Why Garfield Is So Mashupable

By | Tuesday, May 04, 2010 1 comment
First, some of today's comics with the dialogue from today's Garfield dropped in...

Pearls Before Swine

Not Invented Here

The Knight Life

Bad Machinery


So here's why I think it works as well as it does: in the first place, the structure of Garfield is generally two talking heads whose dialogue is largely not dependent of the illustrations. Thus, you can drop in any two characters standing next to each other and the gag still works. The strip's format, in some senses, isn't that far removed from the old EC comics in which the text simply explained what was happening in the pictures.

In the second place, the premise of Garfield is that Garfield doesn't actually talk out loud. So, although Garfield is responding and reacting to Jon's comments, Jon's dialogue is set up so that it's also not dependent on anything else. In effect, Jon is speaking a perpetual monologue and Garfield acts as a Greek chorus. For the purposes of these mashups, that means that the dialogue can easily be dropped in to comics with dramatic scene changes, since Jon's comments are, by design, NOT a response to Garfield's.

A lot of the other comic strips which also use the "two character banter" approach that's not reliant on actual character development or visual humor -- Blondie, Hi and Lois, Hagar the Horrible, etc. -- but Garfield's unique structure allows for a greater latitude for interpretation. You can see in the above examples that I was repeatedly able to assign dialogue to characters in other strips in a way that would not have been possible if the original required a back-and-forth set-up.

Theoretically, this means the same could be done with Peanuts as well; however, Snoopy plays less of a central role in the strip than Garfield does, and consequently a greater number of Peanuts strips couldn't be counted on for this feature.
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Matt K said...

Y'know, I actually wondered about this same question a while ago, and didn't come up with any of these answers. My thought was that Garfield is readily-adaptable in this way because it's basically "about nothing" in a way that even Seinfeld never managed. Jim Davis has basically always avoided topical content as much as possible and even beyond that, the "moving parts" employed in the gags are just pretty streamlined.

I like all of your insights, though. I find them more interesting than the mashup posts themselves, personally. ;-)