Gary Larson (1950-): The Far Side of Creativity

Gary Larson (1950-): The Far Side of Creativity

Gary Larson, born on August 14, 1950, is an iconic American cartoonist celebrated for his unparalleled contributions to the world of comics. His magnum opus, “The Far Side,” is a testament to his creative brilliance. This article will delve into Larson’s life, career, and the surreal world he brought to life through his single-panel cartoons.

Gary Larson

Born: August 14, 1950

Birthplace: Tacoma, Washington, U.S.

Occupation: Cartoonist

Notable Works: The Far Side

Spouse: Toni Carmichael (m. 1987)

Early Life and Influences

Gary Larson’s journey into humor began in University Place, Washington. Born to Verner, a car salesman, and Doris, a secretary, Larson’s upbringing was infused with a unique sense of humor. Influenced by his older brother Dan’s “paranoid” sense of humor, Larson developed a keen interest in the absurd and the comical.

During high school and college, Larson’s interests extended beyond humor; he was also a skilled jazz guitarist and banjo player. These diverse influences would later find expression in the rich tapestry of “The Far Side.”


Cartoonist. Performed as a musician in a jazz duo, 1973-76; worked at a music store in Seattle, WA, 1976-77; Seattle Times, Seattle, cartoonist for the weekly feature “Nature’s Way,” 1978-79; Humane Society, Seattle, animal abuse investigator, 1978-80; cartoonist for the daily feature “The Far Side,” syndicated by Chronicle Features, San Francisco, CA, 1979-80, syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate, Kansas City, MO, 1984-95. Owner, FarWorks, Inc. Exhibitions: “The Far Side of Science,” California Academy of Sciences, 1985, with the subsequent tour; “The Far Side of the Zoo,” Washington Park Zoo, 1986.

The Birth of The Far Side

Larson’s entry into the world of cartooning was somewhat serendipitous. Dissatisfied with his job at a music store, he submitted six cartoons to Pacific Search, which marked the inception of “Nature’s Way.” This eventually evolved into “The Far Side” after Larson pitched it to the San Francisco Chronicle during a vacation in 1980.

“The Far Side” distinguished itself with surreal and often anthropomorphic themes. Larson fearlessly explored the quirks of humans and animals, presenting a humorous mirror to society. The strip’s success led to international syndication, captivating readers for fifteen years.

Themes and Impact

Larson’s cartoons were characterized by their surrealism. Whether depicting a family of spiders driving with a “Have a Nice Day” bumper sticker or showcasing the antics of chimpanzees, Larson’s wit transcended traditional comic boundaries. Notably, his cartoon featuring a chimpanzee couple garnered attention from the Jane Goodall Institute, becoming a positive collaboration for wildlife conservation.

The Far Side’s significance was further underscored by a significant exhibition of Larson’s original works at the California Academy of Sciences in 1985. The cartoons also entered popular culture through greeting cards and two animated television specials.

Retirement and Beyond

In 1995, Larson retired from “The Far Side” at its peak, wanting to avoid the “Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons.” Despite retiring from the daily strip, Larson continued occasional cartoon work, including illustrations and promotional art. He also published “There’s a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm’s Story,” a book with thematic similarities to “The Far Side.”

Larson’s versatility extends beyond cartooning. A jazz guitarist since his teen years, he even provided cover art for a jazz album. His foray into magazine cover art, including one for The New Yorker, showcased his artistic breadth.

Awards, Honors

National Cartoonists Society Award for best humor panel, 1986; Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, National Cartoonists Society, 1991; Max and Moritz Prize for best international comic strip panel, International Comics Salon, 1993; Grand Prix, Annecy International Animated Film Festival, 1995, for animated film Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side.



The Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1982.

Beyond the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1983.

In Search of the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1984.

The Far Side Gallery, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1984.

Bride of the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1985.

Valley of the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1985.

It Came from the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1986.

The Far Side Gallery 2, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1986.

The Far Side Observer, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1987.

Hound of the Far Side, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1987.

Night of the Crash-Test Dummies, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1988.

The Far Side Gallery 3, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1988.

The Prehistory of the Far Side: A Tenth-Anniversary Exhibit, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1989.

Wildlife Preserves: A Far Side Collection, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1989.

Wiener-Dog Art: A Far Side Collection, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1990.

Unnatural Selections: A Far Side Collection, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1991.

Cows of Our Planet: A Far Side Collection, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1992.

The Far Side Gallery 4, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1993.

The Chickens Are Restless, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1993.

The Curse of Madame “C”: A Far Side Collection, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1994.

The Far Side Gallery 5, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1995.

Last Chapter and Worse, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1996.

The Complete Far Side, foreword by Steve Martin, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 2003.


Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side, broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 1994, produced on video, fireworks (Seattle, WA), 1994.

Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side II (video), Far-Works (Seattle, WA), 1997.


(Illustrator with B. Rodgers) Dee Scarr, The Gentle Sea, PADI, 1990.

There’s a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm’s Story(children’s book), foreword by Edward O. Wilson, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1998.


Larson’s cartoon images have been featured on clothing, mugs, calendars, greeting cards, and gift items.


Before his retirement in 1995, cartoonist Gary Larson drew millions of daily newspaper readers into his unconventional and surreal world through the one-panel comic feature “The Far Side.” In Larson’s strip, animals are always smarter than humans and the humans themselves are always very strange.

Syndicated in more than 1,900 newspapers throughout the United States, “The Far Side” has also been collected into bestselling cartoon anthologies that have sold over 40 million copies, and another 60 million “The Far Side” calendars have been purchased by fans of Larson’s quirky art. In “The Far Side,” observed Nancy Shute in the Smithsonian, “the simple line drawings—doodles, almost—get [Larson’s] point across, hooking deeply into the psyches of the susceptible. The natural order of things goes seriously awry, with hilarious results.”

James Kelly, writing in Time, asserted that “if a single theme animates [Larson’s] work, it is that man, for all his achievements, is just one species on earth, and not always the wisest or strongest one. His prehistoric cave dwellers and chunky matrons with beehive hairdos and sequined glasses are vulnerable and foolish, while his cows and bears are wise and resourceful.” Larson related to Kelly: “It’s wonderful that we live in a world in which there are things that can eat us. It keeps us from getting too cocky.”

This attitude is reflected in Larson’s creations, which present such odd juxtapositions as a movie-theater crowded with insects waiting to watch Return of the Killer Windshield; campers slumbering in sleeping bags while bears examining them exclaim, “Sandwiches!”; and a pilot mildly puzzling over the appearance of a mountain goat in the cloud bank directly ahead. Commenting on this brand of humor, Detroit News critic Beaufort Cranford declared that “The Far Side” is “radically dependent on twists of perception,” adding that Larson’s humor is “so black that it can only have come from the eerie corridors of a very bizarre mind.… It is also the stuff of a demented imagination.”

Other reactions to Larson’s work include Washington Post contributor Richard Harrington’s announcement that “The Far Side” is nothing short of “macabre, weird, zany, twisted, whimsical, fiendish, bizarre, odd, strange.”

Love for Animals Leads to Cartooning Career

Born August 14, 1950, in Tacoma, Washington, Larson has admitted that as a child he had “an infatuation with animals in general.” In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, he explained that he has always loved both biology and art: “Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been walking around swamps and tidelands with nets and jars. But simultaneously, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been drawing.”

He attended Washington State University, where he received a B.A. in communications in 1972. Larson began cartooning in an offhand way while working at a series of diverse jobs. After performing as a jazz guitarist in a duo called Tom and Gary, he worked at a music store in Seattle, Washington. In the late 1970s, while working at the music store, he drew several cartoons and offered them to Pacific Search, a nature magazine.

“They bought all six,” he related in his interview with Harrington. “I was shocked.” The sale encouraged Larson to continue cartooning after he began working for the Humane Society in 1978. During an investigation of animal abuse, Larson met a Seattle Times reporter who saw his cartoons and urged him to submit them to her paper. Soon the Seattle Times was running a weekly cartoon, “Nature’s Way,” that the cartoonist referred to as his “training ground.”

Shute related that “Nature’s Way” was canceled within a year “after complaints about the unnatural selection of the subject matter.” Heeding a new suggestion, Larson submitted his material to the San Francisco Chronicle and eventually signed a five-year contract with Chronicle Features syndicate, which nationally introduced Larson’s daily cartoon as “The Far Side.” The subject matter of the strip remained under fire, however. “I lived in terror of cancellation,” revealed Larson in an interview with Tim Appelo for Pacific Northwest.

“I was always being canceled by newspapers, and I was horrified every time. All these ‘Nancy’ readers would see this hideous thing and cry out. But the people on the news staff enjoyed the strip. I think that’s the single thing that saved me.”

“The Far Side,” syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate beginning in 1984, was a regular feature in more than 300 American dailies within its first seven years; by the time Larson retired in 1995, the cartoon would appear in almost 1,900 newspapers. Larson’s “weirdly inverted depictions of life in the food chain have snared him … a swift … fame” observed Lisa Kinoshita in Saturday Review. In addition to his highly successful cartoon, Larson also had several bestselling anthologies of his work, including The Far Side, In Search of the Far Side, Valley of the Far Side, Night of the Crash-Test Dummies, Wildlife Preserves, and Cows of Our Planet.

Larson explained to Cranford that he believed his strip “touches a sense of humor that’s always been out there somewhere. Television and other media have reflected that kind of humor, but it had never found its way into the newspapers. I think there was oddness out there that made people ready to accept and enjoy it.” Fans delighted, for example, in a panel depicting a boat full of headhunters staring incredulously at two tourists with enormously large heads as they paddle by.

In another “Far Side” cartoon, one praying mantis responds to the accusations of another: “I don’t know what you’re insinuating, Jane, but I haven’t seen your Harold all day—besides, surely you know I would only devour my husband!” And another favorite has a pack of dogs disguised as humans sneaking into a post office and attacking the workers.

In his interview with Cranford, Larson explained that for “Far Side” readers “a sort of vicarious release … takes place with this kind of humor. It’s much akin to slapstick comedy. You laugh when someone gets a pie thrown in their face or takes a pratfall, but when you think about it, it’s not funny at all—you’re laughing at someone else’s suffering. But it works because people know life’s just like that.” Larson continued: “I don’t think it’s sick.… There’s a distinction between something that’s sick and something that’s morbid humor.”

This contention might be based on such “Far Side” scenes as a freeway-driving dog whose master, tongue lolling, projects his head through the car’s open passenger window. Or one in which an astounding couple complains to a witch in whose care they had left their children, “We hired you to babysit the kids, and you cooked and ate them BOTH?” Larson admitted to Carol Krucoff in the Washington Post that “people get the short end of the stick more often in my stuff”; but, the cartoonist told Harrington, “I hope people see that it’s just silliness.”

Committed to the single-panel format, Larson described his work in an interview for People as “basically sitting down at the drawing table and getting silly.” He informed Harrington: “I think very visually and I think a single panel lends itself to that one instant visual image.… It all kind of comes to me at once, more or less simultaneous. Sometimes a caption will hit me first, but that’s rare.

Usually, it’s the image that will come first, this one hideous moment that just lands on me.” Such moments resulted in cartoons like the one in which a lemming trailing a suicidal group at the water’s edge glances furtively to determine if his life preserver will be detected; or one that depicted Reuben, the hospital worker, caught rubbing newborns on his clothes for static electricity and sticking them to the walls like balloons. For Larson, humor captured in single images like these depended on subtleties.

“I sweat over the nuances in a face or I try to think what is the focus of this cartoon,” Larson told Krucoff. This focus can sometimes be slightly blurred, however; not every reader always gets the joke. “I realize that some of my cartoons go over people’s heads,” admitted Larson in an interview with Sheridan Warrick for Pacific Discovery. “But if out of ten people, I think that one will bellylaugh and the other nine will be dumbfounded, I’ll go for it. The one thing I try not to do is condescend to people. If you start doing cartoons that are too universal, you end up with something milked out and uninteresting. I’d rather be misunderstood.”

A variety of characters filled Larson’s subtle and sometimes “misunderstood” cartoons, but more often than not the starring roles were given to animals. “Mostly I think of animals as a vehicle for my particular sense of humor,” explained Larson in a San Francisco Chronicle interview with David Perlman. “A lot of the time I end up exploring the weird prejudices we humans have toward some animals. If a real animal starts adding too many legs or too many eyes, it seems to become too alien for most of us to stand.”

Among the many animals that were fodder for Larson’s work were cows, one of his personal favorites. “I particularly enjoy drawing cows,” Larson related to Harrington. “I’m not exactly sure why. They seem to be some kind of absurd, almost non sequitur animal to put into certain situations. I even find humor in the name.” Shute, who identified scientists as among Larson’s first and most appreciative fans, quoted a Smithsonian Institution National Zoo bird curator’s admission that “if you have any knowledge of animals, the cartoon is ridiculous to the point that you laugh uncontrollably.” Larson’s fans in the scientific community have named new species of a biting louse and a butterfly after him.

In “The Far Side” Larson’s pursuit of fun and silliness met with enormous success, a circumstance the cartoonist found difficult to trust. He told Krucoff: “Sometimes I have a hard time shaking the feeling that there’s been a big mistake. It’s taken me by surprise that things have happened the way they have.… I have a sense of not wanting to give myself over to it entirely, a sense that it could all suddenly turn to smoke or I’m going to hear my mother’s voice in the distance saying, ‘Gaaaaary, time for school!’ and there I am, 12 years old.”

Larson echoed this skeptical outlook in an interview for People: “I keep thinking someone’s gonna shows up and says, ‘There’s been a mistake. The guy next door is supposed to be drawing the cartoon. Here’s your shovel.'”

C14CB19B AA2B 4557 ABC5 F16434BF8332 - Gary Larson (1950-): The Far Side of Creativity

Retirement and Beyond

Despite Larson’s fear, it was not “the guy next door” but Larson himself who ended his stint producing one of the nation’s most beloved cartoons. Citing fatigue and “dread that his work might ‘ease into the Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons,'” as the cartoonist was quoted by Newsweek contributor David Gate, Larson announced in late 1994 that he was retiring. His announcement was similar to one he made in 1988 when he took a sabbatical of fourteen months from writing the cartoon, but in this case, his work stoppage was for good.

Summing up Larson’s incredible run with “The Far Side,” Alexander Cockburn in the Nation wrote: “Larson is not the first satirist of the human condition to tell parables through beasts. But before him, cows never had the sensitivities of Proust, nor dogs the wisdom of Solomon.” And Gate noted, “[Larson] made his chronically disoriented creatures as familiar and cherished as Blondie, Nancy, and Dick Tracy.”

Larson’s retirement from writing and drawing “The Far Side” has not meant a complete retirement from creative activity. In 1994 he released Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side, an animated special that was broadcast on the CBS television network. This was followed by the 1997 release of Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side II. Speaking to David Astor in Editor and Publisher about the difficulties of doing animation, Larson quipped: “When I drew characters in the past, I didn’t count on them turning 360 degrees.”

If you enjoy the works of Gary Larson

you may also want to check out the following:

Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip by Bill Watterson.

Bizarro, a comic strip by Dan Piraro.

Pooch Café, a comic strip by Paul Gilligan.

In 1998 Larson also published a children’s book he had been working on for some fifteen years, There’s a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm’s Story. Released on Earth Day, the book presents an ecological message. As noted by U.S. biologist Edward O. Wilson stated in the book’s foreword, Larson’s message is: “Nature is part of us and we are part of Nature.” In addition to his writing work, Washington native Larson has also pursued his long-time interest in jazz guitar, sometimes playing with a friend’s band in the Seattle area.

In 2003 fans of Larson’s work were overjoyed with the publication of The Complete Far Side, a massive collection containing every one of the over 4,000 “The Far Side” cartoons in chronological order by original publication date. The two-volume collection also contains introductions by Larson to each of the book’s fourteen chapters—one chapter for each year the cartoon strip ran—and a selection of readers’ letters, both good and bad, that he received about his cartoons.

Also, Larson’s former editor at the newspaper syndicate, who was charged with “explaining” the more obscure Far Side cartoons to puzzled readers, describes his thankless job. As comedian Steve Martin, in his foreword to the collection, sadly reports, “many of the scenes depicted in this book are false.” Speaking to Joel Stein of Time about the collection, Larson maintained: “I just like to feel the weight. It’s a 20-pounder, Mom! It can alternate as a murder weapon.”

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, October 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of The Complete Far Side, p. 355.

Chicago Tribune, January 5, 1983; June 4, 1984; February 24, 1987; September 3, 1987; December 3, 1991, section 14, pp. 11, 13.

Detroit News, November 20, 1984.

Editor and Publisher, October 15, 1994, David Astor, “Larson Fans Praise His Departing Panel,” p. 36; June 3, 1995, David Astor, “Retired Cartoonist Receives a Reuben,” p. 48; December 9, 1995, David Astor, “Comic Retirements: A Fluke or a Trend?,” p. 30; March 21, 1998, David Astor, “Gary Larson and Life Beyond ‘The Far Side,'” p. 34; September 29, 2003, Dave Astor, “‘Far Side’ Back for an ‘Encore,'” p. 53.

Entertainment Weekly, October 28, 1994, Ken Tucker, review of Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side, p. 78.

Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1984; December 9, 1985; November 19, 1986.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 4, 1983; December 9, 1984; November 26, 1989; December 10, 1995, p. 15.

Nation, January 2, 1995, Alexander Cockburn, “Gary, Is It Goodbye?” p. 7.

Newsweek, October 10, 1988; January 9, 1995, David Gates, “Say It Ain’t So, Gary,” p. 62.

New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1987; November 12, 1989, p. 54.

Pacific Discovery, October-December, 1985, Sheridan Warrick, interview with Larson.

Pacific Northwest, September 1987, Tim Appelo, interview with Larson.

People, February 4, 1985, Fred Bernstein, “Loony ‘Toonist Gary Larson Takes Millions for a Daily Walk on The Far Side,” p.103; June 21, 1985; October 31, 1994, Craig Tomashoff, review of Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side,p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1984; May 18, 1998, “The Larson Conundrum,” p. 24; September 15, 2003, review of The Complete Far Side, p. 56.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 1982; October 11, 1983; May 13, 1985; December 1, 1985; August 20, 1987.

Saturday Review, November-December, 1984.

Smithsonian, April 1984, Nancy Shute, “Scientists Meet Their Alter Ego on the Far Side, “p.113.

Time, December 1, 1986, James Kelly, “All Creatures Weird and Funny; Cartoonist Gary Larson Views Man and Beast from The Far Side,” p. 86; October 17, 1994, “Retiring, Gary Larson,” p. 25; October 6, 2003, Joel Stein, “Life beyond the Far Side: Nearly Nine Years after His Abrupt Retirement, Gary Larson Puts out a Collection of His Seminal Comics,” p. 71.

U.S. News and World Report, June 15, 1998, “Back from the Far Side, “p.14.

Washington Post, June 16, 1983; June 10, 1984.

Washington Post Book World, September 2, 1984; October 19, 1986; November 12, 1989, p. 19.

Online Presence and The Far Side’s Return

While initially resistant to his work being displayed online, Larson’s stance softened in 2019. The launch of “” in December 2019 marked his official online presence. In 2020, he introduced a new section, “New Stuff,” signaling a promising return to the cartooning scene.


Gary Larson’s indelible mark on the world of cartoons is a testament to his creativity and wit. From the surreal landscapes of “The Far Side” to his contributions beyond cartooning, Larson’s legacy continues to captivate audiences. As he ushers in a new era of “The Far Side” online, fans can once again revel in the brilliance of a cartoonist who dared to explore the far side of creativity.

Read also

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gary Larson and “The Far Side”:

When was Gary Larson born, and where is he from?

Gary Larson was born on August 14, 1950, in Tacoma, Washington, USA.

What is Gary Larson best known for?

Gary Larson is best known for creating “The Far Side,” a single-panel cartoon series syndicated internationally to over 1,900 newspapers for fifteen years.

When did Gary Larson retire, and why?

Gary Larson retired from “The Far Side” on January 1, 1995, at 44. He felt the series was becoming repetitive and did not want to produce mediocre cartoons.

Is “The Far Side” making a comeback?

In September 2019, Larson’s website hinted at a “new online era of The Far Side.” On July 8, 2020, Larson released three new comics, marking his return after 25 years.

How many books of collected cartoons has Gary Larson published?

Gary Larson has published twenty-three books of collected cartoons, with combined sales of more than forty-five million copies.

What is Gary Larson’s educational background?

Gary Larson graduated from Curtis Senior High School in University Place and earned a degree in communications from Washington State University in Pullman.

Who is Gary Larson’s spouse, and when did they get married?

Gary Larson has been married to Toni Carmichael since 1987. She is an anthropologist who later became his business manager.

What are some notable themes in “The Far Side”?

Themes in “The Far Side” are often surreal, featuring human and animal behavior comparisons. Larson’s humor explores the quirky and sometimes absurd aspects of life.

Has Gary Larson received any awards for his work?

Gary Larson has received several awards, including the Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award and the Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society.

Why did Larson name his cartoon series “The Far Side”?

Larson renamed his cartoon series from “Nature’s Way” to “The Far Side” when it was syndicated by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1980. He had no qualms about the name and humorously stated that it could have been called “Revenge of the Zucchini People” for all he cared.

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