How Garfield Got His Groove Back: The ‘Garfield’ Remix Phenomenon

Lasagna Cat video, “01/26/1995”

Poor Garfield. In his heyday, he was amongst the most beloved characters on the funny pages, his plush likenesses fastened to car windows and his sarcastic barbs adorning office walls around the globe. Then, somewhere along the line, he underwent a pop-cultural re-evaluation. Jim Davis’ strip is now something of a pariah: just look at how The Simpsons paired it with Love Is as the kind of strip that Milhouse reads. What a comedown for a character once hip enough to be quoted in “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

But yet, the orange cat has been saved from cultural oblivion by a peculiar trend: the remixed Garfield strip.

This appears to have started in 2004, when Dan Fitch published his Garfield Shuffler online. Swiftly shut down for legal reasons but later recreated on various other websites under titles such as Garfield Randomizer and Random Garfield Generator, this piece of coding creates a completely meaningless Garfield strip out of three randomly-chosen panels. After the removal of the original Shuffler, Fitch gave some advice to his readers: “[F]or maximum Zen enjoyment of Garfield, read only the first two panels of each strip.” Whether he knew it or not, he was sowing the seeds for a trend that would keep building into something bigger.

One of the modified Garfield strips from the Truth and Beauty Bombs thread.

At the Truth and Beauty Bombs forum in 2006, member “MackJ” made a curious discovery. By removing Garfield’s thought balloons, the strip can be turned into the melancholy story of a lonely man talking to his cat. Various other members of the forum got in on the act and the thread went viral, leading to no less a cultural figure than Neil Gaiman discussing it at his blog. Garfield would never be the same again.

A Realfield strip, creator unknown.

Later remixes took the idea a few steps further. Realfield brings the man-talking-to-cat concept to its logical conclusion by using a more realistically-drawn animal, while Dan Walsh’s Garfield Minus Garfield removes the title character altogether, leaving the clearly desperate Jon talking to himself and occasionally experiencing inexplicable poltergeist-like phenomena.

Lasagna Cat video, “4/16/2007”

Almost certainly the most elaborate Jim Davis remix is Lasagna Cat, an online video series starring a guy in a mildly unsettling Garfield costume. Each short starts out with a re-enactment of a particular strip, with the adaptation later being itself remixed into a music video – or, in one case, a Final Fantasy parody.

Finally we have Square Root of Minus Garfield, a site that allows readers to submit whatever Garfield remix (the preferred term here is “mash”) that they can think of. The results include Frank Miller parodies, curious experiments with Photoshop, throwbacks to 8-bit video games, and the long-awaited revelation of just what happened to that Lyman fellow.

So, why Garfield? Other funnies have been put through the mangler in similar ways – see Marmaduke Analyzed and Nietzsche Family Circus, to pick just two examples – but none to quite the same degree.

One reason that Garfield lends itself to this treatment is its drawing style. Unlike Marmaduke and similarly detailed strips, Garfield’s usage of stock poses and expressions means that it can be easily modified—almost like a Lego set.

Another factor is that, despite the amount of vitriol that is thrown at Garfield nowadays, the main characters still have life left in them. People clearly want to spend time with Jon and Garfield, even if the situations involved are not quite what Jim Davis ever had in mind.

A frame from Zelda: The Wand of Ganelon on the Philips CD-i.

The Garfield remixes have a lot in common with that curious phenomenon known as the “YouTube poop”: both derive humor from taking existing material and mashing it into nonsense. Although YouTube poops have made use of everything from Peter Pan to the BBC News, there are certain sources of video clips that have proven particularly fruitful.

The video acknowledged as the first YouTube poop (below), created in 2004 by “SuperYoshi”, is derived from one of DIC’s various Super Mario cartoons. Later videos in the genre have returned again and again to these series, along with the same company’s Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic’s archenemy, Dr. Robotnik, is something of a YouTube poop mascot) and the ropey animated cut-scenes from the Philips CD-i Legend of Zelda games. Indeed, so common is this subject matter that YouTube poop connoisseurs – and yes, such people apparently exist – have declared it to be “bland and overused”.

Various Internet memes remix characters in similar ways. Consider the innumerable Photoshopped images of people cowering in fear from the looming visage of “Weegee”, a vectorized version of a sprite from the 1992 video game Mario is Missing! Like the CD-i Zelda titles, this game was not created by Nintendo but rather a third party using Nintendo’s characters, resulting in comically off-model renditions. Similarly, the Spider-Man image macros popular at various forums prefer to use stills from the cheesy Sixties cartoon series, rather than the more polished depictions of the character that are available.

A Weegee image, credited to “osko942” by KnowYourMeme.com.

The examples above find comedy value in crude (but officially sanctioned) renditions of beloved video game and comic characters. Perhaps, in the spirit of Garfield Minus Garfield, we can summarize all this with a mathematical equation:

well-known character + poor-quality cartoon = limitless potential for online remixes

Garfield once possessed world-conquering popularity, but later suffered a fall from grace. In doing so, he fulfilled all the requirements for becoming a popular remix subject.


  • droosan

    There’s also a Tumblr titled 3eanuts , which has the simple (but brilliant!) conceit of simply omitting the final panel of a given Peanuts comic strip.

    It reveals that almost 100% of Schulz’ strips depend entirely upon that final panel to deliver a joke or punchline. Without them, most of his strips still make ‘sense’ … but are awash in pathos, bleakness and despair. -_-

  • Mesterius

    You do realize that none of the links in this article are working, right? They all redirect to various unrelated Cartoon Brew posts.

  • Jack

    Poor quality comic strip? I beg to differ. Garfield remains a very funny strip!

  • Mister Twister

    Just for those of us who cares: the ACTUAL oldest Poop ever: watch?v=o7-mR_2fSQA

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Because most would never have went to film school.

  • starss

    … how has Garfield “lost his stride”??

  • Betty Marsden

    Is it really possible to speak for pop culture on such a grand scale as to declare Garfield out of date? The Simpsons make fun of the new and the classic.

    The various other ways to “play around” with Garfield you have described will all come and go with lightning speed. You even mentioned that the “poop” one is passé already.

    The various online twists only serve to make the point that lots Garfield is still relevant. You may have drawn the wrong conclusion, or at least the opposite one. Oh, and Garfield still has a current TV show. Few characters from decades ago still do.

    • Neil

      Well, I did acknowledge midway through the post that one of the reasons Garfield offers so much potential for remixing is that the characters still have life in them (and I, personally, don’t have anything against the strip). That said, it’s hard to deny that a lot of these remixes – not all, but certainly a significant portion – are made with contempt for the original strip.

  • chemistryguy

    It’s been ten long years. Can we please pretend that poopers don’t use cdi and sonic as staple sources? Please?

  • AmidAmidi

    Fixed. Sorry about that.

  • http://the-animatorium.blogspot.com/ Natalie Belton

    When asked about it by a fan, Jim Davis once apparently said, “Just don’t look in Jon’s basement!”

    • http://www.dudegurlz.com Kris Kail

      Jim Davis is funnier than his comics could ever possibly be. I wish he would do “director’s commentary” for the strips.

  • droosan

    Thanks, L_Ron … and STOP CALLING ME “SIR”!!!! ^_^

  • Cementimental

    I’ll just leave this here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC0Mi5jXg88

  • DangerMaus

    I don’t agree at all. Garfield was funny in the very earliest years of the strip when the character was fat, lazy, acerbic, actually looked like a cat and had no licensing deals. The strip started to go downhill when Davis started streamlining the character into its present day form. He made the character cute and reduced the sarcastic personality of Garfield into near invisibility. In other words, he started listening to marketers and licensees who told him that they couldn’t sell merchandise of a character that was ugly, fat and had a bad attitude.

    As I see it, it became more important to Jim Davis that Garfield was able to sell plush toys, drinking glasses and Happy Meals than to make a quality strip. The strip probably makes up the smallest part of revenue generation in his licensing empire. It is something he keeps doing because he likes to do it: similar to Schulz. His financial security does not ride on the strip in any way, so the effort required to keep it funny is not required. He does only what he needs to do to keep from losing his slot on the comic page.

    • Marbles471

      Strongly disagree. Garfield may have become somewhat less acidulous than he was during the first couple of years, but to proclaim that the sarcasm was “reduced to near invisibility” is just plain puzzling.
      While after its first few years the strip was always pleasantly funny at best, in animated form Garfield was always terrific and never lost any edge. Whether it was the prime time specials written by Davis himself or the CBS series written almost entirely by Mark Evanier, the humor was top notch. I didn’t see enough of the more recent CG series to really judge it, but the full rendering does seem to have dulled much of the inherent humor in Garfield’s droll, understated world, even if the stories were, once again, written by Evanier.

  • http://www.dudegurlz.com Kris Kail

    I think the thing about Garfield is that the comic book version is touted as mean, cynical, and utterly relatable when it comes to the worst parts of every day humanity (frustrated at the world, hatred of mondays, love of binge eating, lust for sleep, unexplainable need to kick dogs off tables, etc), where as in virtually all forms of merchandise he’s smiling, and dancing, and being active, and hugging Odie, and being nice to Jon, he’s essentially portrayed as the complete opposite of what the character actually is and why people originally liked him.

    Not only that, but people look at Garfield today like a struggling actor trying desperately to stay hip. He’s like Gene Simmons, 60 years old and still dressing up like a clown to play in his rock and roll band. Garfield was too huge when he was initially popular, and now the bubble has burst and it’s become fun to mock him. People don’t feel that way about Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes because those strips had a kind of heart that Garfield never had. Garfield’s always been the fat dude with cattitude, there’s never been a truly remarkable serious moment in the Garfield mythos that has resonated in pop culture like Fry’s dog or Calvin’s sled has.

  • http://www.dudegurlz.com Kris Kail

    memes are the pinnacle of real comedy. if you dont laugh every time you see grumpy cat grumpin around, well, i just don’t know what to say to you bud. nothin does me in quite like a fresh, dank meme.

  • Marbles471

    “…and don’t get me started on dunesburry.”

    You mean Doonesbury, one of the most beautifully rendered and intelligently written character serials to ever appear on the comics page, which at its peak was the sharpest piece satire ever to hit mainstream culture? Please do get started. X)

  • http://sobieniak.blogspot.com/ Chris Sobieniak

    It’s a shame I bother to bring it up at all but I must. Less people repeat the same mistakes again!