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Fri, Aug. 23

Larson's cartoons tap into the stranger side of comedy

Supreme serendipity. That was the feeling that washed over me late last month when my fellow editorial staffers presented me with a very special birthday gift – a hefty two-volume unabridged collection of Gary Larson's "Far Side" cartoons.

I've been a Larson nut for as long as the guy has been producing his zaniness, so the gift was particularly meaningful.

Larson, as many of you are aware, has a terrifically twisted mind that delves into the eccentricities, banalities and foibles of humankind, along with poking fun at all manner of animals, fish, insects, inanimate objects, etc. And nothing is sacred. He targets all of 'em.

For example, there's the one depicting three Mafia types, overcoated and snap-brimmed, standing on a bridge and tossing a dog wearing concrete shoes into the river. The caption: "He bit the Godfather."

Another one focused on a pair of entomologists who had just netted a butterfly. One of them held it aloft and mused to his colleague: "An excellent specimen … the symbol of beauty, innocence, and fragile life … Hand me the jar of ether."

And yet another one shows a trio of 1800s cavalrymen, one leading the charge, sword drawn, a second one carrying the flag, and the third one playing … an accordion. The guy with the sword is yelling at him: "You heard me, Simmons! You get that cursed bugle fixed!"

Among my all-time favorite Far Sides, though, I refer to as the "God Series". Now, I'm fully aware how columnists can get into hot water when it comes to matters of religion and that I'm on thin ice here, but my feeling is that God Himself has an ingrained sense of humor. Otherwise, why else would He have created elephants and giraffes?

So here are four Far Side examples:

• Anyone who has ever been a kid and played around with clay can identify with this one: God is standing by a table, on a cloud, with a batch of clay atop the table, and is busily swirling some of it between His palms and laying each creation on the table. The caption reads "God makes the snake," and God is saying "Boy … these things are a cinch!"

• A panel shows a child with blackened face and torn clothing standing beside a table on which there is a broken beaker, and there are feathers drifting down all around the boy. The caption reads: "God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room."

• On "Trivia Tonight," a TV quiz show, an imposing God has a commanding lead of 1,065 points to zero for his opponent, a small fellow who is sitting, disgustedly, with clenched fists on hips. The game show host is exclaiming: "Yes! That's right! The answer is 'Wisconsin!' Another 50 points for God, and … uh-oh, looks like Norman, our current champion, hasn't even scored yet."

• And, finally, is the 4-part panel titled "Acts of God" that features God – performing before an audience of folks topped by halos – doing a juggling act … a soft-shoe dance … playing two saxophones at once … and – with crash helmet on – waving while He waits to be shot out of a cannon.

(Let me know, readers, if you'd like a copy of the God Series and I'll be happy to oblige.)

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