Garfield – Garfield = Schizophrenia

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In 1880, not long after the invention of the telephone, Mark Twain noted how weird a conversation is when you erase one of the participants ("That queerest of all queer things in the world", 3/25/2004):

I handed the telephone to the applicant, and sat down. Then followed that queerest of all the queer things in this world—a conversation with only one end to it. You hear questions asked; you don’t hear the answer. You hear invitations given; you hear no thanks in return. You have listening pauses of dead silence, followed by apparently irrelevant and unjustifiable exclamations of glad surprise or sorrow or dismay. You can’t make head or tail of the talk, because you never hear anything that the person at the other end of the wire says.

Now Dan Walsh, an "an Irish musician, artist, nerd and businessman" who blogs under the name of Travors, has applied this technique to a comic strip: Garfield minus Garfield.

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.

For example, Garfield minus Garfield for 5/5/2008:

which was derived from Garfield for 1/4/2002:

GMG was covered in the Washington Post about a month ago ("When the Cat's Away, Neurosis Is on Display", Pop Vulture, 4/6/2008):

One of Walsh's occasional readers is [Garfield's author Jim] Davis, who heard about the site a few months ago. The cartoonist calls the work "an inspired thing to do" and wishes to thank Walsh for enabling him to see another side of "Garfield."

Walsh comments:

Instead of reacting over-zealously and hitting me with a Cease & Desist order, Jim is down to earth enough to admit that there’s a laugh to be had from Garfield Minus Garfield and in fact he even thanks me for putting it together!

In an age when the internet gives everyone an opportunity to put their own spin on art, music and literature, it’s a pity more people aren’t as generous with their work …

See also: "Mind-reading fatigue" (11/8/2003).


  1. Peter said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 11:17 am

    There is a famous, and very funny, Two Ronnies sketch, in which the two comedians, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, play strangers at adjacent public telephones, each calling someone on their way home after work. We only hear the one side of each conversation, but we hear both of these one sides, and the pacing is such that the two speakers words are inter-leaved. The interplay of the contents of their two independent dialogues is very funny. Like most Two Ronnies sketches which involved word-play, I believe this sketch was written by Ronnie Barker.

  2. Peter said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 11:24 am

    There is also that famous scene in the movie, The Misfits, where we first meet the character played by Montgomery Clift. He is a cowboy talking to someone long-distance from a phone booth, and we only hear his side of the conversation. However, we can infer a great deal from this one side, and the range of emotions which Clift displays in this short scene, with only his words to support them, is astounding. The script was by Arthur Miller, and it is said that Clift accepted the part after merely reading just this one scene, so great did he think were its dramatic possibilities.

  3. red said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 11:55 am

    That Two Ronnies sketch is here:

  4. Philip said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

    In poetry, this one-side-of-a-conversation is called a dramatic monolog. An example, found in many anthologies of British literature, is "My Last Duchess."

    Bob Newhart used it in stand-up comedy, too.

  5. AJD said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

    A similar idea called "Arbuckle", consisting of removing not Garfield himself but just Garfield's dialogue, has been floating around since February 2006 at least.

  6. Gerg said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

    This seems to be a pale imitation of earlier versions. It's actually done wrong too. The right way to do this is to erase Garfield's thought bubbles (yes, Garfield never actually speaks, all his bubbles are thought bubbles, not speech bubbles). That makes the comic what "actually" happened. Ie, all the thought bubbles being erased are either in Jon's imaginings or worse, the thought bubbles are just Jim talking directly to the audience. Either way the reader can fill in the blanks without explicit exposition.

    These versions with the entire cat removed along with the thought bubbles is just bizarre and entirely missed the point. Take a look at some of the originals instead of this copycat:

  7. Travors said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the mention guys, like the post, very well investigated ;-)


  8. Kris Rhodes said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

    Better IMO, and still relevant to the same Linguistics issues:

    Leave Garfield in, but just remove his [i]dialogue[/i]:


  9. Ray Girvan said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

    Reminds of this horribly poignant revisionist ending to Calvin and Hobbes – just Calvin – that I saw in a MetaFilter thread a while back.

  10. Mark Liberman said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

    @Philip: It seems to me that writers generally take care in dramatic monologues to avoid the effect that G – G achieves.

    "My Last Duchess", for example, starts with a trick to reveal the other side of the conversation:

    6 … never read
    7 Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
    8 The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
    9 But to myself they turned (since none puts by
    10 The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
    11 And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
    12 How such a glance came there; so, not the first
    13 Are you to turn and ask thus.

    And other poems of the sort are full of similar stratagems.

  11. Steve said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

    That is not the Garfield strip from 2/1/2004. It is the Garfield strip from 1/4/2002. See the "1-4" next to Davis's name in the third panel. I believe you misinterpreted the date in the URL.

    [myl: Oops, sorry, fixed now.]

  12. Dan H said,

    May 11, 2008 @ 4:18 am

    IMO, Peter Sellars's best work is as the US President in ‘Dr. Strangelove’, when he has a one-sided telephone conversation with the Russian Premier Dmitri. It's a very funny sequence, not just because of Sellars's caricatured friendliness, but also because it is beautifully observed.

    Of course, anyone who keeps cats knows that they really do answer when you talk to them.

  13. Bill Walderman said,

    May 12, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

    Another example of one-sided conversations is Beethoven's conversation books, which consist of notebooks in which people talking with Beethoven after he became deaf would write what they wanted to say to him. Beethoven would conduct his side of the conversation vocally. We have to infer Beethoven's responses where we can. Of course, we would have preferred to have Beethoven's side of the conversation in writing.

    One of the most notorious entries in the conversation books is something like: "I'm going on a trip. While I'm away, would you like to sleep with my wife?" Beethoven's answer seems to have been "Yes," but we can't be sure this wasn't a joke.

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