Tuesday, January 06, 2004

gary larson

Gumming down a questionable spinach and cheese omelet at Bob's this morning, I watched a guy struggle with the door. Bob's is a classic diner, filtered through a vaguely Asian kitschiness; the walls and windowsills are a jumble of collectible plates, fancy empty liquor bottles, trails of elephants carved from tusks, a light-up painting of Niagara Falls where one of the falls moves, sort of. Macaroni with meat sauce jostles up against curry chicken over rice and pork chop with pesto on the dry-erase specials board, all accompanied by unspecified "veggies". The water glasses are standard-issue frosted plastic and the hot chocolate comes from packets older, probably, than the very idea of chocolate.

Anyway. This fellow is pushing against the plate glass door, clearly marked "pull" on our side, trying to get out. And I can't help thinking, Midvale School for the Gifted. Which leads me, inevitably, to muse once again on the particular genius of cartoonist Gary Larson.

How many modern cartoonists have worked their vision so thoroughly into the fabric of our culture? Think of every time you've turned to describing a Far Side panel as a way of explaining a point. You know, it's like the boneless chicken factory, you might say. What about the one where all the cows are standing up drinking martinis, and then one yells "car"? Yes, other cartoonists have introduced characters and ideas that really stick. Some stand in for larger concepts--Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football being an obvious example.

But Larson's got something else. I can't put my finger on it. Midvale School for the Gifted gets me every time because I went to a school for the gifted, and we were as likely, emotionally and socially, to push the door marked pull as anyone else. Now whenever I can't figure out how to do something, and the something turns out to be clearly marked or obvious in some other way, I'll say the phrase out loud and usually people get it. It is that ubiquitous.

Blah, blah, Ginger is another one, from What Dogs Hear. Lot of uses for that one. I wonder what it's like, being Gary Larson, and knowing that your sideways view has been so embraced. Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.

May I be excused? My brain is full.