The Story of Garfield as My Muse to Navigate the Pandemic
About two years ago, the Twitter user @bbysbutt wrote: “This fat orange bitch owns my
life,” depicting an obnoxiously large takeaway cup filled with the characteristic bright orange of a
Thai milk tea with tapioca pearls. This tweet went viral after being quoted by other twitter users,
the most popular reading “Melania Trump every morning,” and my personal favourite being:
“John Arbuckle every morning” (has since been deleted). In many ways, I feel like both John
Arbuckle and Garfield. I am John Arbuckle, because Garfield is my muse. In my drawing
practice, I am curator of the situations that I position Garfield in. I tend to the ways that Garfield
calls to me, and feed his permeated presence in my mind, not through lasagna, but by
depiction. In many ways, Garfield is “[the] fat orange bitch [that] owns my life.”
But, I also feel like Garfield. Garfield is the cartoon character that I have selected as my
avatar to navigate an identity that exists outside of my body, outside of my gender, and
anonymity online. To me, Garfield exists in a space of neutrality, which also makes him the
perfect representative of a gap in time that is the pandemic. His image is used in both official
and unauthorized artwork (this is where I come in), merchandise, and eating experiences. To
me, the repetition of the Garfield icon actually makes his image quite meaningless, existing
simply as one of the faces of cultural zeitgeist. Therefore, Garfield is my blank canvas. Though I
would really like to avoid over-intellectualizing a beloved cartoon character, I think Garfield’s
existence represents an over-ascription of meanings through branding, to the point where if you
asked the average child who or what Garfield is, they probably wouldn’t identify specifics. Thus,
through overcapitalization and repetition, Garfield has come to represent a serene emptiness,
simply a skin-suit that I can lotion myself to slip into (cue Buffalo Bill reference here).
My obsession with Garfield began in the wintertime around two years ago, with him
starring as my icon of chaos. GarfieldEATS was set to open in Toronto at Bloor and Dovercourt
in the upcoming spring, and as someone who appreciates a gimmick, I was passively
interested. I predownloaded the GarfieldEATS app on my phone, then forgot about it, until I got
a notification that the application was now ready to use.
The eclectic GarfieldEATS is a space where both healthy foods and decadent treats
coexist. In a sort of Hodge-Podge, the GarfieldEATS menu boasts nutrient-dense green juices
all the way to classic Garfieldian lasagna, and a Garfield cappuccino (Garficcino). Aside from
the expansive food offerings, GarfieldEATS drew me in through the aura of mayhem that
surrounds the restaurant’s owner and creator, Nathen Mazri.
Mazri is an author, branding expert, and the world’s youngest Garfield licensee,
according to his bio. In his ownership of GarfieldEATS, Mazri exhibits an excitement that is in
line with a semi-successful startup professional, positioning himself as co-mascot and face
alongside Garfield himself. When the restaurant first opened, it was not uncommon to witness
Mazri in a bright orange suit, engaging with customers on the street, as a sort of Willy Wonka in
front of his ‘chocolate factory.’
GarfieldEATS stands out from other Toronto restaurants through its engagement with
the digital. Mazri boasts his “entergaging” food app, where you can watch Garfield and Friends ,
collect Paws for redemption at the restaurant, and play games, in addition to ordering food. Yet,
in turning towards the digital, Mazri’s restaurant removes humanity from eating experience.
When I finally ordered a Watermelon smoothie at GarfieldEATS, I walked up to the counter,
where staff stood, looking bored, and was immediately turned away, being prompted by staff to
order and pay on the iPads. Once I received my smoothie, I realized that behind the Garfield
merch and other paraphernalia, there was no seating in the restaurant. Walking towards,
Bickford park, I sipped on my smoothie. Though Mazri emphasizes the “Farm to Plate” quality of
the food at GarfieldEATS, I was shocked by the acidity of the watermelon, and couldn’t help
compare it to drinking a green apple jolly rancher.
On his instagram, Mazri expresses his deep desire to bring people together through
Garfield. Yes, Garfield comics are read by millions, but canonically, Garfield is selfish and
smugly sarcastic. Garfield values eating over all else, and I doubt, in his feline laziness, he
cares about world peace, or that he would EVER consider sharing his food. In an “entergaging”
eating experience that is innately anti-social, Garfield actually pushes us farther from
connection, damning GarfieldEATS to be a meal that is shamefully devoured, naked, in the dark
after a night out.
During my time as artist resident at Roundtable last year, I experienced my fair share of
low-quality eating. In summer 2019, I had recently moved to Toronto from my parents home in
Thornhill. Between working my uninspiring retail job, painting, and socializing, my meals were
sparse throughout the day, and then occurring all at once in the dead of night. Specifically, I
liked to feast on cheese, chicken wings and peanuts (and not GarfieldEATS).
The painting project I completed over last summer, featured Wing Machine,
GarfieldEATS, and Diet Coke logos. I love to paint logos. I love to zone in on capturing the
curvature of the letters, and due to the limits of my style, the lettering always turned out kind of
In reflection, I think the magnetic pull I feel towards fast-food logos is more symbolic. For
most of my life, I have navigated my experience of the world as a fat person. To briefly
summarize a lifelong pressure, in my proposal for the 2019 Roundtable Residency, I wrote that
“My eating and exercise habits were constantly dissected, and provided hotbed for moralizing
behaviour.” I’ve always felt stares burn into the back of my head when I would leave Wing
Machine with a pound of buffalo wings.
At Roundtable, I wanted to subvert these negative feelings towards my body by
portraying two of my favourite fat and queer people, looking powerful and beautiful. Through
loving others who look like me, I could find acceptance for myself. Both these people were
portrayed with fast-food logos, one of which was the GarfieldEATS logo.
Further psychoanalysis was provided by Dallas Fellini, a facilitator of Roundtable 2019,
and a close friend. In the 2019 Resistance Roundtable Publication, they wrote that beyond
GarfieldEATS, Garfield represents “a cultural symbol of over-consumption and
unconcernedness” (Fellini, 2019). Garfield himself struggles with his weight, his comics often
portraying him at war with his electric scale, his expanding size often being a punchline.
After spending so much time lamenting about how I became obsessed with Garfield, I
must confess that I abruptly forgot about him. Sure, I crudely illustrated a few doodles of him in
my iphone notes app, but nothing worth speaking about. I focused on other, more ‘serious,’ art
pursuits. Though Garfield disappeared from my life, like all great love stories, in my state of
isolation, the Garfield icon and I have rekindled our flame. I think Garfield is the ideal avatar to
navigate the world pandemic. Not unlike Nathan Mazri, Garfield is my everything, but since our
interpretations of the character are so personal, it potentially renders our love inaccessible, he
can also mean nothing.
During an unprecedented moment, with our normal lives in flux, almost all of us have
had ample time for self-reflection. Personally, I have been using my Garfield mask to come to
terms with many Pandemic realities as well as to accept the gap in time that is up for individual
interpretation. First, the death of my painting practice, which occurred because of lack of
materials and space. Even though Garfield has been included in my painting practice
previously, I think that my illustrative work functions very differently. Whereas I paint with
ribbons of colour, my drawings are marked by crisp lines. Previously, I have been focused only
on painting, but Garfield has inspired me to pick up the pen, in order to establish some distance
from and reflect on my paintings.
More importantly, Garfield has become representative of mending my loneliness, and
leaving my headspace. In depicting Garfield, I find comfort in drawing his unchanging curves.
Repetition in drawing Garfield almost every day echoes the current Groundhog Day-esque
reality we are currently living in. Yet, even though Garfield is undeniably overly-depicted, I think
there is a lot of room to be creative. Within the parameters of drawing Garfield, there is a
potential for me to do whatever I want, really. By placing a recognizable character in new
contexts that reflect our reality in quarantine, I am able to establish a connection to my viewers.
Maybe in some ways, Nathen Mazri was right about using Garfield to bring people together.
In some ways, Mazri’s “entergagement” was predictive. With removing human contact
from the ordering process, funny enough, Mazri’s GarfieldEATS provides a safe way to support
the restaurant industry during the Covid-19 outbreak. Sadly, GarfieldEATS is rumoured to have
shuttered recently due to their inability to pay their rent during the Pandemic, but the image of
Garfield himself outlasts.
In many ways, Garfield is an ideal mascot for the gap year. Characteristically, Garfield is
lazy. He loves to relax, but I think his laziness is miscommunicated as a negative connotation
for being reflective. In Garfield’s cartoon reality, he expertly uses humour to navigate his life,
showing excruciating self-awareness. At our current moment of living through what feels like
being frozen in time, we can learn from Garfield. By slowing down, reflecting, and maybe being
a bit lazy, Garfield has come to represent the icon of my sanity as well as the fat orange bitch
who owns my life.