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As a regular 48Hills reader and a one-time comics scholar at the University of Oregon, I’m always up for analysis of our world as it relates to the comics. Through the book-form treasuries, I’ve probably read every Garfield newspaper comic that Davis produced from the strip’s inception in 1978 until well into the late 1990s.
Unfortunately, March 9’s “Behold, Garfield—now a joyful online leftist icon, lasagna and all” missed the mark in some rather important ways.
In Katia Hollis’ piece about comics protagonists being co-opted for social justice causes, the author makes a rather significant assumption that Garfield creator Jim Davis is comfortable with his mega-famous tabby becoming a “leftist icon.” It is an unfortunate case of a commentator using selective research to make a claim that are not supported upon further scrutiny of Davis’ career arc.
The fact of the matter is, Jim Davis has always done what is necessary to help him, his syndicate and his licensees make money. Noncommittal remarks to the press couched in easygoing, folksy language is right up that cat’s alley, and he’s been very good at it throughout the strip’s run.
Furthermore, the author writes, “If I were Davis, I’d be pretty happy with” Garfield’s usage by the left to promote social change. This assumption is a little much for me, because Jim Davis has been friends with Mike Pence for a long time. (See here, here, and here.)
The author missed out on an opportunity to educate your readers about Davis’ actual political leanings. A little more research about Davis himself, rather than reliance on a single interview the cartoonist gave well after his friend Pence became our veep, would probably have altered a lot of the claims Ms. Hollis stands on in this piece.
Katia Hollis responds:
Thanks for reading my piece. If we’re starting by defending our Garfield fandom I will say I haven’t read every Garfield comic from 1978 to the ’90s (I was born in 1998 so I’m at a disadvantage here), but I did obsessively watch the movies when they came out and forced my parents to enjoy lasagna dinners for some time.
First, I’d like to make it clear that I never made any claims or assumptions about Jim Davis’ politics. Frankly, that isn’t what my article was about in the first place. Me stating that he has not specifically made any comments about Garfield Instagram accounts, which is simply a fact, is not me making a claim about his politics.
You specifically took issue with me using the phrase “if I were ___”. These words are commonly used as indicators of advice as in “I hold these beliefs and these opinions, therefore if I were in this position…” (Merriam-Webster). So, I never claimed that Davis would be happy with the way his creation was being used, rather that I, as a DSA member and politically active woman, would be pleased if it were to happen to me, not the other way around.
Second, I can admit I did not know about Davis’ connection to Mike Pence. Since, once again, the political affiliations of the cartoons’ creators is not what my story was about, I did not comb through years of articles and Facebook posts to dig up evidence of this from 2014. Matt Furie is an apolitical figure himself. He prefers preaching general love and happiness. He is clearly anti-Trump for obvious reasons, but he does not like to discuss politics (besides once in a while doing things like voicing support for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton “even though she’s talking smack”). Honestly, Matt has had to deal with enough politically turbulent and spiritually draining discourse in the past 6 or so years that I wanted to leave him out of it. (I compensate for potentially cosmically causing him grief by just writing this by being a subscriber to his Patreon).
In the same vein, Jim Davis is not a publicly politically active person himself. As far as I am aware, Davis has never made a blatant remark in support of a candidate and there is no photographic evidence of him wearing a MAGA hat or something. The only reason I made a comment in passing about it is because I was, and thus figured readers would be, curious to know if Davis is politically active. Since I couldn’t find any comments blatantly referring to any political party recently, and once again this was never what my piece was about in the first place, I dropped it. Besides, equating being friends with someone before their vice presidential candidacy with an endorsement seems to me like it would be more of an assumption then what you’re claiming I did in the first place, no?
This connection is certainly intriguing and it clearly seems like something you are passionate about so I encourage you to write your own piece about Davis and Pence if you are so inclined! As much as I would like to be in charge, the cool thing about the Internet is that I do not have a monopoly on it and anyone can write whatever they want if they so please. Thanks again for reading and I wish you joy on all your future Mondays.