It’s an ingeniously simple concept – take Garfield out of the Garfield strips. What’ve you got left? His mad owner, Jon Arbuckle wandering about his house making bizarre statements and doing nutty things. And it’s both utterly hilarious and startlingly sad.
I was never the biggest fan of Garfield, or any newspaper strip really, so I never really noticed just how strange Jon is, mostly because the paradigm of Jon and Garfield works so well. The setup is always Jon lamenting his rather lonely existence or doing something desperate for some excitement in his life and then Garfield showing up and “saying” something sarcastic.
Because Garfield never really says anything – all of his “dialogue” is in thought bubbles, so despite Dan Walsh’s brilliant idea of removing Garfield from the strips to show how lonely Jon Arbuckle is by talking to himself, he’s actually always been talking to himself because Garfield has never talked back. All Dan Walsh (the creator of this concept) does is bring the focus on to Jon making you aware of the really strange things he’s always been doing for years. But at least Garfield’s there, making Jon appear less alone.
Minus Garfield? Boy… the strip becomes something else. Based on the strips collected here, there’s a very strong case to be made for Jon Arbuckle being clinically depressed and agoraphobic. Numerous strips have him bewailing his loneliness or highlighting his inability to leave the house or his lack of drive to accomplish anything (which, not being a big Garfield fan, made me wonder what he actually does for a living but I don’t need to know, I’ll just believe that because of mental illness, he’s on welfare) or moaning about the total absence of a social life and partner.
The strips are set out in three panels and, minus Garfield, the first two panels are often left blank with Jon showing up in the third panel doing something strange like wearing a funny hat or smiling insanely or simply talking to a sock puppet because he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to! The layout of the book is to show the strip minus Garfield in the top half of the page and then the strip with Garfield directly beneath it.
It’s extraordinary that such a mundane strip can be so transformed by excluding the main character to become a completely different strip in tone and content. It goes from cheesy, bad comedy to a brutal look at the inner life of a man who’s horribly depressed and frustrated but is helpless to change his situation – and because of this quality, it’s a completely compelling book. Often the strips are genuinely funny and reading this book was the first time a Garfield strip actually made me laugh.
“Garfield Minus Garfield” is a fantastic idea that rejuvenates and refreshes a stale comic and adds another level to it. It’s at times hilarious and other times filled with pathos but is always a remarkably engrossing read. Well worth a look for any fan of comics.
Garfield Minus Garfield by Dan Walsh and Jim Davis is out now in paperback and strips can be read daily for free at www.garfieldminusgarfield.net
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