Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Dan Brooks: How Garfield Helped Me Make Peace With a Culture in Decline

Above: illustration from the February 21, 2021 New York Times Magazine. Clockwise from top left: Illustrations by Lan Truong, Mark Ochinero, C. W. Moss, Clare Lewis, Ohni Lisle and Lorenzo Gritti.


When the Garfield newspaper comic strip debuted nationally, back in 1978, there was no such thing as the web. Now, with Garfield mostly read online, and his image digitized, it's easily copied and manipulated. There are more than one popular variations of Garfield. 

For instance, there's the long running Garfield Minus Garfield, in which Garfield is erased from the comic, leaving just the supporting cast reacting to ... nothing. 

The New York Times' Dan Brooks writes about this in "How Garfield Helped Me Make Peace With a Culture in Decline." He recommends


" ... you might try getting into Garfield variants: remixes of the original strips that testify to the internet’s limitless invention and similarly uninhibited attitude toward copyright. Perhaps the best known is Garfield Minus Garfield, which removes all evidence of the title character to yield a comic about a lonely man talking to himself. Relieved of the pet that is at once his antagonist and his companion, Jon might sit silently for two panels before saying, 'I dread tomorrow.' Without Garfield, the strip shifts to a register of psychological realism in which Jon’s circumstances become horror instead of comedy."


When writing about the popularity of Pipe Garfield (the Garfield web variant where the last panel is always, always, always Garfield smoking a pipe), he cites a cinematic theory:

"What’s strange is that it keeps making sense. Pipe Garfield relies on what cinema theorists call the Kuleshov effect: the tendency of audiences to invent a narrative connection between any two images in sequence. This phenomenon is the basis for not just modern film editing but also several Garfield variants, including Garfield Thrown Out the Window, which intensifies the Kuleshov effect considerably. The final frame of each strip, in which Garfield’s body flies through a pane of broken glass, implies vigorous activity between panels. The difference between Pipe Garfield and Garfield Thrown Out the Window is a matter of existential disposition: Smoking a pipe is something Garfield does, but defenestration is something done to Garfield. Both variants exercise the mind’s capacity for sense-making, inviting the reader to devise a story from found materials."

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