Slate Reports on Garfield, the Commodity

Slate recently published an in-depth article about the life and times of Jim Davis’ Garfield. The article features creator Jim Davis not as an artist but as a shrewd economist who deliberately created a marketable figure and has personally controlled its popularity to maximum benefit.



  1. Okay, putting aside the fact that Garfield sucks, I can’t help but think this is all fault of the american syndication model. The Garfield marketing machine is only hated because it works. Because Jim Davis was a marketing genious that managed to build a character that could sell. He’s in a position that very few other cartoonists find themselves into.

    For one, I always found it odd that you had to sell the rights of your creations to the syndicates you’re going to work for.

    In Brazil we have none of this bullshit. The newspapers buy the strips directly from the artists for a price that is often symbolic, because the cartoonists know their money is going to come from the licensing of their characters. And it works very well. Every once in a while their characters feature on beer or condom ads, or are printed in the cover of notebooks, just easy like that, with no middle man involved. Are those artists sell-outs?

    No more than Jim Davis, I’m inclined to believe.

  2. The system in Brazil seems very admirable to me!

    It is kinda odd to think that because of Garfield’s success, we can easily see the holes in the american syndicate system. I do think it’s slightly admirable of Davis to keep his creation from wearing out. Most people would cash in, then create something new “From the Creator of Garfield!” that would be even worse. Here we have a man who knows his limits of creativity.

  3. Actually, Davis did try to create a new property years ago. It was called U.S. Acres,” and featured a bunch of lovable farm animals. It even had an animated version (the “and friends” portion of the “Garfield and Friends” saturday morning cartoon). It was pretty short lived.

  4. Bill Watterson once said in an interview, if I remember correctly,
    “Garfield is… consistant… (Long pause) … I think U.S. Acres is an abomination, though.” He later went on to say Davis’s factory was churning out a comic about animals on a farm. I personally enjoyed the cartoon version, mainly for Sheldon the chicken who wouldn’t leave his shell and Roy the cocky rooster.

  5. Cartoon Network still airs that around here. But I thought it was just a branch of the Garfield merchandising.

  6. One thing about the article that struck me was this:

    Today, Garfield the comic strip appears in nearly 2,600 newspapers around the globe, and its readership is estimated at 260 million. If the readership number is right, then 4 percent of the world’s population reads Garfield every single day.

    I wonder how many fans a bland piece of corporate yeech, Garfield actually has. There are a ton of comic strips that I don’t read. There are countless people who don’t read the comic in the papers they buy. How is readership for a strip estimated? It’s pointless to say it’s equal to the number of people who buy newspapers that Garfield is in – I dare say no one buys a paper just for Garfield (doubly so in the age of every comic freely available on the Internet).

    If it’s equal to the newspaper circulations its in than I hereby declare that my webcomic readership is 5 billion or so – whatever the population of the Earth that can access the Internet.

  7. Maybe for that purpose you can say the Garfield readership equals the print run of the newspapers tha publishes it. Out of the eight strips the newspaper I sign, only two of them are syndicated: Garfield and Hagar. You can say I most definitely don’t buy the newspaper because of Garfield. I don’t even read the funnies because of it. But I read it, since it’s already there and the only effort I have to make is shift my eyes throught the whole page.

  8. Out of the eight strips the newspaper I sign, only two of them are syndicated:

    “Out of the eight strips the newspaper I sign run on a daily basis, only two of them are syndicated” would look better.

  9. It’s interesting to know that the very reasons I dislike the Garfield comic, the bland uninspired drivel repeated on a constant basis, were intentional. I have no problem with the idea of “selling out,” IE making money for ones product, but that should be the after effect of a decent product, not the sole reason for making it.

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