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Larson leaves the heavy lifting to ‘Complete Far Side’
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Cartoonist Gary Larson calls his 20-pound opus ó a two-volume set that includes every Far Side cartoon in its 14-year twisted history ó “a hernia giver.” But, he says, the heft has mostly to do with the quality of the glossy paper. “I don’t think the cartoons weigh that much.”
The Complete Far Side (Andrews McMeel, $135) will be published today, nearly nine years after Larson retired as a daily cartoonist. Or, as he puts it, “I hung up my eraser, the most essential tool I owned.”
Has he thought about where readers will put the set of books?
“I don’t know,” he says by phone from his home in Seattle. “I hope it’s on something well supported.”
The set opens with his first syndicated cartoon, from New Year’s Day 1980, of two crabs eyeing two kids building sand castles. One crab says, “Yes … they’re quite strange during the larval stage.”
It concludes with a cartoon that Larson drew in 1999 for the Science Times section of The New York Times of a wolf, next to a casket in the woods, addressing a gathering of other wolves:
“Yes, we’ll all miss him, but we must not forget: Louis was shot while slaughtering chickens, so we can take solace in knowing that he died doing what he loved.”
It was that kind of macabre humor, which Larson avoids explaining, that both delighted and upset readers. The book, which reprints complaints, notes that many of the newspaper polls that placed Larson among reader favorites also put him on their most-hated list.
At the height of his popularity in 1994 (in more than 1,900 newspapers), Larson quit because of 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 Cartoons.”
Looking back at more than 4,000 cartoons, Larson says he’s pleased by how much of it holds up, but recalls how “something changed inside. You need a balance of fear and confidence, and not have one overpower the other. I thought I might lose the fear and start to coast.”
In one of his 14 essays in the book, Larson writes that he doesn’t miss cartooning: “As they say, been there, done that.
“Plus, for me, there was always this unforeseen nature of this thing, which no doubt made it easier to eventually let it go. (When Career Day comes to your high school, you don’t go around looking for the Cartoon Guy.)”
At 53, he doesn’t consider himself retired. “I’m just not drawing.”
He says he spends several hours a day playing jazz guitar, “the demon that keeps chasing me.” He takes lessons and jams with friends, limiting performances to “sneaking into little gigs, just the guitar player in the background, just for the fun of it.”