I recently sent a Garfield comic to a friend of mine, who didn't quite get the joke. After explaining what was funny about it, I subsequently started waxing philosophical about what Garfield really is. The result is the following diatribe.
If you really want to psychoanalyze it, the name “Jon” is not coincidentally very similar to the name “Jim,” as in Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. The comic strip is Jim Davis’ humorous take on his own life through the lens of cat ownership. Garfield’s sarcasm and blasé attitude illustrate exactly what we see when we anthropomorphize cats – we’re involved in the daily excitement and drama of our lives, and cats just look on, barely interested, seeming almost judgemental of us. The more upset we get, the more our cats seem not to care. They famously sleep all day and care about little else, but we love them for it.
There’s a bit of a yin-yang thing going on with Jon and Garfield all the time. Jon can’t seem to do anything right, no matter how hard he tries. Garfield can do things easily, but doesn’t try. Jon wears his heart on his sleeve and can’t attract women. Garfield is smug and selfish, but his girlfriend Arlene loves him dearly. Things go wrong for Jon when he applies his best intentions. Things go wrong for Garfield when he successfully out-wits people who were never against him in the first place. The woman Jon loves most in the whole world also happens to be the woman Garfield hates most – the Veterinarian.
So basically we’re looking at the two sides of human nature: Jon is that part of us that is good through-and-through, but never quite good enough; Garfield is that part of us that is sneaky, snarky, and irresponsible, who knew we couldn’t do it all along and just wanted to stay in bed. These are the two sides of Jim Davis, really, but he successfully encapsulated his life in a way everyone identifies with. There’s a little Jon and Garfield in all of us.