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Cartoons

The other day I was discussing cartoons with my nine-year old grandson. To my surprise, he told me his favorite cartoons are from The Far Side series, especially the one where Col. Sanders reaches Heaven, only to discover that God is not what/who he expected:

I’m delighted to discover he and I share such an absurd sense of humor. Of course, to reach this sophisticated point, he’s gone through the inevitable evolution, starting with Garfield and passing through Calvin and Hobbes. My son shared a similar pathway (maybe every kid of recent generations does).

During the runup to Christmas 2020, Costco was selling the entire collection of Far Side cartoons, which we couldn’t resist buying for him.

The Complete Far Side, Kansas City, Andrews McMeel, 2014

I’ve written before about my love of comic strips. That affection also applies to cartoons (the distinction between the two being one panel instead of a strip). On Facebook I participate in a Far Side sharing group. It’s a great testament to the cartoon’s enduring popularity. For those few who don’t know anything of the history of The Far Side (can there be anyone in North America who’s not heard of it?), the series was created by Gary Larson in 1979 and ran until 1995, when Larson retired. It was offbeat, surrealistic and featured anthropomorphic animals in the most bizarre situations. It was, in sum, perfect for me. (Not to ignore Dan Piraro’s Bizarro series, which is even longer running and of equal quality.)

A website devoted to the cartoons has brought The Far Side back on a daily basis; and here one can find Gary Larson’s bio.

All in all, 4337 cartoons were published in the 15-year period, carried in 1900 newspapers and translated into 17 languages (I would imagine the translation challenge was immense), with 23 collected editions (I have a few) and 45 million copies sold. That’s quite a time span and well-deserved sales record.

And this classic from 1991.

Mr. Larson talks about being influenced by Mad Magazine and the cartoonist Don Martin, a mainstay of my own childhood. I can also see something of Monty Python in these cartoons as well.

Of course, Mr. Larson is not the only great cartoonist in the world nor is The Far Side the only source of great cartoons. He is only the segue into my latest post.

Prior to our recent move to Vancouver, I was under great duress to cut back on the many books in my library. One I decided to get rid of (or pass onto to some other worthy reader, to put it more positively) was a collection of New Yorker cartoons (The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975-1985 New York: Penguin Books, 1985). But as I was determined to leaf through it one more time before letting it go, it never went.

My parents were fans of both the storied satirical British cartoon/humour weekly, Punch, and The New Yorker, but being staunch Anglophiles related more to the former. Most trips to the library allowed us to grab one or two copies. As kids, we preferred the first since the journal focused on cartoons rather than the lengthy (and serious) essays, news stories and fiction that take up much of the New Yorker’s pages. Years later, I purchased three Pick of Punch annuals, one from the wartime period (1941) and the other two from the 1950’s (1955 and 1956), equally interesting for their revelations about current society as for the humor.

Pick of Punch, London, Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1956; cover by the great Ronald Searle

The Punch era lasted over 160 years, finally ceasing publication in 2002. According to Wikipedia, the magazine helped “coin the term ‘cartoon’ in its modern sense as a humorous illustration.” The name originated with the Punch and Judy puppet characters. Circulation peaked in the late 40’s but declined steadily afterwards with changing tastes and competing interests (For my part, as the years went by, I found its humour becoming increasingly biting and cynical, and therefore much less appealing). The New Yorker, however, is still going strong and will celebrate its centenary in 2025.

In the late 1980’s I also subscribed to The New Yorker. It turned out to be both a treat and a burden. The problem is that I like to read everything I get, cover to cover, and the volume of excellent, thoughtful, entertaining articles – not to mention all the upcoming arts and cultural activities in the city – demanded close study. If one is nicely retired or has no other pursuits in life, getting through an issue week after week is not a problem. But if one still enjoys a regular 9-to-5 job or has a life beyond reading, it becomes a chore (no matter how pleasant). In the end I couldn’t keep up with the reading and gave up the subscription.

But, as is my wont, I couldn’t give up on the still unread editions (that’s a subject for another post).

Photo by Arun Clarke on Unsplash