Well, something’s happening. On Friday, TheFarSide.com posted the message “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen” along with a picture of someone with a flamethrower thawing a cow, a dog, a caveman, that nerdy kid, and that older woman out of an iceberg.
Since then? Nothing, although there’s speculation. Gary Larson retired his comic in early 1995. And then stayed off the Internet. He’d be famous for having disappeared had Bill Watterson not upstaged him at the end of 1995. He didn’t want The Far Side put on the web, and remarkably, the web mostly respected that. Or his attorneys were quite good with their copyright-takedown notices. I don’t remember hearing stories of clumsy cease-and-desist notices messing up online communities.
So what does this mean? The easiest thing — and one I’d be delighted with — would be just a good official online archive for Larson’s comic strip. I have worried some that The Far Side was just going to be forgotten, since it hasn’t been in newspapers in a quarter-century and its online presence is almost nil. It’s great to imagine having something that’s my Gen-X cohort’s secret, other than that the Gen-X cohort exists. But that seemed unfair to the comic strip.
It’s hard to explain the importance of The Far Side. It was weird and surreal and happy to be obscure if Gary Larson thought the joke was good enough. Or if he didn’t realize it was obscure. The influence was amazing. Everybody who drew a comic strip for their college paper in the 90s was imitating either The Far Side or Bloom County. I’m not sure there’s a panel comic launched the past quarter-century that hasn’t followed Gary Larson’s style. One of the first web comics, Doctor Fun, was a Larson imitator. Many web cartoonists give a try to its bizarre-concept panel style, even if they develop a different comic.
So just being able to read the comic strips again, easily, and to share them would be fantastic.
Could there be new comics? Well, sure. I don’t know any reason Gary Larson couldn’t still draw, or write. I assume he did the image that’s on https://www.thefarside.com right now, too. Would I want him to?
I’m curious to see, sure. Larson was a great talent and why wouldn’t we want to see more of that? Well, we can imagine things, which amount to discovering that Gary Larson isn’t the person we imagine him to be, which is this transcendent genius able to combine elements of our culture and our natural world in ways into a harmonious and silly image. If we got, like, the Cow sneering at some non-binary people and “cancelling” their acceptance of human-caused climate change, well, I know I’d feel betrayed. It could go innocently wrong too. Mocking the preposterous entity in the White House is as difficult as he is terrible; a misfired joke and fumbled apology could leave anyone looking bad.
More likely, and more subtly wrong, would be something like the return of Berkeley Breathed to drawing Bloom County. There, the revived comic strip isn’t doing anything wrong, at least not anything that the original didn’t do wrong. It’s just that the revival went out into a culture filled with imitators and extenders of the original comic. And it’s presented to people who are not who we were in 1986. Greatness is part talent, yes, but also part luck, and some of that luck is catching the right audience at the right time.
This is all gloom, but it is 2019, so what is not gloom?
So let’s hope. If Gary Larson has decided that he has some funny drawings of cows, perhaps he knows his business. I’ll share news when I have it.