Gary Larson: Once a Cartoonist, Forever a Wingless Insect
Gary Larson was born August 14, 1950, in Tacoma, Washington. Always drawn to nature, he and his older brother spent much of their youth exploring the woods and swamps of the Pacific Northwest, and the tidelands and waters of Puget Sound.
Though he loved to draw as a child, Larson didn’t formally study art, nor did he consider being a cartoonist. He graduated in 1972 from Washington State University with a degree in communications but took many classes in the sciences. In 1990, Larson received the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award and was the centennial commencement speaker. His talk was titled “The Importance of Being Weird.” His interest in science was a frequent topic in many of The Far Side® cartoons, which he created for fifteen years, from January 1, 1980, to January 1, 1995.
In 1985, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco premiered a collection of four hundred of Larson’s originals in The Far Side of Science exhibit, which later traveled to science venues across North America, including the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History. In 1988, Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent science writer and a member of the museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, dubbed Larson “the national humorist of natural history” in his foreword to The Far Side Gallery 3.
In another fitting tribute, the scientific community named a chewing louse after Larson (Strigiphilus garylarsoni), and paleontologists refer to the distinctive array of previously unnamed tail spikes on a stegosaurus as the “thagomizer,” thanks to one of his cartoons.
Larson’s work on The Far Side has earned him numerous awards, including the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year from the National Cartoonists Society in 1990 and 1994. The National Cartoonists Society also named Larson Best Syndicated Panel Cartoonist in both 1985 and 1988. In 1993, The Far Side was awarded the Max and Moritz Award for Best International Comic Strip Panel by the International Comic Salon.
In 1994, Larson debuted a twenty-two-minute version of his first animated film, Gary Larson’s Tales From The Far Side, as a Halloween special on CBS television, and it quickly became a cult favorite. The film won the Grand Prix at the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France. That film and its sequel, Gary Larson’s Tales From The Far Side II, were selected for numerous international film festivals, including Venice, Brussels, and Telluride, and were broadcast in various foreign countries. Both were produced with traditional cel animation, completely hand-inked and painted.
Music has also been an important part of Larson’s life. He started playing the guitar at an early age, moved to the banjo for a few years, and then ultimately returned to the guitar. Since retiring from daily newspaper syndication, Larson has focused his creative efforts on the guitar and his passion for jazz.
At the end of its run, The Far Side appeared in nearly two thousand newspapers. It in turn spawned twenty-three The Far Side books, including sixteen collections, five anthologies, and two retrospectives, twenty-two of which appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Over the years, more than forty million books and seventy-seven million calendars have been sold, and The Far Side has been translated into more than seventeen languages.
As for his inspiration, Larson often cites his family’s “morbid sense of humor” growing up and how his older brother loved to scare him whenever he got the chance. He was also once quoted as saying, “You know those little snow globes that you shake up? I always thought my brain was sort of like that. You know, where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out and shake it again.” He attributes much of his success to the caffeine in the coffee he drinks daily.
Larson currently lives in the coffee capital of the United States—Seattle, Washington—with his wife, Toni.
Hard to believe.
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Gary Larson was born August 14, 1950, in Tacoma, Washington. Always drawn to nature, he and his older brother spent much of their youth exploring the woods and swamps of the...