Classic, long-running single-panel Newspaper Comic by Gary Larson. Running from 1980 to 1995, it featured numerous talking animals, most notably cows, and frequent depictions of heaven and hell, along with various other stock settings.The strip was also known for its use of scientific jokes and puns. A story Mr. Larson quotes in one of his anthologies tells of a science teacher who had Far Side cartoons mounted on a bulletin board. As his students learned more and more, they laughed at more and more of the jokes. This is pretty much the essence of The Far Side — witty, educated, nerdy humor that dealt with the world of animals and plants far more so than the mundane reality of cities and towns.As a result of The Far Side's popularity, two species of animals have been named after Mr. Larson- an owl louse (Strigiphilus garylarsoni), and an Ecuadorian butterfly (Serratoterga larsoni), which Larson humorously admitted was the best someone like him was ever going to get. In addition, the distinctive tail spikes of Stegosaurs are called thagomizers in reference to one of his cartoons.As an additional note regarding the strip's presence on TV Tropes: Due to our policies regarding copyright laws, the vast majority of Far Side strips cannot be used for page images. Also, Mr. Larson has requested that his work not be displayed online.
The Far Side has named the following tropes:
Far Side Island: A frequent setting, usually featuring one or more guys with scruffy beards.
Offscreen Inertia: Formerly "Tethercat Principle". Named for an infamous cartoon that featured two dogs playing tetherball with a cat on a rope. In The Prehistory of the Far Side, Larson speculates that one reason so many people were outraged was because, due to the static nature of the cartoon, the dogs never stop playing tethercat. You walk away and come back, they're still playing tethercat. You look at it a week later, yep, they're still playing.
Gary: And Aunt Zelda all the women looked like you and Uncle Bob all the cows looked like you and Ernie there were cavemen that looked like you and there were all these nerdy little kids like you Billy and there were monsters and stupid-looking things and animals could talk and some of it was confusing and ...and...Oh, wow! There's no Place like home!
Art Evolution: The art started out a bit more grotesque. Larson also had a habit of not filling in all of the backgrounds in earlier strips (like a bulls-eye patterned rug that mysteriously vanished halfway across the panel) - he admitted that he preferred to "touch up" older strips to fill in half-completed background elements when they were published in collections.
Ascended Meme: The "Thagomizer", a joking name for the spikes at the end of a stegosaurus' tail provided by "the late Thag Simmons", is now an official scientific term.
Ass in a Lion Skin: One strip had a polar bear with a Paper-Thin Disguise — a penguin's beak — pretending to be a penguin. Also, the cover of the book collection The Chickens Are Restless depicts a duck with a false chicken comb among the mob of chickens.
Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: As vikings are storming a castle, one is trying to call their attention to gold fish in the moat. Larson admitted that was pretty much him on the bridge.
Bad Humor Truck: One strip shows neighborhood kids hiding from a "Liver and Onions" truck, and another features the "Vaccination Van" making its rounds. Also, the failed marketing ploy "I Cuss, You Cuss, We All Cuss For Asparagus".
Beach Bury: One strip has a kid burying his father with the following (paraphrased) caption: "Billy, the tide's coming in... Billy, unbury Daddy now... You don't want Daddy to get angry..."
In The Prehistory of the Far Side, there was a strip that had a snake inside a baby's crib, and a gigantic bulge in the middle of the snake (presumably the baby) rendering the creature unable to exit the crib, with the snake looking rather annoyed. Immediately following, Larson says "You didn't see this. Turn the page."
Another example from Prehistory of the Far Side was a strip of crocodiles 'Bobbing for poodles' (with that as the caption, and the inside of the bucket thankfully obscured). Larson's comment for it was along the lines of "Thank goodness I didn't go with my original caption of 'Bobbing for babies'.".
The strip with a mother having just given birth. The doctor cuts the umbilical cord and the baby deflates and flies all over the room like a balloon. Larson mentions that he didn't even try to submit this one after he had finished it, and that he was originally going to add written sound effects before his sanity prevailed.
One that did get published had ants carrying a (live) baby. According to Larson, he originally submitted a version where the ants were carrying an adult, but that was rejected, and the baby version was published.
"You idiots! We'll never get that thing down the hole!"
Another has a pair of spiders who built a web at the bottom of a playground slide.
"If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings."
Yet another one has a pair of crocodiles sitting, stuffed among the remains of a team of explorers.
The Butler Did It: One strip shows a murdered butler at an international butlers' convention, and a detective complaining that he hates to start a week like this. Another shows a detective accusing the butler of goring and trampling a man to death as he sits next to the literal Elephant in the Room.
Captain Obvious: A cartoon depicts two Bedouin on camels in the middle of the desert, and the caption is "Hold still, Omar. Now look up. Yep, you've got something in your eye all right. Could be sand."
Chased by Angry Natives: Inverted in one strip show a tribesman carrying a TV while fleeing from a band of angry suburbanites.
Chekhov's Gag: In Tales From The Far Side I, there is a 15-second "Meanwhile... back in Egypt" segment that consists of a desert marketplace full of locals who eventually stop and wave at the viewer before going about their business. Unlike the rest of the special, there's no weirdness whatsoever. But in the sequel, there's a segment with amoebas at a party that's abruptly interrupted when their "world" goes sideways. The camera cuts to a man putting down a mostly-empty water glass... then pulls back to him and his family exiting the same exact Egypt scene (sans waving) from the first special.
Circling Vultures: The subject of several gags, one example being a depiction of "the perils of improper circling": two of the vultures bonk heads in mid-air.
Closer Than They Appear: In one cartoon, the rear-view mirror shows the angry eye of an unspecified but huge creature.
Clucking Funny: Including a cartoon where a farmer returning home from collecting eggs in the chicken coop passes a chicken returning to the coop after collecting the farmer's infant child...
Complaining about Shows You Don't Watch:invoked Larson apologized for the "Hell's Video Store" comic after actually watching the movie Ishtar, because he had not seen it at the time he did the comic and had only used it because of its reputation. He later admitted that the movie was funny.
Cow Tools: The Trope Namer, and the strip in question is Actually Pretty Funny in its own unique way. It did lead a lot of fuss, as people tried to figure what the tools were, while the joke was simply the idea of cows making any.
The above "Mr. Thingy" is, itself, a cow tool. Larson's earlier sketches kept Mr. Thingy off-panel, until he decided it was funnier to show it as a bizarre mechanism involving a carrot on a string.
Crazy Cultural Comparison: In one strip, a farmer unwittingly dooms humanity when he tries to shake hands with an alien visitor whose head has an unfortunate resemblance to a human hand.
Crazy Enough to Work: A real life example. It's almost impossible to find pirated copies of Far Side books online, partly because Gary Larson put out an open letter asking people not to distribute it illegally.
Had it going on on occasion, but in Prehistory of the Far Side Larson notes a couple of incidents where newspapers mixed up captions or edited the image which made no sense. A particularly funny one shows a Dennis the Menace comic where Dennis tells his mother that he sees her "tiny, petrified skull, labeled and resting on a shelf somewhere" (the caption coming from a Far Side with a caveman visiting a psychic. After the mix-up, the psychic was shown telling her client, "If I grow up to be as big as Dad, won't my skin be too tight?").
Another example involving Dennis the Menace: the Far Side panel showed a family of snakes at the dinner table with a bowl full of rodents with one saying "It's a good thing I learned to make peanut butter sandwiches or we would've starved to death by now," and the Dennis the Menace panel showed Dennis and a friend eating sandwiches and saying "Not hamsters again!" Larson maintains that both were vastly improved by the error.
An accidental mix up featuring a comic with slugs worshipping a giant salt-shaker meant that the caption reading "Eenie-oonie-wanah! Eenie-oonie-wanah!" appeared on a comic only featuring humans.
A cartoon has a cat with two wooden front legs sitting in a pet shop next to a fish bowl containing a piranha. Larson says he tried multiple times to come up with a good caption, before realizing the visual gag stood on its own.
After this particular comic saw its share of controversy, Larson was worried that he'd offended Dr. Goodall herself, and was intensely relieved to find out she loved it. She even wrote the foreword for a Far Side collection.
"Cold coffee! My god, they thought of everything!"
For musicians in particular: "Welcome to hell. Here's your accordion."
"Hell's Video Store" (only carries Ishtar) And the book store only carries books of story problems. (Larson later apologized for this one, having only heard of the film's dismal reputation when drawing the strip).
Charlie Parker's private Hell is a room in the traditional fire and brimstone Hell where nothing but New Age music is played.
Fish People: Show up in a few strips. Two of the strips have essentially the same gag. In one, a diver is taking a huge fish out of the ocean and notices a fish man taking a captive woman into the ocean. A more lighthearted one features a guy carrying a surfboard running towards the ocean to catch some waves. Then he notices a fish man carrying a wagon running out of the ocean to catch some hills.
There's even one for dogs, where, every hour on the hour, a truck made entirely of pressed ham lumbers its way through the clouds... and the dogs can choose whether or not to join in the chase.
The human Ernie accidentally gets sent to "Hog Heaven".
Follow the Leader: Since the early 1990s, plenty of one-panel, gag-a-day strips have cropped up, including The Dinette Set, Bizarro, Close to Home, Argyle Sweater, Real Life Adventures, etc. Some are pretty good in their own right; others aren't.
Freudian Couch: Used often, sometimes with cows on them. In one instance, it was a disembodied eyeball (who was suffering from incredible hostility to the outside world), which was nearly invisible in the newspaper versions.
Scientist: I know they're trying to communicate, we must be missing something!
Blackboard: Kay pasa, say hab-lah ess-pan-yoll
Funny Animal: Not to mention funny plants and funny protozoa ("Humor at its lowest form").
Getting Crap Past the Radar: An unintentional example; Larson once sent out a cartoon showing a dog sitting on an overturned car and howling titled, "What dogs dream of". The intended meaning was the dog's fantasy of catching and "killing" the car, but much to Larson's and his editor's surprise, a ton of people thought that it looked like the dog was humping the car.
There's also one that features an amoeba multiplying, with the caption being "Amoeba porn flicks". Apparently, the editor had no problem with this, and it caused no controversy whatsoever.
In one strip he has the Earth in a pot and is holding a jar on it that says "Jerks" and is thinking, "...and to make it interesting..."
God (thinking of the Earth He's taking out of the oven): "Something tells me this thing is only half-baked..."
"I love making these things (snakes)! They're so easy!"
Another has him thoroughly trouncing the current champion of a game show, on which Larsen noted that he was careful to make it clear that the champion had never once beaten God to the buzzer, as someone doubtlessly would have gotten upset.
However, Larson's version could still dial the wrong phone number.
God at his Computer. It has a 'Smite' key.
Hall Of Mirrors: "But which of us is the real duck, Mr. Frischberg, and not just an illusion?"
I Drank What?: One cartoon had a crowd of scientists gathered around a cup with one of them saying, "What's this? Lemonade? Where's my sample of amoebic dysentery?" while another scientist on the other side of the panel is drinking from a glass with a surprised expression on his face.
A relationship between a wolf and a sheep fizzled because the wolf's pack wouldn't stop heckling him and the sheep just ate the flowers he gave her. The original caption for this one was simply "Predator/prey relationships," but Larson became intrigued by the way the wolf was looking over his shoulder and decided to dig a little further into their relationship.
It turns out that chickens fantasize about sex with ducks.
"Dang it, Monica! I can't live this charade any longer! I'm not a telephone repairman who stumbled into your life - I'm a Komodo dragon, largest member of the lizard family and a filthy liar."
In one strip a woman is kissing a maintenance technician when her husband (a bipedal rhino) comes home early. She warns him that her spouse's eyesight is poor, but his hearing and smell are very good.
"It's this new boyfriend dear... I'm just afraid one day your father's going to up and blow him away." The boyfriend is a humanoid deer (and a bit of a loudmouth), and the girl's father is an avid (and annoyed looking) deer hunter.
Another one has a woman dancing with an anthropomorphic crocodile. "I'm originally from the shores of the upper Nile, and... say, did anyone ever tell you your pupils are round?"
In one of the Far Side of Science strips, a physicist is led into a room full of astrologers.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: During the siege of the Alamo, a would-be entrepreneur is trying to T-shirts that read "I kicked Santa Anna's butt at the Alamo" and commemorative mugs. He's had to reduce the price from 3.95 to one dollar.
Kangaroo Pouch Ride: Hannibal's first attempt at crossing the Alps involves riding kangaroos along the narrow ledges. It is implied to not have worked very well.
A chicken being served chicken soup by his wife when he has the flu. "It's nobody we know!"
A chicken baking a cake takes a long hard look at her eggs...
A cow grilling burgers: "You're sick, Jessie! Sick, sick, sick!"
Another cow eating a steak (possibly on a dare) while his buddies look on: "Interesting... interesting... I'd say we taste a little bit like chicken."
Non-food variant: a calf wearing leather. According to his parents, he's only doing it for the shock value.
A more subtle example is one strip with a dolphin busy canning tuna in her kitchen while another in a police uniform is saying "Just a few more questions about your husband's disappearance and then you can get back to your canning."
The "Wimpodites" and their ferocious pillow-fighting tactics. A common prey to vikings.
A mobster, to a guy he's trying to get information from:
"Still won't talk, eh? Maybe Rudy and his wiffle bat can change your mind!"
Lightning Reveal: Subverted in Gary Larson's Tales from the Far Side (a one off animated adaption). The dangerous animals surrounding the dancing couple turn out to be stuffed... as does the male partner when the police drag the woman out of 'Bob's Taxidermy'.
Implied in "Scene from The Return of the Nose of Dr. Verlucci."
Look Ma, No Plane!: Inverted. A flock of geese are keeping pace with a passenger jet, and one looks over and sees another goose riding in comfort in the plane, making faces at the others through the window.
Maximum Capacity Overload: In one strip, we see a man on an elevator with several elephants, and he watches in horror as one more tries to get in. The max. capacity is shown as several thousand pounds.
Medusa: In "Medusa Starts Her Day" featuring one of his dowdy, bespectacled women showering, wearing a shower-cap through which a snake has poked its head.
Mr Muffykins: Actually subverted in one strip where the dog's owner, a rather large old lady, is seen getting her dog to run into a wall. He then notes in the commentary that the reason these dogs get so much hate may be partly due towards their owner's mannerisms.
Oh, god, the Moral Guardians. Larson faced opposition from several conservatively-minded groups who just couldn't let his "unique" brand of satire slide, especially if religion or torture was involved; several newspapers were sent letters from upset readers threatening to cancel their subscriptions. Fortunately for Larson, they rarely caved.
Interestingly, Larson himself conceded that some of these groups, such as Amnesty International, made very good points in their criticism and complaints. Also, he himself said that people's misinterpretation of the infamous "When car chasers dream" cartoon was his own fault.
On the other hand, the "that Jane Goodall tramp" cartoon aroused some outrage until Goodall finally publicly said that she thought it was Actually Pretty Funny.
Including a caveman's parrot... saying "Grunt, snort... Grunt, grunt, snort."
The leader of a group of gangsters insists on having his mob repeat the address of their new safehouse aloud a hundred times so as to not forget. Said gangsters are hiding out in a pet shop full of parrots.
Another one with a lone gangster polishing his gun, and his parrot alternately whistling and saying "Hey boid, shaddup!"
Oh Crap: The scientists at a carcinogennote Back when cancer was still somewhat poorly understood (AIDS was called "gay cancer") and considered a death sentence. research building have one of these reactions when they accidentally drop a sample out the window into an open city street.
One with a guy in an outhouse in the middle of nowhere, yelling for help, cutting to a Saint-Bernard with a roll of toilet paper around its collar (The caption is "Far away on a hillside, a very specialized breed of dog heard the cry for help.").
Another is "Common rescue animals", featuring among others: a Saint-Bernard with a keg of brandy, a dolphin with a pair of swim trunks, a rhinoceros with car keys.
Sapient Cetaceans: This comic takes a few jabs at dolphins; the ones that immediately spring to mind is the dolphin whose husband is missing (dolphin cop: "We're going to let you go back to your canning in a minute...") and the dolphins who are trying to communicate with scientists (on blackboard: Komo-esstass; say hablah es-pan-yoll).
In another strip a whale starts singing "I'm Just Singing in the Rain" to scientists recording whale song.
Scandalgate: In one cartoon, a caveman impresses the rest of his tribe with his invention of fire—except the fire in question is just a wooden cutout, painted to look like flames. The caption notes that he was exiled from the tribe over "the Firegate incident".
Serious Business: The aforementioned Jane Goodall strip drew an angry letter from the Goodall Society, upset at someone making a joke at the expense of their founder. Larson did some asking and learned that Goodall herself was amused by the strip, and things were sorted out. Larson lent the cartoon to t-shirts that supported the Goodall Society; Goodall invited Larson to visit her Chimpanzee preserve and even wrote the foreword to a collection of Far Side strips. In this foreword, Goodall implied that she fired the representative who sent the initial angry letter.
Severed Head Sports: Played for laughs in a cartoon about the invention of headhunting — cavemen are gathered on a volleyball court, and one of them notes that no one brought a ball, and one of the bystanders has a round, bulbous head...
Six Is Nine: In one cartoon, a painter has just painted "999" on Satan's office door in hell. Satan doesn't look happy, and the painter says "I must have been holding the dang work order upside down!"
Smart People Wear Glasses: One strip has some cavemen gathered around a fire with expressions of agony on their faces as they roast their food with their bare hands. One points to another caveman wearing glasses, who is using a stick to roast his food. "Hey! Look what Zog do!"
Another quip from The Prehistory of the Far Side: "There should be a special confessional where cartoonists can go and say things like 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned — I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon.'"
In a weird inversion, paleontologists actually use the term "thagomizer," which Larson coined, to refer to the spikes on a stegosaurus' tail.
Space Is Noisy: Conversed in an early strip that had a balding, lab-coated scientist jump up in the middle of a crowded theater shouting "Stop the Movie! Stop the Movie! Explosions don't go 'BOOM!' in a vacuum!"
Two strips had aliens that resembled crosswalk signals ("Our agents are posted at every corner, this world will fall swiftly!") and fire hydrants ("'Take me to your leader', I said...and then the most horrible thing happened!"note A dog peed on it. ).
A farmer dooms the Earth when he encounters aliens with heads that resemble human hands. In an effort to be friendly, he grabs their leader's head and shakes vigorously.
The first living thing a bunch of visiting aliens who look a bit like giant rear ends meet is a billy goat. The caption: "When worlds collide".
Stopped Clock: In one cartoon, police are investigating a shooting at a clock store. The place has been shot to pieces, all clocks are reading the same time as each other, and the detective is wondering "Now if only we could determine the time of death...."
Take That, Critics!: In The Pre-History Of The Far Side, Gary Larson offers a response to the people who complain about his strip by drawing a cartoon version of himself sticking his tongue out at the viewer.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Several, but one notable example of two ancient Chinese warriors standing upon the newly completed Great Wall; one of them boastfully states "NOW we'll see if that dog can get in here!"
The The Title: The collections with indexes feature sections for each letter of the alphabet. However, every letter but "T" is blank, as each comic is identified as "The one with the [x]".
Time Travel: An occasional theme, i.e. "Disaster befalls Dr. Fitzgibbon's cleaning lady when she mistakes his Time Machine for a new dryer."
Another one had a scientist travel back to the age of the dinosaurs and gets stuck there because his machine just ran out of gasoline.
Cavemen visit the future riding their newly invented "Time Log".
Or when two scientists get stranded in the past by setting their time machines to the exact same coordinates.
One time travelling palaeontologist brings an enormous thermometer with him to settle warm-blooded/cold-blooded debate once and for all.
Totem Pole Trench: In a strip three dogs do this to make an attempt to catch a cat they were chasing who went up a tree. The dogs disguise themselves as a woman and have the fire department get the cat down for them.
Torture Technician: "You know, Sven, you're great at your job... You can make a guy beg for mercy in nothing flat... but I'll be darned if you don't make a really lousy cup of coffee." Every time Larson set a strip in a torture chamber, he would get letters from Amnesty International a few days later.
William Telling: Another one that got Larson in trouble, it depicted William's less fortunate son Warren, who is shown to have a ludicrously large head; the trouble came when some assumed he was making fun of hydrocephalus.
"So what do they think about Charlie Brown?"
Word Schmord: One strip has several characters saying some variant of the phrase: Neanderthals Schmeanderthals (mammoths), Indians Schmindians (Custer), Huns Schmuns (castle guards), etc. The caption is "History Schmistory".
Write What You Know: Averted, according to A Prehistory of The Far Side the only cartoon that comes from personal experience is the one where a guy knocks himself unconscious by installing an extending bar in his doorway and doing a pull-up.
Wrong Parachute Gag: One cartoon shows a skydiver with a piano and an anchor coming out of his backpack.
"Murray didn't feel the first pangs of real panic until he pulled the emergency cord..."