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Gnorm Gnat was a comic strip by Jim Davis based on fictional insects, especially a gnat named Gnorm. The strip appeared in The Pendleton Times in Pendleton, Indiana in the 1970s, but failure to take the character to mainstream success led Davis to instead create the popular comic strip Garfield. Mike Peters, the cartoonist for Mother Goose and Grimm, has said that Gnorm Gnat is now a part of "cartoon folklore" as a failure that paved the way for major success.
Davis developed the idea for the strip while assisting cartoonist Tom Ryan on his Tumbleweeds strip. Davis saw the possibilities for gags with insect characters, and the strip was adopted by The Pendleton Times. However, Davis also approached syndicates to publish Gnorm Gnat and was rejected. According to writers Mark Acey and Scott Nickel, Davis would receive rejections for Gnorm Gnat for years. "I thought bugs were funny, and nobody else did", Davis would later tell the press.
Davis also recounted that one editor had advised him that "Your art is good, your gags are great, but bugs—nobody can relate to bugs!" Davis took the advice to heart and killed off the character Gnorm by means of having him stepped on by a foot, and Davis then turned to Garfield. Some in the media have also reported that Davis had become "bored with the strip." Another reporter suggested that the notion that no one can relate to insects has been disproved by some jokes in the comic strip The Far Side by Gary Larson.
Garfield became a success. In 1992, one Garfield book called Garfield Takes His Licks referenced Gnorm as an in-joke. Gnorm Gnat was listed among the "Top Ten Comic Strips Jim Davis Tried Before Garfield", being placed behind "Garfield the Toaster" and above "Milt the Incontinent Hamster." In 1997, one Garfield comic strip featured a fly talking to a spider; Davis alluded to Gnorm Gnat by commenting that, "After nearly 30 years, I finally got a bug strip published".
However, Davis' fellow-cartoonist Mike Peters looked back on Gnorm Gnat in an unfavorable way. Peters claimed, "We can always be thankful that Jim's first strip never made it... Gnorm Gnat has gone down in cartoon folklore as a most fortunate failure. Can you imagine a bright orange gnat on every car window? A great, huge gnat for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. A big fat gnat saying 'I hate Tuesdays.'"
The characters of Gnorm Gnat were meant to be presented in a "simple, humorous style" of appearance. Davis displays the characters and describes them in the book 20 Years & Still Kicking!: Garfield's Twentieth Anniversary Collection.
- Gnorm Gnat is a gnat who Davis says plays the "straight man" who sometimes behaves like the character Walter Mitty. As mentioned, the comic strip ends with his death. Gnorm's eyes suggest the Garfield character.
- Lyman is an insect with buck teeth who wears a hat. He is supposed to be insane. Davis later named a character after him in Garfield.
- Freddy is a fruit fly who has two weeks to live.
- Dr. Rosenwurm is a worm who is highly intelligent.
- Cecil Slug is a slug merely described as a stupid character.
- Drac Webb is a villain who eats other characters.
- Wench Webb is another character from the Gnorm Gnat comic strip.
- Peters, Mike. "Foreword". In 20 Years & Still Kicking!: Garfield's Twentieth Anniversary Collection. By Jim Davis. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998, p. 10.
- Davis, Jim. 20 Years & Still Kicking!: Garfield's Twentieth Anniversary Collection. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998, p. 14.
- Acey, Mark and Scott Nickel, Garfield at 25: In Dog Years I'd Be Dead. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002, p. 14.
- Aucoin, Don. "Everyone's favourite fat cat turns 25". The Record. Kitchener, Ontario: June 17, 2003, pg. C.2.
- Lenz, Ryan. "Drawing on cartoon cat's success." Packet and Times. Orillia, Ontario: July 23, 2003, pg. B.3.
- Doup, Liz. "Flabby tabby Garfield is 20." The Gazette. Montreal, Quebec: June 19, 1998, pg. D.7.
- Davis, Jim. Garfield Takes His Licks. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
- Davis, Jim. 20 Years & Still Kicking!: Garfield's Twentieth Anniversary Collection. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998, p. 155.