Charles M. Schulz and Garfield

Here is an interesting fact. According to David Michaelis' brilliant biography of Charles M. Schulz, the Peanuts cartoonist hated Garfield. The reason? Well, much of it had to do with the fact that Garfield is the only daily comic strip that has ever come anywhere near close to Peanuts in terms of popularity and merchandise sales. Which is fine, in terms of healthy competition and all that, but Schulz truly believed that his was a much better comic.

And it's not hard to see why. Peanuts has a real philosophical bent and ponders over things that happen in our everyday life in an amusing way. We can laugh at Linus and his blanket for example, but in there is also a hint that Linus needs to cling to something in order to feel secure. Interestingly, Linus is also presented as the most spiritual member of the gang, though he sometimes gets it wrong, chasing after false prophets with the in hope gaining material goods (the Great Pumpkin,) but he is also able to help other characters with their personal problems and offers reasonable advice. (Read more here.)

Garfield, on the other hand, is pure fun. As pointed out in the very first Garfield strip, Jon and Garfield's role is to entertain us. And that they do. Jon lacks intelligence, Garfield is greedy, cynical and can be quite nasty and the whole thing requires a massive suspension of disbelief. There are no take home messages or morals, no philosophical points to be made. And some of the daily comics can be pretty weak in themselves. Amusingly, perhaps, Schulz still offered Davis plenty of advice about how to work his strip and their working relationship, at least according to Jim Davis, was a positive one.
Peanuts is the equivalent, perhaps, of a three course home-cooked meal. Garfield is that pizza you ordered from the best takeaway joint in town. But as far as merchandise and sales go, it's absolutely frightening to see the slew of tacky products that have bared the Peanuts or Garfield name over the years. It is not difficult to feel a little annoyed by this unintentionally inappropriate salt and pepper shaker set (above,) for example. And nor do I really want to race out and buy the Garfield ride-on toy, regardless of how much fun Jim Davis may be having riding it in his interview with the Daily Telegraph ... (read the interview and see the picture here).

Then again, I am typing this whilst wearing Garfield pyjamas. And I have chosen to wear them because my Snoopy ones are in the wash ...


Andrew Leon said…
Schulz was kind of an elitist, but, I suppose, we do need a few of those.
Kathryn White said…
Schulz was a complicated man, I think.
Tom G. Wolf said…
Though it's not mentioned in the book, I suspect Schulz also disliked the way Davis delegated virtually everything to assistants and instead focused on running the wider Garfield empire -- rather than actively working to become a better cartoonist. That said, I really loved Garfield as a kid, and still get a kick out of it now.

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