In this episode I spoke with Lyndsey Little, the illustrator and creator of the Oni Girl comic about Jim Davis, the creator of the classic comic strip, Garfield.
Davis was born July 28,1945 in Marion Indiana. He grew up on a cow farm. He actually wanted to grow up to be a farmer like his father, but he had asthma and found the outdoors wasn’t for him. TV wasn’t as big back then, so his mom gave him a paper and pencil to keep him occupied and that is how he developed his love of drawing.
In high school he joined the school newspaper staff and eventually became the Art Editor. This is where he published his first cartoon and later reused the same characters when making illustrations for the yearbook. Studied Art and business at Ball State University. In 2006, he returned to Ball State as a member of the faculty where he gives back to the next generation of comic artists by sharing his experience and insights into the business.
In 1969, Davis started assisting with Tumbleweeds which was a very successful and long running (42 years) comic strip satirizing the American West. This was at a time when westerns, John Wayne and all that had been popular.
Davis spent about 9 years as Tom K. Ryan’s assistant on Tumbleweeds and during that time, Davis also developed his own comic Gnorm Gnat. That comic ran from 1973-1975 but never really took off.
The feedback Davis received was that his illustrations were good, his jokes were great, but the choice of bugs as characters made it unrelatable to audiences. Davis took time to study a bit looking particularly at Snoopy and Peanuts comics. He felt that animals would make for strong characters but the market was overly saturated with dogs and thus decided to feature a cat in his next comic.
Fun fact: the modern Garfield is based on Charles Schultz’s drawing. The comic had been running for 3 years when Schultz suggested giving Garfield bigger more human like feet. Schultz drew the cat standing upright and that new version made him a bit more human like and relatable to the audience.
From 1976-1978, Davis published a comic strip called Jon in The Pendleton Times. Like Davis, Jon is a cartoonist who grew up on a farm and celebrates his birthday on July 28th. Garfield was his grandfather’s middle name (and his grandfather was named for the president), Davis’s grandfather, like the cartoon cat, had a gruff exterior but a soft heart.
The comic Jon became Garfield and by 1978, it was syndicated in 41 newspapers. It has since been made into a television series (3 ran already and 1 currently in development), books, video games, movies, and the comic strip has been syndicated in over 2,500 newspapers read by 300 million people.