Aside from ruining democracy, history will primarily remember the internet for its ability to take a single joke and stretch it so far that it becomes something magical. For example, "What if Garfield comics were really dark?" isn't something that should blow anyone's mind for more than a day or so. But due to the magic of technology, artists all over the world have said, "Dark Garfield, you say? This is all we're doing from now on."
As a result, there is an entire subculture based around reinventing Garfield the lasagna-loving, Mondays-hating cat as some sort of horrific Lovecraftian monstrosity. There's a shit-ton of artists onboard, creating what appears to be an entire genre all its own. Check out this subreddit, which has over 48,000 subscribers and is specifically dedicated to giving Garfield spider legs and tentacles and having him torment a helpless Jon Arbuckle.
That one comes from Will Burke, an Instagram artist whose art style is probably best described as if horror mangaka Junji Ito was locked in a room with nothing but a pile of weekly newspaper comic strips and his own screams. Burke draws nightmare versions of classic characters from the Muppets to SpongeBob, but his most popular work is probably his Garfield series. And for good reason.
But this obsession with turning everyone's (or more accurately, nobody's) favorite fat cat into John Carpenter's The Thing isn't just a Meme of the Week situation. It's a rich, stupid tapestry over a decade in the making.
Way back in 2004, a popular artist on the Something Awful forums going by the pseudonym "Shmorky" started posting edited parodies of popular strips, such as Nancy, Archie, and Garfield, which incorporated sadistic themes into the ordinarily G-rated cartoons. He also invented "Zalgo," an interdimensional, Lovecraftian nightmare meme which, naturally, fits into a variety of children's comics.
After Shmorky's edits took off, other artists saw an ocean of dark possibilities in this oddly specific format. Enter Rob Leigh, pseudonym "evilscary," who leapt into internet stardom by applying the Zalgo meme to one strip in particular:
Not that it's a high bar to clear, but I'm pretty sure that at this point, bastardized Garfield artwork has a richer history and deeper lore than the 41 years of official strips and books. Some of it is masterfully simple, like Dan Walsh's Garfield Minus Garfield series, in which Walsh simply removed Garfield from the strips entirely, transforming the entire atmosphere of the comic from vanilla corporate schlock to a revealing microscope into Jon Arbuckle's chronic depression.
But out of all the ways that artists have scrambled to turn Garfield into something actually interesting, "Horror Garfield" seems to have stuck with people the most. After Burke's series, Instagram artist Omega Black took it to the next level:
And the popular webcomic Dubblebaby concluded its run with a comic about Garfield consuming Jon's entire house in his insatiable hunger:
One popular subgenre is "Jon hiding from Monster Garfield," as in this one from redditor Subsanic:
Likewise, the artist Archemetis maintains the image of Garfield as a malevolent and otherworldly force of eldritch horror whose omnipresence haunts Jon to the depths of his very sanity:
Keeping a more lighthearted tone, the artist Seanseanseanse chooses to depict our beloved(?) orange feline in the style of Jim Davis' original vision, though with a twist reminiscent of the climax of Akira:
And finally, the sculptor Kyuubre has chosen to summon Garfield into our realm by carving craven icons of Him to replace the God who long ago abandoned us:
There are around 30 new pieces a day posted to that subreddit, ranging from idle notebook doodles of arachnid Garfields drawn during boring college classes to outright physical clay renditions of the Dark Enemy of Monday. It is a manifestation of the internet's miraculous ability to join minds from all over the world in order to swallow up the familiar and spit out something new and amazing. Or at least, something really, really weird.
S. Peter Davis wrote a whole book about conspiracy theories. You can buy it on Amazon here.