Written and Drawn by Jim Davis
Published by
Ballantine Books

I have had an interesting relation to Garfield the cat since his creation. My childhood best friend, Billy, immediately took to the big orange hairball and began drawing him in class at every turn. I also did my best to draw the furry strip star, but never could quite grasp it. And the more that people “oohed and ahhed” over Billy’s artistic efforts, the more frustrated and pissed I got. And since creator Jim Davis lived about forty-five minutes from us, it was doubly painful; any young Hoosier wanted to be able to show the big artistic star their talent. Jealousy? Oh, yes, its name was “Marc.”

Of course, years past, we all got over the GARFIELD phenomenon. In fact, into my 20s, I began to gain a serious disdain for the strip. To me, it was unfunny, lacked focus, and I thought Davis was phoning it in and getting fat and happy off the merchandising. I continued to hold this thought until earlier this year when a man named Dan Walsh (whom I can only call a genius) did something remarkable: he created a website called GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD.

GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD took Davis’ strip and stripped out the cat. That left poor Jon Arbuckle talking to himself, musing to himself, and wallowing in his own pathetic life. Suddenly, there was a new perspective on this old beast; without the snarky thought balloons from the cat, Jon was exposed as a jumble of inner turmoil, narcissistic pain, and raw neuroses. MINUS captured the true essence of the comic that I had never put a lot of thought into. Simply put, Garfield’s thought balloons are just that: thought balloons. Jon doesn’t know what the cat is saying or thinking. He is conversing with himself and laying bare his innermost pain. With the cat, it’s a sarcastic on a sad little man. Without the cat, it’s a surprisingly commentary at how easy it is to feel lost and alone in modern society. So to say that I recommend the GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD book would be an understatement.

Having read that book, I was able to dive in to GARFIELD: 30 YEARS OF LAUGHS AND LASAGNA with a renewed perspective on Davis’ work. Thus, this selection of the comic’s best efforts over the 30 years of its existence felt like a warm homecoming for me, and I was able to appreciate what it had to offer once more. Part of what made it interesting was to watch on the page as Davis refined his artistic abilities and found the characters. I was also interested in some of the commentary he offered, intrigued by character choices and reasoning behind the strip’s concepts. And obviously, I had to admit that Davis has been doing something right all this time: GARFIELD is the most widely syndicated cartoon strip in the world.

This attractive hardcover does its level best to show you why. And while the daily strip can still be very hit and miss with me, I do now see it with new eyes and appreciation for what Davis hath wrought. These are two fine books and would make solid holiday presents for a loved one.

Marc Mason