Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Who's strip is it, anyway?
The Long Version:
Garfield Minus Garfield is a brilliant piece of work. The idea of getting rid of the cat has the effect of removing the punch-line from the joke, leaving only the odd and sad story that surrounds it. As the author of the site writes, "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? "
Jim Davis, quoted in the cleverly-headlined Washington Post article "When the Cat's Away, Neurosis is on Display" has called the remix 'inspired'. I can't really argue, and the article is worth the read. For one thing, the reporter manages to identify the creator of Garfield Minus, which was more than I was able to do. Scooped by the Washington Post -- the story of my life.
But the new strip often turns out to be very dark. Like watching Eeyore instead of Winnie, there's a real melancholy to Jon's life that cuts through the comedy. It isn't that the strip isn't funny, but rather that Jon becomes a sympathetic character. I consider a work of art or satire to be successful if it changes how I perceive its subject. Garfield Minus Garfield has done that for me.
I've actually gone back to the original -- and this review marks it's thirtieth birthday, making it just a few years younger than me -- to find the strips that include the full cast. It's still funny, but now when I see Jon, I also imagine him without a wisecracking talking cat and instead picture just a lonely man with nobody else to talk to.
Garfield Minus Garfield is a brilliant idea, but to find a ranking for it I have to consider that this is a repurposing of the original. The execution is well done, but I'm really not sure who the strip belongs to. I'm just glad that it exists, and hope that the copyright issues don't deprive us of this kind of creativity.
updated september 2008: Jim Davis has to be one of the coolest guys around. Instead of getting all RIAA'ed over the strip, he's publishing the altered versions next to the originals in a book. (Details here.) Now I know what I want for Christmas.