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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Friday, 6/13/2014

CULTURE SHOCK

Artists living on ‘The Far Side’ of fame

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nearly 20 years ago my wife decided that for Halloween she would be “The Far Side chick.” You know, the woman with a beehive ’do who has part of the quirky menagerie of Gary Larson’s wildly popular syndicated single-panel comic The Far Side.

For the costume, she wore cat-eye glasses, a large pearl necklace, frumpy patterned dress, and black loafers, with the trademark Larson signature running up her calf inside her pantyhose.

Oh, and her hair stood about a story higher than her head.

She was such a sight, the editorial cartoonist who worked with her at the Las Vegas Sun newspaper and knew Larson suggested they send a photo of her in costume to The Far Side creator.

“He’d love it,” he told her.

They did — a black-and-white print — and a few weeks later she received a handwritten reply from Larson.

“I’m sure you sent dogs and children running, but I thought you were quite the vision,” he wrote.

The letter arrived only a few months before Larson retired his 15-year-old strip on Jan. 1, 1995. And 364 days later, Calvin and Hobbes made its final appearance in newspapers -- Dec. 31, 1995 — after a decade-long run.

While no one wanted to see either of these comics retired so young, the popularity of The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes remains partially because we never watched them grow old and stale. As showbiz tells us, always leave ’‍em wanting more.

That axiom also applies to the notoriously reclusive creators of The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes — particularly the latter, Bill Watterson, who’‍s infrequent sightings have been compared to J.D. Salinger and Bigfoot.

But Watterson made news last week when Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis revealed that they collaborated on a three-day run of his comic strip, beginning June 4. Months before that, Watterson’s illustrated poster for Stripped, a 2014 documentary about the state and future of newspaper comics, created a similarly excited stir on social media.

So why doesn’‍t he give the public more?

In the 2013 documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, a love letter to Calvin and Hobbes and its creator (who never appears in the film), Dave Kellett, creator of the Webcomics Sheldon and Drive, offered this explanation:

“Cartooning attracts solitary people, quiet people, insulate people,” he said. “Because if you are going to spend time at your drawing desk you weren’t the kind of person that dated well in high school. You weren’t the kind of person that was the captain of the football team. For the most part, it’s people that use their art to make their voice to the world. So, it doesn’t surprise me that [Watterson] airs on the shyer side, the introverted side, the reclusive side. Because that’s probably what his life framed him as. He was probably always shy, and introverted, and reclusive or else he wouldn’t have spent the decades crafting his abilities as an artist.”

The truth is, Watterson wants nothing to do with fame. Neither does Larson. It’‍s the art and not the artist who should be celebrated, they say.

That’‍s antithetical to our fame-obsessed culture, and, frankly, worthy of our admiration.

For as much as we weary of those fighting to stay in front of the cameras, how refreshing to know there are those fighting to stay away from them.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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