The Complete Far Side
by Gary Larson

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

prefatory text by Steve Martin, Jake Morrissey, Michael Reagan, & Gary Larson

Andrews McMeel: Kansas City, 2003

2 volumes of illustrations:
xx + 644 & 601 pages

March 2010


First we must appreciate that The Complete Far Side is a giant collection of comic art. This is the entire set of Gary Larson's Far Side single-panel cartoons which began in 1980 and ran daily in newspapers for fifteen years. This set is a nice match for Bill Watterson's The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

These cartoons have been collected in a numerous assortment of smaller books over the years. The Complete Far Side has them all in one place, plus an appendix with a few more. Even better, many more cartoons have full-color renditions than we've seen before in newspapers or smaller collections. Dogs and cows, rhinos and bears, schoolkids and headhunters, anthropologists in the jungle and chemists in laboratories, wild animals on city streets — they're all here in their classic collisions, funny misadventures, and general wonderment at each other.

Larson adds some discussion at the beginning of the various years, such as the fine memoir of the huge draft horse Nelly on his grandparents' farm (1985). There are also some nostalgic photos, and scattered throughout are samples of fan mail, hate mail, and bewildered mail.

With all this material in just two volumes, we need to note one drawback: these are big, solid, quite heavy books. Archival paper, sturdy binding, room not only for standard-sized cartoon panels but for larger versions of many, and some full- and double-page color spreads — excellent but weighty material when gathered together. These volumes are most comfortably browsed when spread on a table in front of the reader. They're very heavy for a lap, and awkward in most other arrangements.

The Complete Far Side will provide any fan with many hours of enjoyment. My personal favorites? Way too many to list, and there are quite a few cartoons whose themes or captions repeatedly come up in casual conversation. If a single one comes unbidden to my mind most often, it probably is the piquant mixture of humor with theology: "God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room." (24 September 1986)


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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