Larson to publish a compleat `Far Side'

October 02, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The weird. The macabre. The just plain silly.

For 14 years, Gary Larson's The Far Side was all that, and more. Until Larson and his single-panel comic strip came along, who knew that cows could talk, much less drink cocktails? That vultures could walk into a diner and order carrion to go? That the real reason dinosaurs are extinct is that they smoked cigarettes?

For the next three months, beginning today in LIVE!, Sun readers will be able to revisit the best of The Far Side. Although Larson won't be breaking his decade-old pledge to stop drawing new panels, he's got a new collection of the old strips coming out this month. To help drum up interest, Larson and his publisher have provided classic Far Side panels of yore, which will be reprinted in The Sun: Monday through Saturday in Today, and a color strip each Thursday in LIVE!

Those were golden days, indeed, when Larson's warped perspective - remember the kid wearing the Mensa T-shirt pushing at the door clearly labeled "Pull"? - had funny pages throughout the land skewing bizarre. Sometimes, the jokes took a while to get - what's so funny about a little old lady being handed her cat by a fireman? Nothing, until you notice the lady's floppy ears and wagging tail - but they were always worth the struggle.

Larson, a native of Tacoma, Wash., who now lives near Seattle, never intended to be a cartoonist; all he knew was that he had had it up to here with his music-store job. Desperate to try anything else, he drew a half-dozen cartoon panels and sold them to his local paper. Thus was a new world born, a world where amoeba watch TV, where buffalo enter a woman's home and ask if it's OK if they roam around a bit, where dogs read books titled The Mailman Carried Mace, where Hannibal crossed the Alps on elephants only after his first attempt, using kangaroos, didn't work.

Nine years have passed since the last new Far Side panel was published; in 1994, Larson decided to quit while he was (far) ahead, and to hear him tell it (in a recent rare interview with Time magazine), he's never regretted the decision.

But later this month, he will be looking back a bit, with the release of The Complete Far Side 1980-1994, a two-volume, 1,245-page collection of everything he ever drew. At $135, it may attract only the most devoted of fans - but then, that could prove a healthy number; more than 40 million Far Side books have been sold over the years.

It hasn't been recorded how many of those books were bought by cows. But over the next few weeks, if you hear laughter coming from a pasture near you, you'll know why.

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