Just shy of 25 years since its last original installment, the offbeat comic strip “The Far Side” has returned. In a manner of speaking, but please don’t call it a comeback.
“I’m not ‘back,’ at least in the sense I think you’re asking,” said Gary Larson, the cartoonist who created it. “Returning to the world of deadlines isn’t exactly on my to-do list.”
The “Far Side” website has started providing visitors with “The Daily Dose,” a random selection of past cartoons, along with a weekly set of strips arranged by theme. There also is a look at doodles from the sketchbooks of Larson, who said: “I’m looking forward to slipping in some new things every so often.”
“The Far Side” became a cultural phenomenon after it appeared in 1980. The single-panel comic, which ran until Larson, now 69, retired in 1995, featured men, women, children, animals and insects in often offbeat and sometimes inscrutable situations.
After stepping away from his daily deadline 24 years ago, Larson said he rarely drew, except for Christmas cards. But even that was not easy. It “had turned into an annual pain because I seemed to always be dealing with clogged pens, dried-up markers, or something else related to lack of use,” he said.
That changed when he tried working on a digital tablet.
“Lo and behold, within moments I found myself having fun drawing again,” he said.
He credits his career to “Alley Oop.”
“I had always liked to draw as a kid, and I remember being grabbed visually by that strip. I was especially fascinated with the dinosaurs, and that’s when I started drawing my own, along with other animals. No cows, though.
“Later came a major influence from Mad magazine, especially the style and humor of Don Martin. I think that’s the first time I actually laughed at a cartoon. Still later I was taken with the cartoons of Gahan Wilson, B. Kliban and George Booth. All these cartoonists seemed to attach a lot of importance to nuance and composition. There was something almost organic going on between the humor and the art that conveyed it.”
The strip generated its share of controversy. A chimp once described Jane Goodall as a tramp, although apparently there were no hard feelings. She later wrote the foreword for a collected edition of the series.
“Doing something controversial was never my intention,” he said. “This was just my sense of humor, and the kind of humor in my family. I never drew anything my mom wouldn’t have laughed at. Of course, my mom was insane. I’m kidding! Well, maybe a little.”
He never gave the strip the hard sell. He figured that people either liked it or they didn’t — including the newspaper editors who decided whether to run it.
“Seems to me cartoons have to speak for themselves. My goal was to see if I could get editors to just look at my work. Other than that, I stayed out of it.”
Nor was he worried about becoming successful.
“I just wanted to be able to pay my rent,” he said. “Beyond reaching that goal, I really didn’t care much. I was doing something I loved, getting by, and that’s what mattered. So, in my own eyes, I think I became successful somewhere in my second year. But I’m not sure I ever quite shook the sense that the whole thing might be a house of cards. I always felt like yesterday’s cartoon was yesterday’s cartoon, and I was only as funny as today’s.”