His mug has been plastered on earrings, underwear and oven mitts. He has his own brand of flan. Fifteen years ago, you couldn't drive down the street without seeing him suction-cupped to the window of a passing car. He appears in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide, boasts a readership of a quarter billion people and, at one time, had his own television series and a string of TV specials.
What he hasn't had -- until now -- is his own movie. That will change tomorrow with -- what else? -- Garfield: The Movie. And even though some people are questioning the timing ("That's like making Drabble: The Movie," comedian David Cross complains in an interview with E! Online. "Why don't they just make Hollywood Squares: The Movie or Alf?"), the fact is that Garfield continues to add more newspapers and products each month to his empire, a dominion that stretches from creator Jim Davis' Muncie, Ind., home to the farthest reaches of the globe. (He's big in Pago Pago.)
Not bad for a sarcastic, lazy fat cat who began life on June 19, 1978, in 41 newspapers, born from Davis' canny observation that while there were plenty of comics about dogs, cats were confined to being mostly supporting characters in strips.
"He hit the right note at the right time," says Malcolm Whyte, founder of San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum and author of the book Great Comic Cats. "Not only did Garfield appeal to cat lovers, he embraced all the wonderful things that we humans pretend we don't have -- gluttony, laziness and meanness."
Davis and his wife, Jill, live and work at their company's complex in the Indiana countryside. Davis walks about 100 yards each workday to his Paws Inc. office, where he manages a staff of 57 people who help him write and draw the comic strip and come up with new ways in which Garfield's likeness can be put on products. There's a gym (rarely seen by Davis, who, like Garfield, doesn't believe in jogging), a Garfield memorabilia showroom and, most important, a cafeteria, which pretty much always features Garfield's favorite food, lasagna.
"I can only write about what I know," the genial Davis says by phone. "I love lasagna. I don't like to exercise. People make their lives way too complicated. My view is life shouldn't be that tough."
If that sounds like a particular cat, Davis, 58, will readily concede that he's a blend of Garfield and the cat's nerdy owner, Jon. ("He doesn't suffer for his art," Beetle Bailey cartoonist and longtime pal Mort Walker says.)
Of course, this is still a guy who wakes up well before the sun rises and typically works a 12- to 14-hour day overseeing every aspect of Garfield's domain. ("He has the kind of problems every cartoonist wishes they had," Walker says.)
And for all the talk about lowering standards, it was Davis' fear that he couldn't properly compete with Disney that kept him from selling Garfield's feature film rights all these years.
"I was approached a number of times, but it's only human nature to compare yourself to Disney, and I knew if we went the traditional animation route, we'd never have the budget to match what they were doing," Davis says.
The solution came with the advent of computer-generated images (CGI). Once Pixar's Monsters, Inc. demonstrated that fur could be realistically replicated by a computer, Davis believed he could create a three-dimensional character that could capture Garfield's decidedly nonfeline nature. (He needs those opposable thumbs to hold coffee mugs and eating utensils.)
"We tried everything," director Peter Hewitt says. "Ultimately, we knew we had to go CGI because you just couldn't get the delicate nuances of the comic performance we needed from a real animal."
Besides, as actor Breckin Meyer (who plays Jon in the movie) points out, Garfield really isn't so much a cat as "an extension of a lazy guy."
"Basically, he's Bill Murray in a cat suit," Meyer says.
Which is why Murray was the obvious choice to replace the late Lorenzo Music as the voice of Garfield. Shockingly, Murray -- who, like Garfield, isn't big on working -- said yes, agreeing to what turned out to be about 15 recording sessions held in various corners of the world, from New York to Naples.
"Bill has got 'selfish and lazy but charming' banged to rights," Hewitt says. "He just did his thing. I worked with him as much as anyone can ever work with Bill Murray, which is to say not a lot."
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