Education Week 2019: Humor and Humanity in Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” Comic Series

BYU Professor Kerry Soper speaks on the famous comic series The Far Side and the life of its creator, Gary Larson.

PROVO, Utah (August 2019)—Professor Kerry Soper (Comparative Arts & Letters) delivered a fun and unique Education Week lecture on Gary Larson’s popular comic series The Far Side. 

After Soper published a book about Larson and his famous comic back in 2018 called Gary Larson and The Far Side, he was contacted by Larson’s syndicate and asked to join a project to publish Larson’s comics on the Internet. Soper explained that Larson’s comic are unusual and important because “[they don’t] just elicit a passing chuckle—[they] make you think, laugh, maybe ponder in quick succession, sort of like a party in the brain,” and that, “the satiric edge encourages a type of ethical thinking.” 

Soper also talked about how The Far Side was received by families. While the humor in The Far Side doesn’t appeal to everyone, he noted, “some parents like to introduce The Far Sideas a way of encouraging and motivating their kids to engage in playful, critical thinking. Word games, the irony that screams juxtapositions, or the inversions where you see the world from an animal’s perspective or an animal in a human scenario. Perhaps that encourages a taste or capacity for thinking in complex ways, tolerating ambiguity and diversity, and engaging in creative problem solving. 

Throughout his lecture, Soper went through slides of The Far Side comic squares to illustrate his point or introduce an anecdote. For example, at one point he spoke on Larson’s tendency to “deflate or parody genre entertainment myths, fairy tales” saying he was “kind of like the anti-Disney—like all the sweet platitudes you might get in a movie like Bambi are brought right down to earth with his naturalistic view of things.” To illustrate this point, he displayed a comic with the caption, “That evening, with her blinds pulled, Mary had three helpings of corn, two baked potatoes, extra bread, and a little lamb.”  

During the Q&A afterwards, many people were interested in knowing more about the man behind the comics, and Soper was more than ready with the answers. When asked about Larson’s personal journey, Soper told about Larson’s haphazard entrance into the world of cartoons, saying “on a Hail Mary sort of pass, he took a road trip to San Francisco in 1979. He walked into the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper offices, and he thought he was just going to sell those cartoons to one newspaper.” It turned out that the newspaper was owned by a syndicate and his comics were published in more and more newspapers as time went on. 

Overall, Soper attributed Larson’s success to his biting satire, anti-professionalism, and “just general mockery of some of the absurd sides of humanity, of foolishness, pride, shortsightedness, civilized laziness, and so on.”  

—Heather Bergeson (’21, English)