Though Gary Larson’s humor has touched the lives of millions, The Far Side’s foundations come from humble beginnings: a random picture book.
The cartoons of Gary Larson’s The Far Side are among of the most enduring touchstones of 20th century American popular culture, but it turns out their origins are a little closer to home. Ever the aficionado of funny animals and off-color humor, one of Larson’s stated inspirations is none other than a children’s book featuring a bear that demolishes the homes of woodland critters. The title? Fittingly, Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat.
The Far Side took off in 1980, propelling to newspaper syndicates across the country on the steady motor of Larson’s absurdist humor. Frequently featuring perilous situations with a motley cast of silly looking animals, aliens and humanoids, The Far Side was known for its irreverent, on-the-nose comedy which included trips to outer space with incompetent astronauts, cavemen antics often highlighting their primitive language skills and hapless wildlife biologists happening upon unfortunate circumstances at the whims of the uncaring wildlife they study. And yet, despite the often zany, mature tone of the comic, Larson says The Far Side’s spirit comes from a most unlikely source.
Published in 1950, Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat, written and illustrated by Morrell Gipson, features an inconsiderate and discourteous ursine vandal who delights in smashing the homes of smaller woodland critters into pancakes. The children’s book, which showcased a cartoonishly misanthropic bear indulging in impulsive destructive rampages, reportedly provided a spark for The Far Side, as Larson told news program Dateline 20/20 during an 1986 interview, saying: “There was something so mesmerizing about the image of this big bear going through the forest and squashing the homes of these little animals. I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”
Though it may have simply been a charming bedtime story in his youth, the surreal, yet charming tone of Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat would find its way into many of Larson’s Far Side cartoons, which would often feature animals acting with their accustomed natural savagery in similar fashion to Mr. Bear. Likewise, however, the strip would take another more heartening tip from the children's picture book: an air of comfort at the base. Just as Mr. Bear eventually meets his match when he attempts and fails to destroy the new, more durable bus tire-turned-home of the dispossessed animals (whose previous homes he destroyed), so too did The Far Side carry with it a certain wholesomeness to its humor.
Inspiration can come from any place at any time, but, as Gary Larson of The Far Side proves, sometimes the best kinds of inspiration come from the silly picture books which were first heard as children. At least that’s what happened in the case of Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat.
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Source: Dateline 20/20
Andrew Firestone is a writer of sentences, paragraphs, chapters and words, cultural enthusiast and a hard news junkie from Allston, Massachusetts. An editor, audio engineer and evangelist of all things awesome, he’s saddled with an all-consuming awe/fear of Alan Moore, so please be kind. Formerly a writer for the public interest in local government, Andy is a graduate of Lesley University and holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. He enjoys loud music and soft music and sometimes in-between.