Friday, August 6, 2010

Newspaper Comics #6

When I started this string of articles, there were four comics that stood out as being most influential on webcomics.  The first two are Peanuts and Garfield, and I have already covered those.  The next two are probably more influential in the long run, even if their lifespans were far less than the first two.

Which brings us to today's comic.  This comic was so influential that it spawned many imitators in newspapers, let alone the innumerable attempts to replicate it in webcomic form.  In my paper alone there are at least 3 comics that can be called imitators, though each isn't nearly up to task for one reason or another.  Amongst the webcomics, I have continued to hunt for a replacement for this comic, but only one has ever truly come close, and it has been dead for a long, long time now.  What comic could do this?  The Far Side.

Gary Larson's The Far Side is not unique in terms of it's format, the single panel strip, but it's content is so different from what was found in strips before or after it that it remains a cultural milestone and practically unforgettable.  The uniqueness of the Far Side starts with the sheer lack of any regular characters.  Oh there are animals, especially cows, that all look the same, even the people often look the same, but none are given a name and are adjusted, as needed to fit the joke.

And the jokes were the reason for this lack of a regular cast.  While I don't have a picture perfect memory, I can't remember a single joke outright replicated only by changing a few words or lines (maybe a trouble brewing comic or two).  There are no running gags, aside from the afore mentioned cows I suppose, so each strip is different.  The result is what many call 'surrealistic' humor, but I just call funny as hell.  The unexpected became the norm with Far Side, and in the process it became memorable.

The Far Side was only published for a mere 15 years, starting in 1980, and yet is deep in the memories of many of the current crop of webcomic artists (the younger ones discover it early on anyway).  This creates a long standing influence as people try to replicate the experience with their own work.  The problem, of course, is that the Far Side had no set rhythm or beat, each strip was often very different from the previous one and with no characters to speak of, finding that element that made the Far Side great is, well, damn near impossible.  What it was, of course, is that Gary Larson has one hell of a twisted sense of humor and could spin almost anything into a joke, a talent most people do not have.

In newspapers, as I said, there are many imitators that try to latch on to some element of the Far Side thinking it will replicate it.  Of the three in my paper, one latches on to puns, another goes for the "weird" angle and the third kind of goes it's own path, but you can still see the influence.  The latter of the three is the best because it doesn't try to stick to whatever formula the Far Side is supposed to have, but still goes for the surrealist bent that Larson used.  At other times it replicates the last of my four most influential strips, but that's a subject for another time.

In the webcomic world, only one comic has ever managed to match the Far Side in my eyes:  The Parking Lot is Full.  It does the same thing the Far Side does, but never actually replicating the same joke twice (well, except for the last string of strips, but there was a joke of a different color).  It is still the first webcomic I ever read (and reviewed) and I still hold it as the standard that all comics must meet.  At the same time, it's still not quite as good as the Far Side.  I think it's the edginess that fails it in the end and the forced messages, something the Far Side never really got into.

Aside from PLiF, comics like Cyanide and Happiness and Edible Dirt come closest to the Far Side, but each never quite gets there, each going more for shock and edginess than even PLiF, and that was already beyond the Far Side.  Still, that doesn't mean others haven't tried to replicate the Far Side, and likely will continue to do so.  It is truly one of the great comics of all time, and it's influence will be felt for years to come.

I'm not sure what comic I'll do next time, but it certainly won't be my most influential comic because, well, I like holding on to those.  Of course if you haven't figured out which one it is, you need to smash your head against a wall for a while, because at this point it should be obvious.  Until next time kiddies.

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