10 Most Confusing Far Side Comics By Gary Larson

Once among the premier newspaper comic strips, The Far Side has long been known for its elliptical, meta-textual humor that left many a fan scratching their head. Though it is often the infamous strip “Cow Tools” that gets pilloried as the perfect “confusing” comic, it was far from the only bewildering punchline The Far Side produced.

Gary Larson’s romping ride through the realms of ridiculousness had hundreds of strips that left readers with their heads cocked to the side and brows furrowed in vain attempts to understand. In celebration of this absurdist vein of comedy, Screen Rant presents the 10 Most Confusing Far Side installments in its entire 14-year run.

Related: Far Side’s Creator Explains Why He Still Loves One Controversial Comic



10 The Bewitched Writers’ Room

The Far Side Bewitched

This cartoon features a supposed meeting of the writers of the ‘60s sitcom Bewitched, with one character describing a plot for a new episode, and another thinking to herself that she enjoys the idea. While pleasant, if somewhat obtuse on the surface, the joke is that literally every single episode of the famed show, which featured Elizabeth Montgomery in the role of the witch-turned-housewife Samantha Stephens, had this exact plot. Samantha’s mother, Endora, who disapproved of her life with average-Joe husband Darrin, would inevitably place some kind of spell over him, culminating in a predictable conflict between mother and daughter. The show ran 8 seasons and 254 episodes.

9 Out of Gas Time Machine

The Far Side, Out of Gas Time Machine

This particular panel also suffers from a slight case of meta-humor, which leaves the initial impression wanting. A scientist running out of gas in the past with a time machine by itself isn’t really quite up to Larson’s standard, and is a relatively straightforward take on a classic sci-fi trope. The humor hits when the realization is made that gasoline, being made from fossilized organic matter, would not yet exist in the time of the dinosaurs, as dinosaurs are among the organic matter from which oil is composed.

8 Copycat Killer

Far Side Copycat Killer

One of Larson’s main attributes as a cartoonist was his affinity for the surreal, and perhaps his most surreal work would be “Copycat Killer.” The strip features a scene from a bizarre murder investigation in which the victim is displayed in an oddly specific set of adornments. The detective, in seeming imitation of the classic “hard-boiled” noir-style, begins his diatribe in describing the key evidence tying this body to a supposed series of similar killings… only he then concludes by wondering if this is “their guy” or “a copycat.”

The joke is that, even though the tell-tale calling cards of their particular serial killer seem to be evident on this victim down to a tee, it is still theoretically possible that there is another deranged murderer out there who feels the need to enact similar bizarre scenes. This then also serves as a meta-humorous commentary of how fundamentally absurd crime drama in film, such as the contemporary Silence of the Lambs, had become.

Related: Far Side’s Creator Reveals the One Animal He Was Never Allowed to Use

7 Mr. Sun

The Far Side, Mr Sun

A simple, yet deeply amusing cartoon, this classic panel features a space capsule careening towards certain destruction in the heart of the sun. In a situation of complete and utter terror and/or despair, the astronaut speaking still somehow has the gumption, or perhaps childlike whimsy, to call the instrument of their demise “Mr. Sun.

The indirect characteristic within the scene that ultimately provides the delayed punchline would be that the reader doesn’t necessarily see what’s out of the ordinary about such a scene upon first reading the caption. Only after about three readings of the line does it finally become apparent how ridiculous a person in that situation referring to “Mr. Sun” would be.

6 If Pets Wore Hats

Far Side Pets Hats

While likely simply scratching the itch for Larson’s penchant in drawing vacant-gazing animals, “If Pets Wore Hats” is perhaps one of the most piercing meta-commentaries in the entire strip. It succeeds in highlighting a certain abject stupidity within the very idea of a “high-brow” cartoon. There’s a pseudo-intellectualism within his own work that Larson is alluding to, as if simply putting dumb hats on animals is some kind of statement. The notion becomes even more clever when the reader comes to understand that, in fact, he is in many ways making a statement on cultural vapidity inherent in his own field. In many ways, this is a cartoonist’s cartoon.

Related: Gary Larson’s 10 Funniest Far Side Comics About Dogs

5 Cowboys and Aliens

Far Side Cowboys and Aliens

This one is actually even more confusing in retrospect, as there was a film, Cowboys and Aliens, made almost two decades after this cartoon was published. But the original joke in 1994 would have been that, while cowboys alone might be romanticized, and aliens alone might be romanticized, the two together are not typically romanticized.

4 Volume Five in a Series

Far Side Volume Five

In a scene of domestic horror/sitcom-esque hilarity, a middle-aged husband attempts to perform surgery upon his wife in their parlor as their cat expressionlessly looks on. Perhaps a commentary on the nature of serials, like in comic strips and television sitcoms, as they continue to become more and more grotesque and exaggerated, there’s a certain Dadaist terror that pervades the atmosphere of the panel that grants it a certain comic existentialist dread.

3 The Rhino in Repose

Far Side Rhino

What should be a plain silhouette of a rhinoceros in the moonlight instead appears as a hodgepodge of animal parts strewn together at odd angles.The upper-crust suggestion of the rhinoceros being “in repose” treats it as if it is a high-class work of impressionist modern art. The fact that it looks like it was drawn by a child adds to the ultimate humor of the strip.

Related: Gary Larson’s Far Side Comics Were Inspired by a Surreal Kids’ Book

2 Edwin and Lola

Far Side Edwin and Lola

A simple strip about a man and his dog in their apartment, this typical scene of banal domestic life takes a turn for the surreal when it is revealed that Edwin in fact despises his dog Lola. This is underscored by the look of concentrated revulsion upon his face for the animal. The joke here would be, aside from the empty-headed gaze of Lola (perhaps the very attitude that draws Edwin’s ire), the underlying tragedy of this concept. It is in turn further compounded into comedy at the anvil of the minimalism knitting the scene together.

1 You’ve Got a Lot of Anger, Mr. Pembrose

Far Side Pembrose

In perhaps the most confusing Far Side of them all, an eye appears on a psychiatrist’s couch, as the doctor tells his patient, named Mr. Pembrose, that he’s got a lot of anger towards the world. There are a lot of possible interpretations to this one, but perhaps the best way of seeing eye-to-eye would be that the plain fact of existing solely as an eye would likely be frustrating. Additionally, the doctor’s response is obviously so laughably reductive to his patient’s circumstances that it defies all logic. Surely, if all Mr. Pembrose exists as is an eye, his anger would be the least of his problems, but this perfectly highlights what makes The Far Side such an absurd (though occasionally confusing) work of art.

Leave a Comment