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From 1980 to 1995, one comic strip reigned supreme: “The Far Side.” The sometimes-offbeat humor made the comic wildly popular, and it ran in nearly 2,000 newspapers at the height of its success. It spawned a range of products, including calendars, T-shirts, books, greeting cards and mugs. Created by cartoonist Gary Larson, “The Far Side” holds a special place in pop culture history. Whether you’re a casual fan or a dedicated devotee, here are seven facts about the comic that you probably never knew.
1. Larson did not want it to feature recurring characters.
When “The Far Side” was picked up for syndication, Chronicle Features thought the strip should follow standard comic strip conventions, including recurring characters. But Larson felt that using the same characters over and over didn’t fit his creative vision.
“They… wanted me to develop characters like Charlie Brown or something [who] would always come back,” Larson said in a 1998 NPR interview. “I instinctively thought of that as very limiting. And I also just didn’t see humor as something that had to be confined to one particular character. To me, what was exciting was trying to do something that would crack someone up. And I didn’t see how characters or a particular character enhanced that. In fact, I think it would work against it in some cases. A certain face on a character would work in one instance but not in another. Although admittedly, as the years went by, all my stuff got boiled down to about six faces.”
2. An Ohio newspaper mixed up the captions with those meant for “Dennis the Menace.”
In 1981, the “Dayton Daily News” made an epic mistake when it ran the captions meant for the “Dennis the Menace” comic alongside the images for “The Far Side” and vice versa. Hilariously, the paper made the same blunder again two years later!
3. “The Far Side” had a museum exhibit dedicated to it.
In 1985, the California Academy of Sciences created a special exhibit, “The Far Side of Science,” which featured 600 cartoons. The exhibit then traveled throughout the country, making stops in Los Angeles, Denver and Orlando.
4. “The Far Side” has supported charity.
In addition to being highly creative, Larson is also a noted philanthropist. In 2006, Larson donated all the profits from sales of his “The Far Side” calendar to Conservation International, an American environmental organization (you can find his last calendar, from 2002, on Amazon). He also supports animals’ rights.
5. There are two “The Far Side” animated shorts.
In 1994, CBS aired a 20-minute Halloween special, “Gary Larson’s Tales From the Far Side.” It was followed up by a sequel in 1997, “Gary Lawson’s Tales From the Far Side II.”
6. It has a whole new audience on the internet.
Although today’s young adults were just kids (or not even born yet!) during the comic’s heyday, its brilliant humor lives on through social media. A fan account that shares classic comics from the series has more than 47,000 followers on Twitter.
7. “The Far Side” is inspired by jazz.
Larson said he listens to Herb Ellis and other jazz musicians to get inspired when creating comics. In retirement, he took his passion for jazz to the next level, playing jazz guitar daily. He likens playing music to creating comics. “It has some parallels to cartooning, because it’s improvisational—you never know exactly how something is going to turn out,” Larson told The Washington Post. “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.
[h/t: Mental Floss]