Created by Ron Tuthill and Jim Davis
He made his first appearance in 1985, but Garfield the Cat's private eye alter-ego SAM SPAYED was soon parlayed into a well-received book and an Emmy-winning TV special (for Outstanding Animated Program). It's since been released on both VHS and DVD home video.
But it all started with that short story that appeared in Garfield: His 9 Lives, a 1985 collection of illustrated prose stories that imagined Garfield's past -- and future -- lives throughout history, from a prehistoric cave cat to an astronaut of the future, boldly going where no fat, lasagna-eating cat has gone before.
"Babes and Bullets" was written by Ron Tuthill, part of Jim Davis' creative team, and featured illustrations by Kevin Campbelll -- its creation was in fact completely "Davisless." It's a pretty straightforward spoof of the private eye genre, with Garfield as Spayed, narrating in first person, investigating the murder of Father O'Tabby.
Spayed does everything he'd be expected to do -- he cracks wise, distrusts his client, makes wild leaps of deduction that fall flat, but eventually cracks the case and gets the girl. The last scene has Spayed getting cozy with his long-suffering secretary Kitty, who turns off the light.
The story went over well enough that it was expanded into a 1989 illustrated book, Garfield Presents Babes & Bullets. The original story was expanded, retaining most of the gags and tossing in some new ones and adding a framing sequence, and boasted some impressive black and white pencil work by Jim Davis himself that deliberately evoked old film noirs.
It's just a beautiful book. It starts off as a typical four-colour panel layout, essentially mimicking Sunday comics colour layouts. It's raining, and a housebound Garfield is staring out the window, bored out of his gourd. He steps into his closet, puts a trenchcoat and fedora on, and voila! He's a tough-as-nails private dick named Sam Spayed. The action pretty much follows the basic outline of the original story, although the deceased is now a university professor who fell asleep at the wheel of his car and drove over a cliff.
The story isn't anything spectacular -- in fact, it's pretty thin -- but combined with the artwork, it's a real slice of fun for fans of old detective films; a spot-on spoof.
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But the Davis factory wasn't quite done with milking this particular cow. On May 23, 1989, CBS aired Garfield: Babes & Bullets, a half hour TV special.
It starts out in colour, just as the book did, and switches to black and white when Garfield dons the fedora and trenchcoat, just as the book did. But it was still a pretty gutsy move on the network's part, considering the conventional wisdom is that kids wouldn't watch anything, animated or not, in black and white.
Unfortunately, the animation was still the standard, done-on-the-cheap job used on all the Garfield specials (and most Saturday morning cartoons). Divorced from the moody and evocative artwork of the book, the story, as thin as ever was, comes off as simply another Garfield special, albeit one that aimed considerably higher than most of them.
It's still great fun, of course, and the earnestly hard-boiled, tongue-in-cheek theme song, "Babes and Bullets," sung by Lou Rawls, is well worth hearing. But real fans of crime and detective fiction should opt for the 1989 paperback.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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