By Corey Smith
The driving question at the heart of every strip of Garfield’s forty-three year run is a deceptively simple one: what, truly, separates human from beast? From a purely literal perspective, any distinction between humankind and the less enlightened members of the animal kingdom is purely arbitrary. Various other species have everything that we claim makes us special, from thumbs to tools, from games to gardening. And yet, arbitrary as these separations might be, each of us has come to our own internalized idea of exactly what makes us unique from the beasts.
Jim Davis, it seems, is a firm believer that the true mark of humanity is our capacity to lie.
At first glance, of course, that’s a surprising conclusion to come to. After all, throughout almost a half-century of Garfield canon, the fuzzy little orange bastard has hardly been a beacon of honesty, especially in the pursuit of food. Garfield himself, for all of his myriad flaws, anthropomorphic though he may be, is as far removed from humanity as I am from finishing a sentence without sounding pretentious. If humanity is falsehood, then it stands to reason that Garfield would qualify, right?
The issue, of course, is that Garfield as we know him is a falsehood.
To Garf-scholars like ourselves, the work of Dan Walsh needs little introduction. Garfield Minus Garfield is the culmination of a grand internet tradition, dating back at least to the mid-2006, and the now largely link-rotted days of the De-Garfed community on LiveJournal. The vast majority of official Davis-penned media has held true to the fact that the titular feline’s thoughts don’t translate to speech, and that Jon doesn’t have more of a grasp on his pet’s inner workings than the rest of us would with our own. There’s the understanding built from familiarity, of course, but for all I’ve spoken to my pets over the years, I couldn’t tell you their opinions on my social life. Walsh removes the pretext entirely, living up to the name of his transformative strip, and showing us an Arbuckle who has all-but-buckled from the stress of his day-to-day, conversing with nothing, and getting nothing in return.
But hey, who among us, right?
While G – G may be no more strictly canon than any other transformative work, Davis himself has lent it a nearly unprecedented amount of relevance, both approving an official Paws, Inc. book, and making his own attempts at the premise, all the while admitting that some of the strips work better than his own.
Keeping that in mind, Jon doesn’t merely lie to Garfield in this strip, luring him in with soup’s sweet siren song only to betray him with an unwanted bath, he’s lying to himself about even being able to lie to the cat. Jon lies to himself about lying to the cat, and we, in turn, lie to ourselves that he can. This strip, Davis’s entire body of work, is an examination of nested falsehoods and, by that metric, an examination of humanity itself.
…damn if I couldn’t go for some soup right now, though.
Corey Smith’s work can currently be found on ComicsXF, GateCrashers, and the current season of the podcast From the Rooftops. A much more frequent stream of comics takes that should never be given can be found by following @TorterraCotta on Twitter!
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