Garfield Minus Garfield

By Jim Davis, with Dan Walsh
128 pages, color
Published by Ballantine Books

When I was in elementary school, my mother made me and my younger sister take piano lessons every week. We’d both be dropped off at our piano teacher’s house, and for the half-hour that my sister had her lessons, I would read the books that our teacher had in the waiting area. Most of those books were the original Garfield collections from the late ’70s, and I remember liking those early, sarcastic strips. Over the years, as Garfield has become its own media empire, the comic strip lost its edge and I figured it would be completely off my radar. That is, until Dan Walsh came up with his Garfield Minus Garfield website.

The idea of Garfield Minus Garfield is pretty simple; Walsh would take a Garfield strip that had both Garfield and his owner Jon present. Then, Walsh would carefully erase every trace of Garfield himself. The end result? A strange, eerie sort of strip in which Jon appears to be talking to himself. Not that, of course, Garfield actually "talks" in the strips. But there’s a difference between Jon talking to a cat that is somehow reacting, and him talking and reacting to absolutely nothing at all.

It’s funny, because Walsh’s edits to Garfield turn Jon from the goofball to Garfield’s straight man, to a manic-depressive man on the edge of sanity. Grinning inanely at nothing, announcing his every thought to an empty room, serving plates of food to no one, it’s almost heartbreaking in its black humor. It’s much to Walsh’s credit that he’s picked just the right strips to edit Garfield out of; just zapping Garfield out of a random strip could just as easily end up in an incomprehensible non-sequitur than these little zen moments that we end up with. It’s also very much to creator Jim Davis’s credit that he found the humor in Garfield Minus Garfield and fully approved of the website.

With this Garfield Minus Garfield collection, we not only get the altered strip in full color, but the original strip in black and white underneath it. It’s a nice touch, to see just what the heck was going on with Davis’s original strip, something that so often would drive me slightly crazy in wanting to know. At the same time, though, with the original strip without color and reproduced in a smaller size, if you want to ignore them and be none the wiser it’s not that hard to tune out those little squiggles at the bottom of the page.

In the end, I think it says it all that not only does Garfield Minus Garfield contain a best-of Walsh’s edits, but Davis actually provides a few edits of his own, eager to get into the game. Once you start looking at Garfield without that fat cat present, it’s hard to stop. For such a simple concept, Walsh has certainly hit the bullseye. And with the regular website still running new strips, there’s always a little extra dose of insanity just around the corner for you.

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