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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 19, 1978

Are we ready to go back in time for another installment of the Tuesday Timeline?  I hope you are, because it all begins right now.

It’s the nineteenth of June, and as always, I plan to open each edition of the Tuesday Timeline with some of the significant events that happened on this date.  So, let’s look back at some June 19 happenings, shall we?

1269 – King Louis the IX of France orders all Jews found in public without an identifying yellow badge to be fined ten livres of silver

1770 – Emanuel Swedenborg reports completion of the Second Coming of Christ in “True Christian Religion”

1816 – Battle of Seven Oaks near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada between Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company

1846 – The first officially recorded organized baseball game is played in Hoboken, New Jersey between the New York Base Ball Club and the Knickerbockers

1862 – The U.S. Congress prohibits slavery in United States territories nullifying Dred Scott v. Sandford

1865 – Over two years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Galveston, Texas are finally informed of their freedom

1867 – Maximilian I of the Mexican Empire is executed by a firing squad

1870 – The Confederate States of America ceases to exist following the Southern States formally being readmitted into the union

1903 – Lou Gehrig is born, and aside from his baseball career, also put a face to the disease known as ALS (later called Lou Gehrig’s disease)

1910 – The first Father’s Day is celebrated in Spokane, Washington.  It will become an official nationwide holiday in 1972

1913 – Natives’ Land Act in South Africa implemented

1934 – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is founded following the passing of the Communications Act of 1934

1953 – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed at Sing Sing in New York following their conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage during World War II

1961 – Kuwait declares independence from the United Kingdom

1964 – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is approved following an 83-day long filibuster in the U.S. Senate

1982 – David S. Dodge, president of the American University of Beirut, is kidnapped in a militant attack by Hezbollah

1987 – A bombing in a supermarket in Barcelona, Spain by Basque separatist group ETA kills 21 people and injures 45

1991 – The Soviet occupation of Hungary ends

1999 – The wedding of Prince Edward of Wessex and Sophie Rhys-Jones

That’s quite a lot of history...especially within the United States.  June 19 is definitely a date that made a difference. 

June 19 also happens to be a date in which a lot of famous people were born.  Here are some of the famous faces celebrating a birthday today.  Gena Rowlands, Ian Smith, Phylicia Rashad, Ann Wilson (Heart), Kathleen Turner, Paula Abdul, Laura Ingraham, Sadie Frost, Mia Sara, Lara Spencer, Brian Welch (Korn), Eric Sheffer Stevens, Robin Tunney, Bumper Robinson, Poppy Montgomery, Hugh Dancy, Zoe Saldana, Lauren Lee Smith, Paul Dano, and Atticus Shaffer.

In some aspects, today’s look back through time also deals with a birthday of some sorts.  The only difference is that the one celebrating it is a fictional character.

And this fictional character was “born” on June 19, 1978.

This is an interesting piece for me to write because I have already done a blog entry on this big, fat, orange cat.  In fact, it happens to be my most viewed blog entry as of today, with well over ONE THOUSAND page views and counting!

The date was September 27, 2011, and I had decided to make the focus of that day’s blog on a couple of characters who had a classic ‘frenemy’ type relationship.  They tried to one-up each other, they kicked each other off of tables, and they drove their owner absolutely insane some days.  But deep down inside, they really did love each other.

The title of that particular entry was “Garfield & Odie:  Best Frenemies Forever.

And, on June 19, 1978, Garfield the cat made his very first appearance in a comic strip.

But, I’m going to do this blog entry a little bit differently.  Rather than talk about Garfield (mainly because I already did a decent job of it in September 2011), I’m going to put the focus on the cartoonist who created Garfield, because his life story is quite interesting as well.

This entry is about cartoonist Jim Davis, who ended up creating a little comic strip known as Garfield on June 19, 1978, which is now the most syndicated comic strip in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

James Robert Davis was born in Marion, Indiana on July 28, 1945.  He would grow up on a farm in Indiana.  He was raised by his father, James, and his mother Anna.  The farm was also home to Jim’s brother, Dave, and at least 25 cats.  Remember this point for future reference as we continue.

As Jim Davis grew up and went through school, he eventually found work at an advertising agency in the late 1960s.  In 1969, he ended up getting his first taste of cartooning when he took on a job assisting Tom Ryan with his comic strip, “Tumbleweeds”.  Shortly afterwards, Jim had decided to try creating his own comic strip.  His first creation was a comic strip called “Gnorm Gnat”.  If you look below, there’s an example posted of “Gnorm Gnat”.

There are definitely some similarities between Gnorm and Garfield, don’t you think?

Anyway, the comic “Gnorm Gnat” was very least locally.  It ran in the Pendleton Times for five years.  But when it came time to shop “Gnorm Gnat” around to national newspapers in hopes of it getting picked up for syndication, it was rejected.  One editor even went so far as to tell Davis that although his art was great and his gags were great, the truth was that nobody wanted to read a comic strip about bugs. 

So, Davis heeded his advice, and decided to create another comic strip.  Instead of making the main character a bug, he decided to make the star of the comic a cat...a large orange cat who ate lasagna, hated Mondays, and who wished death upon any and all spiders nearby.

When it came down to naming the cat, Jim Davis settled on Garfield, after his grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis. 

TRIVIA:  In case you were wondering, Davis also had outside sources for naming some of his other characters as well.  Jon Arbuckle came from a 1950s coffee commercial, while the name Odie was taken from a car dealership written by Davis which featured a character called Odie the Village Idiot!

Initially, the comic strip originally surrounded Jon, which made sense when you consider that Jon was meant to be a loose characterization of Jim Davis himself.  He grew up on a farm with his parents and a brother named Doc Boy (I told you Davis’ upbringing sounded familiar), and he worked as a cartoonist.  Jon Arbuckle’s birthday was even the same day as Jim Davis’ birthday!  But when it came time to sell the comic to an agency, he once again faced rejection.  But they did offer him one piece of advice...make the focus of the comic strip the cat, as they felt he had the best lines.  Once again, Davis took the advice to heart, and after retooling the strip a bit, he ended up selling the strip to United Feature Syndicate.

On June 19, 1978, Garfield debuted in a modest 41 newspapers.

TRIVIA:  Would you believe that the Chicago Sun-Times, one of the original newspapers that printed the Garfield strip actually DROPPED the comic from its line up shortly after it debuted?  The outcry was so great that the newspaper made the decision to reinstate the comic!  A true “power of the people” moment if ever there was one.

The comic strip has run daily ever since.  Initially, the Sunday comics were third-pagers, but switched to the half-page format in March 1981.  The first five years of the comic were drawn in a realistic sense, but by 1984, the cartoon switched to a more cartoonish look, which is generally the look that has remained ever since.

That’s the story behind Garfield’s creation.  By 1981, the comic strip could be found in over six hundred newspapers, and was already making $15 million through Garfield merchandise which included stuffed animals, board games, television specials, and book collections of past comic strips.  The merchandising sector became so successful that Davis eventually created his own company, PAWS Inc.  In 1994, PAWS purchased all the rights to the strips that were published from 1978-1993 by United Feature.  Currently, the strip is distributed by United Press Syndicate, although PAWS still maintains the rights.  Even Davis isn’t the sole artist behind Garfield.  He writes the strips and does the rough sketches, but other artists take over the inking, lettering, and colouring.

By 2002, Garfield became the world’s most syndicated strip, a record that has been held for the past decade.  Twelve primetime specials with Lorenzo Music as the voice of Garfield were produced, and currently there are 53 books in the official Garfield library, with the 54th set to be released in August 2012.  And although Davis had success with other comic strips since (U.S. Acres was a minor hit for Davis as well), Garfield really was his ticket to success.

And to think it all began thirty-four years ago, on June 19, 1978.

Damn, that’s one old cat!

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