This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for August 14, 2017: The Saint

August 14, 2017: birthday: Gary Larson

Today is the birthday of American cartoonist Gary Larson (books by this author), the creator of the popular single-panel comic strip The Far Side, which ran for 15 years and featured a range of animals like cows and exotic vipers in cat’s-eye glasses and enthusiastic dogs who played a game called “Tethercat.”

Larson was born in Tacoma, Washington. He and his brother spent long hours in Puget Sound catching grunt fish, octopus, and sea anemones. They set up terrariums in the basement and even created a small desert ecosystem. After graduating from Washington State University, he worked at a music store, but hated it, so he decided to take some time off and draw some cartoons. Larson found a home for his quirky, scientific, single-panel drawings at the Pacific Search, where they were published weekly, right next to the Junior Jumble, under the title Nature’s Way. There were complaints, though, about the strip’s “morbid humor,” and the strip was dropped. Larson says, “Morbid humor is very valid, even healthy, as long as you don’t do it gratuitously.”

Larson was working as a cruelty investigator for the local humane society when the San Francisco Chronicle picked up the strip and renamed it The Far Side. Larson’s quirky sense of humor quickly became popular with scientists, who loved strips like “The Real Reason Dinosaurs Became Extinct,” which featured three T. rexes covertly smoking cigarettes. Natural History Magazine dubbed him “the unofficial cartoonist laureate of the scientific community” and there is even a chewing louse named after him, the Strigiphilus garylarsoni. Accepting the honor, Larson said: “I knew no one was going to write and name a swan after me. You have to grab these opportunities when they come along.”

Gary Larson drew The Far Side for 15 years before retiring (1995). He has published more than 23 books of collected cartoons that have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. His Far Side calendars are so popular they are called “the Harry Potter of calendars.”

When asked why he drew cows so frequently, Larson answered: “I’ve always thought the word cow was funny. And cows are sort of tragic figures. Cows blur the lines between tragedy and humor.”