The Far Side Booth at New York Comic Con 2019

It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.

The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.

This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.

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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.