August 14, 1950 |
Gary Larson (born August 14, 1950) is an American cartoonist. He is the creator of The Far Side, a single-panel cartoon series that was syndicated internationally to over 1,900 newspapers for fifteen years. The series ended with Larson's retirement on January 1, 1995. His twenty-three books of collected cartoons have combined sales of more than forty-five million copies.
Early life and education
Larson was born and raised in University Place, Washington, in suburban Tacoma to Verner, a car salesman, and Doris, a secretary. He graduated from Curtis Senior High School in University Place and from Washington State University in Pullman with a degree in communications. During high school and college, he performed jazz on guitar and banjo.
Larson acknowledges his family has "a morbid sense of humor", and he credits his older brother, Dan, for his "paranoid" sense of humor. Dan pulled countless pranks on Gary, taking advantage of his fear of monsters under the bed by waiting in the closet for the right moment to pounce. Dan "scared the hell out of me" whenever he could, Gary has said, but Dan is also credited for nurturing Gary's love of scientific knowledge. They caught animals in Puget Sound and placed them in terrariums in the basement, even making a small desert ecosystem.
According to Larson in his anthology The Prehistory of the Far Side, he was working in a music store when he took a few days off, after finally realizing how much he hated his job. During that time, he decided to try cartooning. In 1976, he drew six cartoons and submitted them to Pacific Search (afterwards Pacific Northwest Magazine), a Seattle-based magazine. After contributing to another local Seattle paper, in 1979 Larson submitted his work to The Seattle Times. Under the title Nature's Way, his work was published weekly next to the Junior Jumble.
To supplement his income, Larson worked for the Humane Society as a cruelty investigator. Larson decided he could increase his income from cartooning by selling his strip to another newspaper. While on vacation in San Francisco, Larson pitched his work to the San Francisco Chronicle. To Larson’s surprise, the Chronicle bought the strip and promoted it for syndication, renaming it The Far Side. A week later, The Seattle Times dropped Nature’s Way.
Since retiring from The Far Side, Larson has done occasional cartoon work, including magazine illustrations and promotional artwork for Far Side merchandise.
In 1998, Larson published his first post-Far Side book, There's a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm's Story, an illustrated book in the Far Side mindset.
The Far Side
Nature's Way, the precursor to The Far Side, first appeared in the Seattle Times in 1979. After Larson’s success with the San Francisco Chronicle, The Far Side was syndicated in 1980 by Chronicle Features. Its first appearance in the Chronicle was on January 1, 1980. It ran for fifteen years until Larson retired, with his final strip published on January 1, 1995. Larson thought the series was getting repetitive and did not want to enter what he called the "Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons."
Themes in The Far Side were often surreal, such as “How cows behave when no human watches” or "The unexpected dangers of being an insect." Often, the behavior of supposedly superior humans was compared with animals: surrounded by fences and dense housing, a father explains to his son that a bird song is a territorial marking common to the lower animals. Animals and other creatures were frequently presented anthropomorphically. For example, one strip depicts a family of spiders driving in a car with a "Have a Nice Day" bumper sticker, featuring a "smiley face" with eight eyes.
One of Larson's more famous cartoons shows a chimpanzee couple grooming. The female finds a blonde human hair on the male and inquires, "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?" 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 Jane Goodall herself, who was in Africa at the time. When she returned and saw the cartoon, she stated that she found the cartoon amusing and later personally met Larson. Since then, all profits from sales of a shirt featuring this cartoon go to the Goodall Institute. Goodall wrote a preface to The Far Side Gallery 5, detailing her version of the "Jane Goodall Tramp" controversy. She praised Larson's creative ideas, which often compare and contrast the behavior of humans and animals. In 1988, Larson visited Gombe Stream National Park and was attacked by Frodo, a chimp described by Goodall as a "bully." Larson sustained cuts and bruises from the encounter.
Larson's Far Side cartoons were syndicated world-wide and published in many collections. They were reproduced extensively on greeting cards, which were very popular; however, they were discontinued in March 2009. Two animated versions were produced for television, Tales from the Far Side (1994) and Tales from the Far Side II (1997).
There's a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm's Story
There's a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm's Story is a short illustrated story of an earthworm who feels his life is insignificant. The main plot is told by the young worm's father and follows a beautiful (but slightly dim) human maiden, Harriet, who takes a stroll across a woodland trail, encountering different aspects of the ecological world. She admires it, but knows little about the land around her, and that eventually leads to her downfall.
The story ends when the young worm realizes that the hair in his dirt is actually a "Harriet" (a hair from the long dead Harriet's body). The story became a New York Times Best Seller on May 24, 1998.
Awards and honors
Larson was awarded the Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award by the National Cartoonists Society in 1985 and 1988. Larson earned the society’s Reuben Award for 1990 and 1994. Larson has been recognized for various individual strips by the National Cartoonist Society in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1995. On March 15, 1989, a newly discovered insect species was named after Larson by Dale H. Clayton, head of the Committee of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. The Strigiphilus garylarsoni is a chewing louse of a genus only found on owls. Wrote Larson: "I considered this an extreme honor. Besides, I knew no one was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along." An 8" x 11" (20 x 28 cm) magnification of the insect appeared in the Prehistory of the Far Side 10th anniversary compilation, along with the letter requesting permission to use his name. Similarly, an Ecuadorian rainforest butterfly was named after him; Serratoterga larsoni. The Garylarsonus beetle carries his name. The term "thagomizer", a feature of stegosaurus anatomy, was coined in a Far Side cartoon.
Other works and interests
Larson has been playing jazz guitar since his teen years. He took advanced lessons from two famous jazz guitarists, Remo Palmier and in exchange for guitar lessons from Herb Ellis, he provided him with the cover illustration for the album Doggin' Around (Concord, 1988) by Ellis and bassist Red Mitchell.
A relaxed, understated person, Larson is also an outspoken environmentalist. "Protecting wildlife is 'at the top of my list,' he says."
In 1987, Larson married Toni Carmichael, an anthropologist. Early in their relationship, Carmichael became his business manager. "She's my pit bull, but she's a nice one," Larson has said.
In The Complete Far Side, Larson says that his greatest disappointment in life occurred when he was at a luncheon and sat across from cartoonist Charles Addams, creator of The Addams Family. Larson was not able to think of a single thing to say to him and deeply regretted the missed opportunity.
Larson has asked his fans not to repost his work on the internet. In a public letter, he told fans his work was too personal and important to him to have others take control of it.
- Weise, Elizabeth (November 22, 2006). "Larson drawn to wild side". USA Today. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
- Ferguson, Kelly. "A Walk on the Far Side: The Life and Times of Gary Larson." 2006. Mental_Floss Nov.-Dec. 2006, 59-65.
- McCarthy, Susan (21 December 1999). "Gary Larson". Salon.
- Larson, Gary. The Prehistory of the Far Side: a 10th anniversary exhibit. Kansas City, MO: Andrew and McNeel, 1989. ISBN 0-8362-1851-5
- Larson, Gary. The Far Side Gallery 5. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrew and McNeel, 1995. ISBN 0-8362-0425-5
- Hartley, Aiden (2002-06-29), "Me Frodo, you Jane", The Spectator
- Gary Larson at the Internet Movie Database
- "New book rides wave of Viagra jokes". CNN. July 29, 1998.
- "The New York Times Best Seller List - May 24, 1998 Fiction" (PDF). The New York Times. May 24, 1998. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
- Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature: Etymologies
- Online edition of The New Yorker, 17 November 2003, featuring the cover drawn by Larson
- Cook, Rebecca. "Gary Larson revisits ‘The Far Side’", Associated Press, The Lawrence Journal-World, 30 November 2003.
- "Interview with GARY LARSON cont'd". Fresh Air (NPR). April 30, 1998.
- Larson, Gary. The Complete Far Side. 1st ed. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McNeel, 2003. ISBN 0-7407-2113-5