Gary Larson revisits The Far Side with anthology of over 4,000 cartoons
SEATTLE (AP) – Crafty cows, restless chickens, talking insects and dorky scientists are invading bookstores across the continent. This can mean only one thing: Gary Larson is back.

The Far Side creator broke the hearts of twisted-humour fans everywhere when he retired at the height of his popularity in 1994 to pursue his love of jazz guitar.
But Larson has returned to the monster-filled closet of his past to release a massive anthology, two volumes containing more than 4,000 cartoons that tell the complete story of The Far Side.
In person, the 53-year-old Larson looks as normal as his cartoon creations are weird. Soft-spoken, with white hair curling just past his ears, wearing black-rimmed glasses and sneakers, he could be everyone’s favourite college professor – laid-back yet geekily passionate about his interests, modest yet smart enough that his punch lines sometimes prompt trips to the dictionary.
He never relished the role of celebrity cartoonist, preferring instead to live quietly in Seattle with his wife of 15 years, Toni, and their bull mastiff, Vivian. He agreed to only a few interviews as his nine-kilogram anthology landed in bookstores with a thud.
A perfectionist who could spend hours drawing one pair of eyeballs to achieve the precise goofy effect, Larson retired from cartooning in 1994, in order to go before his quality started slipping.
“You have to retain a little dose of fear with it, to keep your edge, to feel like every day is show time,” he says. “You can just start coasting a little bit. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to bring it to an elegant conclusion.”
Fear is a recurring motif in Larson’s work. He is, after all, the inventor of the Monster Snorkel. One of his cartoons depicts a device that allows children to breathe in a monster-infested room while remaining securely under the covers.
In the essays included in the anthology, Larson explores the twisted roots of his fertile imagination. Special credit goes to older brother Dan, a maestro at manipulating Larson’s fear of closet monsters.
Even Larson’s current passion, jazz guitar, leads him back to the importance of fear.
“It has some parallels to cartooning, because it’s improvisational – you never know exactly how something is going to turn out,” Larson says. “Taking a solo on a tune is always a little bit scary. Yet it has structure, there are certain rules to follow and you try to create something within those rules.”
Larson’s penchant for improvisation blossomed as a child, when he first started drawing on the scraps of paper his mother brought home from work.
He grew up in Tacoma, and spent many happy moments of his childhood mucking through swamps in search of snakes and bugs to collect. Dinosaurs, whales and other beasts dominated his early drawings.
But while his passion for collecting critters continued into adulthood, he stopped drawing.
“Actually,” he said about his simple style, “you can kind of see it hasn’t evolved since grade school.”
He studied biology and majored in communications at Washington State University. After graduating in 1972, he formed a jazz duo with a friend, with himself on guitar and banjo. When musical fame and fortune eluded him, Larson worked in a music store and later as an investigator for the Seattle Humane Society – and he decided to try drawing again.
A single-panel cartoon called Nature’s Way published in a Seattle-based magazine evolved into The Far Side, which was eventually syndicated and published in more than 1,900 newspapers worldwide.

It’s easy to forget how new and strange The Far Side was when it debuted in 1980. Those who got it, loved it. Many readers didn’t. They saw danger in Larson’s work, and not just the danger of laughing so hard that whatever beverage you’re drinking shoots out of your nose.
The Complete Far Side includes letters from readers, ranging from puzzled to hostile:
– “The Minneapolis Tribune should drop The Far Side until Gary Larson completes psychotherapy to overcome his problem.”
– “Why don’t you get rid of that garbage? We don’t need it on the family funny page, and I want to keep my subscription. Whatever happened to Annie?”
The complaints took Larson by surprise.
“You start off thinking that everyone in the world has the same sense of humour as your six friends,” he says. “I was surprised at just how upset some people could be.”
Besides the hate mail, he also got many fan letters. Scientists named two species after him – a butterfly and a biting louse. Larson still sounds touched by the honour: “It was just extremely, extremely flattering.”
Even the louse?
“Oh, yeah.” He laughs. “Maybe especially the louse.”
Larson’s new anthology published by Andrews McMeel is the first collection of all his Far Side cartoons. The Complete Far Side has a list price of $135 US, though it was recently selling for $94.50 on
Larson still designs a yearly Christmas card as part of the still profitable empire of Far Side merchandise. He recently drew a cover for The New Yorker magazine, a prestigious offer he said he couldn’t refuse. But mostly, he has moved on.
Still, fan letters continue to arrive at his Seattle home. People say how they miss The Far Side, and how much they loved their glimpses into the bizarre world of Larson’s imagination.
“That was very wonderful to hear – that for some people, it actually had some meaning,” Larson says. He pauses as if savouring one last, sweet jazz note lingering in the air.
Then he smiles and shakes his head. “But I’m outta here!”