What writers can learn from The Far Side

Welcome to the final in our collection of writing lessons from cartoonists. At least for now. I might well realize suddenly that Baby Blues taught me a lot and do another in this series. Or, perhaps you out there will have a suggestion I never even thought of.

But for today, we’re ending on a high note with The Far Side.

Written by Gary Larson, The Far Side comic strip ran from 1980 to 1995. Even though the strip technically ended, The Far Side still has fans all over the world. A wide variety of fans, too. Kids love it, of course. But scientists love it. Almost any scientific discipline has a Far Side comic they can claim as their own.

I personally love Far Side. Like Calvin and Hobbs, it’s another strip I was introduced to from my grandmother’s bookshelf. Here are the lessons I’ve learned from it. 

Your style doesn’t have to be everyone else’s.

When you look at a Far Side strip, you’ll notice that not a single character is cute. Or aesthetically appealing. Everyone is fat, everyone has hairs sticking out of weird places. Even if it’s someone who shouldn’t have hair, like a fish. Everyone in the Far Side world is, well, kind of ugly. And it’s kind of the only strip that is ugly the whole way through. Most strips will at least have a cute cat, a pretty girl, or a guy with a rugged chin.

But that’s just not Gary Larson’s style. In the Far Side world, that’s what things look like. And it works out pretty great for him. 

For starters, it’s recognizable. You see a Far Side strip from across the room, you know what it is. Among a flood of comics that can sometimes look very much the same, you can point Far Side out.

More importantly, though, it’s Gary Larson’s style of writing. He didn’t try to mimic anyone else. He didn’t compare his dogs to Snoopy and lament that they didn’t look as good. He just drew in his style. And that’s great. 

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to improve your art and get better. But maybe the best way to do that isn’t by trying to write like someone else. Maybe it’s by finding your style or voice and making it as good as it can be.

Write above people’s heads and they’ll reach for it

I bet you’ve read a Far Side strip that you didn’t get. I know I have. Hell, there’s even a joke about that in an episode of The Simpsons. The reason for this is simple. Larson frequently talks about scientific theories and facts that I don’t know or understand.

Here’s the cool thing, though. I’ve been reading Far Side since I was a little kid. Growing up, I’d go back to the collections on my grandmother’s bookshelves over and over again. And every time I read them, I got more of the jokes. I am not the only person who’s described this very thing.

And isn’t that cool? Isn’t it a great feeling to look at something and realize you understand it now? It’s a mental version of a mark on the wall to see how much you’ve grown since your last birthday. 

Don’t try to dumb yourself down. Talk about the topics that you want to talk about. If it’s not for some people, that’s fine. The people that it’s for will find it. 

Never stop having fun

Every strip of Far Side has one thing in common. They feel like the creator laughed when he came up with them. Larson is a fan of his own work.

And that’s awesome! You’ve got to be a fan of your work. You’ve got to have fun when you’re writing, at least when you’re coming up with an idea. (Not all the writing is going to be fun. I say this as someone about to start the fourth draft of her latest book. Not all the writing is fun.)

But you should be having fun with your art. It should be feeding your soul. Otherwise, why do it at all? Why not go get a real job? There’s lots more money to be made elsewhere. 

Being a likable person goes a long way

I have heard a lot of things about Garly Larson. He’s met some amazing people, like Jane Goodall and Robin Williams. What I’ve never heard from anyone is an unkind word about the man. Because Gary Larson is a likable guy. He’s not a pushover, as several legal issues will attest to. But he’s a good guy. 

Being a decent person, and treating other people well will get you places in this world, even when it doesn’t always feel like it will. Especially in the writing field, acting like a professional and a decent human being is a good idea. It might not open doors for you, but it will sure as hell not shut them like being an unprofessional dick will. 

Notice here that I’m not saying to be a pushover. I’m also not saying to not call out people who are being abusive or toxic. But there are ways to do that in a classy manner and ways to do that that will make people not want to work with you.

So be like Gary Larson. Stand up for yourself, but be professional about it. And be kind to people. It does more for you than you think.

I would love to know what your favorite Gary Larson comic strip is. Let us know in the comments. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you love what we do, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. 


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