Created by Ron Tuthill, Kevin Campbell and Jim Davis
Oh yeah, the dame. She was beautiful. Too beautiful to trust.
“Are you Spayed?” she asked.
I hate that question.
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 home video.
But it all started with that short story, “Babes and Bullets,” 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 feline had ever gone before.
The story was written by Ron Tuthill, part of Jim Davis’ creative team, and featured illustrations by Kevin Campbell–its creation was in fact completely “Davis-less.” 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 released as 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–truth is, 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.
* * * * *
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 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 and featured in the opening, is well worth hearing. But real fans of crime and detective fiction should opt for the 1989 paperback.
- Garfield [voiceover]: My first stop was the city morgue. As I walked up the stairs I saw my old adversary at the top of the steps. It was Lt. Washington.
Lt. Washington: Shpayed, what brings you down here? Trying to find a client?
Garfield: Sure, lieutenant. He’s the one your blue-boys shot out back for jaywalking.
Lt. Washington: Watch it, Shpayed. I’ve still got your license under investigation.
Garfield: Oh, really? Then I know it’s safe for a while.
Lt. Washington: Shpayed, don’t push me!
Garfield: Wouldn’t dream of it, lieutenant. Have a nishe day.
- “Babes and Bullets” (1984, Garfield: His 9 Lives) | Buy this book
- Garfield Presents Babes & Bullets (1989) | Buy this book
- GARFIELD: BABES & BULLETS | Buy on DVD
(May 23, 1989, CBS)
Based on a story by Ron Tuthill
Written by Jim Davis
Directed by Phil Roman, Bob Nesler and John Sparey
Title song: “Babes & Bullets” performed by Lou Rawls
Starring Lorenzo Music as the voice of GARFIELD/SAM SPAYED
Also starring Desirée Goyette, Julie Payne, Gregg Berger, Nino Tempo, Thom Huge
- “Babes and Bullets”
As sung by Lou Rawls
- “Oh mama, I got dem cosmic anthropomorphic P.I. blues again…”
Going to the dogs, the cats and worse.