Photo composite by Chloe Effron. Garfield picture via rtb via Flickr // Davis photo via Getty
Photo composite by Chloe Effron. Garfield picture via rtb via Flickr // Davis photo via Getty

11 Things You Might Not Know About Cartoonist Jim Davis

Photo composite by Chloe Effron. Garfield picture via rtb via Flickr // Davis photo via Getty
Photo composite by Chloe Effron. Garfield picture via rtb via Flickr // Davis photo via Getty

You’re probably familiar with Garfield, the fat cartoon cat who loves lasagna and leisure, but how much do you know about Garfield’s creator? Jim Davis, the cartoonist responsible for drawing Garfield, turns 71 today. To celebrate his birthday, here are 11 facts about the man behind the legendary comic.

1. HIS ASTHMA LED HIM TO DISCOVER DRAWING.

Born July 28, 1945 in Indiana, Davis lived with his parents and younger brother on a farm. Surrounded by cows and 25 cats—which Davis later used as inspiration for Garfield—he hoped to become a farmer (like his father) when he grew up. But his frequent asthma attacks led him to avoid the outdoors, and eventually discover his love of drawing. “Being asthmatic, I spent a lot of time inside. TV wasn’t as prevalent in the 1950s, so my mom would shove paper and pencil in my hand to entertain me,” he revealed in a 2009 interview.

2. HE DREW BUGS BEFORE TURNING TO CATS.

Circa 1983. Getty

After studying art and business at Indiana’s Ball State University, Davis worked as an assistant for Tom K. Ryan, the cartoonist who drew the Tumbleweeds comic strip. Davis’s first comic strip, called Gnorm Gnat, ran for a few years in a local Indiana newspaper, but the bug-centric strip wasn’t popular. And in June 1978, when Davis debuted Garfield, the orange cat wasn’t an instant success. By the end of the summer, editors at the Chicago Sun-Times decided to stop running Garfield. After 1300 readers complained, the newspaper brought Davis’ strip back, and Garfield now appears in thousands of newspapers around the world.

3. HE GOT INSPIRATION FROM HIS OWN LIFE TO WRITE GARFIELD.

Davis named Garfield after his grandfather, James Garfield Davis (who was named after President James Garfield). He also based Garfield’s personality on his grandfather, a large, cantankerous, curmudgeonly man with a gruff exterior but soft heart. Using even more inspiration from his own life, Davis set the comic strip in Muncie, his Indiana hometown, and made Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle, a cartoonist. Most casual readers of the comic strip aren’t aware of Garfield’s location or Jon’s profession, though, because Davis wanted to make the strip as universal and relatable as possible.

4. CHARLES SCHULTZ DREW GARFIELD AS WE KNOW HIM TODAY.

A 1979 comic, viaGarfield.com

Early Garfield strips realistically depicted the cat with four small legs and paws. After Garfield had been running for three years, cartoonist Charles Schultz looked at Davis’ drawings and made a suggestion: “Give him big human feet.” Schultz drew the cat standing upright with large human feet, allowing Davis to make Garfield more anthropomorphic and relatable.

5. HE HELPED CREATE AN AMUSEMENT PARK RIDE.

Despite plans for it, an amusement park dedicated solely to Garfield never came to pass, but fans of the fat cat can still get a taste of what a Garfield amusement park would be like. With Davis’s blessing and input, visitors to West Mifflin, Pennsylvania’s amusement park Kennywood can ride “Garfield’s Nightmare.” Kennywood opened back in 1898, and its "Garfield’s Nightmare" attraction has featured a boat ride, a black light, and scary fluorescent images of Garfield since 2003.

6. HE APPRECIATES AN EXISTENTIAL TAKE ON GARFIELD.

Garfield Minus Garfield, a webcomic that removes Garfield from the Garfield comic strip, offers an existential, nihilist take on Jon’s thoughts. As the creator of the parody strip, Dan Walsh, told The Washington Post: “It’s a completely different comic once Garfield has been removed. It suddenly becomes more surreal and dark, more Monty Python than Dick Van Dyke, more South Park than The Simpsons.” Davis admitted that he was a fan of Walsh’s work, calling Garfield Minus Garfield funny and inspired.

7. DAVIS IS ALL ABOUT THE MERCHANDISING.

Since 1978, Garfield has grown from a comic strip to an international brand, with movies, TV shows, books, video games, and merchandise. In 1981, Davis founded Paws, Inc. to manage Garfield’s licensing. Dozens of licensing experts, artists, and writers work at Paws, which is located in Davis’ home state of Indiana. And the operation is huge: Garfield merchandise—from posters to clothing to calendars—earns nearly $1 billion in revenue per year.

8. LAST YEAR, DAVIS FULFILLED HIS LIFELONG DREAM TO WRITE A MUSICAL.

As a young man, Davis was involved with high school plays and community theater, and working on a Garfield musical was always on his bucket list. In the summer of 2015, Davis debuted Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude. The musical’s plot entailed Garfield running away from home after having a disappointing birthday which happened to fall, of course, on a Monday. The show ran for two months at Adventure Theatre / Musical Theater Center in Glen Echo, Maryland.

9. TODAY, HIS ASSISTANTS DRAW THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

Because Davis is so busy running his licensing company, he relies on his staff of cartoonists to help him create the daily comic strip. Davis writes and sketches multiple strips at one time, and his assistants help with blue-lining, inking, coloring, and lettering. But the buck stops with Davis, who reviews all the final strips to ensure a cohesive voice and his authentically Garfield tone.

10. DAVIS ENJOYS HIS ANONYMITY.

Because most people know his characters and not him, Davis admits that he gets to enjoy the perks of celebrity without some of the disadvantages. "Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity… So I just hide behind Garfield," he's said. "The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies."

11. LIKE GARFIELD, DAVIS IS A BIG FAN OF LASAGNA.

Garfield loves lasagna, and Davis is no different. "I love the good things in life—food, relaxing, TV, food. I do love lasagna, and just about any Italian food, especially pizza," he revealed in an interview for his website. But don’t expect to find any fancy, hifalutin lasagna in his freezer. Davis prefers his lasagna simple: “The more basic the better. It has to have meat in it. It has to have cheese in it,” he said.

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10 Science-Backed Tips for Getting a Cat to Like You
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Like so many other humans, you might find cats to be mysterious creatures. But believe it or not, it’s not that hard to make friends with a feline, if you know what to do. Here are some tips on how to effectively buddy up with a kitty, drawn from scientific studies and my own experience as a researcher and cat behavioral consultant.

1. LET THE CAT CALL THE SHOTS.

When we see cats, we really want to pet them—but according to two Swiss studies, the best approach is to let kitty make the first move.

Research done in 51 Swiss homes with cats has shown that when humans sit back and wait—and focus on something else, like a good book—a cat is more likely to approach, and less likely to withdraw when people respond. (This preference explains why so many kitties are attracted to people with allergies—because allergic people are usually trying to not pet them.) Another study found that interactions last longer and are more positive when the kitty both initiates the activity and decides when it ends. Play a little hard to get, and you might find that they can’t get enough of you.

2. APPROACH A CAT THE WAY THEY GREET EACH OTHER (SORT OF).

person extending finger to cat's nose
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Felines who are friendly with each other greet each other nose to nose. You can mimic that behavior by offering a non-threatening finger tip at their nose level, a few inches away. Don’t hover, just bend down and gently extend your hand. Many cats will walk up and sniff your finger, and may even rub into it. Now that's a successful greeting.

3. PET CATS WHERE THEY LIKE IT MOST …

They're very sensitive to touch, and generally, they tend to like being petted in some places more than others. A small 2002 study demonstrated that cats showed more positive responses—like purring, blinking, and kneading their paws—to petting on the forehead area and the cheeks. They were more likely to react negatively—by hissing, swatting, or swishing their tails—when petted in the tail area. A more recent study validated these findings with a larger sample size—and many owners can testify to these preferences.

Of course, every animal is an individual, but these studies give us a good starting point, especially if you're meeting a cat for the first time.

4. … AND IF YOU GET NEGATIVE FEEDBACK, GIVE THE CAT SOME SPACE.

There are plenty of signs that a cat doesn't like your actions. These can range from the overt—such as hissing and biting—to the more subtle: flattening their ears, looking at your hand, or twitching their tails. When you get one of those signals, it’s time to back off.

Many of the owners I work with to correct behavioral issues don't retreat when they should, partially because they enjoy the experience of petting their cat so much that they fail to recognize that kitty isn’t enjoying it too. You can’t force a feline to like being handled (this is especially true of feral cats), but when they learn that you’ll respect their terms, the more likely they will be to trust you—and come back for more attention when they're ready.

5. DON’T OVERFEED YOUR CAT.

Many think that food equals love, and that withholding food might make your kitty hate you, but a recent study of obese felines from Cornell University showed the opposite is true—at least for a period of time. About a month after 58 overweight kitties were placed on a diet, three-quarters of their owners reported that their dieting felines were more affectionate, purred more often, and were more likely to sit in their owner's lap. This adorable behavior came with some not-so-cute side effects—the cats also begged and meowed more—but by week eight, both the good and bad behavior had abated for about half the animals.

Regardless of whether a diet makes your pet cuddlier, keeping your pet on the slender side is a great way to help them stay healthy and ward off problems like diabetes, joint pain, and uncleanliness. (Overweight animals have difficulty grooming themselves—and do you really want them sitting on your lap if they can’t keep their butt clean?)

6. PLAY WITH THEM—A LOT.

woman, cat, and feather toy
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Most of the behavior problems that I've witnessed stem from boredom and a lack of routine playtime. No one thinks twice about walking their dog every day, but many people fail to recognize that felines are stealth predators who need a regular outlet for that energy. A recent study suggested that cats prefer human interaction over food, but a closer look at the data demonstrated that what really attracted them to humans was the presence of an interactive toy. One of their top choices is a wand-style toy with feathers, strings, or other prey-like attachments that evoke predatory behavior. Daily interactive play is a great way to bond with them when they’re not in the mood to cuddle—and to keep them fit. Try the Go-Cat Da Bird or any of Neko Flies interchangeable cat toys.  

7. KEEP YOUR CAT INDOORS.

A study conducted in Italy showed that felines who stayed mostly indoors (they had one hour of supervised access to a small garden each day) were more “in sync” with their owners than felines who were allowed free access to the outdoors. The indoor kitties were more active during the day, when their owners were likely to be active, and less active at night, when humans like to sleep. (Many people believe cats are nocturnal, but they are naturally crepuscular—active at dawn and dusk.)

8. SOCIALIZE CATS WHEN THEY'RE YOUNG.

Multiple studies have shown that just a few minutes a day of positive handling by humans helps kittens grow up to be friendlier and more trusting of humans. The ideal age to socialize kittens is when they're between 2 and 9 weeks old. One 2008 study found that shelter kittens that had been given a lot of "enhanced socialization"—additional attention, affection, and play—were, a year later, more affectionate with their owners and less fearful than other kittens adopted from the same shelters.

You can help socialize kittens by volunteering as a foster caretaker. Fostering ensures they get plenty of interaction with people, which will help them will be comfortable around potential adopters. You'll also be doing your local shelter a huge favor by alleviating overcrowding.

9. TAKE THE CAT'S PERSONALITY—AND YOUR OWN—INTO CONSIDERATION WHEN ADOPTING.

If you want to adopt an older animal, take some time at the shelter to get to know them first, since adopters of adult cats report that personality played a big role in their decision to take an animal home permanently and had an impact on their satisfaction with their new companion. Better yet, foster one first. Shelters can be stressful, so you'll get a better sense of what an animal is really like when they're in your home. Not all cats are socialized well when they're young, so a cat may have their own unique rules about what kinds of interactions they're okay with.

It's also key to remember that a cat's appearance isn't indicative of their personality—and it's not just black cats who get a bad rap. In 2012, I published a study with 189 participants that showed that people were likely to assign personality traits to felines based solely on their fur color. Among other things, they tended to think orange cats would be the nicest and white cats the most aloof. (Needless to say, these are inaccurate assumptions.) And it's not just the kitty's personality that matters—yours is important too. Another study I conducted in 2014 of nearly 1100 pet owners suggested that self-identified “cat people” tend to be more introverted and anxious when compared to dog people. (We’re also more prone to being open-minded and creative, so it’s not all bad.) If you’re outgoing and active, a more playful feline could be for you. If you prefer nights spent snuggling on the couch, a mellow, shy-but-sweet lovebug could be your perfect pet.

10. BE A KEEN OBSERVER OF THEIR BEHAVIOR.

Overall, use your common sense. Be a diligent and objective observer of how they respond to your actions. Feline body language can be subtle—something as small as an eye-blink can indicate contentment, while ear twitches might signal irritation—but as you learn their cues, you'll find yourself much more in tune with how they're feeling. And if you adjust your behaviors accordingly, you'll find soon enough that you've earned a cat's trust.

Mikel Delgado received her Ph.D. at UC-Berkeley in psychology studying animal behavior and human-pet relationships. She's a researcher at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and co-founder of the cat behavior consulting company Feline Minds.

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New Subscription Service Will Give You 24/7 Access to Veterinary Expertise for $10 a Month
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When your dog eats a sock at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, you have very few options. You could take her to the 24-hour emergency vet, but those visits are expensive. You could look online and obsess over whether the advice you find about helping her puke it up at home, DIY style, is at all credible. Or you could just cross your fingers and hope that this, too, shall pass.

A new subscription service is designed to lend a hand in stressful pet-related situations like this, as Fast Company reports. Fuzzy Connect provides a direct line to a veterinarian 24/7 for $10 a month.

The smartphone app offers an unlimited live chat through which you can send videos, photos, and texts to get help with whatever pet-related issue you have. Though the vets on staff will definitely help you figure out what to do if your cat ate a string or your dog ate an entire chocolate cake, the service isn’t just for emergencies. You can chat with a vet about your pet’s diet, house-training issues, or vaccinations. You can even ask broader questions, like what paperwork you need to take your dog out of the country.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay area, you can also take advantage of the Wellness plan, which includes two in-home vet checkups a year, a medication mailing service, and basic vaccines for $39 a month.

If you’re a fairly relaxed person with a pet who doesn’t go around eating strange objects on a regular basis, Fuzzy Connect might not be that worth it, especially if you already pay for pet insurance. But if you’re a neurotic cat dad or dog mom whose beloved friend often gets up to no good, having a professional on hand for reassurance and guidance might not be the worst investment.

[h/t Fast Company]

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