- Associated Press - Monday, November 22, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Disdainful of Mondays but love lasagna?

Chances are you know Garfield, the orange tabby with the low-key world view whose sardonic wit has been a staple among comic strips for more than three decades.

Now fans can get even closer to the cat and his so-called owner, Jon Arbuckle, in a move that blends real photos with creator Jim Davis‘ signature art in an era of motion-comics and instant gratification.

The series of animated Garfield comic strips are available online now at http://www.pixfusion.com and, shortly, on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad. Other mobile platforms are in the works.

The process is simple: Upload a photo of yourself, a family member or friend and you can place it in one of several strips already available. Instead of Arbuckle’s or veterinarian Liz Wilson’s head, your photo is the picture.

A four-pack of animated comics will cost 99 cents to personalize and can be streamed. Or users can download the finished product and share it for a cost of $3.99. For $9.99, fans can personalize as many of the strips _ all of which have appeared on the comics pages _ as they want and stream them for a year. They can be saved, streamed or posted to Facebook and elsewhere.

Jim Davis, who created the cat decades ago, said he embraced the opportunity to put readers in his strips, noting that his cat has long had a habit of breaking through the fourth wall and addressing readers directly.

“It’s really a nod to where the industry is going,” Davis said in an interview from his studio in rural Indiana. “I’m talking about entertainment in general _ TV, movies, newspapers, journalism, cartooning. Everything is going online.”

He said that “this interaction with the public, with the fans, can be a very healthy thing and can be great fun. It really brings intellectual properties like ‘Garfield’ to the public in a very personal way.”

Rich Collins, chief executive of Big Tent Entertainment, which developed the personalization technology, said letting readers insert themselves into their favorite comic strips helps meld the notion of the printed page with an immersive experience.

“This is a classic case of old school meets new tech,” he said. “We’re taking a comic strip that’s been around for 30 years but is still relevant and we’re putting it into what is a very new technology and into a mobile sort of app and then we’re personalizing it.”

Garfield is one of the most enduring strips in the industry. It appears daily in some 2,400 newspapers and has produced numerous books, animated specials and a pair of big-screen films with Bill Murray providing the feline’s voice.

As to why “Garfield” was picked, Collins said a list of potential characters was drawn up and the cat was always atop it.

“He hates Monday, he hates diets and exercise. He’s very funny, he’s witty, he’s able to handle difficult situations well,” Collins said. “We thought it’s a perfect brand to personalize because people relate to him.”

The first batch of strips focuses on the upcoming holidays, but Collins said the next will revolve around Valentine’s Day and, of course, love.