In a previous column, we looked at how webcomics often allow creators more creative freedom by removing editors and syndicates. The webcomic is what the creator wants to say, without any filters between him/herself and the audience. Not only can they comment on people and events that a publisher might feel gunshy about, they can make an ongoing commentary on other comics... using the very comics themselves.
As computers have become more and more pervasive in our society, it has become easier and easier for individuals to re-appropriate existing content. Digital duplication can be done in the comfort of one’s own home in a matter of seconds, and reproductions do not suffer degradation that would occur in analog copies. In other words, it’s ridiculously simple to copy and edit someone else’s comic to alter the meaning.
“Borrowing” others’ intellectual property is hardly new. The “Tijuana Bibles ” of the early 20th century regularly used comic characters like Popeye, Mutt & Jeff, Dagwood, Little Orphan Annie and Nancy & Sluggo to unapologetically capitalize on the characters’ popularity for a quick buck. But at the time, artists had to be employed to recreate the characters in order to obtain even moderately credible likenesses.
While that type of art can still be found today, the more interesting reappropriations are the ones who modify the original comics in order to make a direct comment about them.
One of the more successful examples is Garfield Minus Garfield in which Dan Walsh takes existing Garfield comics by Jim Davis and simply removes the title character from them. Within the context of the original strip, Garfield doesn’t actually speak so Walsh has gone about removing the character to highlight the “the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.”