Back To the Far Side, and Not A Moment Too Soon

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Okay, now for some unimpeachably good news: Gary Larson’s beloved, iconic, absurdist, often unnerving The Far Side comic strips – complete with savvy cows, cranky cavemen, malignant cats, weirdo kids, bumbling rocket scientists, ahead-of-their-time dinosaurs, bears outwitting tourists and canny dogs fed up with their clueless owners – has arrived online after 24 years in absentia. After recent stirrings on Larson’s long-bare-bones website – a man with a blowtorch freeing Far Side characters from a block of ice with, “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen” – Larson’s publishers Andrews McMeel Universal last week launched a “new online era” of The Far Side. The new site will feature a daily selection of new cartoons, previously unseen work from Larson’s sketchbooks and the “periodic unveiling of new work,” with McMeel admitting they have “no idea what might show up” – a wise concession when dealing with an artist who once compared his brain to a snow globe, “where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out.”  

The Far Side offered an often bleakly witty vision of the quirks and pitfalls of daily life, but with cows and dogs; one fan called it “a Beckett play with barnyard animals.” Born in the Pacific Northwest, Larson loved drawing and nature; he once gave a commencement address titled, “The Importance of Being Weird,” but he was also honored so often for his interest in science he was dubbed “the national humorist of natural history.” In 1995, he retired The Far Side’s award-winning, ubiquitous cartoons – 40 million copies of 23 books, 1,900 newspapers, a gazillion calendars –  citing “simple fatigue” and the fear of easing into “the Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons.” Now 69, Larson marked his re-entry by thanking fans for their patience. Seeking to explain “why I’m so late to this party,” he cited the “uphill slog” of years-long efforts to exert control over his work, his ambivalence about entering the online world, and his hope that his arrival will “temper the impulses of the infringement-inclined” so “I won’t have to release the Krakencow.” “I’m finally here,” said Larson. “And I could use a drink.”

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