Inspiration is a powerful thing. Without inspiration to power its artists, writers, scientists, and comedians, the human race would probably still be sitting in the mud, scratching itself. Garfield, the tiger-striped tabby who's synonymous with Sunday comics, has been a major inspiration for artists since his first strip was published by cartoonist Jim Davis in 1978. And if your first reaction to that statement is "What can a fat, lazy cartoon cat whose best-known joke is 'I hate Mondays' possibly teach artists?", well, you obviously haven't been paying attention to YouTube recently.
"LumpyTouch," an artist with a knack for horrifyingly detailed pixel art, reminded the world of Garfield's darker side with an animation titled "Garfield Gameboy'd." Mind, Garfield Gameboy'd isn't a traditional animation; it's presented as a "playthrough" of a non-existent Game Boy game. We're only allowed to see bits and pieces of this disjointed Let's Play, wherein Garfield transitions into a world-ending Elder God and terrorizes owner Jon Arbuckle.
It's easy to mock the Garfield property for its reliance on mechanical joke-telling, but there's nothing cynical about Garfield Gameboy'd. LumpyTouch reveals his love for the fat cat through myriad cameos and references that go way, way back. The video opens and closes with appearances by Lyman, Jon's long-lost roommate and former owner of Odie the dog (N.B.: When fans asked Jim Davis about Lyman's unexplained disappearance, Davis responded "Don't look in Jon's basement.") . Other obscure references include Jon's (also long-lost) smoking pipe, and an asylum located in Muncie, Indiana—the home of Jim Davis.
Garfield: His 9 Lives also deserves a special mention. Though Garfield Gameboy'd is primarily inspired by several stark, horrifying comics by artist William Burke, Garfield went "officially dark" in Jim Davis' 1984 comic collection (and the 1988 animated adaptation). In Garfield: His 9 Lives, the eponymous cat narrates his past lives across history. The collection of tales still enjoys a certain amount of notoriety thanks to a couple of disturbing stories: "Lab Animal," a Plague Dogs-inspired story about Garfield fleeing a secret Government lab, and "Primal Self," a story wherein Garfield is possessed by an inexplicable primal force and kills his elderly owner.
It's terrifying stuff to inadvertently stumble on if you're a six-year-old who likes to read funny Garfield books on library trip. Yet as Garfield Gameboy'd demonstrates, "Garfield goes super-dark" is also a weirdly compelling theme. Sure, seeing an official drawing of Garfield against a backdrop of dripping blood is almost guaranteed to spark nightmares in the malleable mind of a child, but one thing's for sure: You never forget it.
I recently conducted an email interview with LumpyTouch. We talked about his inspirations for Garfield Gameboy'd, his artistic choices, and whether Super Saiyan Lyman will save the doomed universe. (Seriously, just watch the video.) If LumpyTouch's pulsating, undulating artwork disgusts, horrifies, and fascinates you, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
USG: How much of a Garfield fan are you? Some of your attention to small "lore" details—for lack of a better term—is impressive, like the references to Muncie [Indiana] and Lyman being locked away out of sight.
LumpyTouch: I visited the local library quite a bit as a kid. I read through loads of newspaper comics: Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Garfield. While I haven't read the actual comic in some time, many of the strips are just ingrained into my mind from my childhood. There's a lot of odd details I still recall. Do you remember that time Jon dated a woman raised by wolves? I do.
I know William Burke's dark Garfield drawings are your main inspiration, but how did you come up with the horrors unique to Garfield Gameboy'd? Pretty sure I spotted a reference to Mother 3's Ultimate Chimera, and if I'm not wrong, the "realistic" Garfield Jon encounters in the basement is a reference to one of the more unsettling stories in Garfield: His 9 Lives?
William Burke set the precedent of Garfield's transformations being based off of bugs/animals. The ones I added to the mix stick with this [theme]. Snakes are higher on the 'animals people are creeped out by' list, so I thought it'd be fun to include. The encounter in the basement could be thought of as the final boss battle in the game, so I thought it would be ironic if at the end you fight Garfield transformed into a cat, as opposed to some sort of disgusting insect. It's especially eerie as it makes it evident just how much Garfield's cartoon anatomy differs from that of a cat's. The 'monster-ified' cat is indeed a reference to Mother 3’s Ultimate Chimera. Garfield's final form is slightly influenced by Mother Brain from Super Metroid.
I'm interested the choices you made when expanding on Burke's content. What made you decide to create a video game "playthrough" instead of simply making a more traditional style of animation? And why use a Game Boy style instead of an NES/SNES style? Was it challenging to convey all that gristly horror with a limited color palette?
I've been doing pixel art for years. Naturally, pixel art and video games go hand in hand. I find it enjoyable not only to draw characters and scenes, but to design up HUDs and other design elements that make my drawings feel like actual video games. These types of drawings are usually called mockups. While the original videos might have been five snapshots of a horror Garfield game, [the finished project] ties them together into a more cohesive narrative, hence the loading screens as a meta way to both progress time in the narrative, and also to share tidbits about the universe.
By its very nature, pixel art challenges you to do more with less; work smaller, work with less colors. I am particularly smitten with working with low color counts, to both challenge myself and to improve the speed at which I can finish animations. It's win-win! It's really surprising what you can do with just four colors. I don't find myself having too much trouble at all!
How did you make your music choices for Garfield Gameboy'd? I love the use of Castlevania 4's Dracula encounter theme.
[The survival horror game series] Clock Tower was the gameplay/tonal inspiration for the Garfield Gameboy'd, so the music I used is primarily drawn from that series. However, there are only so many Clock Tower songs! So a couple extra songs made their way in, such as the Dracula theme from Super Castlevania. It didn't differ too much stylistically from Clock Tower music (both games were for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System) and I think the music fit perfectly for the reveal of Garfield's final form at the end, [since] the song gives this moody impending sense of doom. A vast and powerful being looms in the shadows...Garfield, who can't even be stopped by a nuke, cradles Jon as he flies away to somewhere unknown. The nightmare is far from over.
Who dropped the bomb at the end of the video? And will we see a sequel with Super Saiyan Lyman?
Earlier in the animation, one of the loading screens notes that Nermal is working for the government. Jon fails in his task to assist Nermal, and Nermal is killed by Garfield, and as a result the government loses faith and nukes the entire area. It seems the stakes were quite high. I'd like to make a sequel, and in fact I have the story mapped out, I just need some time to recharge. Lyman would indeed be the protagonist for part two.
Let's say Jim Davis saw Garfield Gameboy'd and decided to write an email to you about it. What kind of response would you hope for?
I'd settle for any kind of acknowledgement, haha. Jim Davis has had a good sense of humor about fan projects in the past, like Garfield Minus Garfield. I could only hope he feels the same way about my monstrosities!