The Man Behind the Cat
The adventures of the man behind the world’s most laughable, loveable, and lazy feline began on the Ball State campus.

Jim Davis, ’67 LittD ’91, combined his love of art and business to create the most popular comic strip cat, Garfield, and his company, Paws Inc. of Albany, Indiana, which supports the licensing of Garfield products. The ornery cat can be seen everywhere from books to Facebook and soon, live on stage.

Davis earned his first job because of his own determination and his experiences with the student newspaper.

“I found the job by finding a commercial art studio in the Yellow Pages and walking in the door with a handful of cartoons I'd done for The Ball State Daily News,” he says. “Ball State exposed me to so many new ideas that the world simply opened up for me.

“I think you need to throw as many things as possible at young students and challenge them to go in any direction. Only with all that experience, only with all that training you get from your college years, can you step off into where no one else has been before—where you've never been before—and do something truly creative.”

Davis began working as an assistant for Tumbleweeds cartoonist Tom K. Ryan. Then in 1978, Garfield hit the funny pages in newspapers across the country. It is now the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

Beyond newspapers, Garfield stars on television and in movies. In the ever-changing world of animation, Davis sees Ball State’s focus on emerging media as a way for students to further their dreams, like the ones he has for his beloved cat.

“Every good animator has a vision in his or her head. The moment that vision goes to celluloid, it's compromised because of the inherent limitations of the tools used to re-create the vision. Digital imaging is less restrictive.”

Looking Back

Some of Davis’ favorite memories of life at Ball State include being president of the Theta Xi fraternity as well as doing stand-up.

“I did stand-up comedy routines for our fraternity parties. I remember slipping into a Sigma Chi party to catch another guy who was doing stand-up. His name was David Letterman.

“While I was doing broad humor and physical shtick, this guy was just standing there and talking: ‘How many of you are having the time of your lives? Oh boy, I know I am. This is more fun than an adult ought to have...’ By this time, the kids were on the floor. I didn't get it. Whatever happened to him anyway?”

Davis was also a member of Blue Key, a scholarship honorary, and the Student Government Association.

“I'd like to see Ball State continue to flourish. Industries in our community come and go. Ball State prepares the people to create the industries. Like me, some graduates stick around and ply their trades in this community. That's good for Muncie, Indiana.”

What’s Next for Garfield?

Davis has always had the dream of seeing Garfield come alive on stage.

“Many years ago, Joseph Papp (A Chorus Line) and I talked about a musical starring Garfield, but we were both going a hundred miles an hour in different directions. It never happened. But now, I’ve just finished the script for Garfield Live! which will debut in 2011.”

Garfield's creator knows the cat’s image will continue to evolve into various media as technology and opportunities change. Although Garfield has appeared on a variety of products, Davis laughs about the most unexpected.

“I’m going to go with the toilet seat,” he says. “When we first started licensing Garfield, a toilet seat was the furthest thing from my mind.”
More in Making an Impact
“I think you need to throw as many things as possible at young students and challenge them to go in any direction. Only with all that experience, only with all that training you get from your college years, can you step off into where no one else has been before—where you've never been before—and do something truly creative.”

—Jim Davis, ’67 LittD ’91