Why The Far Side Comics Are So Obsessed With Cows

One of the most confusing comic strips in the history of The Far Side helped shed a light on why so many of Gary Larson‘s cartoons are centered around cows. In 1982, just two years into the publication of The Far Side, Larson was forced by his editors forced him to issue a public explanation for one of his recently published strips. The cartoon, entitled “Cow Tools,” depicted a cow standing upright behind a table upon which was laid an assortment of tools, including one that looked like a common, everyday hacksaw. Apparently, a fair number of The Far Side‘s reading public was confused by the strip and wanted an explanation. In providing it, Larson revealed that the combination of his “fundness for cows“and his”overactive imagination” led him to produce the silliness of the strip that was “beyond comprehensible to the average Far Side reader“Larson wasn’t being facetious in his comment. His”cow-loving, overactive imagination“was what made cows the backbone of the comic’s humor.


According to a 1998 interview Larson gave to the New York Timestwo key influences on his approach to authoring Tea far side was an upbringing that saw him develop a love for animals and a dark sense of humor. The love of animals came from the days he spent playing with is brother Dan, in the fields, mountains, and waters near their Tacoma, Washington home. Larson’s interest in animals grew to where he majored in biology for two years in college before switching over to communications. His sense of humor developed in part due to his interactions with his brother, who would take advantage of Larson’s many childhood fears to get a laugh; and in part thanks to living in the 1950s and 1960s when people laughed uncontrollably watching TV while worrying in the back of their minds if the world would end tomorrow.

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Those twin childhood traits would combine to form the particular brand of animal-based, dark humor that especially highlight the trials and tribulations of cows. According to Larson, “I’ve always thought the word cow was funny, and cows are sort of tragic figures. Cows blur the line between tragedy and humor.” That answer perfectly reflects the influences of Larson’s upbringing on his humor, and why The Far Side has been able to garner such a broad and diverse, almost cult-like following even decades after its final strip appeared in a newspaper.

While Larson’s initially comedic interest in cows might have come from the fact that he found the word funny, only he could transform that into comedy gold. Indeed, here is an animal that appears to exist for the singular purpose of serving humankind, providing us with food and drink, clothing, medicine, sports goods, cosmetics, and a means of cultivating other animals and plants. But despite such an inescapable and tragic existence, in the far side universe at least, they are still able to find something to laugh about, especially when it involves their human exterminators. On the one hand, this focus on cows speaks to Larson’s own experiences. On the other hand, it expresses the common experience of being in a situation that is so bad, all one really do about it is laugh. Accordingly, cows are the perfect muse for Larson’s brand of humor.

For Larson, using cows to express his humor was so natural he did not realize other people, especially his far side fans, would struggle at times to understand it, hence, the problems with the “Cow Tools” comic. As Larson explains in his book The Prehistory of the Far Sidehis idea was that having never put a cow who used tools before, if he were to one day meet one, the tools they would likely use would have to be simple and unsophisticated. The problem with this far side comic was that without context, each reader drew a different conclusion. ace Gary Larson suggests, if one really wants to know what a cow tool does, they need to ask a cow.

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Source: New York Times

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