I'm just going to come right out and say it: I like Garfield. I always have, and despite the much maligned efforts of Jim Davis and his henhouse full of undergrad brush slaves in recent years, I'm still drawn to that damned strip whenever I pick up the newspaper. I don't laugh at the comics. I don't read them with green admiration, wondering if I'll ever be as witty. But I'm still glad they're there, happy that they're still being created. I just like toying with the idea of jotting down my personal itinerary and leaving ten seconds open each day for the new Garfield strip. In a land without Gary's cows and Bill's stuffed tiger, you take what you can get. Plus, it's nice to have something to lighten the mood after the kids from The Boondocks call me a racist.
Of course, it wasn't terribly long ago that I enjoyed Garfield on more than just a way-of-life level. As a child, I grew traditionally fond of Garfield's animated holiday specials -- even the one for Thanksgiving -- and still watch 'em year after year during the appropriate months. Throughout public school, I along with virtually every other student who wasn't more interested in Little League bought each and every Garfield compilation the Troll Book Club threw our way. Finally, in 1988, Garfield and Friends debuted and quickly became the one true must-see show of Saturday morning television, sharing pretenses with the strip, but being much, much funnier. Now that much of the series is available on DVD, I can say with certainty that it wasn't just a case of mindless appreciation: The show really was funny!
Between that, the strip, the books and the holiday specials, children of this finite era had every reason to love Garfield. Somebody in a position to profit from that must've noticed, because for about five or six years, the fat cat's face was attached to just about everything. Posters, stationary, bingo games, plush dolls and the like were to be expected, but the focus of today's article is telling proof that Garfield's scope of popularity far extended anyone's boldest predictions. Today, we speak of Garfield's Garfood.
Let's face it, Jim Davis was never known for being peculiarly selective when it came to licensing out his creation. Some would call it "whoring," but really, with a concept and character as basic and surface-dwelling as Garfield, there's not much room to wax about integrity. It's just a cat who eats a lot and makes bad jokes. If people are willing to pay more for Dixie cups with his face on 'em, then why not?
If you're around my age, some of the now-inedible edibles seen above should be very familiar. During the Garfield and Friends boom, a lot of this junk found its way into our brown paper bags, serving as the dessert at school lunch rooms after we threw away the soggy salami sandwiches our poor mothers lovingly prepared. Heck, while we're on the subject on brown paper bags, Garfield has his own collection of those, too. Trivial, yes, but it's so easy to forget how much sweeter life tastes with all of these little somethings. You hop on that school bus with your lunch in a brown paper bag, and you're just on a bus with a bag. You hop on that school bus with your lunch in a brown paper bag with Garfield's head printed on the front, and you're whistling Odie's stupid intro theme the whole way to school. Little somethings, treasure them.
Garfield Macaroni & Cheese Dinner: Stare at the box long enough and the product's fundamental flaw will become clear: They didn't shape the pasta pieces like Garfield! How could they skimp and skip that? It's the only requisite of any macaroni & cheese brand based on a children's franchise -- you've gotta have the funky pasta shapes! Essentially, there's nothing special about the stuff once it's out of the box, and if you've gotta keep macaroni in the box to make it special, there's something seriously messed up with the plan at hand.
While mutant pasta shapes are always a welcome addition to any kid's diet, it's not like children necessarily needed them to forge strong lust for Garfield's Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. One look at that box was all it took, and if that wasn't enough, the series of panels on the back, featuring Garfield cooking macaroni and cheese, was sure to create instant customer loyalty. They even got cute with the directions, with phrases like: "Cook those suckers six minutes or until tender!" Or my favorite, prefacing your instructions to unseal the packet of cheese dust: "Now it's time to get cheesy!" The inside of the box hides a series of Garfield comic strips lifted from the newspaper series, and there's even more stupid things here and there to add to the box's overall collectability. For the amazing effort they put into compensating for the lack of weird pasta shapes, it seems like it would've been easier to just, you know...make weird pasta shapes.
Garfield's Very Special Gummi Candy: I'm not sure what to think of this crud. The only date on the packages is 1978, but that probably just marks the start of Garfield's copyright crap -- it can't be that old. It's up there, though, evidenced by the fact that the candy's artificial colors have all gone black. Realizing that I wouldn't have much to say about the things otherwise, I ripped open the bag and tried one. Old or not, the gummi candies are really, really good. Maybe they're like wine or cheese with the whole aging bit. Actually, I was so enamored with the flavor that my mind started thumbing through its cabinets for a reason, and I think I've got it: Garfield's Very Special Gummi Candy tastes exactly like the sadly discontinued but forever beloved Pine Brothers' cough drop. Sooo good. No longer "gummi" in the traditional sense, the candies have become much more akin to Jujubes -- incidentally one of the other Garfield items we'll get to later.
Garfield and Friends Fruit Rolls: Yesssss! Made by General Mills in 1989, I can't believe how the sight of one silly box of fruit rolls takes me back to occasions long forgotten so perfectly. These things were all over the lunch room at my school. In their time, there was nothing that guaranteed someone a better food trade than a Garfield fruit roll, or better yet, a package of Garfield fruit snacks. (We'll get to those later.) The cartoon seemed especially witty compared to most of the crap our eyes dined on, but one area where Garfield and Friends best succeeded at was, quite simply, putting its audience in a good mood. The music, the colors, the way each character was voiced...it was all so joyous in its own weird little way.
I think they managed to transcend that joyousness onto all of the many examples of Garfield and Friends merchandise. Put yourself into the mindset of a grade schooler and look at that box, with its happiness-defining blue, party hats and font styles that make you applaud like a seal on crack. Kids were drunk with the giggles long before the blasts of fake cherry ever hit their collective tongue. The boxbacks continued the trend, featuring gorgeous pictures, regal repertoire and comic strips so funny, you'd have no choice but to choke to death on the fruit roll from laughing so damn hard. Even the packages for each individual roll were bringers of giddiness. These were good times to be an unhealthy kid.
I reiterate: Old food loses its color and changes in texture. What were once gloriously soft, blue fruit rolls have become repugnantly sticky black shards of dried tar. Garfield and Friends Fruit Rolls came in an assortment of flavors, including "Fruit Party" and "Wild Blue." Blue was still creeping back into society's grocer in 1989, and at that point in time, kids still held anything blue and edible in some kind of strange, deity-level regard: We just couldn't get over how great it was to eat blue stuff. It's not a fad you'll hear talked about very often, but it was indeed a strong one. Long existing cereal brands would add something smeared with blue dye and create entire promotional campaigns around that fact. It was insane. By the time Charms got around to making blue Blow Pops, there wasn't a kid in America who didn't spend at least twenty minutes a day without indigo-stained lips.
As was and remains the norm, kids could pull different character/item shapes off the rolls. In this case, of course, you get to pull off Garfield, Odie, Nermal, Jon and whatever other characters seemed conducive to a 6x6" sheet of flattened fruit crap. Final note: It's indeed sad that the children of today can't experience a Garfield and Friends Fruit Roll, thereby robbing them the chance of seeing what I only now realize as the greatest sight in the history of the seeing-things industry: Garfield teaching fruit roll etiquette. Hells yeah.
Garfield Caramel Corn: It's just a few years old, but in caramel popcorn years, that's fifty lifetimes. Despite promises of some free mini comic book hiding inside, I have no desire to open a bag that, proven by touch, only contains one solid lump of gooey, disgusting caramel popcorn. This comes from a person who just ate gummi candy from 1978. As if the shiny foil bag wasn't enough of a culture jerk, the back of the bag references its contents as gourmet popcorn. I take this to mean it cost more than caramel popcorn deserves to. There's nothing inherently Garfieldish about it, but then, I guess there was nothing Garfieldish about that mac and cheese, either. It's all about the face on the bag. At least nobody can call Garfield a sellout: He's fat, of course he'd endorse caramel popcorn.
Garfield Sour Candy: I have a hunch based on the strange code printed on the back of the package that these are from 1995, which makes perfect sense considering youth's fascination with sour candy during that year. With the either insipidly sour or flaming hot "Warheads" candies leading the revolution, it seemed as though kids of this era had just one thing in mind: Eating food that made them sick. Most of the upstart candies were specifically designed to test the limits of our tastebuds, and even though I was along for the ride, eating disgusting candy after disgusting candy, I can't for the life of me understand why I did it. Perhaps there was just too much social glory to be found in "outgrossing" your friends at school or around the neighborhood. Heck, with Warheads, we used to have contests to see which idiot could endure the most pieces of flaming hot shit candy at one time. Why? The Lord told us to do it.
Garfield Sour Candy isn't as vile, though from the brief licks I allowed myself, I definitely wouldn't consider it as palatable as a Sour Patch Kid. It's way more sour. Check out Garfield's face on the package. I just made the same face. That's really something, because I never would've thought I could make that face prior to tasting these. It just happens. Curls your tongue, bends your will and just happens. What fun! Stick with yer Snickers.
Garfield Jujubes Candy: No idea when these are from, but who cares? Jujubes never go bad. If you're only familiar with Jujyfruits, don't blend your thoughts on those with these -- they're entirely different. Jujubes are best known for their tiny, original pill-shape form. Think semi-pliable pebbles doused with fruit juice. You can spend an hour chewing on a single mouthful, and I mean that in the best way possible. Garfield's edition is a little less fun than the candy store variety -- they're much bigger, a little too soft, and you've gotta deal with a picture of Garfield rocking out on an electric guitar right before you eat. The individual pieces are shaped vaguely like Garfield, but the real coup is knowing that if you eat these, they won't fully digest until you're about 86. They're like the victims of your own personal Sarlaac pit.
Garfield and Friends Fruit Snacks: If there was anything more revered than those fruit rolls, it's these: Garfield's first and only brand of fruit snacks. These were a whole new kind of special, in flavors ranging from "Very Strawberry" to "1:2 Punch," with all of the pieces shaped like different characters from the show. Well, half the show. Ol' U.S. Acres got no love from the licensing blitz, despite the many times I stood in front of Jim Davis' house shouting "WADE DUCK IS THE BEST THING YOU'VE EVER CREATED AND DON'T EVER FORGET THAT." Perhaps my delivery was off.
While the fruit roll boxes had comic strips and other fun junk, the fruit snack boxes did not. Instead, there's an offer for kids to get their very own Garfield-branded personalized pencils. Imagine that: A writing utensil with your name on it! The only thing more amazing than personalized pencils is realizing that you once thought personalized pencils were amazing. That's one #2 you don't chew. The teaser ad values a set of twelve pencils at 8.98, which I'm only believing if they replaced the eraser tops with gold teeth yanked from dizzy boxers between rounds.
The bad writer in me wants to say that a rabbit crawled on top of the photo above and shat all over it, but the good writer in me says they look more like the insect graveyards one must sweep to Hell before proclaiming their windowsills clean. The good writer in me still sucks. Trust me, the fruit snacks were much prettier before rotting for fifteen years, with brilliant colors, nicely defined character shapes and a taste capable of making a person take their believed right to marry a fruit snack flavor to Supreme Court. You'd swear Christ had to be a cat -- that's how good these things were. This was back in a time where fruit snacks were much tarter and far less sweet than the general varieties of today, with much fleshier textures. I won't hop on the podium and claim the older standard to be the better of the two, but secretly, I'm mouthing exactly that to myself. Deal with it.
Garfield Stripes Bubble Gum: No idea when this is from -- likely the early `90s. Possibly the most inspired item of the lot we're examining today, Garfield Stripes took every page out of Big League Chew's lock-protected diary, added a few more and pretended it did nothing of the sort. With "sassy" fruit and grape flavors, this was Garfield at his very best: Armed with confusing zebra stripe patterns in fucked up alien colors.
Kids love candy, duh, but bubble gum is placed on a completely different level of want. The kind of gum one chews defines them as a person. If you're all about the Bubblicious, you're all about lampshades on the head. If you're only down with Big Red, you're self-conscious and you have stinky mouth disease. If you can still track down Blackjack, you're a connoisseur and yeah, you're probably a gentleman, too. But people who journeyed through life and math classes with Garfield Stripes -- they were the real movers and shakers. Unafraid, unabashed and with unreasonably sized wads of sugar putty shoved in their cheek pockets. All of the important people in the world chewed Garfield Stripes. A closer inspection:
See? It's Big League Chew's saucy cousin. The doubling of colors is nice to look at, but once it's in your mouth, everything blends together into one horrid light purple clump of unattractiveness. Come on, you've seen these people on the bus with their disgustingly colored gums before. You've seen 'em. It doesn't seem fair to form a negative opinion of someone just because they chew ugly gum, but that's the way it is. World's a crazy place. The stuff seemed fresh enough to taste, so I did, and it's good, but I'm not so fueled with love that I'm gonna do anything crazy, like say, write another paragraph about it. Do like the packaging, though.
Garfield Goodies Cat Treats: When my girlfriend and I decided to start living in sin several years ago, I was introduced to a whole new world -- a world of cats. I'd spent my life wanting a cat, but always came up short, first because of allergic family members, next because of asshole landlords. Now, I have cats. Five. Fucking. Cats. I could spend the next year detailing how these pleasantly annoying animals manage to change every last facet of a person's life, but since that's not really what we're here for, I'll limit the discussion to the one thing I've always particularly enjoyed in my adventures as a cat owner: Buying cat treats.
It's true what they say -- the many different kinds of pet foods only look the way they do to entice us, the people feeding them to hungry animals. Your cat, your dog...they couldn't give less of a shit what the stuff looks like, so long as it's meaty or fishy. Garfield Goodies play into this perfectly. Instead of relying only on bright colors or flashy claims, they're just slapping the recognizable character on the packaging and calling it a night. If you've got a cat, there's a much better chance of you being a fan of Garfield than someone without one. And if you've got a cat, you will, invariably, at some point, need to buy cat treats. Garfield Goodies, heart-shaped and packed in a convenient resealable pouch, arrived in 1999 and quickly vanished, either because they were really popular or because nobody was about to switch away from Friskies just because this Prototype X brand managed to buy Garfield's face for a song.
I'd show you more, but all I have left is Garfield coffee and melted Garfield jelly beans. I've said enough, and there's just enough time left in the day for me to go scour the sewers in search of Lyman. I'll be seeing you.
-- Matt (6/5/05)