Garfield: Everybody has a hobby. Some race cars, some collect art . . . and others make toast.
Jon: [As two pieces of bread spring skyward with a resounding “BWONG!”] Yee-Ha!
[Rimshot. Canned laughter.]
You’ve probably realized at some point over the past 30 years that Garfield is horrifically unfunny. He’s grumpy! (Giggle.) He’s lazy! (Chuckle.) He hates Mondays! (Chortle.) But he sure loves lasagna! (Guffaw.)
On the off-chance that the strip’s soul-crushing sameness has escaped your notice, seeing those three formulaic panels acted out in real time is a powerful way to drive the point home. That’s the idea behind the clips on Zachary Johnson and Jeffery Max’s Lasagna Cat Web site. Watch ’em now before the cease-and-desists start flying.
Little has changed since Garfield debuted in June of 1978. The tangerine tabby is still overweight. Jon is still a nerd. Odie is still dim. Creator Jim Davis has rarely been inclined to use his strip as a means to explore the big questions and small beauties of life (à la Calvin and Hobbes), or to indulge in sinister surrealism (The Far Side). He’s usually content with a mild sight gag and/or predictable punchline. “We did not attack [Calvin and Hobbes’s] Bill Watterson,” says Johnson, 25, a USC film school grad (Max, 24, went to NYU). “We attacked Jim Davis. It was a choice.”
It’s reported that, while Davis writes and sketches each day’s strip, the final drawings are left to a small squad of assistants. But his indolence ends there. When it comes to Garfield’s marketing, he’s tireless. As early as 1982, Davis admitted to spending 14 hours per week creating the strip — and 60 working on promotion and licensing. His hard work has paid off. Log on to garfieldstuff.com and marvel that all the orange junk hauls in hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Johnson and Max were undeterred by the might of the Garfield juggernaut when, one day, they “saw this really ratty looking Garfield costume [and] decided we wanted to do a project that involved Garfield, just to entertain ourselves.”
In fact, says Johnson, “we anticipated it. We looked into Jim Davis and [Garfield licensing corporation] Paws Inc., and Universal Press Syndicate, and found out they were pretty litigious. That played into us releasing all the clips at once.”
Lasagna Cat is a low-budget production. There’s the cat costume, which Johnson wears. A wig, with which Max approximates Jon Arbuckle’s dork-fro. And an Odie costume that looks homemade. But “we didn’t have an armchair, and we didn’t have an old 1970s wood-framed television,” says Johnson. “That kinda ruled out about half of the strips.” Luckily, “so many Garfield strips are just three panels where Garfield is lying down.”
The early clips were great: profoundly unfunny and hilarious at the same time. Still, something was missing. Then, inspiration: why not append a little music video — linked thematically, if vaguely, to the strip’s punch line — to each clip?
Genius. (And a welcome opportunity for Johnson and Max to deploy some mind-meltingly psychedelic digital effects.) Garfield lies to Jon? Spandau Ballet’s “True.” Jon realizes he’s using Garfield’s cat brush to brush his own hair? Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” Garfield having trouble losing weight? “Suicide Is Painless” by Johnny Mandel. Says Johnson: “the music videos took on a life of their own.”
And then, the coup de grâce: as each song finishes, Johnson and Max flash a photo of Jim Davis’s Cheshire-cat grin — their little tribute to “one man [who] lives with the burden of making the entire world laugh every day.”