Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review - Last Chapter and Worse by Gary Larson

Short review: A collection of the last Far Side strips published in the regular newspaper series, plus some bonus ones not published elsewhere.

The Far Side strip ends
With a family story
Plus some added strips

Full review: As the title of Last Chapter and Worse implies, this volume contains the last Far Side cartoons published during the final six months of the strip's run in the newspapers. The volume also includes thirteen strips written after the conclusion of the strip's syndicated run that were written to fill out the pages of the book, and a brief funny story Larson attributes to his father.

The included strips include the usual assortment of talking cows, dogs, and chickens, devils trying to run Hell, cowboys sitting around campfires, cavemen, witches and all the other familiar motifs that reoccur in Larson's strips. It should go without saying that the strips all feature the bizarre, off-kilter perspective on the world that is the staple of the Far Side. Standout strips include God pouring jerks into creation, just to spice things up, an inmate in Hell explaining that the sandwiches sometimes have scorpions in them, because it is Hell after all, research scientists taking classes in maniacal laughter, and the mob putting people in glass boxes covered in mime makeup as a means of retribution. My favorite is probably the hunter who asks his assistant to take his elephant gun and hand him the mime rifle. However, picking the best Far Side strips is a little like picking out the best ice cream. No matter what flavor it is, it is still ice cream, and still pretty good.

All that said, one can see the cracks starting to form in the humor of the strip. Several of the strips included in the book aren't all that funny, but are merely bizarre. It seems as though Larson was probably getting burned out by the daily grind of putting out a strip on a daily basis. After all, by the time the strips in this volume were created Larson had been putting the strip out for fourteen years. This seems readily apparent when one looks through the thirteen bonus strips included towards the end of the volume, none of which are up to the usual standards of the strip in terms of humor. Though the volume is, as a result, sometimes disappointing, it serves as a suitable farewell from an artist who seems to have known just the right time to walk away from his easel.

Capping off the volume is a brief story of a joke Larson's father supposedly told him when he was a young boy, which Larson says serves as a window into his formative years and a possible explanation for the odd sense of humor he was able to bring to his strip. The story is simple, funny, and is perfect coda to one of the oddest and most enjoyable comic strips ever made.

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