Garfield exits, gets funnier

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Perhaps the funniest thing we've seen in a while is Dan Walsh's "Garfield minus Garfield", the comic strip which exposes the loneliness and depression of Jon Arbuckle, the fictional bachelor and owner of the overgrown cat, simply by removing the eponymous pet from the frames.

The result doesn't always work, but when it does, it's sad and hilarious, providing a chance, as Walsh writes on the site, to "laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb."

Both the Washington Post and New York Times have stories on Walsh's site.

It's also not entirely unique, as for some reason Garfield's combination of ubiquity and cloying simplicity has inspired numerous mash-ups. Several previous incarnations kept the cat but removed his snarky comments, and something called the Garfield Generator appeared for a brief time, allowing users to rescramble panels from the history of the strip to create occassionaly delightful non sequitors.

These past Garfield-inspired strips are mostly off the web - except for the occasional echo on a blog - because of copyright infringement issues. Similarly a mash-up strip of Bill Keane's saccharine Family Circus with the dark writing of H.P. Lovecraft - called the Nameless Dread - enjoyed popularity last year before disappearing from the web because of copyright infringement, as was an earlier, off-colour strip called the Dysfunctional Family Circus.

But Garfield minus Garfield is currently thriving, possibly because, as opposed to previous attempts to rework the strip, Garfield creator Jim Davis is himself a fan, as the Post reports:

The cartoonist calls the work "an inspired thing to do" and wishes to thank Walsh for enabling him to see another side of "Garfield." "Some of the strips were slappers: 'Oh, I could have left that out.' It would have been funnier," Davis says.

Generally, when we think of sampling, mash-ups and copyright, we think of musicians like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails.

Now we're starting to see the method applied to comic strips, particularly since with the decline of newspapers, comic strips are a dying form of pop art. Dilbert creator Scott Adams in April this year added a new mash-up site that lets you add your own punch line, but that's not quite the same thing as letting someone else do it and not suing them.

So kudos to Jim Davis, an unlikely trailblazer.