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Friday, July 10, 2015

The PreHistory of The Far Side. A 10th Anniversary Exhibit. Gary Larson (Writer & Artist). Warner Books (1992)

A very enjoyable and engaging book that allows Gary Larson the room to talk about his comics and other topics as well as presenting a gallery of Far Side cartoons.
The first section is the origin of the Far Side, including picture from young Gary Larson's life that are as clever and sharp as any Far side panel. The steady development of the perspective that came to flower in the Far Side is nicely laid out, the same humour is evident, its really  form that developed rather than the content.
The second section is a fascinating look at the various processes that Gary Larson used to develop a Far Side panel. Gary Larson tackles the most absurd and important question that any creator gets asked, "Where do your ideas come from?". For all of us with our noses pressed against the wrong side of the window from the creative process this is heartfelt, we can see what the creator sees after it is shown to us. We participate but do not create, and it is entirely fair to wonder "How did you see that?", see something that is crystal clear after it has been pointed out and completely, cosmically invisible beforehand. Gary Larson does not answer the question anymore than anyone can, what he does do is generously share the visible steps in a process that lead to a panel. Most importantly for any Far Side fan it includes the Cow Zero panel, the first Far Side panel featuring a cow, and happily it is a joy as well.
A Sketchbook Sampler and Stories are just what the titles say they are, random jottings that Gary Larson insists have no relevance or significance, except for the fact that they are the random sketch book of the creator of the Far Side and feel like roads not taken, directions that could have been followed if the Far Side format not established itself as creatively satisfying.
Mutations (Mistakes, Mine & Theirs) is a section about elements of a panel that Gary Larson now regrets or dislikes and mistakes made in the publishing process. Subtle Things is a detailed process look at some of the elements of some Far Side panels, why they work or did not.
One of the most fascinating part of the book is Public Response, complaints about Far Side panels from newspaper editors and readers. The range of complaints is very wide and all to take a single panel cartoon much too seriously.
The final two sections of the book are Rejected Cartoons, and the Exhibition, a selection of Far Side panels that Gary Larson has chosen form from the previous 10 years of work because he liked them.
Single panel cartoons are astounding difficult to pull off, everything has to be clear all at once so the carton explodes like a firework. Gary Larson manages to cram so much unseen context into a simple subtle panel that each cartoon unfolds in the reader's imagination at the speed of light. Whatever the idea he sees it in a way that is entirely , colossally obvious and hilarious after you read it and utterly mysterious before that. Probably the most astonishing aspect to the whole thing is that each time I read them, they are still new and dazzlingly funny, the creative force burns each time.  A great book that happily explains noting about an extraordinary talent but shows it off to wonderful effect.

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