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A Few Things I Love About The Far Side

the complete far sideI knew I loved The Far Side comics, but I had no idea how brilliantly the art, words, and inimitable mood of Larson’s work mesh together until I heard someone try to describe a one of the comics to me without the piece in front of me. In fairness, he also had two brain shunts that were about three weeks old and he was limited in his abilities. I couldn’t have done any better, though. Try it sometime. If you can picture one of the comics that you liked, try to describe it to someone and see how much they laugh. Or don’t laugh.

“So,” he said, “There’s a horse. And there are two Indians. And the horse is kind of looking like this…” He makes a face. “And then in the back there’s a canoe. And…”

It went on like this for a while. When he got to the punchline it wasn’t funny at all, of course. That’s not his fault, it’s a testament a few of my favorite characteristics of Gary Larson’s comics:

1. There really aren’t any punchlines

2. That doesn’t make them less funny–the opposite, in my opinion

3. They have to be experienced as a whole in order to catch me off guard–there is a peculiar effect when the meaning of the panel I’m looking at becomes clear. And it’s nice to be reminded that I can still be surprised be Larson’s creativity, even after I know many of them by heart.

4. The creativity. The Far Side is one of the few pieces I can look at it any medium and say, “This could only have come from the mind of…” If it has spawned imitators, they aren’t on my radar. Nobody could duplicate this. I love it when an artist can do that, even if it happens to be art that I hate.

5. There are still some that I just don’t “get.”

6. I love working with deadlines, but I’m not sure how Larson did it for as long as he did, especially with such off the wall topics. Being random and spontaneous can actually be a whole lot of work and toil.

7. The compete Far Side, which I received as a gift a few years ago. These books–there are two volumes and they’re both gigantic–contain it all. The illustrations are blown up and it’s easier to appreciate the artwork. The illustrations on the covers of the books make me smile every single time I see them.

If there’s a downside it’s that they’re a hassle to get out and browse through. More than once I have contemplated heading to the thrift store and buying a decrepit pulpit, just to have something to have these books out on, for easy page-flipping.

Best comic ever. A testament to the enduring power of the odd and the memorable. I know I’m not alone on this. If you’re a Far Side fan, check out the complete volumes, however and wherever you can get your hands on them.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Justin Matthews January 13, 2011, 1:27 pm

    Hey Josh, I love the Far Side…my locker in high school was nothing but a wall of far side comics. I still have 5 comics hanging around; 1. a ring of indians with “Custers Last View
    2. wolves looking over a pig pen and one wolf saying “I say we do it and trichinosis be damned!”
    3. The kid pushing on the door of the school for the gifted that says pull
    4. The kid with the little head asking to be excused because his brain is full.
    5. God at his computer with his finger hovering over the “Smite” button.
    I have to go get a couple of my books out now and read some more. Thanks for the reminder of how great those comics are.

  • EOW JR January 14, 2011, 8:55 am

    Reading Larson’s work, in black and white, in the daily paper, took much away from the art. You are spot-on when you noted that seeing the work “blown up” adds depth to the comedy. He may have used only 13 colors his entire career, and much of the art is done in the green-brown Earth tone model. When he wants something to pop, he makes it pop. Otherwise, i find that his flat looking work is intentional, as drab and dry as some of the humor. My personal favorite?

    “The real reason dinosaurs became extinct”


  • karl January 19, 2011, 8:28 am

    His work reminds me a lot of Frenchman Jean-Jacques Sempé, who also made a lot of covers for the New Yorker. Sempé draws better, Larson has a more absurdity, but both have the ability to strike these humourous chords in your mind with a single image.

  • richy boe August 9, 2011, 1:24 am

    I have noticed the same character in many of Mr. Larson’s cartoons, a young boy of perhaps eight or ten years, spike hair straight, pudgy and glasses. I see this character all over the cartoons. Is this a family member or perhaps Mr. Larson’s creation of himself as a child? Anyone else notice this?