"This is fine" cartoonist on why it's not fine, after all: It's "a response to how weird and bad 2016 has made me feel"

Salon talks to K.C. Green about the evolution of Question Dog, the grinning pup in a burning building

Published August 4, 2016 10:59PM (EDT)

It became a kind of digital-world version of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” even though it portrayed a cartoon dog in a burning house. Either whimsical or satirical, cute or frightening, K.C. Green’s comic of a  coffee-loving hound with the words “This is fine” became a ubiquitous meme beginning in 2013. Use appears to have ramped up as the presidential election has, to the point where Twitter users aren't even posting the image anymore, reducing the visual shorthand down to its most elemental form:

So when the site The Nib ran a new version of the cartoon with “THIS IS NOT FINE!!”, it seemed like something had shifted in the fabric of reality. Had the chaos of 2016, and the shouting behind the political race, finally gotten to Green and his famously chilled-out dog?

Salon tracked down the comics artist to get at the meaning of his new cartoon, and to discuss the announcement that he’s Kickstarting a plush-toy version of Question Hound, which at press time had already raised almost $200,000 more than its initial $35,000 goal, with 28 days left to go. Green corresponded with us from his Massachusetts office; the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

You’ve done numerous cartoons over the years. Why do you think your “This is fine” dog has become so widely known and loved?

Well, that’s the whole idea of a meme. It gets around. Not by my hand, but by everyone’s hand. People like it, reblog it, etcetera. And I think since this is more recent, it was easier for people to trace it back to me. Plus I have a good fan base of people pointing others in the right direction on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and anywhere else it’s seen. Why it’s loved, I assume and hope it’s that people see themselves in the dog, tryin’ his best to ignore his problems and continue on. I see a lot of people use it oppositely, thinking “ha ha this person must be feeling this way now due to the news of their problems leaking” or whatever. That’s more rude. I feel like it’s more the relatable thing that keeps it going, rather than the other.

It’s also interesting that the first two panels, which are weirdly reassuring, are the two most people know: Rarely do we see the dog melting into oblivion. Maybe people prefer the optimistic version? Or is it mock-optimistic?

Yes, it’s easier on the eyes than watching his skin melt off! I also think that’s just how it started as a meme. I remember first seeing someone on Instagram post those two images and talking about “finals got me like” or something. So it just goes from that point and most people who know the meme don’t really know the whole comic.

The other day, his message changed to “This is not fine.” What motivated it?

It was definitely a response to how weird and bad 2016 has made me feel and most definitely a lot of others. There’s a breaking point in our society that seems to be tested on a near-constant basis. The presidential election isn’t helping. So I wrote it, thinking it would get angrier, but mostly was just exasperation at how insane things feel and a total overwhelming sense of dread that it ends with.

Do you follow politics closely? Does the presidential election seem to be the craziest and most extreme ever?

Not super close, but I am aware of what’s happening and how ass-backwards it seems now. I mostly get news from a stream on my twitter feed, following several people who follow it more closely than I do. Sometimes that feed is just dour news and angry rants that psychically hurt me. There’s a part of me that keeps thinking that I don’t want to NOT know this stuff. I want to see and know what the heck is happening, but it’s a lot at once sometimes. And yeah, 2016 has seemed like a tough year, following a lot of shit in 2015 even. It feels pointless and dumb for me to say that, because I am not personally effected by a lot of the strange and awful events, shootings, and the like. But it’s tiring and I am afraid for friends who can be and those who were and are.

How about the dog — does he follow current events? Have you come up with a complex backstory and set of motivations for Question Hound?

If anything, Question Hound became sort of a surrogate for myself whenever I would draw him in comics. He was also the first official Gunshow comic — and he saw us out, too, when I ended the strip in 2014. He was based on an old cartoon character I would draw in junior high. A simple brown dog. Weird nose and overlapping Garfield eyes. It’s just nice to draw that old friend and see him become something people could look to for a good joke or whatever they needed.

You’ve begun a Kickstarter campaign for a plush-toy version of the dog. What will it be like? Can people get the burning house as well?

The plush is a good tall little boy. About 13 inches tall and hefty enough to hug if you need that. I don’t want to complicate the Kickstarter any more than that, no big ones, no little ones. Maybe later, but I’d rather focus on what we have now. I am offering what I call a “Play pak,” which comes with a stand of his burning house that he can sit in, a magnet with all our favorite phrase on it, and some stickers based on the comic. Please don’t try to set him on actual fire, he is made out of fire-resistant material, I am told.

Why did it seem like the right time for that? What are you hoping for?

It just happened to be the right time. We wanted to do this a couple months ago, then I got the call from The Nib to do a comic of some kind, which led to “This is NOT fine” and the planets aligned just perfectly as the two things dropped on the same day. I am hoping to provide people with some comfort, and also it’s my next biggest thing that I can get money from. Things were kind of slow for me financially. I hope that’s not too crass, an artist gotta get paid for their work, always. I’m a freelancer mainly, so I gotta take what I get.

By Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

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