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The Far Side of Retirement

Cartoonist Gary Larson Isn't Drawing a Daily Strip, but He's Still Too Busy for the Winnebago Set

October 07, 1996

Millions of comics fans mourned the departure of "The Far Side" from their newspapers on Jan. 2, 1995. Its creator, Gary Larson, had decided to retire from syndication.

But "The Far Side" continues to thrive in book form. Larson's latest, "Last Chapter and Worse," released Sunday by Andrews and McMeel, includes 13 new cartoons.

Recently, Larson agreed to sit down and talk with Jake Morrissey, his editor. The following is a look at one of the country's most private cartoonists.

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Question: I'm often asked, "What's Gary Larson doing in his retirement?" What have you been doing with yourself?

Answer: My retirement has backfired on me in some ways because I feel like I'm actually more involved with cartooning now than when I was doing the syndication. There are always ongoing projects that haven't stopped, and there are still a couple of years of books and calendars remaining. Then also there's my involvement with our second animation project [a new "Far Side" TV film]. The only thing that I'm not doing is the daily panels.

Q: Do you still sit down at your drawing board every day?

A: I was just there this morning working on some layouts for the animation project. But it's a different kind of work than it was when I was drawing "The Far Side." I'm just looking at other cartoonists' work who are drawing in my style and making changes.

Q: Do you still come up with ideas for cartoons? Do they pop into your head? Is that muscle still exercised?

A: You know, I can't say that I am really thinking about it very much. I don't have ideas that are coming left and right. That's because the nature of what I used to do was somewhat more deliberate. I'd sit down and go to work. And I would let that part of my mind loose and start to come up with things, start to sketch things. I'd get the juices flowing and then hope something would happen. I don't drive around or go someplace and have thoughts like, "Oh, that would be a good cartoon," or "That's a strange thing; I should remember that." Usually when I sat down to draw a cartoon, it would be more of a reflection of things in my past. Or it could be something I had experienced that morning, or that week, or something I might know that's part of my background.

Q: Do you find that your sense of humor has evolved at all? When you look back on some of the old cartoons do you think, "Was I nuts to think this was funny?" or do you appreciate them more now than perhaps you did in the past?

A: Both things have happened to me. I thought some of my earlier cartoons were not exactly great shakes at the time I drew them. Now I see a certain innocence in them. The humor has a kind of purity to it, I guess. And it works better on some level for me now.

Q: Do you read other people's cartoons?

A: I don't. No.

Q: Why not?

A: You know, I don't read them because I think for the most part the comics don't have an interest for me. There's just nothing there these days that makes me want to go seek them out. I'm not trying to say my work wouldn't have sparked that same reaction from somebody else. There's just nothing there for me personally.

Q: If you could draw another cartoon for a week, which cartoon would you draw?

A: "Family Circus." It would be a kick to take one of those neighborhood themes when they show a little map . . . you know, put in the quicksand . . . whatever else, it would be fun to take something that's so light and innocent and kind of mess with it.

Q: You've always been known for humor that has an attitude or a distinct sensibility. Were you ever interested in having characters in "The Far Side"?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Well, I instinctively thought of that as very limiting. And I also just didn't see humor as something that had to be confined to one particular character. To me what was exciting was trying to do something that would crack someone up. And I didn't see how characters or a particular character enhanced that. In fact, I think it would work against it in some cases. A certain face on a character would work in one instance but not in another. Although admittedly, as the years went by, all my stuff got boiled down to about six faces. But when I started off I thought I had to reinvent the wheel every single time I drew someone, and obviously I was going to hit a wall with that.

Q: What do you think you're better at: drawing or writing?

A: The quick answer to that would be my writing. Not that every caption I did was a perfect little gem, but I knew the importance of it. It has to do with timing and those kind of things that are in humor of any kind, written or spoken.

There are so many cartoonists who can draw circles around me (no pun intended). I don't want to minimize that; having a certain amount of drawing skill is important too. The whole idea is to communicate something, and it doesn't mean it has to be elaborate. It just has to work.

Q: What did you learn about yourself when you were doing this every day?

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