The Far Side is a single-panel comic created by Gary Larson and syndicated by Chronicle Features and then Universal Press Syndicate, which ran from December 31, 1979, to January 1, 1995 (when Larson retired as a cartoonist). Its surrealistic humor is often based on uncomfortable social situations, improbable events, an anthropomorphic view of the world, logical fallacies, impending bizarre disasters, (often twisted) references to proverbs, or the search for meaning in life. Larson's frequent use of animals and nature in the comic is popularly attributed to his background in biology. Reruns are still printed in many newspapers.

The Far Side
Wiener Dog Art, one of many The Far Side collections published in the United States, features an artist stamping a paint-covered dachshund on a canvas.
Author(s)Gary Larson
Current status/scheduleEnded
Launch dateDecember 31, 1979
End dateJanuary 1, 1995
Syndicate(s)Chronicle Features (1980–1985)
Universal Press Syndicate (1985–1996)
Genre(s)Humor, satire, black comedy, avant-garde
Preceded byNature's Way

The Far Side was ultimately carried by more than 1,900 daily newspapers, translated into 17 languages, and collected into calendars, greeting cards, and 23 compilation books.[1]

Larson was recognized for his work on the strip with the National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award for 1985 and 1988,[2] and with their Reuben Award for 1990 and 1994.[3]


Larson had been inspired to draw comics when he was younger from the strip Alley Oop, and later drew further inspiration from MAD Magazine and the work of Don Martin.[4] He also enjoys comics from Gahan Wilson, B. Kliban and George Booth where humor was derived more from the comics' composition than dialog, which Larson considered "something almost organic going on between the humor and the art that conveyed it".[4]

The series was preceded by a similar panel called Nature's Way, also by Larson. He had been able to sell single strips of this to selected newspapers for income. Eventually The Seattle Times bought the strip to run on a weekly basis. However, the paper received numerous complaints about the strip, according to Larson, and so he sought to sell the comic to another market.[4] While on vacation in San Francisco, he pitched his work to the San Francisco Chronicle and, to his surprise, the Chronicle bought the strip and promoted it for syndication, renaming it The Far Side.[5] Its first appearance was in the television pages of the Chronicle on December 31, 1979.[6] A week later, The Seattle Times dropped Nature’s Way.[7]

The Far Side ran for fifteen years, syndicated initially by Chronicle Features and later by Universal Press Syndicate, until Larson retired with his final strip published on January 1, 1995.[4]

In 2003, Gary Larson drew a cover for the November 17 edition of The New Yorker magazine[8] (the Cartoon Issue), a prestigious offer he said he could not refuse.[9]

Design overviewEdit

Most The Far Side cartoons are a single rectangular panel, occasionally split into small sections of four, six, or eight for the purposes of a storyline. A caption or dialogue usually appears under the panel as typed text, although word-balloons are sometimes used for conversations. Sunday comics were double-sized, done in watercolor or colored pencils, with captions handwritten in Larson's own hand. Most of Larson's comics relied on some combination of a visual and verbal gag, rather than just one or the other. Some recurring themes in the comic include people being stranded on desert islands, aliens, heaven, hell, and the life of cavepeople. Many cartoons focused on animals, especially cows.

While Larson frequently used the same stereotypical characters such as a woman with a beehive hairdo, he purposely did not name his characters nor imply they were the same characters from cartoon to cartoon. He did not want to have a character-based series, as the characters were there to help serve the humor of the comic.[4]

Notable cartoonsEdit

"Cow Tools"Edit

"Cow Tools" is the name of one Far Side cartoon first published in 1982. It shows a cow standing behind a table with strange objects, with the cartoon's caption "Cow tools". While most of the displayed tools had no apparent function, one was similar to a saw. The cartoon has become one of the most loathed cartoons in the series, with Reddit posters calling it the series' "notoriously confusing cartoon".[4] Larson was frequently asked about the meaning of the cartoon by the media, and received numerous letters, some angry and questioning where the humor was in the comic.[10] Larson said in Prehistory of the Far Side that he had so much mail from this strip he had to issue a press release to explain that there was nothing to explain about the "Cow Tools" comic.[11]

Jane Goodall cartoonEdit

One The Far Side cartoon shows two chimpanzees grooming. One finds a blonde human hair on the other and inquires, "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?"[12] Goodall herself was in Africa at the time, and the Jane Goodall Institute thought this was in bad taste, and had their lawyers draft a letter to Larson and his distribution syndicate, in which they described the cartoon as an "atrocity." They were stymied by Goodall herself when she returned and saw the cartoon, as she stated that she found the cartoon amusing.[11] Since then, all profits from sales of a shirt featuring this cartoon go to the Jane Goodall Institute. Goodall wrote a preface to The Far Side Gallery 5, detailing her version of the controversy, and the Institute's letter was included next to the cartoon in the complete Far Side collection.[13] She praised Larson's creative ideas, which often compare and contrast the behavior of humans and animals.[14]

The ThagomizerEdit

In 1982, Larson published a comic in which a prehistoric lecturer refers to the then previously unnamed tail spikes of the Stegosaurus as the "thagomizer".[15] The arrangement of spikes originally had no distinct name, but Larson's neologism was adopted gradually by paleontologists, albeit only in a casual context.[16]

The Complete Far Side and The Prehistory of The Far Side include letters from angry readers alongside the comics. The letters were written to newspaper publishers and often demanded the removal of The Far Side. Despite these protests, The Far Side remained popular and continued to run in many newspapers. Larson often laughs at the controversies as evidenced in The Prehistory of The Far Side, in which he writes that the people complaining have usually misunderstood the cartoon.[17]


Gary Larson produced 23 The Far Side books, which were all on The New York Times Best Seller list. The cartoons were first collected in small books (see list below), and some were then republished in larger best-of collections such as The Far Side Galleries. Additional best-of collections were published, such as The Prehistory of The Far Side, culminating in the final publication, The Complete Far Side in 2003.


  • September 1982: The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-1200-2)
  • August 1983: Beyond The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-1149-9)
  • August 1984: In Search of The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-2060-9)
  • April 1985: Bride of The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-2066-8)
  • August 1985: Valley of The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-2067-6)
  • August 1986: It Came from The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-2073-0)
  • April 1987: Hound of The Far Side (ISBN 0-8362-2087-0)
  • October 1987: The Far Side Observer (ISBN 0-8362-2098-6)
  • July 1988: Night of the Crash-Test Dummies (ISBN 0-8362-2049-8)
  • April 1989: Wildlife Preserves (ISBN 0-8362-1842-6)
  • October 1990: Wiener Dog Art (ISBN 0-8362-1865-5)
  • November 1991: Unnatural Selections (ISBN 0-8362-1881-7)
  • November 1992: Cows of Our Planet (ISBN 0-8362-1701-2)
  • November 1993: The Chickens are Restless (ISBN 0-8362-1717-9)
  • November 1994: The Curse of Madame "C" (ISBN 0-8362-1763-2)
  • October 1996: Last Chapter and Worse (ISBN 0-8362-2131-1; published after the end of the strip)

Other booksEdit

The five The Far Side Gallery books are the most popular, each of them collecting together the best cartoons from three smaller books, along with a humorous foreword by celebrity fans, including Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen King, Robin Williams, and Jane Goodall.

In 1989, The Prehistory of The Far Side was published to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the strip. In this book, Gary Larson discussed the development of The Far Side, and the public's reaction to it, and presented a selection of his personal favorites from the cartoon's history as well as previously unpublished sketches and strips rejected by his editor.

In 2003, The Complete Far Side was released, containing nearly every The Far Side comic ever published (except for a few cartoons written for Christmas cards). The collection is also missing parody art pieces from Wiener Dog Art, some material from The Prehistory of The Far Side, and a panel run for a caption writing contest in the Telegram-Tribune newspaper. The set was released in two volumes (1980–1986 and 1987–1994) with a foreword by Steve Martin and an introduction by Larson's longtime editor, Jake Morrisey. The first-edition hardcover boxed set weighs 19.5 pounds (8.8 kg). Some of the comics were altered for this book, either featuring a different caption, correcting errors, or simply becoming colorized.

Television productionsEdit

In 1994, Larson produced an animated special, Tales from the Far Side, featuring his art style and gags from the strips. He produced a sequel in 1997.


Larson has asked people not to use Far Side cartoons on the internet. In the late 1990s he widely distributed a letter in which he explains the "emotional cost" to him of people displaying his cartoons on their websites and asks them to stop doing so.[18] In at least one case, he had sent out a cease and desist letter to a comics-aggregation site for reproducing The Far Side online.[19] While an official Far Side site existed, it only offered information related to the comic and published books, but did not offer any of the strips.[4]

On September 13, 2019, the official Far Side site was updated with a major redesign, teasing that additional updates will be forthcoming.[19] 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 wrote in an open letter announcing the site that he hoped that the official online presence of The Far Side would encourage sites presently hosting his comics to take them down and direct readers to the official site.[20] Larson 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.[4]


In 1987, a special exhibit of 527 black and white Far Side panels was shown in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. 127 of the panels were originals, displayed in the rotunda on boards that held 50 panels each. Later the display became a traveling exhibit that was shown in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Orlando, Chicago, Toronto, New York City, Denver, and Los Angeles.[21]

There was a Far Side gallery at the California Academy of Science that featured some of Larson's panels. The exhibit included a giant microscope under which visitors could stand, based on one of Larson's cartoons. Looking up through the objective lens revealed a giant blinking eyeball. The building was torn down and replaced and the exhibit is no longer in the new facility.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Complete Far Side". Andrews McMeel Publishing. Archived from the original on 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
  2. ^ "NCS Awards—Newspaper Panel". National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
  3. ^ "The Reuben Award 1975 to present". National Cartoonists Society. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gustines, George Gene (December 17, 2019). "'The Far Side' Is Back. Sort Of. Gary Larson Will Explain". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Susan (21 December 1999). "Gary Larson". Salon.
  6. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (7 October 2019). "We found Gary Larson's first Far Side comic (he was funny from Day 1)". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  7. ^ Larson, Gary. The Prehistory of the Far Side: a 10th anniversary exhibit. Kansas City, MO: Andrew and McNeel, 1989. ISBN 0-8362-1851-5
  8. ^ The New Yorker cover 17-Nov-2003
  9. ^ The Lawrence Journal-World
  10. ^ Staley, Willy (July 15, 2012). "Lady Mondegreen and the Miracle of Misheard Song Lyrics". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Larson, Gary. The Prehistory of the Far Side: a 10th anniversary exhibit. Kansas City, MO: Andrew and McNeel, 1989. ISBN 0-8362-1851-5.
  12. ^ Chris Sims (August 14, 2015). "The Strange Legacy of Gary Larson's 'The Far Side'". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  13. ^ Larson, Gary. The Far Side Gallery 5. Kansas City, MO: Andrew and McNeel, 1995. (ISBN 0-8362-0425-5).
  14. ^ Sims, Chris (August 14, 2015). "The Strange Comics And Equally Strange Legacy Of 'The Far Side' And Gary Larson". Comics Alliance. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  15. ^ Black, Riley (March 30, 2011). "Watch Out For That Thagomizer!". Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  16. ^ "Stegosaurus Changes". Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Department of Paleobiology. Archived from the original on December 14, 2004. Retrieved March 3, 2007.
  17. ^ Larson, Gary. The Prehistory of the Far Side
  18. ^ "letter from Gary Larson". Archived from the original on 21 Oct 1999.
  19. ^ a b Gustines, George Gene (September 16, 2019). "The Far Side Teases Its Return". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  20. ^ Sailor, Craig (December 18, 2019). "Gary Larson went from Tacoma to 'The Far Side.' Now he's back, but on a new format". The News Tribune. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  21. ^ O'Reilly, David (April 16, 1987). "The Far Side Of The Smithsonian Through Gary Larson's Lens, The World's A Naturally Wacky Place, So A Temple To Natural History Is A Fitting Place For A Show Of His Cartoons". Inquirer. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  22. ^ "California Academy of Sciences - Academy Tour - Natural History Museum:". California Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on October 2, 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2014.

External linksEdit