Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review - The Far Side Gallery 3 by Gary Larson

Short review: Another large collection of the weird and funny single panel comics with an introduction by Stephen Jay Gould.

Cows! Insects! Lions!
An introduction by Gould
All seen off-kilter

Full review: The Far Side Gallery 3 is, as one might expect, the third omnibus collection of Gary Larson's very funny but always off-kilter comic strip The Far Side featuring the usual cast of cows, cavemen, nerds, insects and other strange denizens of Larson's twisted imagination. The single panel comics that make up the bulk of the book are the usual collection of weird but funny windows into a strange alternate reality where lions open car doors with coat-hangers to get at tourists and praying mantises argue over who ate whose husband. As usual for his collections, Larson recruited someone interesting to write the introduction to the book, in this case the noted scientist (and co creator of the theory of punctuated equilibrium) Stephen Jay Gould who merely introduces himself as a paleontologist and taxonomist who studies snails.

Though depreciating his own talents at humorous writing, Gould dissects why Larson is so popular among scientists, noting that by Gould's estimation 80% of the doors of his colleagues are decorated with a Far Side strip or two. Gould's introduction examines why this is the case, as he says, it isn't just the chuckles. And the fact that, as Gould notes, Larson has such a keep eye for reality and the weirdness that is just a hair away from reality that makes his strips so enduring. The idea of a cow in a hamster ball rolling about the house is funny because it is silly, but so is the idea of putting a hamster in a ball and setting him loose about the house. we just don't think about the silliness of the hamster in a ball until Larson makes us. Over and over again, Larson takes the mundane, rotates it slightly and gives us flies examining their garbage filled baby nursery or birds getting excited over cocktails served with skewered bugs or cavemen playing rock paper scissors before paper and scissors were invented. Almost every strip is funny, some will make you laugh out loud.

(As an aside, I only found one comic in this book to be not very funny. It is on page 181, and involves a brother playing a prank on his sister. There's nothing offensive about the strip, in fact it is just so boringly mundane that it seems like it should be filler in Family Circus rather than something in The Far Side).

The comics in this collection are from Larson's prime as a cartoonist, and it shows. The comics are almost all at least funny, and over and over again a strip will hit just the right comic note to make it hilarious. If you like The Far Side and its strange humor as I do, then this book is a must read.

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