By Dan Grote

What is cute? Are you cute? Am I cute? Is my dog cute? Well, it turns out science has an answer to that.

As far back as 1943, studies suggested humans responded favorably to certain physical attributes in babies — big heads, chubby cheeks, small noses and mouths, etc. The so-called “baby schema” or “Grogu effect” triggers a nurturing, protective response in us. More recent research has suggested we appreciate those same traits in other mammals: puppies, monkeys, pandas … and kittens.

Enter Nermal, the self-proclaimed World’s Cutest Kitten. (Because nothing is cuter than arrogance – just ask that walking uwu face Doctor Doom.) Here we see Nermal resting atop a purple ball of yarn, advising our hero that he should procure the same if he, too, wants to be perceived as cute. Nermal appears to be helping Garfield, by teaching him the same survival techniques that have allowed Nermal to thrive as a domesticated house pet. 

Failure to appear cute is failure to attain love and, by turns, protection from predators. Perhaps realizing this, Garfield responds not by attempting to mail his antagonist to Abu Dhabi as is his custom but by offering a resigned “That sounds simple enough.” That’s about as close to “By God, you’re right. Show me your ways, oh great one” as you’re going to get from Garfield.

Which leads us to today’s punchline. Nermal points to Garfield’s yarn ball, waiting for him in the third panel. While Nermal’s ball is small, Garfield’s is bigger than his entire body, leaving him to grimace to camera and remember his hatred of Nermal is undying. 

But it begs the question: why, dear Nermal, does Garfield need a yarn ball that big? Would a larger ball of yarn somehow give Garfield the relative appearance of the features needed to achieve cuteness? If that were true, wouldn’t Jim Davis have drawn ol’ Garfy in the last panel with bigger eyes or a more pleasant demeanor?

Also, if Nermal’s implication holds true, that a bigger ball of yarn is necessary to make larger cats appear cute, wouldn’t said giant balls be more readily available commercially? I’m unclear on the yarn-sale trends of the early 1980s, but according to JoAnn Fabrics and other online purveyors, most yarn for home knitting these days appears to come in tube-like skeins or rope-like hanks. 

On the other hand, is it possible Nermal is aware of the danger yarn poses to cats, that it can be a choking hazard and get lodged in their digestive system, causing more damage when their owner tries to remove the string? Is Nermal trying to tempt Garfield into potentially tearing his intestines?! Or, and I’m just spitballing here … is it possible Nermal (and by turn Davis) is just fat-shaming Garfield for cheap yuks? 

Ultimately, it may not be a very strong ending if it’s that open to interpretation; if Davis is forcing the reader to do his work for him and find the funny in a strip that (let’s face it) isn’t one of his best. And certainly, if Nermal is just trying to get Garfield to choke on some yarn, there’s no joke there at all. Only darkness. Orange darkness.

Here’s the real question: How much yarn would it take for Nermal to love Garfield unconditionally, to accept him as he is, celebrate his perceived flaws and just vibe with our hero? Huh. Now I want to mail Nermal to Abu Dhabi.

 

By day, he’s a newspaper editor, and by night, he’s … also an editor: Dan Grote edits the indie and DC corners of ComicsXF. He also co-hosts the weekly creator-interview podcast WMQ&A with Matthew Lazorwitz. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two kids and two miniature dachshunds. Find him on Twitter here! 

 

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