Dairy Influences: A Personal Look At “The Far Side”

In his latest comic, the author of Gunshow Comic pays tribute to cartoonist Gary Larson (while also making a reference to his own series, The Anime Club, which I talked about previously). The Larson style was instantly recognizable to me, as I am actually a long-time fan of his classic one-panel newspaper comic The Far Side. Seeing this parody of the man’s work, it makes me want to reflect on the influence that his surreal humor had on me and my development in art and life.

Long before I could even really call myself an “anime fan,” I was a fan of The Far Side, calling it “my favorite comic” for years, and to this day I consider it to be the very best one-panel-style strip in history. For those unfamiliar with it, The Far Side was typically a single-panel (though it would sometimes split itself into two or more), and would be a mix of suburban stereotypes and off-kilter humor that took normal situations and twisted them just enough so that the mild absurdity would be magnified ten-fold. The comic also often featured humor based on biology, a direct consequence of Gary Larson himself being a biologist as well as a cartoonist, and while it had no real recurring “characters,” it did have a number of iconic designs and stylistic flairs. Bespectacled pudgy boys and their bee’s nest hairstyle mothers, animals standing and talking like people (particularly cows), and a tendency to have bulging eyes be an attention grabber were all common sights The Far Side. In a way, it was like a precursor to the Perry Bible Fellowship.

I would provide an example image, but Gary Larson has personally wrote letters asking everyone to not post his comics online, and while not 100% perfect it has worked surprisingly well. And so, even though I know that explaining a joke inevitably ruins it (as author Stephen King demonstrated in his foreword to The Far Side Gallery 2), I’m going to try so that you can understand Gary Larson’s style of humor.

The comic is situated in the backseat of a car, behind the driver. The driver is staring into his side-view mirror, and as is the case with all side-view mirrors, there is text to inform the driver that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The object in the mirror, meanwhile, is an eyeball taking up the entire surface of the mirror. In other words, the object reflected is your eye staring into the comic’s panel (Again I apologize for my humor assassination).

So what did The Far Side do to me? When I first discovered it either fourth or fifth grade, I already loved to draw, but Gary Larson’s comic made me love art even more. It gave me a role model in art to look up to, and it gave me a direction to take in my drawing. I started actively trying to make things that would be seen as “crazy.” I created my own Far Side-style comic, called My Biz and also Crash and Bash Land, about horrible rides in an imaginary amusement park whose themes were violence and abuse of its customers. Both were as good as you’d expect a 10 year old’s attempts at Far Side knockoffs would be. Even after I discovered anime and became a “fan,” I held in my heart two dreams, to draw a full-fledged story comic like my favorite manga, and to create a humor comic that would appear in newspapers.

Today, though I no longer aspire to draw my own absurdist newspaper strip, I can see that Gary Larson had an enormous influence on my sense of humor, and for that I am ever so grateful, though my peers who have seen my brand of comedy in action may be inclined to disagree. You can even see The Far Side‘s effects on at least some of the drawings I have posted to Ogiue Maniax. And though I can’t tell you for certain, I think The Far Side probably even influenced my writing style through its combination of simplicity and eccentricity where even those who weren’t enthusiasts of biology could find a laugh or two.

Gunshow Comic Anime Club and Saying Your Anime Sucks

Gunshow Comic’s “The Anime Club” recently reminded me of how easy it is to make someone angry by saying their favorite show sucks. For those of you who haven’t read “The Anime Club,” it’s an on-going series about a group of high school kids who love anime and fall prey to every negative otaku stereotype possible, and yet is still fun to read and never actually feels mean-spirited even when it’s actually making fun of anime.

In the relevant chapter, a loud and obnoxious character insults the all-time favorite of another loud and obnoxious character, and through it reveals the simple steps needed to insult anyone’s favorite show. All you do is declare that the story is “predictable” or “cliche,” the characters “flat and one-dimensional,” and possibly insult their intelligence and/or maturity. You don’t even have to know anything about the show to do this.

Now it’s not like bad characters in fiction don’t exist, let alone in anime, but what’s interesting about this generalized method of diminishing someone else’s tastes in anime is that it hits on multiple vital levels.

First, by saying that a show is predictable, you say that they are easily entertained and have less intelligence than they should for not being able to see the “obvious” developments. And if you were to look at the self-image of anime fans, you’d see that they usually consider themselves to be smarter than average. Second, by calling their favorite characters flat, you trivialize any emotional connections they have made with those characters and demean the fact that they opened up to it. Third, by calling into question their level of maturity, you exploit that niggling doubt that exists in a great many anime fans, that their hobby is worthless and that a “well-adjusted person” who lives in the real world would never do this.

The last one’s efficacy is dampened somewhat if it’s coming from one anime fan to another, and in general the effect weakens the more you talk specifics as then the possibility of mutual understanding increases. But the overall effect, whether the blow is softened by familiarity or not, is that it becomes an attack on an anime fan’s confidence, and many fans have some degree of confidence issues.