I’m not quite sure what mindset leads an individual to digitally erase the protagonist from one of the world’s most renowned comic strips, but damned if I don’t want in.
The resulting creation – Garfield Minus Garfield – is hilarious on several different levels: the absurdity of the idea, the knowledge of what (or who) is missing, and the fact that Jon Arbuckle is clearly weirder than a bucket of mixed frogs. It’s this last point which really startled me: the idea that, once you remove Garfield from the picture, Jon’s comedic value switches from clowning to pathos. Maybe the presence of a sentient, anthropomorphised cat distorts reality to the extent that Jon, by contrast, can only ever appear as a punchline – more akin to Odie than Garfield, who ends up the only ‘person’ we sympathise with.
But Jon hasn’t actually changed. Half the dialogue has been erased, but not half the conversation – because Garfield doesn’t talk. Instead, his internal commentary, often on Jon’s behaviour, has ceased to be the focal point of the strip, with the result that we now see Jon as he actually is: a bizarre, lonely man with a fetish for pairing socks. Which, in an odd way, should shame all those people – myself included – who laugh at normal Garfield strips. Jon Arbuckle clearly needs help, and what do we do? Mock him.
Thinking about it, there’s almost a Fight Club-esque relationship between Jon and Garfield. Like Tyler Durden, Garfield lives the life that Jon – our story’s Ed Norton – only dreams of. He sleeps in, finds contentment in simple pleasures, breaks the rules, has luck with the ladies, picks on Jon, gets along with the Arbuckle family, and generally has a good time. Sometimes, Garfield speaks for Jon. And, like Tyler Durden, when considered objectively, it seems more likely that Garfield doesn’t actually exist: that all we’ve been watching is the Jekyll/Hyde transformation of a deeply unhappy man. Liz the vet, Jon’s long-time almost-paramour, even looks like Helena Bonham-Carter.
Of course, Jim Davis and Chuck Palahniuk might disagree. But who asked them?