Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review - The Far Side Gallery 4 by Gary Larson

Short review: Gary Larson's strips are still really funny. Robin Williams' foreword is surprisingly bland.

Fish on land are screwed
And Robin Williams is boring
The Far Side: still great!

Full review: The Far Side Gallery 4 is, naturally enough, the fourth compilation of Far Side comic strips put out by Gary Larson. This compilation includes strips from the previously released collections Wildlife Preserves, Wiener Dog Art, and Unnatural Selections. Unlike some other Far Side collections, the only bit of extra content included is a fairly brief foreword written by comedian Robin Williams.

The primary difficulty in reviewing a book that consists of a series of single panel comic strips is that there is both too much and too little material. Since all of the strips are unrelated single shot jokes, there is no theme, no plot, and no ongoing characters to provide the meat for a review. One could, on the other hand, try to review every individual strip, which would lead to a ridiculously long and not very readable piece of work. The only truly overarching things that can be said about the book are that the strips contained in it are from the heart of Larson's comic writing career, they are almost all weird and funny in the way that only Far Side comics are, and that the usual cast of cows, dogs, insects, dorks, cowboys, scientists, and snakes all make their appearance. As a further bonus, several full color strips are included interspersed with the black and white ones, and several strips (both color and otherwise) are presented in a full-page format.

The only unfunny thing about the entire book is, oddly, Robin Williams' surprisingly bland foreword that reads like Williams was trying to maniacally funny in his writing, but simply comes off as manic. Based upon this, it seems clear to me why Williams never became a writer. But Larson is always bitingly funny, even when he is trying to subtly convey a serious message. As one might expect of a man whose output includes so many animals, more than a few of the strips in this collection have an environmentalist message, such as the strip in which two bears create a pipeline into a human home to get rid of animal waste. But these strips are still funny, and the added implied message just makes them even better. But there are plenty of straight up bizarre bits of humors included, such as a family of goldfish escaped from their burning bowl only to observe that they are still screwed, or Leon Redbone hosting a workout video, or the infamous strip (which caused a minor controversy, amicably resolved, with the Jane Goodall Foundation) involving a female ape grooming her companion and finding blond hair. To sum up, nearly every page has at least one really funny strip, and most have several.

This is, in short, a truly funny collection of the strange and bizarre humor that is Gary Larson's unique genius. From start to finish, the comics give an odd, off-kilter view of the world that is so out of the ordinary that even the mundane becomes hilarious. The collection even includes my favorite strip (which my horseback riding wife and daughter hate) with rifle toting doctors at the horse hospital, which is a personal added bonus for me. If you like the Far Side, then this is a collection you should love.

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