“We kept coming back to the infantile absurdity of a group of people reacting with tooth-gnashing anger and even deadly violence to something as unthreatening as lines drawn on paper — as thin and silly as a cartoon of someone the artist claimed was a certain eighth-century religious figure.
“Who is even to say for sure who or what it is?” Weingarten continues. “What if it were a stick figure labeled Muhammad? Or a cat labeled Muhammad? Would that even be Muhammad? Says who?”
Eureka! The Weingartens decided to try to mine “Muhammad’s” representational mountain for cartoon-premise gold. The writers honed their idea with their “more-than-occasional” collaborator Horace LaBadie, then gave it to the strip’s artist, David Clark.
“The idea: We’d draw a figure that was possibly Muhammad, but label it ‘Not Muhammad,’ and he’d be walking to what was definitely a mountain, but it would be labeled, ‘Not a mountain,’ ” Weingarten the Elder tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “And the painting would be signed, “Not by Rene Magritte” — which was definitely true — it was either by Cynthia Pillsbury [the strip’s 11-year-old girl], or by David Clark, depending on how you looked at it.
“So we had deliberately combined a truth, a lie and a maybe,” Weingarten continues. “And over it all was the epistemological question asked by Magritte in his famous ‘This is not a pipe [Ceci n’est pas une pipe]‘ painting: Is a representation of a pipe actually a pipe? Who is to define truth? The artist? The viewer? Who is in charge of reality?”
In that way, today’s “Barney & Clyde” is evocative of Seattle artist Molly Norris’s 2010 lightning-rod illustration captioned, “Will the REAL likeness of the prophet Mohammed please stand up?!” — in which a tea cup, a domino, a spool of thread and a pasta box, among other common items, each claim to be the “real likeness” of Muhammad. (The artwork was intended as a show of support for the comedy “South Park,” which had been threatened over attempts to depict Muhammad.) Norris soon disavowed her satirical cartoon, which ignited international controversy and social-media campaigns; she was placed on a targeted “execution hit list” by the late American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and went into hiding (where she remains) at the advice of the FBI. (Upon going into hiding, Norris sent Comic Riffs a two-word message: “Fatwas suck.”)