Toon Musings: Larson Redux
The cartooning world is abuzz; apparently, Gary Larson is bringing back his seminal comic panel The Far Side over 24 years after laying down his pen. Visitors to his website are greeted with a cartoon of a man in a parka using an oxyacetylene torch to thaw an iceberg containing the frozen effigies of Larson’s Far Side characters, accompanied by the promise that “A new online era of The Far Side is coming!”
But what shape is this era going to take? The landscape of comics has changed somewhat since Larson strode the earth like a colossus. For one thing, the funny pages are now stuffed with panels attempting to lay claim to the title “the next Far Side”; weird isn’t as novel as it used to be. For another, the funny pages aren’t really a thing anymore, or rather they are much less of a thing, since print is dead (haven’t you heard?). I’m not sure how much of a cohesive ‘thing’ it is, but most of the interesting developments happening in comics are happening online: Berke Breathed’s recent Bloom County reboot, for example. It’s telling that Larson is touting his upcoming event as “a new online era.” It’s also telling that the website touting this new online era is owned by Andrews McMeel, Larson’s old syndicate/publisher. Telling of what, I do not know, but it is interesting.
Assuming this means that new Far Side cartoons are coming, what should we expect? Well, he’s been out of the saddle for over a generation, so unless he’s been practicing, he may be a bit rusty—not just artistically, but cognitively as well; can one still be offbeat and wacky after nearly a quarter-century of doing whatever it is rich retired cartoonists do: racing zeppelins I’m guessing, or breeding fighting ostriches. Suing people? Shuffling around the palatial digs with tissue boxes for slippers?
As for the art… well, The Far Side was never known for its artistic virtuosity. The drawings were cute, and quirky, and about as good as they needed to be—perfect for what they were trying to portray. But will it look the same? The cartoon on the website looks terrific, but how recent is it? Will the strip look as good? Is cartooning like the popular conception of riding a bike: you never really forget how?
Well, let’s look at another retired cartoonist, the White Whale of reclusive comic-strippers. I speak of Bill Watterson of the much-missed Calvin and Hobbes. He retired about the same time as Larson. He’s somewhere near as rich as Larson (I’m guessing), or at least plenty rich enough. How’s his art look these days? Well, here’s something he worked up for the 2015 Angoulême Festival Internationale de la Bande Dessinée:
I’d say he’s still got it. As for Gary Larson, we shall see.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring forgotten ruins, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.