketing purposes, the strips were actually *good*, once. I don't mind being marketed to if what they're pushing actually has some quality.

Second, I think that's why these de-dialouged Garfield strips are funny - not because of the laugh you get from Garfield deconstructed, but because there's actually something funny in there that's being obfuscated by the actual dialouge. At least, that's why it's funny for me - I could see it going the other way for others.

Third, on the tangent that the comments have gone on... the thing is, I wouldn't mind there being some limits as to who could vote or whatever... but there are very, very few people in this world I would trust to actually *decide*, and none of them work in politics.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 10, 2006 9:13 PM

Jin: Quote material with <blockquote> .

When the new design goes live, there'll be Better Instructions.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at February 10, 2006 9:14 PM

(and don't forget to close the tag, of course, but you knew that)

Comment from: Christian posted at February 10, 2006 9:16 PM

Not to worry, Meelar, I still have faith in democracy! It's people I don't trust. Honestly, though I didn't know that, I'm not surprised in the slightest. I would be surprised if there was any significant number of people who voted *solely* based on looks, but for appearance to be a factor -- maybe even an important one to some -- is no shock. I know other studies have shown that even babies less than a year old (not sure by how much) responded either positively (happy and smiling) or negatively (frowning and crying) when shown pictures of faces with differing features. Apparently eyes set closer together got better responses.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at February 11, 2006 12:19 AM

In the interest of full disclosure, the webcomic in the following link was done by my brother and my friend, but it is somewhat relevent to the discussion at hand . . .


Comment from: kafziel posted at February 11, 2006 2:53 AM

Just to throw 2 cents in here real quick ...

Also, who gets to decide what info gets on the test? You already have one level of cultural elitism in play here - who is to say a few more levels aren't in the cards?

Assuming US here: Whenever I think about this sort of scenario, I end up thinking that the best standard would be your basic citizenship test. You know, the one we require resident aliens to take to become full naturalized citizens? It's not about anything as generally vague as "competence", it's simple understanding of how the government works, and history of the country. Seems like the best way.

Anyway, as for the comics. It is fascinating to me that these comics contain within them the ability to be so very good, and with such simple modifications. Marketing strategies aside, Davis clearly has the potential to produce great comedy, not just profitable comedy, whether he realized it or not.

As the forum seems to have exploded, I'd like to point out that J. Grant, of FLEM Comics, made a couple of his own. http://flemco.livejournal.com/1241035.html

Comment from: miyaa posted at February 11, 2006 3:45 AM

A couple of comments.

1. I do agree with a lot of the Slate article about Garfield. The thing about it through, is if Jim Davis really wanted to make Garfield a success, he would have tried to make Garfield more prominent as a commerical intenty. More specials, or more advertisements. He doesn't seem to be wanting to extend himself that much more these days, and he probably can afford to do so. He generally limits himself to the books, artwork, and the Garfield kitsch nicknacks that he could sell directly from his website.

2. But I think the real reason Garfield's humor is so flat is because Davis goes out of his way to be as non-offensive as he or to try to pull the punches on his humor. I mean basically, we have fat, lazy, and 40-year-old virgin jokes here. He's not going to be making many jokes about the current political environment. He takes the jokes from everyday life and tries to make them as santized as possible. Hell, he won't even make a tax-man joke or politican joke these days. Also, because his strip is international, he has to be extremely careful what he tries to put into his cartoons. (See the Dutch political cartoons that caused so much strife.)

3. And why are you picking on Garfield when you could also make the same complaints about 95% of the comics you typically see in newsprint? Many current popular comic strips suffer this same kind of blase safe-mode that keeps them in print. The ones that often get the complaints are deliberately political in nature.

Comment from: Sean Duggan posted at February 11, 2006 4:22 AM

Honestly, I think one of the things that the dialogueless comics show is how well Jim Davis does characterization of drawing. Even without words, you can read a lot out of the expressions on the characters' faces. This wouldn't work nearly as well with early strips. At least he's progressed at something...

Comment from: twistmeyer posted at February 11, 2006 4:29 AM

My take on this is that the PAWS artists have gotten so skillful with drawing the character, and the character design has gotten so expressive that it's actually funnier to look at the drawing and imagine what the cat is thinking than it is to read what the writers have to say.

I notice the trick doesn't work nearly as well with the really old strips and character design. This is an excellent example of the synergy my favorite cartoonists accomplish, where the art brings the funny just as much as the writing, except that here Davis would do a better job if he trusted the artists (and audience's imagination) more and the writers less.

Though we pooh-pooh Davis for farming out most of the work for his strip, something that Aaron McGruder also does, what he has done is created a studio of talented artists to take his creations farther than he could alone. Say what you will about Disney, their studio system always finds ways to re-invent Mickey Mouse while staying on-message. Davis has created a similar ecosystem, and for all we may dislike it, the strip is way better than it would be if he were actually still drawing it.

This experiment shows that the strip could be better yet, of course.

As an aside, the PAWS studio has released some rather interesting Garfield books besides the reprints, including one which was very like the Animatrix, employing multiple interpretations and art styles, including a very creepy story about an escaped lab cat. Davis has let his studio do a fair amount of experimentation; it doesn't look like a bad place to apprentice, and he's not just all about churning out more crap.

Comment from: twistmeyer posted at February 11, 2006 4:35 AM

Oh, and don't forget that years and years before Ryan North did Dinosaur comics, David Lynch actually did a comic called "The Angriest Dog in the World." The strip appeared in a number of alternative weekly papers, usually the same ones running Life In Hell. The strip had identical artwork and set-up each week, with a dog tied in front of a house, a dog "so angry, he approaches the state of rigor mortis..."

Lynch would literally phone in the dialog, usually obtuse and/or banal. It was hit or miss, but sometimes brilliant.

I just wanted to mention this, since someone in the original blog thread brought up Dinosaur Comics as a strip which would be better without dialog.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at February 11, 2006 5:09 AM

Ah yes, I think that book was "Garfield: His Nine Lives" or something along those lines. It also contained a story about a cat viciously attacking its elderly owner as well, as far as I recall. There was a TV special based on it as well, that had a couple of different sequences.

Comment from: Tim Tylor posted at February 11, 2006 8:02 AM

Thread's back up, but Mack's images are missing.

Tailsteak is having a go with Arbuckle, his realistic-redrawn version.

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at February 11, 2006 10:42 AM

Interesting observation: a lot of other people have taken a shot at it in the thread. It just doesn't work with the comics where Garfield just sits there expressionlessly. This doesn't surprise me in the least.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at February 11, 2006 11:36 AM

In other words, Weds, you've never sat there and wished your brain would shut down for a moment? If so, I stand corrected.

And pardon me for being speciesist, but I don't want other primates deciding my fate. Though all things considered, I do have to wonder if they would do a better job of it than the humans I know.

Also, Christian, my point about the soapbox isn't that you shouldn't use it. Just that nobody is going to listen to you, no matter how good the suggestion is, if you just stand on one and make orders. As much as I wish more people would think, ordering them to in someone else's forum is not going to be all that effective. 'Sides, the best way to get people to think is to give them something to think about, not ordering them.

Finally, for the record, I don't have a driver's license. Nobody makes me do anything in regards to one.

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at February 11, 2006 12:22 PM

The realisticly drawn ones aren't nearly as funny.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 11, 2006 12:53 PM

Perhaps not, RoboYuji. But they do convey a certain antihumor aesthetic.

I kind of hope to see more of them. There's a zen humor to them I find appealing.

Comment from: Christian posted at February 11, 2006 1:47 PM

Apologies, 32_ -- I didn't mean to give the impression I was telling anybody what to do (especially anybody here, where there's plenty of creative, informed thought), something I usually try to avoid. I was merely stating a viewpoint, and as you say, suggesting something to think about with the whole Garfield thing.

To that end (and completely removed from my first observation), I'm not sure that whatever creative leeway Davis affords his team is all that significant, since the ultimate product that drives the rest (the strip) still ends up as inane, finely crafted inanity though it may be; perhaps McDonald's makes the best fast-food burger in the world, but it's still not any good for you, and it does nothing to improve the overall quality of American cuisine (yes, the respective aims of cooking and comics are different, though not entirely. Bear with me).

I do agree that Garfield used to be better. I still have Garfield books from when I was young, and I remember two strips in particular that were interesting: One just had Garfield asleep in his bed, all 3 panels completely identical with no joke whatsoever; the next was the same for the first panel, in the second he begins to wake up, and in the third Davis reverts to normalcy with the punchline, "You know it's Monday when you wake up and it's Tuesday." Sure, Davis was unconventional for only a day, but even that first strip must have prompted some confused response from a fanbase used to the same sort of thing every day.

And that's the difference -- it's the change and creativity within the strip that are most important, not the peripheral content so much, because the strip keeps everything else alive. I'd bet that book and merchandise sales would drop if the strip stopped and were no longer in the public consciousness to the extent it presently is. Unfortunately, there is little to no creativity left in the Garfield strips.

Have other strips before Garfield been creative? Pogo was one of the best of all time, and blows Garfield out of the water for originality. But I'm not comparing the two, as there's one difference: Garfield is basically the industry standard of all newspaper comics that were ever made with manufactured, commercialized intent. Garfield went further in that direction than any other strip. And now (here I guess I am alluding to an earlier point) it has a history and reputation so big that any sort of change to the strip itself could have a lot of power.

Garfield was a leader in taking comics in a direction that stunted the medium. It could be a leader again if it shifted back and set a precedent in moving away from marketability towards artistic integrity. Some comics started off that way from the get-go, but Garfield (if he has any real influence with his creation anymore) could be a true prodigal son.

Even if Davis no longer has much say in his creation, I'd be interested to see what he would choose to do if he started a totally new project all on his own without any restrictions whatsoever. What characters would he create? How would the art, the writing, or the structure be different?

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at February 11, 2006 2:46 PM

Why would he even want to bother moving the strip towards "artistic integrity" when it was founded on marketability in the first place? You can't really "sell out" in the traditional sense when you don't have high arty goals in the first place.

Heck, I just want Jon to take them on vacations and have the occasional storyline and a supporting cast again.

Comment from: Dan Vincent posted at February 11, 2006 3:59 PM

There is a potential to be well-written funny-wise, all we need to do is look at Garfield and Friends for proof. But then, Davis never did the writing on that. I can't stand the Garfield comic strip, but Garfield and Friends (and some of the animated specials) has lots of funny and has aged very well.

I'd be interested to see what he would choose to do if he started a totally new project all on his own without any restrictions whatsoever. What characters would he create? How would the art, the writing, or the structure be different?

Check out US Acres for the answers to this question.

Comment from: Glaser posted at February 11, 2006 4:08 PM

While I absolutely agree, I think it would be more appropriate if it was done specifically so that one(well, actually, most) of the characters didn't talk, and the jokes were worked around that, rather than accomodating it.

On another note, and totally irrelevant, I just read today's For Better or For Worse, and I don't think I have ever seen a truer sentiment about children on the internet presented in the Washington Post Comics page. Or anywhere in that whole newspaper, for that matter.

Comment from: david malki ! posted at February 13, 2006 4:56 AM

The Comic Strip Doctor's take on this particular issue of recontextualization is here, if anyone's interested.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 13, 2006 5:12 AM

David -- it's a very interesting read, too.

Count me as one of those who misses the original Dysfunctional Family Circus, as well.

Comment from: John W. Wells posted at February 14, 2006 10:34 PM

RoboYuji, twistmeyer:

I think that Garfield: His Nine Lives, was really pretty good. There were a few stories in it where Garfield gets killed off, and one weirdly touching one. Also quite a bit of art style experimentation, and some pretty twisted humor.

Yes, Garfield gets killed a few times. That alone recommends it to me.

Comment from: gwalla posted at February 17, 2006 2:54 AM

I saw the TV special version of Garfield: His Nine Lives as a kid. It disturbed me greatly, possibly even more than Large Marge: while the latter was a sudden, nightmares-for-weeks-inducing shock, but did not on the whole disrupt my worldview, G:H9L was deeply troubling. The sense of unease I got from watching it has never truly gone away.

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