For a number of years my career in writing has given me the pleasure (and free education) of interviewing successful people ranging from Walter Cronkite and Mickey Mantle to Beverly Sills and James Michener. While I have learned from each of these interviews, few have given me as much pleasure as a phone conversation with Jim Davis, creator of Garfield the comic cat who has starred in 1,700 newspapers and twelve million published cartoon books. Because the "lead" of an article is so important to readership, I have always tried to find a fresh approach to interviews. I asked Mr. Davis if I could get his reaction to a question - and then have Garfield respond from his point of view. Here from my notes are the highlights of talking with a very interesting man and a feisty tubby tabby.
One fascinating thing that happened. Mr. Davis changed voices when he became Garfield. I asked him first if comic strips play any social role (other than just amusement) in our lives.
Davis: Comics can point out some of our human weaknesses in a light hearted way. They also can convey moral values. Garfield: Oh! Very informative. But I have to go drain my spaghetti with my tennis racket.
Interviewer: How did Garfield come about? Davis: I felt there was so much serious news around, and people seemed to be taking themselves so seriously. I thought there should be lighter things sometimes in the newspapers. First I drew a funny bug which had a human personality. But this bug had all the basic needs for food, shelter and attention. But then editors told me nobody likes bugs, even cute ones. So I decided to create a lazy cat with a quirky personality.
Garfield! Interviewer: Did you model Garfield after any particular cat you owned? Davis: I grew up with twenty-five cats on an Indiana farm, and I saw all kinds of moods and personalities among them. But I did not use any one cat as a model for Garfield. Garfiled's personality took shape automatically when I began to draw him. Garfield: I don't know what Davis is gabbing about, but I LOVE the attention.
Interviewer: Why has Garfield become so popular? Davis: He is pure entertainment. But Garfield can also help people. I get many letters from overweight people. They tell me that Garfield relieves some of their guilt feelings. There are, of course, many medical and other reasons for most people to control their weight but constant guilt doesn't have to be one of them. Garfield is a militant cat who proudly proclaims his right to be just what he is - a tubby tabby.
Garfield: Ohhh! I am NOT overweight. I'm undertall.
Author Hal Gieseking if the former consumer editor of Travel Holiday magazine and past travel correspondent for CBS Morning News. He has developed many different techniques for interviewing people for national newsletters, magazines and books. Free preview chapters of his books appear on his website, http://www.virginiahospitalitysuite.com .