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Happy Birthday, Garfield

            The comic strip "Garfield" turns 25 today, still enormously popular and at the same time a throwback.
             Other than some changes in the characters' appearance, the strip has stayed the same since its debut in 1978.
             But the rest of the comics landscape has changed drastically. What were once the "funnies" are now often outspoken and controversial.
             "Boondocks" rips President Bush, even during the Iraq war. "Mallard Fillmore" in the past two weeks alone has savaged Hillary Rodham Clinton, John F. Kennedy and women's studies. The strip's creator, Bruce Tinsley, said he routinely fields death threats.
             Other comics, if not incendiary, are at least topical -- Blondie, for most of her 73 years a housewife, is now a working woman. "For Better or For Worse" has gay teens.
             In "Garfield," however, Jon the human is still a geek in search of a date, Odie the dog is still a chump, and Garfield the cat is the same lazy, gluttonous, manipulative wise guy he always has been. A few times, Garfield has squished spiders, a move that has led to a few outraged letters from arachnid lovers. That's as controversial as the strip gets.
             There are no big changes in the works, either. "I can't make (Garfield) do things," said Garfield creator Jim Davis, 57, who grew up on a farm near Fairmount. "I create the situation, then I watch him." And Garfield is not exactly a cat of action.
             "I think Garfield is a strip that can pull that off," said Tinsley, who lives in southern Indiana. "It never goes out of that little world, and it clicks. If it tried to tackle heavy issues, it would look like he was just bowing to the times.".
             Besides, Tinsley adds, Jim Davis doesn't get death threats -- "there's something to be said for not getting too topical.".
             There's something else to be said for Davis' strip: Garfield may be a cat on the comics page, but in real life he's a cash cow.
             The strip is in nearly 2,600 newspapers, more than any other comic strip.

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