EMDD Seminar: The Future of Comics with Jim Davis

A fat cat’s contribution to the literacy conversation

Jim Davis is best-known for creating Garfield–the comic strip cat famous for hating Mondays and exercise and loving lasagna, naps and Pookie, his stuffed bear. Since 1977, Davis has been drawing the comic strip, which has since turned into a lucrative international franchise fronted by an orange, striped character recognized worldwide. Davis still draws the comic strip, in addition to being heavily involved in the activities of Paws, Inc., the company he founded in 1981 that is singlehandedly responsible for licensing the Garfield brand.

During his discussion with our class, he spoke at length about the genesis of the comic strip and its evolution throughout the years Go Here. While the aesthetic of Garfield–the number of stripes, the size of his feet, the length of his legs–has changed throughout the decades, the comic strip’s family friendly sense of humor and its core themes have remained consistent. Through Garfield, Jon, Odie and the strip’s other characters, Davis aims to hold a mirror to the readers with a humorist twist, encouraging them to laugh at themselves. Because the themes and sense of humor have remained stable, Garfield continues to engage readers spanning multiple generations with as much relatability today as when Davis first began drawing the comic strip. Davis views his characters as highly accessible and widely recognized, and readers know Garfield because Garfield knows himself. He has remained constant, and this consistency, honesty, and acceptance of the self has led to the brand’s immense popularity.

When analyzing the Garfield comic strip and subsequent franchise as it relates to the larger goals and mission of both Paws, Inc. and the Center for Emerging Media Design & Development, it’s important to note the correlation between comics and childhood literacy, in addition to the comic’s ability to engage people with humor and reading as a whole. Because the Garfield character is so recognizable, the transition of Garfield into the 21st century has exciting implications for the advancement of childhood literacy, facilitated through a well-known character using modern technology. Every project that we’re developing at the Center for EMDD is focused on contributing to a larger conversation. For decades, comics have made reading more accessible to children and served as a tool to facilitate the learning of literacy skills, either alone or with parents, teachers or caregivers. Just as the themes and humor of Garfield have remained over the strip’s decades in existence, so too should the goal of advancing literacy skills remain as the strip moves from the newspaper page to the digital space.