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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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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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Smart Shopping
25 Dapper Outfit Choices for Fashionable Pets
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Lavishing your furry friends with adorable attire is a benefit of pet ownership that they don't mention on the adoption forms. Whether you prefer practical clothing like sweaters and jackets or statement pieces like bow ties and tutus, these dapper duds are perfect for a howl-iday or "gotcha day" gift, or simply for saying, "Who's the cutest little pupper in pajamas? You are!"

1. CASHMERE DOG SWEATER; FROM $165

dog in sweater
Canine Styles

This classic cable-knit cashmere sweater is a sophisticated look for Fido or Finn. Get it from Canine Styles, a luxury dog emporium in New York City that has plenty of posh and preppy outfits.

Find It: Canine Styles

2. TOGGLE DOG COAT; $85

dog in coat
Canine Styles

This toggle coat (available in orange, navy, and tan) is as fashionable as it is warm. Made of Melton wool, it has Velcro closures to make getting dressed easy. It's great for long walks in the country.

Find It: Canine Styles

3. DOG TUXEDO; FROM $90

Dog in tuxedo
Etsy

This satin tuxedo is perfect for the canine members of your wedding party, though it will brighten up any other occasion as well. The custom, handmade outfit comes complete with a snappy bow tie.

Find It: Etsy

4. DOG BELLE DRESS; FROM $45

Dog Belle Dress
Etsy

The queen of your castle can feel like a Disney princess in her very own version of Belle's iconic yellow dress from Beauty and the Beast. This ball gown is made from yellow crepe satin with chiffon overlay on the bodice and features hand-painted gold detailing on the skirt. Enchanted rose not included.

Find It: Etsy

5. POODLE SKIRT OUTFIT FOR DOGS; $26

Rubies Pink Fifties Girl Pet Costume
Amazon

What if you could buy a 1950s poodle skirt for your poodle? This retro dress is comprised of a pink poodle skirt, striped bodice, and sequined belt, and comes with a bow headband.

Find It: Amazon

6. RIBBED CROCHET BUNNY SWEATER; $25

bunny in a sweater
Etsy

Your snuggle-bunny will look like a little fancy-pants in this ribbed crochet sweater. Choose from seven colors, including this dashing deep red.

Find It: Etsy

7. BESPOKE MONOGRAM DOG SWEATER; FROM $155

Dog in sweater
Ruby Rufus

Bespoke clothing isn't just for humans: British luxury dog clothing brand Ruby Rufus will make your pooch a custom monogram sweater made with 100 percent Italian cashmere. You can even order it in your dog's favorite color.

Find It: Ruby Rufus

8. HOT PINK DOG TUTU; $17

Dog in hot pink tutu
Etsy

Tutus look absolutely adorable on tiny humans and animals alike. If your pooch wants to get in touch with its inner ballerina, then grab this hot pink number from Etsy. Rave reviews are a sure thing.

Find It: Etsy

9. PINK DOG POLO SHIRT; $35

Dog Pink Polo Shirt
Canine Styles

This pink polo shirt is perfect for your preppy fur baby. It features not one but a veritable multitude of crocodiles. They'll be the most dapper dog at the country club.

Find It: Canine Styles

10. DOG BARN COAT WITH BROWN CORDUROY COLLAR; $85

Dog in barn coat
Canine Styles

When it's time for a walk, your dog will look effortlessly chic in this fancy barn coat. It comes in navy, cranberry, orange, hot pink, and loden and features convenient pockets for anyone with opposable thumbs.

Find It: Canine Styles

11. WHITE PET NECK RUFF; $26

Pet Neck Ruff
Etsy

Your canine or kitty will look like their painting belongs in London's National Portrait Gallery with this Elizabethan neck ruff.

Find It: Etsy

12. CHICKEN SWEATER; $25

chicken wearing sweater
Etsy

Chickens can get cold when they're strutting around outside. A sweater (well, more like sweater vest) for your bird can also help prevent feather picking during molting season. Or, it can simply keep them warm while they stare pensively across a snowy landscape.

Find It: Etsy

13. PET CIRCLE SCARF; $15

dog in scarf
Etsy

An infinity scarf is a perfect burst of color on a dreary early morning walk. The proprietor of Mitten Made on Etsy originally designed this wool snood for her miniature Dachshund to help keep her warm during the long, cold winters in Michigan.

Find It: Etsy

14. FAB DOG TRAVEL RAINCOAT; FROM $18

Fab Dog Travel Raincoat
Chewy

This timeless yellow rain slicker will look great on any puppy when it's raining cats and dogs. It's made of 100 percent waterproof nylon shell that keeps fur dry. Bonus: It's perfect for an It Halloween costume.

Find It: Chewy

15. LACE CAT OR DOG COLLAR; FROM $10

cat in lace collar
Etsy

This handmade, white lace collar is a must-have for fancy felines. It's also embellished with a large rhinestone.

Find It: Etsy

16. FITWARM PENGUIN PAJAMAS FOR DOGS; FROM $10

Fitwarm Cute Penguin Xmas Dog Pajamas
Amazon

Keep your pupper warm on cold winter nights with these penguin PJs. They're great for doggie sleepovers or lazy weekends on the couch watching Netflix.

Find It: Amazon

17. PLAID CASHMERE DOG COAT; FROM $225

dog in plaid coat
Canine Styles

Your dog will look like a proper gentleman in this smart plaid peacoat. This fine garment is made of cashmere with a faux fur lining and leather buttons, and is a perfect shield against chill and fog.

Find It: Canine Styles

18. SATIN PET BOW TIE; FROM $8

Satin Bow Tie for Dog
Etsy

This satin doggie bow tie is perfect for any occasion. It comes in several colors and features a Velcro fastener that makes it easy to attach to a collar. Plus, 10 percent of every sale goes to charity: specifically to SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Feeding Pets of the Homeless.

Find It: Etsy

19. RED DOG DRESS; FROM $34

dog in dress
Etsy

Your good boy or girl will look red carpet-ready in this elegant gown. The voluminous tulle skirt is to die for, and each bow is embellished with beads. Custom orders are also available.

Find It: Etsy

20. DOG TIE; FROM $13

Dog tie
Etsy

Your pooch will be ready to stun at any black tie event. This tie is designed like a collar, making it easy to dress your four-legged friend. This Etsy store gives back: 10 perfect of all sales are donated to an animal protection association.

Find It: Etsy

21. NAUTICAL DOG DRESS WITH MATCHING LEASH; $20

Dog sailor dress
BaxterBoo

Perfect for a day on the town or setting sail in a schooner, this is the sailor outfit you never knew your best furry friend needed. This vintage throwback also comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

22. TARTAN FLANNEL PET BOW TIE; $5.50

tartan pet bow tie
Etsy

Your dog or cat will turn heads in this flannel tartan bow tie. It has a convenient elastic loop that slides over your pup's collar.

Find It: Etsy

23. PUCCI DOG SHIRT; $23

dog in Pucci dog shirt
Etsy

Only the fanciest dogs wear, err, Pucci. Grab this punny "designer" t-shirt for your pup. This high-quality cotton statement piece is perfect for small breeds.

Find It: Etsy

24. PINK POLKA DOT AND LACE DOG HARNESS DRESS; $20

Pink Polka Dot and Lace Designer Dog Harness Dress
BaxterBoo

This feminine pink polka dot dress is simply adorable. It features a convenient built-in harness and comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

25. PET SWEATER VEST; $6

pet sweater vest
Amazon

Your dog or cat will look like an erudite Oxford professor in this sweater vest. Note that the button on the pocket is shaped like a bone.

Find It: Amazon

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