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Comic Strip / Jon

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Jon, later renamed Garfield, is an obscure comic strip by Jim Davis made for an local Indiana weekly newspaper named Pendleton Times from January 1976 to February 1978, between Gnorm Gnat and the identically-titled Garfield, being a prototypical version of the latter.

In a set-up that sounds very familiar in hindsight, the comic is about a cartoonist named Jon Arbuckle and his fat, cynical housecat Garfield, who are occasionally joined by Jon's friend Lyman and his dog, Odi— sorry, "Spot". Its humor and jokes are near identical to Garfield's, down to the lasagna jokes, but the art-style is different: Jon wields a squatter face and more prominent nose, Garfield is a solid instead of a tabby and "Spot" is initially drawn with pointed ears and a triangular snout akin to a stylized chihuahua. Many of the strips were even later redone in Garfield, however there's a quite a number of comics that were thrown away, partially owing to the later strip's shift in focus from Jon to Garfield. Also notable for the comic, is that, due to Jon's protagonist status, there are several strips where the famous cat is entirely absent. However, Garfield eventually claimed the lead role by the end of 1977, mostly due to pressure from comic syndicators to rework his cat as the star, feeling that he had better lines than Jon.

During its publication, Davis attempted to sell the strip to the syndicates, being eventually retooled into its current Garfield form and picked up nationally by United Feature Syndicate in January of 1978 (the national strip would begin being published that June).

Not to be confused with the Garfield fan-comic Jon (Gale Galligan).

The entire series can be viewed in PDF format here.

Jon provides examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Garfield sees a news story about a cat burglar getting caught. He had stolen three Persian cats, two Tom cats, four tabby cats, six fuzzy kittens... and a box of num-nums.
  • Art Evolution:
    • Unlike his original design, a March 1978 article announcing the successful syndication of Garfield features two "sample" strips depicting the cat with thick tabby stripes, bringing him closer to his more familiar design.
    • Jon's design also starts out being quite a bit different, although he began to approach the look he would have in the Garfield strip proper by October 1976.
  • Ascended Extra: Garfield was a minor player in early strips, although his role would be greatly expanded by 1977, the strip being renamed late that year. This was apparently at the behest of Jim Davis' editor, who pointed out that Garfield got all the best punchlines.
  • Aside Glance: Many of the punchlines are delivered with Jon or Garfield looking at the reader.
  • Be Yourself: In one strip, an ugly kitten asks for advice on how to get attention and Garfield's advice is to do that and scratch curtains.
  • Black Comedy Animal Cruelty:
    • One strip features Lyman beating up Spot as a punishment for peeing on the floor. Garfield just smugly comments "So now we know why he's called Spot".
    • Another strip is a letter from a reader who asks Garfield on how to cure their pet cat's "sniffles", trying all sorts of unorthodox methods such as swinging the cat by the tail or putting its head in a plastic bag. Garfield, after expressing disgust over the above methods, sarcastically suggests shoving a cherry bomb into the cat's nose.
  • Character Title: Both titles, Jon and Garfield.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference:
    • Garfield's cheeks are much bigger than normal. He's also a solid, instead of a tabby, except for his striped tail. Starting in summer 1977, Garfield's fluffy jowls were smoothed out, and by March 1978 he has his famous tabby stripes.
    • Spot's first design resembled a chihuahua, although on October 21, 1976 it abruptly changed to Odie's first design.
    • Liz looks like a completely different person, having blonde hair, no makeup, and a very innocent look that treats Jon with curiosity and fear. She's also initially identified as "that girl." After only two appearances like this, she reappears with her familiar black hair and more importantly her extreme deadpan demeanor. A few strips also featured an unnamed boyfriend that was taller than Jon.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The comic isn't based around Garfield, so some strips focus on Jon and his life, without any appearances or even references to Garfield. Many strips from Jon were remade as Garfield strips, only now Garfield would be present and usually deliver a punchline. Ironically, a common criticism of the modern Garfield comic is how strange it is that Jon takes Garfield to places a pet wouldn't be welcome such as restaurants... while in Jon, Garfield is only ever shown at the house where he lives and Jon goes to places like restaurants alone.
    • Odie is named "Spot". This explains the joke in Garfield when Garfield snarks "They should have named him 'Spot'" (referencing Odie's Potty Failure), which was originally "So that's why they call him 'Spot'", being a joke that made a pun out of Spot's name, and had to bent awkwardly to make the pun still work with Odie's new name when it was recycled for the later strip.
    • The doctor is a goofy Herr Doktor type named Dr. Gustav Stitch, and he doesn't check up on Garfield but on Jon. He seems to be a remake of a recurring mad doctor character from Gnorm Gnat, Dr. Gougo, but Davis quickly drops the character entirely.
    • In one comic, Garfield threatens to punch Spot for no reason than just because he doesn't like him. This would be abnormally violent even for Garfield.
    • Jon and Liz's interactions were also different;
      • In Liz's first appearances, she's silent and somewhat scared of Jon's aggressive advances. This quickly morphs to her developing a sarcastic attitude that's always more than capable of putting Jon in his place. She's also not a vet in this strip, instead she's a new waitress at Irma's diner who has to put up with Jon as a regular customer instead.
      • Jon's pursuit of Liz is less "dumb awkward dork" and more "creepy stalker." He even starts following Liz around town to try and force interactions, and when he dives into a burger booth to get her to talk to him, she actually looks scared of him. The power dynamic shifts once Liz gets a job as a waitress, and later as a vet in the actual comic.
    • Several jokes involved Garfield lusting over female celebrities of the time, including a joke where Lyman points out to Jon the irony of a cat watching the The Mickey Mouse Club... only for Garfield's thought bubble to reveal he's interested in Annette Funicello. This particular gag was reused in the syndicated series, minus Lyman, but similar gags that namedropped Farrah Fawcett were cut, making it a bit of an outlier. Related, there are many bits of topical and political humor lost for those unfamiliar with the 1970s, something which is absent from the final strip.
    • Garfield's teddy bear Pooky was originally named "Huggy".
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: The June 17, 1976 strip saw Garfield answering a letter, and other strips may have had this as well.
  • Frustrated Overhead Scribble: In one strip an angry cloud of scribbles above Garfield's head does double duty expressing how frustrated he is while also helping allude to his just having been burnt without committing to either interpretation.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In one strip, Garfield reads a letter that involves violent methods of curing a cat's cold. He is disturbed and calls out the owner, before saying that the real way to cure the cold is to put a lit cherry bomb up the cat's nose. Given that said methods include wagging the cat by its tail, putting a plastic bag on the cat's head, and squeezing the cat's neck, Garfield is correct for saying the owner doesn't know the first thing about cat care.
  • Look Behind You: In the March 24, 1977 strip, Lyman distracts Jon during a tennis game by telling him that Farrah Fawcett in the nude is behind him.
    Jon: I should have seen right through it when he said "in the nude".
  • New Season, New Name: Not related to a seasonal marker or anything (that has been revealed, at least), the strip's name changed from Jon to Garfield in September 1977.
  • Pun: Garfield watches a news report about a cat burglar who was finally caught after a car chase. When the cops searched his trunk, they found different kinds of cats— he was a burglar of cats.
  • Shout-Out: One strip has Garfield thinking about the movie Rocky. Then he decides to pose like a boxer.
  • This Is My Human: In the first strip, Garfield describes Jon as "my cartoonist".
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Garfield loves lasagna.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: Garfield says the ugly kitten whose failed attempts to get attention consisted on acting cute was trying too hard.