78: Garfield

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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The use of the 'Garfield' character for the purposes of this parody qualifies as fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. sec. 107. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569
Title text: The use of the 'Garfield' character for the purposes of this parody qualifies as fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. sec. 107. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569


The newspaper comic strip Garfield, which features an orange cat as the main character, has increasingly been known for repetitive, quality-lacking strips. In the past, this was because the creator, Jim Davis, prefers to explore the same subjects he is comfortable with but in different ways — or from a less charitable view, because the strip is intended for a wide audience and thus becomes homogenized and inoffensive by nature. This attitude has only become more pronounced in the 21st century, as the aging Davis becomes less and less interested in the franchise. Regardless of the reason, these strips are now ghost written with little input from Davis and rarely explore the unconventional. The comic is challenging Davis to do something unexpected and surprise us all. The comic also accuses Davis of being a "sellout", sticking to bourgeois/commercial logic, something that Dadaist artists challenged.

Dadaism was an artistic movement in the early 20th century marked primarily by chaos, irrationality, and surrealism. Some of the artists believed that the bourgeois logic made human beings unhappy and therefore led to war. Randall leads by example by featuring a strip that parodies the style of Garfield, with multiple colors (xkcd usually contains only black and white, with some few containing an additional color like red or yellow) and a character that is not a stick figure breaking the normal xkcd pattern. Another Dadaist aspect is the fact that while Garfield is smiling, he is communicating something that could be considered terrifying.

The title text explains that xkcd is exercising legal use of Davis's intellectual property, namely the title character of his comic. The Supreme Court case mentioned, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, confirmed that parody is legal even when there is commercial gain as a result, and also referenced the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107, for the same reason. While this is normally understood by most anyone who questions such matters, Randall includes it as a reference to the lessening of strict copyright law, which many comics also mention, usually in the context of free software and those who promote it, like in the comics featuring Richard Stallman.


I want to see something unexpected in comics. Just one strip could make up for it all.
[Garfield is standing on hind legs facing and looking directly at the camera. But is off-center in the frame, about 1/3 from the left, rotated very slightly clockwise.]
[Zoom in on Garfield, still to the left, now rotated slightly counterclockwise.]
[Zoom in again on Garfield, now the frame clips off the left side of his face.]
Garfield thought bubble: The world is burning.
[Final zoom in, the frame is ripped like a page, offset, and Garfield's eyes are half closed on the right half.]
Garfield thought bubble: Run.
Caption below the comic: Jim Davis, throw off your commercial shackles. Challenge us. Go out in a blaze of Dadaist glory. There is still time.


The comic number (78) corresponds to the year Garfield debuted (1978).

This is the first comic to use all-caps lettering, the second being 90: Jacket. The all-caps lettering in this strip may be related to the original comic.

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I disagree with the original author of the article, I don't think Garfield is poorly written. However, to avoid any greater conflict, I decided to keep it as it is. Does everyone else think it is "poorly written"? --Pnariyoshi (talk) 21:56, 28 January 2013 (UTC)

There was certainly controversy sparked within the comic writing community when Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, quit early because he felt that cartoonists targeted their comics at too wide a market to be meaningful and funny. This was at the gestation of the internet, when the only funding that a cartoonist could find was from newspapers looking for something to fill the back page, and had to follow the newspaper's guidelines for neutrality to avoid offending anyone. Watterson called other cartoonists "sell-outs" for dumbing down their work for the mass-market, and he quit in disgust at his own newspaper's attempts to cull the philosophical speeches that were ever-so-common in Calvin and Hobbes. Since then, widespread corporate culture has made Dilbert a hit, and we ourselves are discussing XKCD here. Watterson would be smiling right now. [[User:Davidy22|Davidy22

He wouldn't. In an interview with the curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum in Cleveland, he explained that webcomics, while boundary-pushing, are 1) not as easy to access and 2) a solitary experience, as opposed to a family passing a newspaper around the table and offering different interpretations. (Let me point out that while we do share our comments, we get no immediate feedback, and our conversations are anonymous, not as casual as a family talking). It is interesting to note that Calvin and Hobbes has now run more than twice as long in repeats as in first-run. 14:38, 6 March 2018 (UTC) ]][talk] 00:44, 29 January 2013 (UTC)

Wow, that was incredibly instructive. I'm actually very excited about this discussion. While I do agree "dumbing down" something that was originally intended for a specific niche is what ruins a lot of media (besides comic strips, I feel it commonly ruins TV shows, Movie adaptations etc), I think it would be unfair to call it "poorly written". I think a better word would be "unexciting", "lacking passion" or "having lost it's first love". Making a strip appeal to a wide range of people is not always as easy as it seems, especially without making it come down to bathroom/sexual jokes. While I do feel that Randall sometimes gets very close to the border of "distasteful", I think xkcd still maintains its roots and it is pretty funny and smart. --Pnariyoshi (talk) 02:25, 29 January 2013 (UTC)
Hi there, I'm the original author of the page in question. I do not mind if it is changed or even removed. 02:08, 20 April 2013 (UTC)

I definitely agree that Garfield isn't poorly written, but it is basically lacking in creativity at this point. The underlying point remains however, and that is that the 'mainstream' all suffers from that same mass appeal sickness, which is rather outmoded in the modern era. -- Crazedhatter (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I don't have a particular opinion on whether this page says Garfield is "poorly written" or not, but I do think that most of the people arguing against it are undermining their own points. Pnariyoshi: If a piece of writing is unexciting and passionless, is this not grounds on which one could say it is "poor?" Crazedhatter: If a piece of writing lacks creativity and is outmoded for its own era, is that not also grounds on which one could say it is "poor?" If we all agree that there are serious artistic flaws with Garfield's writing, then why are we quibbling about synonyms? Call it "poor." 15:13, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Is this appeal possibly made with the 'Death of Garfield' plot-arc in mind (which, while not a great series of strips, was moderately interesting for its as Garfield not written for mass appeal)? I only ask because it would seem a relatively futile challenge were it not for the fact that Jim has actually strayed this way before; also, both xkcd's parody Garfield and the Death of Garfield series are horror-themed. 01:14, 21 October 2013 (UTC)

What is happening in the last picture of Garfield? I mean the line across its face. As if there were two different photos on top of eah other, where the upper one was half removed. Maybe a suggestion from Randall that it is time to reveal the true Garfield... 16:50, 2 December 2014 (UTC)

I think that's just part of the surreal aspect. --Calion (talk) 11:30, 28 February 2023 (UTC)

Davis did this once, a long time ago. You can read it here. Of course, they kept the series running after that, though Davis has stated multiple times he's indifferent about Garfield and only made it as a way of making money. -- 14:40, 23 December 2014 (UTC)

In my mind, the Twilight Zone narrator spoke the text boxes... Fabian42 (talk) 11:16, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
Wow! That definitely counts as exactly what Randall was suggesting! Thanks for the link!--Calion (talk) 11:30, 28 February 2023 (UTC)

Funnily enough, these kind of surreal Garfield comics recently rose in popularity on places like reddit.com/r/imsorryjon

i find it possible this was inspired by the garfield strip that aired on january 7th 2002: https://www.gocomics.com/garfield/2002/01/07 . very similar pose and weird half-different face-- 13:47, 15 October 2022 (UTC)