For a fat, lazy feline, Garfield has sure been one busy kitty. Garfield, the creation of Indiana native Jim Davis, consistently ranks as one of the top comic strip characters. He is featured in over 2,500 newspapers around the world, on award-winning TV specials and series, and in over 25 books.
Davis created Garfield in 1978, based on his memories of the 25 farm cats he grew up with. He originally worked out of his basement, but as the character grew in popularity, he formed Paws, Inc. in 1981.
In 1994, Paws bought the Garfield copyright from United Feature Syndicate because Davis felt no company could care more about the character than his could. Paws now handles every aspect of the creative, promotion, licensing and merchandising of Garfield-related products.
Garfield has about 100 domestic and over 350 international licensees. The property is unique among licensed comic strip characters in that it has no master toy licensee. With the exception of plush (which Paws handles internally), there is little activity in the toy sector.
This d’esn’t seem to bother Davis at all. Paws spokesperson Kim Campbell says that the company isn’t concerned about lining up the most amount of licensees possible so much as developing strong, loyal, long-term relationships with companies that respect the integrity of Garfield, exhibit creativity and seem fun to work with. As Jim Davis says, ‘If we take care of the cat, the cat will take care of us.’
Each year, Garfield licensees trek to Indiana for Paws’ annual Big Deal gathering. Part business and part celebration, the meeting gives licensees the chance to preview upcoming Garfield activity and attend workshops to learn how to better utilize the character.
Garfield has had several promotional partners in the past, but it wasn’t until Paws took control in 1994 that the property was aggressively marketed for promotional tie-ins. In the past year, it has partnered with Taco Bell, KFC, Kraft and the International Hockey League, among others. In March, it struck a licensing deal with PetsMart that will give Garfield a large presence in the retail chain’s stores. Later this year, it will partner with Subway Restaurants for a kids meal giveaway.
The next big event slated for Garfield is his 20th birthday in 1998. Paws is currently reviewing various promotional ideas for the milestone. It is also looking to further penetrate overseas markets, eyeing possibilities in Japan, China, Russia and India.
Here are some of the highlights that have made Garfield something to purr about:
- 1978: Garfield debuts on June 19, 1978 in 41 newspapers.
- 1980: Garfield creator Jim Davis strikes his first licensing deal, with Ballantine Books, which publishes a compilation of the comic strip. The book g’es to the top of the New York Times best seller list. Unsatisfied with the way his cartoons transfer to standard paperback size, Davis suggests a different format (5-1/2 x 8-1/2), which becomes the norm for publishing cartoon compilations.
- 1981: Davis establishes Paws, Inc. to handle the growing art and creative needs of licensees.
- 1982: Garfield hits it big:
- The strip is sold to the 1000th newspaper;
- Davis wins Best Humor Strip Cartoonist award;
- The first Garfield TV special becomes the highest-rated animated special of the year;
- Garfield graces the cover of People;
- Seven Garfield books occupy the New York Times best seller list simultaneously.
- Paws holds its first Big Deal licensee summit gathering.
- 1984: A Garfield balloon debuts in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- 1986-87: Garfield’s popularity soars when Garfield ‘Stuck on You’ car dolls become a sensation.
- 1987: Garfield becomes the third cartoon to appear in over 2,000 papers.
- First fast food promotion with McDonald’s moves over 41 million units of Garfield merchandise.
- 1988: Saturday morning Garfield & Friends animated series debuts.
- 1989: The NFL drafts Garfield for joint licensing ventures.
- 1993: Jim Davis is inducted into the Licensing Merchandiser’s Hall of Fame.
- 1994: Paws purchases the Garfield copyright from United Feature Syndicate. The company assumes all responsibility for licensing, promotion and merchandising of the property.
- 1995: Garfield appears in over 2,500 newspapers.
- 1996: A deal is signed with retail pet chain PetsMart for a line of over 100 Garfield-related products that will hit the shelves by the fourth quarter of the year.
- Successful promotional partner deals include KFC and Kraft; later in 1996, Garfield will partner with Subway.