AFTER 40 YEARS, ‘GARFIELD’ CREATOR JIM DAVIS GIVING FANS A CHANCE TO OWN ORIGINAL COMIC STRIP ART
By Hector Cantú
Garfield is perhaps the world’s most famous feline. Now, original art from the cynical orange cat’s daily comic strip is going to auction, consigned exclusively to Heritage Auctions by creator Jim Davis.
The first batch of art, dating to the strip’s first year, are being offered in Heritage’s August comic art auction. Additional strips are being auctioned over the coming years, with the second batch scheduled for November.
“Like earlier greats from the history of comics,” says Heritage Auctions Co-Chairman Jim Halperin, “Garfield has come to define an entire era – the huge impact of the character continues to amaze, and the warm affection for the strip by millions of fans over many decades is undeniable.”
For his part, Davis isn’t eager to part with his strips, but says storing so many original pieces is a significant task. For years, Davis’ studio and production company, Paws Inc., has been located in the cornfields of Indiana, with a staff of nearly 30 artists and licensing administrators. With the growth of digital technology, a lot of his employees, he explains, are now working from home. “We have donated our studio to Ball State University and are presently in the process of moving everything home,” Davis says. “We’re no longer able to keep them [the original strips] in fireproof storage, so it’s time to let go.
“These strips are my babies,” he adds. “Yeh, it’s hard to part with them, but there are so many, it’s not like I can hang them all on the wall.”
The cartoonist admits that poring through four decades of art has created special feelings for certain strips. “I’m keeping a handful of strips that have a certain sentimental value,” says Davis, who grew up on a small farm in Fairmount, Ind. “I’m keeping some that I did about Mom and Dad and the farm where I grew up. I’m also keeping a couple of Snoopy references. They’re special.”
Otherwise, fans of the lasagna-loving cat, along with pals Odie, Pooky, Squeak the Mouse, Nermal, and, of course, Jon Arbuckle, will have plenty of chances to own original art from a character that rivals Mickey Mouse in the number of plush animals, books, greeting cards, TV shows and movies he has spawned.
“Garfield began in 41 newspapers and is now the most widely syndicated comic strip, appearing worldwide in 2,100 newspapers and translated into 42 languages,” says Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite. “There is no equal in the cartooning world.”
It’s a long way from Davis’ boyhood growing up on his parent’s farm in Indiana. Like most farms, the barnyard had its share of cats, about 25 on average, by Jim’s estimation. As a child, he suffered serious bouts with asthma, which forced him to stay indoors away from regular farm chores, whiling away the hours drawing pictures and reading comic books. “I remember reading Dick Tracy, Casper the Friendly Ghost and a host of World War II comic books at my Aunt Margery’s home when we visited there.”
In college, he studied art and business before going to work for Tumbleweeds creator Tom Ryan. It was while an assistant to Ryan that Davis wandered into a comic shop near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and spotted some original strips on the wall. “I bought a couple of Li’l Abners and a Pogo!”
GARFIELD THROUGH THE AGES
Of course, everything changed in June 1978 when Garfield debuted in newspapers. Guinness World Records has named Garfield the “Most Widely Syndicated Comic Strip in the World.” And Davis’ peers at the National Cartoonists Society awarded him the coveted Reuben Award in 1990.
Davis doesn’t actively collect comic strip art but he does “swap strips with artists who have mentioned Garfield or who I’ve mentioned in my strip. Cartoonists are, without a doubt,” he says, “the biggest fans of other cartoonists!”
Of the 40 or 50 original comic strips by other cartoonists he’s acquired over the years, a favorite is a Garfield strip he actually didn’t draw. “Blondie cartoonist Dean Young produced that strip. On April 1, 1997, as an April Fools’ joke, over 40 cartoonists swapped strips. I did Blondie, Jeff MacNelly did Beetle Bailey and so on. We had a ball!”
Davis hopes fans will have a ball, too, bidding and owning their own Garfield strips. “I hope the art ends up on any wall in any home,” he says. “It would be cool to contribute an occasional smile to a family’s daily routine … like what I do in the newspaper each day.”
We asked Jim Davis about the cartoonists who’ve had the biggest influence on his work:
Charles Schulz: “He taught me the power of simplicity. Simple art and simple relationships leave more to the imagination (and delight) of the reader.”
Mort Walker: “Mort was a ‘big foot’ cartoonist. He drew big hands, big feet and did big gags. He also created characters who cared very much for each other. That added an immeasurable amount of warmth and authenticity to his features.”
Johnny Hart: “He had great fun producing his features. I learned that the more fun you have creating a gag, the more fun people will have reading it!”
This article appears in the Fall 2019 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.