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No newspaper comic character enjoys a larger international audience than Garfield. While newspaper comics have been infiltrating the homes of readers in the United States since the 1880s, Garfield has made more of an impact than any other. Brought into existence by Jim Davis in Muncie, Indiana in 1978, Garfield has now gone world-wide. Breaking Guinness world records for most syndicated newspaper comic strip, Garfield has made over 800 million dollars in comic sales alone, making it the largest grossing newspaper comic strip to date. Recognized globally, Garfield is an international icon. Despite these laudations, there has never been an academic retrospective of Garfield. Written to be widely read and avoid confrontation, Garfield is often written off as a banal representation of daily life, churned out by a corporation. While these statements might be true, it is more important to look at Garfield as a symptom, rather than the cause. This mode of interpretation could lead Garfield to be studied among other comics in the cannon. This thesis is an examination of how Garfield is a manifestation of culture in the United States, what he embodies for modern audiences, and how the public has appropriated him.
As a cultural phenom, Garfield has become the modern embodiment of a beast fable, a late-stage capitalist business, and the usage of copyright law. The cantankerous cat acts as a mode for exploring these subjects, and dissecting the role of material culture in the subject of art history. As the first academic piece focused solely on Garfield, this work attempts to seriously investigate the fat orange cat, and ground him both in theory, and context. Using the study of material culture as a way to explore consumer culture was vital to understanding the place that Garfield has carved out in history. Pushing the bounds of art history to redefine what it is to study art was integral in discussing material possessions as expressions. The chapters work to define Garfield in United States consumer culture, allowing the cynical cat to infiltrate the world of conceptual thought. Jim Davis’s devotion to the banal makes Garfield a home-away-from-home, drawing generations of readers into his constructed reality. Now surrounded by a thick layer of nostalgia and kitsch, Garfield is able to be analyzed as a relic of capitalism, and commercial art.
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Engel, Iris B., "It’s Garfield’s World, We Just Live in It: An Exploration of Garfield the Cat as Icon, Money Maker, and Beast" (2019). Senior Projects Fall 2019. 3.
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