The Far Side returns!

December 18, 2019 • 1:30 pm

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gary Larson’s cartoon The Far Side, but Larson retired from producing it in 1995: 24 years ago! It doesn’t seem like that long, for his cartoons are constantly circulating and are much beloved, especially by scientists. (Almost every biologist had a Far Side cartoon on their office door.)  I’m not sure why he retired, but it was a sad day when he put down his pen. It’s not his age, for he quit when he was 45, and it seemed a waste of an immense talent. Nobody was as funny as Larson, and nobody had as much biology—accurate but hilarious biology—in their strips.

But we have good news today, which was sent to me by several readers and is now on Wikipedia:

On September 13, 2019, the official Far Side site was updated with a major redesign, teasing that additional updates will be forthcoming. The full site was launched on December 17, 2019. It features a “daily dose” of several randomly selected Far Side comics, a weekly themed collection, and additional material including art from Larson’s sketchbooks. Larson, managing the site, said that while he does not plan to draw regular Far Side comics, he may include new material every once in a while when updating the site.

Now there still seem to be a few bugs, at least on Chrome, but I’m looking forward to some new cartoons, even if they’re sporadic. And the new site also collects many of his best cartoons in one place, which wasn’t possible before today.

In “A letter from Gary Larson” on the site, Larson attributes the new site to improvements in graphics and security:

Truthfully, I still have some ambivalence about officially entering the online world — I previously equated it to a rabbit hole, although “black hole” sometimes seems more apropos — but my change of heart on this has been due not only to some evolution in my own thinking, but also in two areas I’ve always cared about when it comes to this computer/Internet “stuff”: security and graphics.

Okay, so better security is, of course, just better security. But it helps. If they wanted to, I’m sure the Russians could get inside this thing and start messing with my captions. (I know they’re thinking about it!) But the other one — the advancements in graphics — has been a big incentive for me.

He then gives an example (which would make a great cartoon!) of how better computer graphics enables him to make better cartoons, which sort of implies that new ones are coming. And then he requests that people not reproduce his cartoons, a request that I understand and will respect, hard as it is not to show his best efforts. (My favorite is when a truck carrying rodents collides with a truck carrying small flightless birds, releasing the beasts to the street, while an indoor cat, face and paws pressed to the window, watches in excitement and frustration.)

And here’s his second reason for returning:

Finally, I also concede I’m a little exhausted. Trying to exert some control over my cartoons has always been an uphill slog, and I’ve sometimes wondered if my absence from the web may have inadvertently fueled someone’s belief my cartoons were up for grabs. They’re not. But it’s always been inherently awkward to chase down a Far Side–festooned website when the person behind it is often simply a fan. (Although not everyone is quite so uncomplicated in their motives; my cartoons have been taken and used to help sell everything from doughnuts to rodent control. At least I offer range.) So I’m hopeful this official website will help temper the impulses of the infringement-inclined. Please, whoever you are, taketh down my cartoons and let this website become your place to stop by for a smile, a laugh, or a good ol’ fashioned recoiling. And I won’t have to release the Krakencow.

So keep checking the new site, and let me know when new cartoons appear (right now most are recycled old ones, which you can see by looking at the date by the cartoon).

19 thoughts on “The Far Side returns!

  1. I stumbled onto this site a couple of days ago. Was delighted to see that the infamous “Cow Tools” made the cut. (According to Larsen, no one got it.) The sketchbooks give insight to his bizarre sense of humor, his trademark.

  2. “[M]y cartoons have been taken and used to help sell everything from doughnuts to rodent control. At least I offer range.” That observation in itself is the germ for a suite of new Far Side cartoons.

    As someone who doesn’t celebrate any of the religious holidays of the season, nonetheless I consider Gary Larson’s return, whatever the reason, a wonderful gift! I might call it a secular blessing, though that’s surely oxymoronic.

  3. That is indeed good news. One’s day is not complete without a cow wearing rhinestone glasses.

    Another cartoonist who has come back is Berkeley Breathed and his Bloom County strip, although his impetus seemed to be outrage at the antics of Trump.
    He puts his cartoons out on his Fa$ebook page:

  4. I suppose his business model will be selling ads on his website. His fear that his cartoons will be widely distributed without him getting a penny are obviously true. But then that was happening back at the start of the Internet, which is probably one of the factors causing him to quit.

    1. I doubt very, very much that Larson’s “business model will be selling ads on his website”, he has a shop up & running there already & his gig for decades has been conservation. If he promotes anything on there at all it will be to encourage visitors to click through to the causes he supports [The famous Jane Goodall Larson cartoon Tee-shirt, where all profits already go to the Jane Goodall Institute etc].

      It isn’t true that the internet was “one of the factors causing him to quit” & it isn’t true that the internet of 1994 was widely distributing his work in any meaningful sense e.g. the first text search engine didn’t come out until a few months before he shut up shop, thus if you wanted to get somewhere on the internet you almost had to have your own ‘map’ before you set off.

      SALON [1999]:

      As early as 1987, Larson was telling interviewers that the pace of seven “Far Side” comics a week was getting to him. “I think I’m maintaining the quality, but internally I’m paying for it,” he told Rolling Stone.

      In 1987 Larson married Toni Carmichael, an archaeologist and environmental consultant. In 1988, to widespread dismay, he
      took a break of 14 months from drawing “The Far Side.” He travelled to Africa and the Amazon, studied jazz guitar with Jim Hall, published “Prehistory” and negotiated an agreement under which, on his return, he would draw just five panels a week.

      Fans were delighted and relieved when he returned to the drawing table in 1990, but five years later, in January 1995, Larson stopped drawing “The Far Side” altogether. He said he felt the quality of the work was going down, and wanted to avoid what he called “the Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons.”

      If he was burning out, it wasn’t surprising. He had drawn more than 4,000 brilliant cartoons since syndication in 1979, each one a self-contained setup and pay off. A strip cartoon lets a cartoonist get days if not weeks of material out of one or two premises, but single cartoons are far more demanding

      1. The site does feature ads so presumably Larson is getting some income from that alongside income from the on-line store. I saw ads for Dell, Intel, Lufthansa and a finance company when I took a look just now. I’d be surprised if he is vetting who’s adverts get posted and I imagine that what ads each viewer sees is somehow determined by that person’s browsing history. It seems perfectly fair to me that he should derive some income from the site.

        With respect to use of the images by others I note that the ‘Daily Dose’ part of the site includes a function to ‘share this post’ so presumably linking to the site from a site such as this is considered permissible. If not then, Larson and the team who run the site are sending out rather mixed messages. Of course linking back to a post on his web-site is a rather different action to lifting an image and using it to advertise rodent control or other commercial purposes.

  5. Wonderful. In the early 1980s when Bruce Walsh was my graduate student, and Gary Larson was just getting noticed, some graduate students in our department invited Gary Larson to one of their pot-lucks. He came. Apparently he told Bruce that on meeting him, this was the first time he had ever actually met one of his characters. Bruce was delighted and put this into the introduction of his Ph.D. thesis.

    In 1987 I attended a meeting on phylogenies in Germany. Many of the students there were European, and about 40% of them started their talks by showing a Gary Larson cartoon.

  6. Would love to see him set up an easy way for fans to pay for use of individual comics for noncommercial purposes. Kinda like legal music downloads. I have absolutely no problem with the notion of paying 10 cents or 99 cents or whatever for a strip I’m then legally allowed to toss into a slide presentation.

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