Living: Those Catty Cartoonists

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When confronted with one of his father's drawings, Alex W Davis, 2, pointed and said, "Snoopy." Although he failed to identify the fat and sassy Garfield, the toddler was eerily on target in another respect. His dad, Jim Davis, 36, who created Garfield, always dreamed of becoming the next Charles Schulz. Davis wanted to pen a cartoon animal as captivating and popular as Schulz's canine flying ace and his pals in the Peanuts comic strip. That fantasy is fast approaching fact.

Currently, some 250 books about cats are offered by publishers, but four cartoonists—not novelists, poets or pet-expert authors—dominate feline literature. Davis, whose books are compiled from daily comic strips running in 850 newspapers, is the most successful of the group. In fact, like superstrips Blondie, Peanuts and Beetle Bailey, Garfield is expected to appear in 1,000 newspapers by next spring. This is an amazing achievement—it has been only 3 years since the sly and always hungry feline burst full-grown from the head and hand of Davis. This hero is a cat who is both thorny and funny, a rogue who somehow never crosses the line into villainy. His views veer 180° from Snoopy's gentle romanticism. "Spring is here," Garfield observes. "Big, fat, hairy deal."

Garfield inhabits a kitchen apocalypse of shredded poultry and scarred humans. Garfield prefers pasta to Purina, pugilism to purring. Although he jeers at mental and physical exercise, his creator is charged with energy. The tall, thin, blond and balding Davis gets to work in his ranch-style studio near Muncie, Ind., by 6:30 most mornings He draws for eleven hours a day and then manages to go on to racquetball, chess and reading self-improvement books. "You know," he says, "things like So You Want to Be a Brain Surgeon." His early career probably should have included Do You Want to Be a Cartoonist? Raised on an Indiana farm, Davis grew up with 25 cats and memories of his burly, cantankerous grandfather, John Garfield Davis. The elder Davis supplied both name and temperament for his grandson's ungrateful creation.

Garfield was rejected by two syndicates (King Features and Chicago Tribune-New York News) before United Feature signed Davis to a contract in 1978. Not everyone loved his disreputable feline. Editors in Chicago, Salt Lake City and Little Rock, Ark., canceled the strip after test runs. But irate readers forced all three papers to reinstate it. 'Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges," says Davis. "Cats have the courage to live by them—that's what Garfield is all about."

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