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Funny business.

At 15, Garfield is as lazy as ever. "The lazier he gets, the busier I get," says Jim Davis, creator of America's--make that the world's--favorite cat.

In many ways, Jim Davis is the antithesis of Garfield, the comic cat that he created.

The real-life cartoonist from the Muncie area is a tireless worker; the fictional cat is lazy. Davis concerns himself with such worldly issues as the environment; Garfield is, as felines tend to be, aloof. Davis is fit; Garfield is fat. Each work week is so interesting that Davis looks forward to Mondays; Garfield, on the other hand, hates them. But the 47-year-old Davis loves lasagna, and so does Garfield, who celebrates his 15th birthday this month.

A lot has happened since June 19, 1978, when "Garfield" first hit the funny pages in 41 newspapers. What started as a small-time, home-based operation has blossomed into the multimillion-dollar Paws Inc., housed in several attractive buildings on a pastoral piece of property along a rural, two-lane road outside of Muncie. "Garfield" now appears in some 2,400 newspapers worldwide, the cat's Saturday-morning TV show is the most popular program in all of children's television, and more than 500 licensees are marketing more than 3,000 different Garfield-related products.

"Fifteen years ago, I was working in my family room," Davis recalls. "I had an assistant, and my wife, Carolyn, helped with phone calls and organization on the business side. We worked two or three years in our family room until we finally outgrew it when we had about five employees. So we found this nice piece of property that had a little two-bedroom ranch-style house, and we painted it and moved our studio in there, thinking it was all the space we would ever need. That was four or five expansions ago, and it was also about 42 employees ago--we've got 47 employees now."

The move to the off-the-beaten-path Paws location in 1981 represented more than just business growth. For Davis, it was almost a return to his roots. "I lived on a farm all my life until I went to college," he says, noting that the Grant County farm where he grew up is only about 25 miles from Paws. "That's one of the reasons we're out here. I always wanted to get back to the country, but this time on my terms. I don't have to do chores now. I was asthmatic as a child and had a lot of problems, but now I don't have to bale hay anymore."

As troublesome as his childhood asthma was, it was partly responsible for Davis' current success. Asthma on occasion forced him inside, and when it did he wiled away the hours drawing. Later, he went to Ball State University, where he claims he spent an inordinate amount of time drawing and playing jokes on people. If his grades suffered, his career certainly didn't.

After college he went to work for a Muncie advertising agency, Ad Graphics. "I was a paste-up boy for a year and a half," he recalls. Then in 1969, he became cartoon assistant for Tom Ryan, the creator of "Tumbleweeds."

"I was Tom's assistant for nine years. I did his backgrounds, borders and balloons, answered his fan mail, swept up around the office," Davis says. "That was a good time, and it gave me the discipline and told me what I needed to maintain a syndicated feature."

When not at work, he did some freelance commercial art, and also created a comic strip called "Gnorm Gnat." The Pendleton Times in Indiana ran the strip, but Davis had little luck getting it syndicated. People, he was told, can't relate well to bugs. Evidence of readers' indifference about bugs came when Davis drew a giant foot that squished Gnorm and abruptly ended the strip. "I didn't get any mail on that."

So he set out to find a new subject. "I looked for something that people could relate to," he says. He decided on cats. "Even more so than dogs, I think cats are something people can relate to because people give them human thoughts and feelings. They feel cats are imbued with those kinds of powers so that they can understand what you say and even what you are thinking. So people accepted Garfield right off by nature of his species."

Davis, in fact, grew up with 25 cats. But none, he says, was orange, fat and lazy like his eventual feline creation. "These were farm cats. They were strong cats that could hunt and survive on their own in the wild," he says. "Suffice it to say that Garfield wouldn't last long if he were in the wild."

Truth be told, Garfield really was based on people, not cats, even though he has a cat's body and a cat's demeanor. "He is, in part, me. I love lasagna and occasionally take a cat nap in the afternoon. I'm not a big fan of jogging. On the other hand, I like Mondays, and Garfield hates them. He's partly just people's perceptions of things. A lot of people don't like Mondays, so therefore he doesn't," Davis says.

"I felt putting Garfield's personality into a cat's body would make him more palatable to the public," he continues. "By virtue of being a cat, he's not black or white, male or female, young or old. It gives him some latitude in subject matter. Not that I ever do anything that's controversial--I don't. I don't do any social or political commentary. I think people go to the comics page to get away from the very real events of the day. They're going there for a little respite, a little relaxation, to have a chuckle or a nice thought."

The strip launched 15 years ago with 41 newspapers signed on, and the roster grew to 500 papers by the spring of 1981, 1,000 papers a year later, and 2,000 papers in the summer of 1987, only the third comic strip in history to achieve that milestone. Now, the strip appears in 2,400 papers around the world, in numerous languages. Total daily circulation is more than 200 million.

Meanwhile, the first Garfield book showed up in March of 1980, hitting the top of The New York Times best-sellers list a month later. By the fall of 1982, there were seven Garfield books on the best-sellers list, an unprecedented occurrence. At last count, some 60 million Garfield books had been sold worldwide.

Also in the fall of 1982, the first Garfield animated television special appeared on CBS-TV. It was nominated for two Emmy awards, and the second special won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. There have now been 13 prime-time animated Garfield specials, and Garfield shows have collected a total of four Emmys and 13 nominations.

In the fall of 1988, shortly after Garfield turned 10 years old, the weekly "Garfield and Friends" show began airing on CBS-TV on Saturday mornings. The show is now in its fifth season, and is the most popular show in all of children's television (not just Saturday morning). This fall, the show will begin national television syndication.

Garfield may show up in lots of places, but Davis remains a part of everything his comic cat does. While he no longer draws every image of Garfield in each day's strip, the humor is his. "I work on the writing and design of the strip," he says. "Sometimes I have a friend come out from California, and we'll kick around ideas. We'll bounce things off of each other. Sometimes I work alone, sometimes I don't, but basically it's a matter of watching a TV in my head of Garfield in a situation. I sit back and watch it and when he does something funny, I back up a few frames and cut it off. I do a quick sketch and that's what my other assistants go from."

One assistant takes that sketch and does a "blue-line" drawing of the action. Another assistant does the inking and lettering on top of the blue-line images. "Then it comes back to me, I check it and I sign it and date it and we get it into the mail to the syndicate, United Media in New York. They take a week's worth of strips, send them overseas to be translated, and get them to the subscribing papers," Davis says. Sunday strips are created about two months in advance of publication, while weekday strips are done four to five weeks ahead of when they appear in print.

As for the television programs, Davis has written all of the prime-time specials himself except for one that he co-wrote. He provides story boards for the Saturday-morning show. And while an animation studio handles most of the actual animation, Davis likes to direct the voice tracks.

"Garfield and Friends" has been a real winner for CBS' Saturday-morning lineup, but Davis is keeping his eye on the Fox network, which launched its own lineup for the first time not long ago. "Fox is getting stronger by the week. We're holding number one, but what's happening is viewers are switching over, which is rare on a Saturday morning," he says. "What usually happens is by this time in the season kids have a network, they stay on it and that network walks away with the ratings. Last year and early this year, CBS was the network. Now, as some of the shows on each side of 'Garfield' are waning a bit, kids are starting on Fox, then coming over to 'Garfield,' then boom, right back to Fox. Fox as a network has come way up, but 'Garfield' is still holding number one."

As big as the newspaper strips, books and TV shows have become, perhaps Garfield's biggest business has been in licensing. More than 500 licensees create Garfield merchandise for sale in 69 countries and 26 languages. Practically any kind of product can be found bearing Garfield's likeness: stuffed animals, clothing of all kinds, telephones, even General Mills' Fun Fruits. In all, some 3,000 products around the world feature Garfield's image.

"We do all of the design here for the products," Davis says. "We sign up licensees and they manufacture products. They sell a product, and we get a percentage, the royalty, which is split with United Media. Basically United is the licensing company and Paws is the creative arm."

The people at Paws often get heavily involved in both the creation and marketing of Garfield wares. "We had a major retailer in here and we're designing a Garfield boutique right in the middle of the store. We had our consultant in Florida shoot the entire store and got blueprints from the home office," Davis says. "We do signage, promotional support, presentations of concepts to companies."

Paws has full creative capabilities, Davis explains. "We can do animation here, we can write music, do video, anything right here on these grounds. We have an 18-track recording studio and a 3/4-inch video studio, and we have a three-dimensional prototyping shop. We can conceive it, draw it, paint it, sell it, whatever needs to be done on an idea, because an idea is only as good as the way it is communicated to the end user."

The company makes sure all Garfield products adhere to strict quality standards, Davis says. "We care a lot about the quality of our products, because until the consumer picks something off the shelf we've not done our jobs. Yet whatever we do for the licensing, we can't lose sight of the fact that we have to entertain at the same time. We turn down a lot of business because Garfield would just be positioned as a pitch man, or it's a product that wouldn't fit his personality. So we send away a lot more business than we accept, almost on a daily basis."

While it's great for the comic strip and the TV show to be number one, such success in consumer products is a little scary for Davis. Take, for example, the stuffed Garfields with suction cups that at one point in the cat's history showed up in car windows all over. The people at Paws figured buyers would put them on picture windows or mirrors--after all, Garfield's best friend is said to be his mirror--but they never expected that car windows would become the preferred spot.

"It was one of those happy mistakes," he says. "Happy or unhappy, depending on how you look at it. It got us too much exposure. We like to maintain a balance. We don't like to be too obvious, and that was. We like to be number three. Number ones come and go--the higher they get the faster they go. Remember Cabbage Patch kids? Take any best-selling doll and that's usually the kiss of death."

Needless to say, a large part of the business day at Paws is devoted to licensing activities. "But because we have 47 people, they do that support, and that lets me concentrate on the strip and TV. I spend a lot of time on that. I'm a cartoonist--that's what I do best. I'm a big believer in people doing what their strengths are. I'd never pretend to be a businessman and worry about the financial end of it. I'm a cartoonist."

He's also an environmentalist. The evidence is all around the Paws property. "Around the studios we have about 500 acres," he says. "We have woods, a meadow, a prairie and some ponds, a nature trail through the woods. We've been doing a lot trying to return the land to its original state. We've established several wetlands, and Canada geese winter here now, and we've seen blue heron around quite a bit. We've also planted many acres of prairie. We did a study of soil types, and we were able to determine what used to be wet and what used to be forest." His efforts at reforestation, in fact, earned him a National Arbor Day Foundation Good Steward Award in 1990.

"We treat our sewage naturally as well," he continues. "There are no chemicals, so we're not polluting in the area. Being a business, we have a responsibility to the neighborhood not to have an impact on it. Forty-seven people can drink a lot of water and create a lot of sewage and trash."

Creating a healthy environment around Paws is also good for employees, he maintains. "It's nice to see trees, flowers, waterfowl, wildlife around. It helps us regenerate every day as we're working on projects. We never want to get so close to the work that we can't take time out to relax and refresh our spirits."

And the efforts are good for the Davis family as well. Jim and Carolyn Davis and their son, Alex, actually live on the property where Paws is located. "I have about a 100-yard commute to work in the morning. It's not a bad commute--I run into an occasional rabbit or squirrel, but aside from that there's no traffic problem. And it allows me to slip down here and do some work any time the mood strikes," he says.

Interestingly, though their world revolves around a famous cat, there are no cats in the Davis household. That's because Carolyn Davis is allergic to them. There is, however, a friendly dog that wanders about the Paws property. "That's Molly," Davis says. "She was a gift from Alpo. Carolyn's not allergic to dogs, and we always wanted a dog."

And these days, Davis and his family can have just about anything they want. The Garfield business has been good to them and to Paws Inc. How good? "As far as exact figures, we don't really discuss it," Davis replies.

"Because it's working on a royalty basis, the perception is that we make more money than we actually do because we get just a fraction of the purchase price of each product. That goes eight million ways before it gets to Paws," he explains. "But we're not complaining. We do well."

A Giant in the Industry

* "Garfield" is the most widely syndicated comic strip, appearing in more than 2,400 newspapers around the world.

* More than 60 million Garfield books have been sold worldwide.

* "Garfield and Friends" on CBS holds the number-one ranking in all of children's TV programming.

* Garfield merchandise is sold in 69 countries and 26 languages--more than 3,000 different products.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Paws Inc.'s Garfield character ventures
Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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