Jim Davis' Garfield the cat has been recognized by different comic strips and television screens since 1978. In 1981, Davis established Paws Inc. to keep his licensing for the famous cat. Photo Courtesy M Magazine, The Star Press.
Muncie Origins: Ball State alumnus Jim Davis keeps Garfield alive through Paws Inc.
Editor's note: Muncie Origins is a Ball State Daily News series profiling various businesses that originated in Muncie.
Walt Disney once said, “It was all started by a mouse.” But for Ball State alumnus Jim Davis, it all started with a cat.
Since 1978, Garfield the cat has been recognized by different comic strips and television screens. In 1981, Davis established Paws Inc. to keep his licensing for the famous cat.
Davis said he was “wholly unprepared” for the success of Garfield, but gives the credit to Garfield’s relatability.
“I like to joke that there must be something in the water in Indiana — but seriously, I think people enjoy Garfield because he deals with a couple of universal truths,” Davis said. “We all love to eat. We all love to sleep. There’s a lot of comedy that can be mined just from those two subjects.”
Since the creation of Paws Inc., the company has undergone many changes to keep up with modern times. Davis said he is keeping his “eyes and ears open” to any new technology that would efficiently help evolve the company further.
“In 1981, we had a handful of artists and licensing managers in-house and that was really all we needed for the first couple of years. We created all the art on paper and used U.S. Mail and shipping services to get the art to the client,” Davis said. “That system was outmoded thanks to computers — we built an online art bank that licensees and agents could access and created our own software enabling clients to submit their approvals online. It drastically reduced the turnaround time from concept to final product.”
Upgrading to an online art bank also helped Davis collaborate with some of his artists like Brett Koth, who currently lives in Virginia.
“The working relationship Jim and I have hasn't really changed all that much, though. Working on the computer allows me to email him sketches and writing straight from the tablet that I draw on,” Koth said. “He has the same kind of tablet in his office, enabling us to kick ideas and doodles back and forth quickly.”
Davis said the staff at Paws Inc. has bonded together as “lifelong friends,” and he hopes to keep the private company within his family and in the Midwest.
“I’d say Paws Inc. is a family affair, yes, and I do hope it will go on forever. I’m teaching the grandkids to draw.” Davis said. “Life is good here. It’s simple. You can raise a family and live affordably. The only traffic issue I have is if I get behind a tractor. I love the four seasons, I love the honesty and work ethic of Midwesterners, and I love having family nearby.”
Because of how close the staff is, each member of the Paws Inc. family has their own unique memory from working with Davis that they treasure. Koth said one of the most memorable moments of working with Davis was hearing him snort while reading something that he had written.
“If it got a snort, I knew I'd done good,” Koth said.
Kim Beasley, public relations director for Paws Inc., said she will never forget co-writing an episode that was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.
“Jim graciously allowed me to serve as the co-writer of Garfield's Thanksgiving Special [on CBS-TV],” Beasley said. “That was a pretty heady experience, to say the least. We didn’t win, unfortunately, there was another animated series nominated that was new on the scene — ‘The Simpsons.’”
Beasley also said that working at Paws Inc. means that no two days are exactly alike and she is still learning every day after 34 years.
“We all wear many different hats at Paws. It sounds cliché to say that no two days are the same, but it’s true … I’ve been in a production meeting on our animated shorts with the producers in France via Google Hangouts,” Beasley said. “Next, I’ll be working on creating custom and lookalike audiences for a client on Facebook, then I hope to write a press release for Garfield’s 40th birthday, which we’ll be celebrating on June 19th this year. Needless to say, there’s a lot of diversity in the day.”
Davis said his goal for Paws Inc. is simple: keep Garfield alive and strong.
“Our goal is to protect the integrity of the character by being diligent in the approvals process, which our licensees must all go through before their product hits the market,” Davis said. “Also, our goal is to keep the character fresh and relevant by looking for new ways to entertain today’s consumer.”
Davis added that he prides himself in being a “self-starter” with Garfield, and feels that growing up on a farm made him unafraid of hard work. He also said that Garfield has been “very good” to him, and he is not planning on leaving “the cat” behind anytime soon.
“I’ve often joked that I’d retire when you had to pull the pencil out of cold dead hand,” Davis said. “So, no, I am not planning to retire, although I do try to slip in more golf with each year.
Contact Elena Stidham with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.