By Russ Burlingame
Yes, Garfield is a boy.
The fat, orange, lasagna-eating cat had become the center of a short-lived internet controversy over his gender, but as that conversation gained traction and attention online, the character’s creator Jim Davis felt obliged to step in and clear things up today.
The debate popped up after Davis told Mental Floss two years ago that he thought of Garfield not as male or female, but as a cat. The interview recently resurfaced, and that threw Wikipedia editors into a conflict over how to list the character’s gender, until the entry was locked.
The Wikipedia part of the conflict happened after a satirist and good-natured Internet troll named Virgil Texas dug up the Mental Floss interview and used it to justify changing Garfield’s gender from “male” to “none” in the character’s Wikipedia entry. That led to an immediate and dramatic back-and-forth between various editors around the world.
“Every character (including Garfield himself!) constantly refers to Garfield unambiguously as male, and always using male pronouns,” said one editor, justifying their decision to change Garfield back to “male.”
The Washington Post followed up with Davis, who clarified his earlier position, saying that for the sake of cartooning, he felt “[animals are] not perceived as being any particular gender, race, age or ethnicity” and so the “humor could be enjoyed by a broader demographic,” without the baggage of an audience having to identify with cultural markers related to the character.
Marvel Comics chief Joe Quesada has often cited a Spider-Man’s full-facial mask as being racially-neutral, suggesting that since the character is fully covered from head to toe, anybody at all could theoretically be under the suit, and that helps children to identify with him.
For absolute clarity, though, Davis also told the Post that “Garfield is male,” and that he has a girlfriend named Arlene.
The character (like almost all cartoon animals) lacks genitalia, but there had neve been any broad debate over his gender until this latest flare-up. Animated versions of Garfield have always used male voice actors to depict the cat, and the female characters who have pursued him never caused any kind of widespread speculation about the possibility of Garfield being a lesbian.
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By Russ Burlingame