By Ashley Leckwold
What does it mean to have Garfield without Garfield?
This is a question often posed by author Dan Walsh in his ongoing series Garfield Minus Garfield, in which he removes the titular orange cat from the panels of the infamous and inoffensive daily comic strip. Instead, it leaves his long suffering owner Jon Arbuckle in terse awkward silence as he utters strange things to the pastel backgrounds of the comics. It’s hilarious, strange, and sometimes weirdly relatable as someone who lives alone without any pets.
However, what happens when an official Garfield strip does not feature Garfield or Jon, but is rather halfway about Garfield? Is it still Garfield?
The strip from November 23rd, 2018 features Garfield’s girlfriend Arlene and his mouse pal Squeak. In a bit that feels similar to a line in ‘Tights On My Boat’ by The Chicks where singer/songwriter Natalie Maines’ describes her ex-husband sending his mother in his place on what was supposed to be a romantic couple’s vacation, Garfield has sent Squeak in his place to his date with Arlene to keep her company and to bring home leftovers. Arlene, predictably, is not enthused about this.
Now the strip is still ostensibly about the beloved lazy orange feline. Garfield was too lazy to go on his date with Arlene, so he sends the mouse that he’s too lazy to eat to go see her and bring home leftovers. But does that still make it a Garfield strip? Does Garf just need to be in proximity of the strip for it to qualify? Here, he is still approximate to the joke, but not seen within it. Does that make it Garfield still; Garfield Minus Garfield; or is it a liminal space between the two, almost as if a Schrodinger’s Garf?
Also, what do Arlene and Squeak even talk about? Clearly Arlene is familiar enough with Squeak that she leaves him be and doesn’t attack him. As much as she’s angry at her lazy beau, one presumes she knows it is bad form to eat his friend. Do they talk about Garfield as well? It must be easy to complain about him when he’s not in the room. Do they talk about other things, like the economy and how the weather is growing more severe under climate change? Those kind of topics are verboten in the Garfield we see every day since Jim Davis actively decides to make that pastel world as apolitical as possible, but what is in the parts we don’t see?
Perhaps, most likely, it is a terse silence between the two as Arlene wonders to herself if it is worth dating someone who is so obscenely lazy, he sends a mouse she cannot eat to have dinner with her. Which, if the Garfield wiki is to be believed, is probably the nicer of the dates she has had since he apparently doesn’t like to spend too much. She loves Garfield, but he doesn’t want to commit and isn’t always particularly nice to her. In those moments where Garfield shows the kind of cat that he is, does it make Arlene wonder if she can have a life minus his presence?
Ashley Leckwold is a former ATLien now living in Chattanooga. Along with having been a reviewer of comics for Graphic Policy, The Rainbow Hub, PopOptiq and The Outhouse, she has written comics for Red Stylo, Dirty Diamonds, Kayfabe Anthology, and herself. Comics and pro-wrestling are her favorite things. You can find her online at @misskittyf or at ashleyleckwold.wordpress.com.
If you’d like to see more ‘Field Theory on Shelfdust, please consider sending a donation to our Ko-Fi page! Each pledge we get, regardless of the amount, means one new feature will be commissioned for the site!