The Prehistory of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit
is a book chronicling the origin and evolution of The Far Side
The Far Side is a popular single-panel comic created by Gary Larson and syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate, which ran from January 1, 1980, to January 1, 1995. Its surrealistic humor is often based on uncomfortable social situations, improbable events, an anthropomorphic view of the world,...
(including cartoonist Gary Larson
Gary Larson is the creator of The Far Side, a single-panel cartoon series that was syndicated internationally to newspapers for 15 years. The series ended with Larson's retirement on January 1, 1995. His 23 books of collected cartoons have combined sales of more than 45 million...
's first strip, Nature's Way
Nature's Way is a newspaper cartoon series by Gary Larson published in the late 1970s. It launched his career in cartooning and eventually led to his popular The Far Side series in 1980.-History:...
), giving inside information about the cartooning process and featuring a gallery of Larson's favorite Far Side
cartoons from the 1980s.
Part 1: Origin of the Species
Larson recounts his childhood by showing several pictures supposedly drawn by him when he was a kid. (Example: A picture of a kid sitting on a tire in pitch blackness sports the caption "I believe this is my earliest memory of riding in the car when my family took our annual vacation.") He shows panels of Nature's Way
and talks about his early struggles as a cartoonist before he established himself in the field. While on vacation from his regular job as an investigator for the local humane society
A humane society may be a group that aims to stop human or animal suffering due to cruelty or other reasons, although in many countries, it is now used mostly for societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals...
("to whom I never disclosed the fact that on the way to the job interview I ran over a dog"), he left his one and only copy of his portfolio at the headquarters of the San Francisco Chronicle
thumb|right|upright|The Chronicle Building following the [[1906 San Francisco earthquake|1906 earthquake]] and fireThe San Francisco Chronicle is a newspaper serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, but distributed throughout Northern and Central California,...
, waiting several days until they decided to hire him. After returning home, he received a letter that his local newspaper had decided to discontinue Nature's Way
. Larson says that if the letter had arrived a week earlier, "I never would have made the trip to San Francisco. The wind would definitely have gone out of my sails."
Part 2: Evolution
Larson explains the creative process he goes through in making cartoons, showing the original doodles in his sketchbook alongside the final published versions. Sometimes he makes large changes to his initial idea, other times the differences are more subtle. (Example: A sketch of "If Dogs Drove," showing canine drivers hanging their heads out the window, was changed to "When dogs go to work," which depicts a bus-full of dogs with their heads hanging out the window.) He discusses the reasons for the changes he makes, and in a few cases he admits that he now prefers an earlier version, or that the final version could have been changed further.
He also shows doodles that he never published, most of which he admits weren't that funny. ("Anyone who attaches more significance to them needs to get out more often.") He then shows several cartoons that were based on little short stories he wrote for a change of pace.
Part 3: Mutations
He devotes one section to mistakes that he made, or that editors made when altering his cartoons for one reason or another. These include incomplete drawings, scientific errors (like one featuring polar bears and penguins in the same habitat
A habitat is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular species of animal, plant or other type of organism...
), typos in the caption, and the right caption set to the wrong cartoon (one time, a Dennis the Menace
Dennis the Menace is a daily syndicated newspaper comic strip originally created, written and illustrated by Hank Ketcham. It debuted on March 12, 1951 in 16 newspapers and was originally distributed by Post-Hall Syndicate...
cartoon featuring the kids eating sandwiches was inadvertently--or maybe not so inadvertently--set to the Far Side
caption, "Oh brother! Not hamster
Hamsters are rodents belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae. The subfamily contains about 25 species, classified in six or seven genera....
s again!"). In a separate section called "Subtle Things," he discusses the techniques he brings to the cartooning table.
Part 4: Stimulus-Response
Here Larson shows his cartoons that have provoked controversy, even outrage, and he reprints some of the indignant letters of protest. Some of his cartoons are thought to be in bad taste, as one featuring a couple of dogs playing "Tethercat." In such cases, he argues that readers either were oversensitive or misunderstood the cartoon. One time, a representative of the Jane Goodall Institute
The Jane Goodall Institute is an international wildlife and environment conservation organization with branches in many countries. It was founded in 1977 by English primatologist Dr...
attacked a Far Side
cartoon in which two chimpanzees are grooming when one finds a human hair and asks, "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall
Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE , is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National...
tramp?" Larson was ready to apologize to Goodall, until it came out that Goodall loved the cartoon and had no idea someone in her organization had complained.
A few of his cartoons were controversial simply because they were hard to understand. A particular example was "Cow tools," which depicts a cow standing by a table on which rest four oddly shaped objects. Larson had found it funny that cows would be really bad at toolmaking
The term toolmaking may refer to:* The act of making tools of any kind, from the simplest handtools made of plant fiber or stone, to the most technologically advanced tools. This form of toolmaking is a topic of interest in anthropology. Some non-human animal species also use tools.* Tool and die...
. His mistake was making one of the tools resemble a saw, as it led people to believe they had to identify the other tools to understand some kind of deeper meaning. "'Off days' are a part of life," he writes, "whether you're a cartoonist, a neurosurgeon, or an air-traffic controller."
Larson also reprints a letter from an entomologist proposing to name a newly discovered species of chewing lice after Larson, Strigiphilus garylarsoni
Strigiphilus garylarsoni is a biting louse of a genus only found on owls. It is a member of the traditional suborder Mallophaga . The species is classified in the Ischnocera suborder and the Philopteridae family. The species has no common name.The louse's taxonomer, biologist Dale H...
. The scientist explains that he did this "to honor the enormous contribution that my colleagues and I feel you have made to biology through your cartoons." The image of this insect also appears in the form of a geometric design on the inside, front, and back covers.
The next section shows a handful of cartoons that his editors rejected (or, in a few cases, that he never even bothered submitting), usually because they were considered in poor taste. Larson responds to everyone who's taken the trouble to complain, with a large print of a boy making a face.
Part 5: The Exhibit
Larson presents a gallery of his own personal favorite Far Side
cartoons. "I contemplated making this last section a collection of what I consider the lousiest
cartoons I've ever drawn, but space was limited."