The Far Side

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Far Side is a classic single-panel cartoon by Gary Larson. Running from 1980 to 1995, it featured numerous Talking Animals, most notably cows, and frequent depictions of heaven and hell.

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 All The Tropes: Due to copyright law, 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 is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in The Far Side include:

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!

  • Animated Adaptation: Really! Unsurprisingly, it was shown on Cartoon Network late night on Halloween.
  • Anticipatory Breath Spray
  • Arrows on Fire: "Hey, they're lightin' their arrows! ...can they do that?"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A section of Hell has rooms for murderers, terrorists, and "people who drove too slow in the fast lane."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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..."
  • Black Comedy: Used extremely frequently.
  • Bowel-Breaking Bricks: One strip showed a spider dropping silk after a fright.
  • 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 Living 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.
  • Closer Than They Appear: In one cartoon, the rear-view mirror shows the angry eye of an unspecified but huge creature.
  • Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch: 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.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: "Mr. Thingy." This also counts as Buffy-Speak.
  • Cow Tools: The Trope Namer, and the strip in question is Actually Pretty Funny in its own unique way.
  • 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: Real life example. It's almost impossible to find pirated copies of Far Side books online, partly because Garry Larson put out an open letter asking people not to distribute it illegally.
  • Creator Breakdown: Played for laughs with at least two strips that basically went "It was late and I was tired."
  • Curb Stomp Battle:
    • "Toby vs. Godzilla"
    • God trouncing someone in a game show. The other man hadn't even scored once.
    • The aftermath of a fight between a chicken and a Cowboy. The chicken was shot, but the cowboy got nothing except some egg on his face
  • Dada Comics:
    • 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.
  • Darkest Africa: Essentially presented a la Tarzan movies.
  • Dead Baby Comedy:
    • 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."

  • Dead Guy Puppet: In one strip, a bear entertains his cubs by making two human skulls ask each other if there are bears in the cave.
  • Desert Skull: One uncaptioned cartoon shows a pair of oxen pulling a covered wagon across the desert, turning their heads as they pass a bovine skull.
  • Detectives Follow Footprints: Done in at least one cartoon.
  • Directionless Driver: One comic had an elderly couple driving on the surface of the moon. The wife exclaims "Oh, for heaven's sake - NOW look where the Earth is! Move over and let me drive!"
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Parodied in one strip when a cow suddenly leaps up in a courtroom and proclaims, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"
  • Don't Explain the Joke: The infamous "Cow Tools" cartoon.
  • Door Dumb: Provides the page image.
  • Doorstopper: The Complete Far Side.
  • Down on the Farm: Pretty much all the strips with cows and/or chickens.
  • Dude, Not Funny: Larson has a friend with a very strange sense of humor, so when he called and said "I loved today's strip!" it meant "I've offended half of America."
  • Everything's Better with Cows: To the point that Larson even joked about renaming the strip The Cow Side.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Used occasionally, but no more so than any other animal.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?"
  • Executive Meddling:
    • Arguably a positive example. Part of his commemorative book, "The Prehistory of the Far Side", consists of him saying how grateful he is that his editors kept him in line and prevented certain risky cartoons from making it to the newspapers. He even credits one case of this as saving his career.
    • However, in the same book, he expresses his displeasure whenever strips were altered without telling him first.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell:
    • "Would you like inferno or non-inferno? Just kidding, it's all inferno."
    • "HEY! Who keeps turning down the thermostat?!?"
    • "Hot enough for ya?"
    • The best of all is one in which people are being marched into hell via a cavernous hall with one of those hand-knitted plaques saying "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," which they all eye nervously.
    • Said to one demon by another as the two watch this one clueless idiot of a man whistle merrily as he makes his way through Hell: "You know, we just aren't reaching that guy."
    • Scotty in Hell.
    • "Cold coffee! My god, they thought of everything!"
    • "Welcome to hell. Here's your accordion."
    • "Hell's Video Store" (only carries Ishtar) And the book store only carries books of story problems.
    • 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.
  • Flock of Wolves: "Is anyone here a real sheep?"
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: "Wish I'd brought a magazine."
    • There's even one for dogs, where, every hour on the hour, a truck made entirely of ham lumbers its way through the clouds... and the dogs can choose whether or not to join in the chase.
    • Or where 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.
  • Funetik Aksent:
    • Parrot mimicking, "Shut up boid! Shut up boid!" to a gangster loading a gun.
    • With dolphins:

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". Much to his and his editor's surprise, a ton of people thought that it looked like the dog was humping the car.
  • God:
    • Portrayed as a big guy with long white hair, robes and a beard. Has a good sense of humor. According to Mr. Larson, this is "the way most of us are pretty sure he looks."
    • 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): "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.
  • The Great White North: On several occasions.
  • Hall of Mirrors: "But which of us is the real duck, Mr. Frischberg, and not just an illusion?"
  • Horny Vikings
  • 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.
  • Intellectual Animal
  • Interspecies Romance: Dog to sheep: "Confession time Mona: I've led you astray."
    • 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.
  • In the Local Tongue: The Lone Ranger discovers that "kemosabe" is Apache for "horse's ass".
  • Inventional Wisdom
  • Invisible Anatomy: The "Down at the Eat 'n Slither" strip, with snakes sitting at a bar, eating breakfast and reading the news. Larson himself brought up the Fridge Logic in The Prehistory of the Far Side:

"I have no idea how those snakes are holding up those newspapers..."

  • Ironic Hell:
    • Satan leading a symphony conductor to a room full of hick-looking types holding banjos.
    • Jazz musician Charlie Parker being forced to listen to New Age music for eternity.
    • 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.
  • "Kick Me" Prank:
    • One time a bear had a "Shoot Me" sign on his back.
    • Another featured a flower with a "Weed me" sign on its back.
  • Kids Prefer Boxes: One cartoon has two scientists squabbling over who gets the cardboard box that their Polaris missile came in.
  • Killer Rabbit: Many "cute" animals are dangerous in this strip.
    • In a quite literal example, one strip had a couple of guys being threatened by rabbits with guns.
    • Or the one where a hiker encounters a bunch of little happy forest animals, but notices that they are looking a bit too happy...
    • A group of poodles - "On the other hand, if we kill her, then the pampering will stop."
    • Night of the living dead chipmunks.
  • Large Ham Title: "The Names We Give Dogs/The Names They Give Themselves" implies this.
  • Let's Meet the Meat:
    • 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."
  • Lighter and Fluffier:
    • 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'.
  • 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.
  • Mad Scientist: Lots.
  • 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.
  • Moral Guardians:
    • 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.
  • Morally-Ambiguous Ducktorate: Anatidaephobia -- The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.
  • Mouse World: A setting for many cartoons, ranging from rats and goldfish all the way to amoebae living in a miniature environment not unlike human civilisation.
  • Noble Savage
  • Nobody Here but Us Chickens: 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...
  • Noodle Incident: Lampshaded by Larson about a particular strip:

Duck: "So, Professor Jenkins, my old nemesis! We meet again... but this time, the advantage is mine!"

    • Also, an elephant wearing a jacket and hiding in an alley:

Elephant: "Remember me, Mr. Schneider? Kenya. 1947. If you're going to shoot at an elephant, Mr. Schneider, you better be prepared to finish the job."

    • And an old man who somehow managed to survive having his head removed from his body:

Grandmother: "For heaven's sake, Henry, tell the kids a pleasant story for once - they don't always have to hear the one about your head."

  • Not in Front of the Parrot:
    • 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 room full of parrots.
  • Oh Crap: The scientists at a carcinogen[1] research building have one of these reactions when they accidentally drop a sample out the window into an open city street.
  • Opaque Lenses: Any person in glasses.
  • Parodic Table of the Elements: One comic has the caveman table, consisting only of the element "Dert" (De).
  • Public Domain Character: Pretty much everyone listed on that page has shown up at least once.
  • Rain Dance: The strip where the Indian chief is consulting a book called "101 Rain Dances" to figure out what the hell kind of dance he was doing ... while it's raining eggbeaters.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent:
    • Played with in one of Larson's very early strips, with a hugely fat and rather ugly couple looking at a small snake, and the woman screaming, "Egad, it's hideous!"
    • Another has a boy chasing his sister around with a snake with the caption, "And for the rest of its life, the young reptile suffered deep emotional scars".
  • 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).
  • 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 forward, Goodall implied that she fired the representative who sent the initial angry letter.
  • 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!"
  • Somewhere a Paleontologist Is Crying
    • 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 subversion, paleontologists actually use the term "thagomizer," which Larson coined, to refer to the spikes on a stegosaurus' tail.
  • Starfish Aliens
    • Two strips had aliens that resembled crosswalk signals ("Our agents are posted at every corner, this world will fall swiftly!") and fire hydrants ("The creature[2] approached me, and then the most disgusting thing happened!").
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Talking Animal: Every now and then.
  • 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]".
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night: Because they hit their heads on the door frame.
  • 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.
  • 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 First, Ask Questions Later: "Shoot first, ask questions later" wasn't meant to be taken literally.
  • 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.
  • T-Word Euphemism: One strip talks about "the D-word" in a Mensa convention. It's "duh".
  • Überwald: An occasional setting.
  • Understatement: A nerd says "hot enough for you?" to a fellow prisoner in hell.
  • Useless Spleen: "Having explored the heart of the jungle, the intrepid explorers now entered the spleen."
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Some of the jokes are pretty scientific and/or obscure.
  • Wallpaper Camouflage
  • 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 chord..."

  1. Back when cancer was still somewhat poorly understood (AIDS was called "gay cancer") and considered a death sentence.
  2. a dog