An old favorite

March 27, 2013 • 2:16 pm

Why, oh why, did Gary Larson stop doing cartoons? He was terrifically funny and creative, much beloved by biologists, and all of us had at least one Larson cartoon on our office door.  Nobody has replaced him, and our doors are bereft.

Since a day without cats is like a day without sunshine, I offer this old Far Side cartoon, one of my favorites:

Far side

And speaking of Jane Goodall, she had a connection with Larson, as described by Wikipedia:

One of Larson’s more famous cartoons shows a chimpanzee couple grooming. The female finds a blonde human hair on the male and inquires, “Conducting a little more ‘research’ with that Jane Goodall tramp?” The Jane Goodall Institute thought this was in bad taste and had their lawyers draft a letter to Larson and his distribution syndicate, in which they described the cartoon as an “atrocity”. They were stymied by Jane Goodall herself, who was in Africa at the time. When she returned and saw the cartoon, she stated that she found the cartoon amusing and later personally met Larson. Since then, all profits from sales of a shirt featuring this cartoon go to the Goodall Institute. Goodall wrote a preface to The Far Side Gallery 5, detailing her version of the “Jane Goodall Tramp” controversy. She praised Larson’s creative ideas, which often compare and contrast the behavior of humans and animals. In 1988, Larson visited Gombe Streams National Park and was attacked by Frodo, a chimp described by Goodall as a “bully.” Larson sustained cuts and bruises from the encounter.

45 thoughts on “An old favorite

  1. Shame on Dr Oz today, a show on what Jesus would have eaten and alluded to humans being created, anyone else catch this?

  2. You needn’t look far to find good comics. They just aren’t in your newspaper any longer. I haven’t come across a “Larsonesque” comic, but there are tons of good ones. I’ll try to share a few that are appropriate for this audience. Of course, You have probably heard of many (if not all) of them. (temporary hiatus with guest posts to finish his Kickstarter)

    1. “”

      I was coming here to say this. While nothing can truly replace the Far Side, I find that often XKCD is good for hanging on office doors and walls.

      So, no need for doors to be bereft, Dr. Coyne. 😉

    2. “”

      I was coming here to say this. While nothing can truly replace the Far Side, I find that often XKCD is good for hanging on office doors and walls.

      So, no need for doors to be bereft, Dr. Coyne. 😉

      The other comics mentioned in parent post are also great. 😀

      1. Yeah, I thought about including “The Argyle Sweater” (which I just discovered!) but left it out due to the lack of science. Good comic though!

    3. Some superb comics in your list, and I’d like to add which is also done now (Mostly done? Seems he’s posted a couple new ones, but his update schedule is… erratic at best?). There are more than a few office-door worthy comics in the archives.

  3. Since a day without cats is like a day without sunshine..

    The exception being a day when your cats wake you up before the sun shines (e.g., today).

  4. There have been others who have tried to copy the Larson single frame ‘odd’ cartoon but none have quite succeeded. I think part of it was he was master of the charming expression on the faces of his characters. Even that cat in your chosen cartoon – even from behind, the way it is pressed against the window just speaks volumes.

  5. My cat likes to sit on the ledge which runs around our screened-in porch. A few years ago we hung a bird house on a branch of one of the hydrangea bushes which grows right next to one of the windows. The birds seem to like it.

    From our cat’s point of view, though, I am not sure if doing that was kind — or cruel. She would probably appreciate the cartoon.

  6. I like the way the Wikipedia article allows the interpretation that Frodo was jealous and was attacking a potential rival for Goodall’s attention.

  7. Back in the early 1980s, soon after Gary Larson became well known, my student Bruce Walsh invited him to a Genetics Department graduate student potluck — and he came! He told Bruce that this was the first time he had ever actually met one of his characters. Bruce proudly put this quote into the Acknowledgments section of his Ph.D. thesis.

    Gary Larson’s popularity among biologists was so great that in 1987, when I went to a workshop in Germany, two-thirds of the talks (mostly by young German and French researchers) were illustrated by Gary Larson cartoons.

  8. I was a huge Larson fan growing up and devoured pretty much anything of his I could get a hold of. Speaking of his involvement in biology, if memory serves he noted in one of his books that he had a critter named after him. I’m not too confident but I think it was a species of lice.

    1. Indeed it was. One of our grad students here at Chicago, Dale Clayton (now a professor at the University of Utah), named a louse after Larson, and Larson put a gazillion small images of that louse on the cover of one of his books.

  9. I’ll add another recommendation: If you like the Far Side, cats, and slightly left-of-center political opinions then I’d definitely recommend the Far Left Side. It features regular cartoons based on Larson’s humor and is often very very good.

  10. Why, oh why, did Gary Larson stop doing cartoons?

    I thought it was for pretty much the same reason that Bill Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes: to keep from getting stale.

    There’s a long list of comics I used to like but never read anymore because it’s too sad to see how far they’ve fallen from their glory days. I’m glad Larson and Watterson aren’t on that list.

    1. There are a couple interviews where he pretty much said that; he wanted to leave before his work jumped the shark.

      Larson and Watterson left on a high note. In contrast, I think Berke Breathed got too tempted by the money waved about and did at least one curtain call too many.

  11. Well, that is something Gary Larsen and I may have in common: being attacked by Frodo. In 1990, I was at Goodall’s Gombe Stream research center when the group I was hiking with was rushed by a large male chimp. He knocked most of the men in our group over, while ignoring the women.

    It’s funny how easy it was to read the intent on his face. As he knuckle-walked towards us, I took one look in his eyes and thought “Oh, crap.”

  12. I once went hunting for an online copy of my favorite – the giant fly in the ointment factory. A supervisor on the catwalk says to another, “There’s something about that new guy – I can’t put my finger on it.”

    I never found it, and, as a forewarning, gathered that anyone posting a Far Side cartoon gets a nasty email from the copyright holder.

    1. I remember that one : ) (I have at least one book).

      My favorite early one was the “Life on a Microscope Slide”. If you use google images you can find it.

      You might try that with yours, that is, if you can get at least part of the title right.

  13. Cartoonist gets bitten by “real world”. Wow.
    I am not trying to be sarcastic – really, it is unusual for a cartoonist, or many other journalists, to give sufficient of an excretion event to get caught (even bitten!) by their nominal subject.
    There is an implication that ‘Larson’ has retired/ died/ run out of inspiration. Sad!

  14. I have a friend who was a student working for Stephen J. Gould in the early 80’s (I remember that his job was measuring snails), when Larson’s cartoon ‘The real reason dinosaurs went extinct’ came out. (If you haven’t seen it (which I doubt for readers of this website), it’s because they were standing around smoking cigarettes.)

    Over the next several weeks, dozens of copies of the cartoon, snipped out of newspapers by friends and colleagues, arrived the mail. (That’s how we did it in the old days.)

  15. B. Kliban seems stylistically antecedent to Larson and in my opinion a much better (funnier, subtler) cartoonist — an also harder on religion. Cf. his Holy Filament cartoon, The Madonna does not work, El Cuaderno de la Virgen, the priest telling the dog praying before a crucifix “Out!” Jew-Jitsu and Christian-Jitsu, etc. Then there was Genitals of the Universe, Freud’s first slip, etc. etc. I think Kliban is orders of magnitude better than Larson, even though I do enjoy Larson.

    1. “Love to eat them mousies,
      Mousies what I love to eat.
      Bite their little heads off,
      Nibble on they tiny feet.”

      After all these years, it still haunts me.

  16. Of course Kliban is famous for his cat cartoons, which are wonderful. But there’s a lot more to him. If my house were burning down, the first things I would be sure to save would be my Kliban books.

  17. I want to recommend Private Eye for cartoons, but Ian Hislop is determinedly avoiding the 21st century, and as a consequence they don’t properly exist online. Also, my husband assures me a large part of the content is entirely incomprehensible to non-Brits.

  18. I have an autographed book from Gary Larson. He even drew a cartoon of the bee-hive hair-do woman waving to me. Naturally, I cherish this.

  19. For years, I had the ‘cat at the window’ cartoon posted in my office. It reminded me of our first cat, who used to plaster herself against our sliding door whenever a helicopter passed overhead with it’s “whump, whump, whump ….”; I assume she thought it was an especially interesting bird, tho’ obviously not a flightless one.

  20. You are so right about the Far Side. Gary managed to be so perceptive yet so funny at the same time.

    I really miss his work. I wonder if he’d consider coming out of retirement?

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