Books | December 18, 2019 12:02 pm

The Creator of “The Far Side” Distrusted the Internet. Now, He’s Embracing It.

Out of retirement, Gary Larson is debuting new comics online

The Far Side
A homepage for the seminal comic strip "The Far Side" is teasing new material

Homicidal maniacs, terrorists and …. people who drove too slow in the fast lane. All burning in hell. 

Welcome back, The Far Side. The above describes the first cartoon you’ll see on the website for the well-loved, long-retired comic strip, offically online as of this week. It’s a surprise return for the often anthropomorphic, surreal one-panel comic strip, which originally ran from 1980-1995. Still, Larson hinted at something new a few months back. 

The up-and-running site now currently features curated collections of old comics (e.g. “Hands Off My Bunsen Burner”), a treasure trove of creator Gary Larson’s sketchbooks, and a shop of Far Side books (which are basically Amazon links). 

A collection of 15 years worth of old Far Side comic strips

Besides archival material, the cartoonist is debuting “The Daily Dose,” featuring both classic strips and occasional new material, beginning in 2020.

Larson, the 69-year old Washington native, attributed his 1995 retirement to “simple fatigue and a fear that if I continue for many more years my work will begin to suffer or at the very least ease into the Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoon.” Since then, Larson had been keeping quiet, even asking fan sites to take down reprints and unauthorized material (albeit in a thoughtful way).

Retirement suited Larson well. According to the Far Side’s publisher Andrews McMeel, over 40 million books and 77 million Far Side calendars have been sold

But why the hesitancy to go online … and then why come back now? 

Larson himself offers answers in a letter on his site.

“Back then [in 1995], the Internet was a cute little Internet-ling, its cold, digital eyes just starting to open,” he writes. “The first website (I just looked this up) debuted only a couple years prior to my retirement, Google came along several years later, and Facebook was launched a full decade after I had drawn my last cow. Meaning, like most of my generation, I was pretty much clueless about this new technology that was on the rise.”

He continues: “Years ago … I slowly started realizing I had a second publisher and distributor of my work, known as Anyone With a Scanner & Associates.” Cue the (pleasant) cease and desist requests, which actually, as Larson notes, seemed to work.

As for why he’s back: “I still have some ambivalence about officially entering the online world — I previously equated it to a rabbit hole, although ‘black hole’ sometimes seems more apropos — but my change of heart on this has been due not only to some evolution in my own thinking, but also in two areas I’ve always cared about when it comes to this computer/Internet ‘stuff’: security and graphics.” 

While he doesn’t spend too much time discussing what he means by better security — admitting he’s simply “exhausted” exerting control over his cartoons — Larson does credit the modern computer screen for giving him a new perspective on the web. To illustrate, he crafts a very Far Side-esque example of drawing vultures scavenging human remains in the desert, when one of them encounters a glass eye. “On today’s computers and devices, voilà! — you’re definitely going to see that small, dispossessed eye. I could even add a hint of blue.”