Have you ever read any of Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics? If you answered ‘no’ to that previous question, you need to give your head a violent shaking. When you’ve finished that, you’re going to want to go out and buy any collection of Far Side comics you can get your dirty little hands on. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE HILARIOUS! And I don’t mean hilarious like when you run into a person you didn’t expect to see at a certain place type of hilarious (if you’ve seen the latest Louis C.K. special on HBO you know what I mean). No, I mean the kind of hilarious where you have to stop reading those comics because the people on the train are all staring at you for laughing uncontrollably and wish you would just shut the hell up… but you can’t. Larson has an incredible talent for transferring comedic timing onto a page. David Carrier talks about Gary Larson’s work but does not include images to further the point. I intend on doing just that, as well as talking about some of Larson’s other finer points that Carrier simply misses (because he is too busy musing whether or not we, as a society, are full of pricks because we enjoy Larson’s violence and doom filled cartoons)
I’ll show a few examples of how Gary Larson is able to generate such pants-shitting hilarity while only using one panel and some text underneath (and sometimes not even needing the text).
The pending doom that is about to happen in 3…2…1… : Larson’s signature style is that of showing the calm before the storm. Put another way, you see the step that leads up to a catastrophe, without seeing the catastrophe itself, thus YOU as a reader get to make that up. That’s where the humor comes from. The idiot characters doing stupidly hilarious things, leads to awful consequences, and you get to imagine it all. This is done simply through the prompt of a one panel image. Take the following example. These idiots have just tunneled out of what appears to be prison, and they’re obviously right near the surface. Except the surface is underneath what looks like it could be an ocean or a lake or maybe even a river. It’s clear these idiots didn’t think this one through. The text says “We’re almost free, everyone!… I just felt the first drop of rain.” This enhances our enjoyment of the situation—their misreading of the situation makes their obliviousness that much funnier. But you don’t even need the text to understand what’s going on. It’s the classic tunneling out of prison gag, except this time there won’t be a big manhunt to catch the escapees. Instead their own stupidity is going to finally catch up with them.
But Larson also has a knack for drawing the impossibly fantastic, yet completely bizarre. It’s really his art that shines here. In this comic, you see a couple of bears riffling through some poor mans wallet after they had just mauled him. The reader gets to play out the mauling beforehand if they wish, but it’s not tantamount to the humor. The humor comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the matter. Not to mention the way the bears are drawn. Tiny little dot eyes, big fat bodies; you’d think these bears were innocent if you saw them in any other context. But no, they are currently mugging some poor hiker. And what the hell will they do with any money they find? Well in Larson’s world, it probably wouldn’t be an uncommon sight to see a couple of grizzly bears in a bar having a couple drinks. The violence is overshadowed by the humorous personification of these bears, who have turned into mere street thugs.
If you haven’t spent any time just flipping through old Gary Larson books, you need to do so. Your sanity will thank you for it.