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 Gary Larson  (1950 - )

About: Gary Larson


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Lived/Active: California      Known for: illustrator-cartoon

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BIOGRAPHY for Gary Larson
1950 (Tacoma, Washington)

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Gary Larson is one of the most distinctive cartoonists of the 1980s. His panel feature, "The Far Side," has a slant unmistakably all its own, a unique angle of vision, described by "People" magazine as "the inner workings of his eerily unconventional mind."

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Larson studied communications at Washington State University with unclear professional goals. It was on an impulse, late in the 1970s, when he sketched six animal cartoons unlike any he had ever seen before. He offered them to the nature magazine, "Pacific Search." To his amazement, they were all purchased. He received $90, which encouraged him to repeat the experiment. Despite the bizarre nature of his cartoons, he succeeded in selling the "Seattle Times" a weekly panel series called "Natures Way" in 1978. It was canceled within the year after complaints about the "unnatural selection of the subject matter."

Larson began selling his material to the "San Francisco Chronicle" just as his Times deal fell through, and in 1979, he signed a five-year contract with Chronicle Features to syndicate a daily panel as Gary Land, a name soon to be changed to "The Far Side." Universal Press Syndicate has distributed it since 1984 having added a Sunday page to the daily panel. Since 1988 it has appeared in more than 700 newspapers. The weekly feature was basically an extension of the weekday cartoon, with color added. Under UPS guidance,
"The Far Side" soared to even greater heights, giving rise to several paperback and hardcover anthologies, numerous exhibitions at art galleries across the country, and a torrent of merchandising.

Larsons style is deceptively crude, conveying much with a few simple lines. His ingenious wit, featuring infinite variations on the theme of human and animal roles being exchanged, has been described as macabre, zany, weird, whimsical, fiendish, twisted, odd, and "the stuff of a demented imagination." Larson once declared to an interviewer, "Ive honestly never set out to offend anyone." Yet, "The Far Side" has elicited howls of protest from readers, educators, politicians of the left and right, clergymen, cigarette companies, lawyers, biologists, and even from Amnesty International. Pet owners and animal-rights advocates have been particularly vociferous, since the cartoonist had been prone to depict cats swung by their tails, dogs set upon by wildcats, and coyotes shorn of their coats. Animals have just as often turned the tables on the humans. A parrot dreamed of becoming the "parakeet of the Baskervilles," while a panel of fish gravely discussed whether spawning should be taught in school. Cows have been a favorite for Larson, who "found them to be the quintessentially absurd animal." He has pictured the herbivores posing in front of the Grand Canyon, boarding s spaceship to the moon, or arguing the finer points of integral calculus. In one panel, he managed to combine his two favorite subjects by showing a group of cavemen tossing a helpless cow into the air in an attempt to make a milkshake. To clarify the meaning of his more obscure panels, Larson resorted to all kinds of explanatory devices: speech-balloons, hand-lettered captions within the frame, typeset captions outside the frame, and more.

In an unexpected move, Larson decided to terminate the feature with the release of Sunday, January 1, 1995.

(Information on the biography above is based on writings from the books, "The Encyclopedia of American Comics," edited by Ron Goulart, and "100 Years of American Newspaper Comics", edited by Maurice Horn.)

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