Gary Larson – The Far Side (1982/1983)
I’ve been a fan of Gary Larson’s comic strip for decades, and it’s interesting to go back to a book that you loved when you were younger and see if it still holds up today. The Far Side was a classic newspaper comic (from an era when there were still some comics worth reading), and I remember being upset when Larson announced that he was retiring. The Far Side was extremely popular, (this book was already on its 6th printing only ONE YEAR after it was first published) and most people have had SOME contact with these cartoons, whether they know it or not. There was definitely a reason for Larson’s popularity: The Far Side represented a unique vision.
What’s surprising, going back and rereading this book, is how DARK many of these cartoons are. Larson was a master of absurdity, and many of his cartoons are just silly. Three little pigs get a phone call, and the one who answers complains of “heavy huffing and puffing,” or in another cartoon a party of cannibals is seen dancing rapturously around an intended victim to the accompaniment of a female pianist, and so on. (Great stuff. VERY funny.) BUT there are also some comics that are downright disturbing. A pair of astronauts are on the moon and one of them exclaims how great it is that they’ve made it—but as he flaps his arms in joy, he breaks the glass on the front of his partner’s helmet. Or one where a cow in a coat is opening a freezer door, and we see (vaguely) human bodies hanging within. Or, another example, where a city is seen burning from far away, and two cows are watching the flames—the text below the image says, “It seems that agent 6373 has accomplished her mission.” Within the pages of this book, various creatures are eaten, or smashed, or drowned, or dispatched in one horrible way after another. Death is one of the most common themes in Larson’s cartoons, and it’s hilarious!
Death may be everywhere in The Far Side, but it’s not gory, or even blatant. Often, you have to connect a dot or two to come to a realization of the “shock” moment. Part of what makes Larson’s comics so fun is the joy of trying to figure out what the IMPLICATIONS of his cartoon are. Larson (in a later collection) admits that he sometimes fell short on his jokes, that sometimes they just don’t make sense, but even those jokes, the ones that are so weird that they don’t make sense, can be funny. For instance, in this collection there’s a great gag (possibly my favorite of ALL his cartoons) in which we see two men in an alley, one holding a duck by the neck, and in the foreground is a car that we assume is an undercover cop car with two men in it. The text below the cartoon reads, “All units prepare to move in! … He’s givin’ him the duck now!” It makes NO sense at all, but it’s hilarious…
The Far Side is still funny to me. It’s dark, it’s silly, and it’s often completely absurd, which are all desired qualities in my dream comic. If you aren’t familiar with Larson’s work, this collection would be a great place to start. I recommend that you find a copy, immediately.
—Richard F. Yates