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20 years later, 'The Far Side' is still far out, and the new collection is lighter!

One of 4,000 "The Far Side" panels Gary Larson drew over 14 years. The full collection is now out in paperback.
One of 4,000 "The Far Side" panels Gary Larson drew over 14 years. The full collection is now out in paperback. Gary Larson

Off-Ramp animation expert Charles Solomon reviews "The Complete Far Side: 1980-1994" by Gary Larson.

It’s hard to believe the last panel of Gary Larson’s wildly popular comic strip “The Far Side” ran 20 years ago: January 1, 1995. The comics page of the LA Times (and many other papers) still feels empty without it.

RELATED: Charles Solomon interviews artists responsible for look of "Big Hero 6"

During its 14-year run, "The Far Side" brought a new style of humor to newspaper comics that was weird, outré and hilarious. The strip became an international phenomenon, appearing in over 1,900 newspapers worldwide. Larson won both the National Cartoonists' Society Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year and the Best Syndicated Panel Award. An exhibit of original artwork from the strip broke attendance records at natural history museums in San Francisco, Denver and here in L.A. Fans bought tens of millions of "Far Side" books and calendars.

Much of the humor in “The Far Side” derived from Larson's seemingly effortless juxtaposition of the mundane and bizarre. When a bug-housewife declares "I'm leaving you, Charles...and I'm taking the grubs with me," it's the utter normalcy of the scene that makes it so funny. Mrs. Bug wears cats eye glasses, while Mr. Bug reads his newspaper in an easy chair with a doily on the back.

Or, a mummy sits an office waiting room reading a magazine while a secretary says into the intercom, “Mr. Bailey? There’s a gentlemen here who claims an ancestor of your once defiled his crypt, and now you’re the last remaining Bailey and … oh, something about a curse. Should I send him in?”

"The Complete Far Side" contains every strip ever syndicated: more than 4,000 panels. It should probably come with a warning label, "Caution: reading this book may result in hyperventilation from uncontrollable laughter." Except for a few references to Leona Helmsley or other now-forgotten figures, Larson’s humor remains as offbeat and funny as it was when the strips were first printed.

Andrews and McMeel initially released this collection in 2003 in two hardbound volumes that weighed close to 10 pounds apiece. You needed a sturdy table to read them. The three volumes in the paperback re-issue weigh in around three pounds and can be held comfortably in the lap for a while.

Because “The Far Side” ended two decades ago, many people under 30 don’t know it. The reprinted collection offers geezers (35 or older) a chance to give a present that should delight to that impossible-to-shop-for son, daughter, niece or nephew. How often does an older adult get a chance to appear cool at Christmas or Hanuka? 

And if that ingrate kid doesn’t appreciate it, "The Complete Far Side" also makes an excellent self-indulgence.

Charles Solomon lends his animatio expertise to Off-Ramp and Filmweek on Airtalk, and has just been awarded the Annie's (The International Animated Film Society) June Foray Award, "for his significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation." Congratulations, Charles!

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