I wouldn’t normally record a book of comic strips here, but Gary Larson’s The Complete Far Side isn’t exactly your typical such volume — it’s a thousand-plus page behemoth, and any time I read a thousand-page book, I reckon as how it deserves an entry.

As you’d gather from the title, The Complete Far Side gathers all the Far Side comics ever made into one spine-snapping volume — or, actually, two spine-snapping volumes inside a slip cover. From a purely physical perspective, this is a superb set. Both volumes are printed on heavy, glossy paper, with full color for those that were originally in color (which seems to be about three a week, oddly — are there papers that print Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday comics in color, but all the other days in black and white?); the covers have cloth-bound spines with embossed gold lettering and are elsewhere wrapped in glossy color-printed paper. The slipcase is cloth-wrapped on the edges with large color paintings on the sides. It’s pretty obvious that they pulled out the stops on this collection, and those who appreciate books as physical artifacts will love this.

From a content standpoint, well, it’s the Far Side. You know what the comic’s like, and you know whether or not you like it. Probably you do; I’ve never known anyone who didn’t, as it’s a fairly safe and inoffensive sort of comic. Or at least, that’s what I always thought — Larson and his editors apparently believe that it’s all edgy and offensive, which struck me as bizarre until I read the letters of complaint they received (which are occasionally reproduced next to particularly contentious comics); it turns out that comics readers are the most easily offended bunch of people ever. At any rate, the comics are arranged chronologically (with minor intra-week shuffling to put the color ones on the same page for what I assume are economic printing reasons), so you can trace the evolution of the strip over time — though truthfully, it doesn’t evolve much.

At every year’s end, Larson contributes a small essay talking about some Far Side-related topic or other, which serves as a nice break from what might otherwise be an enormous uninterrupted mass of single-panel comics. Even with the breaks, the cumulative effect of that much Far Side can be a bit overwhelming, and reading all at once shows you exactly how repetitive Larson could get; still, as long books go, this one’s rather breezy and it never became a slog. Recommended to die-hard fans of the Far Side, completists, those who love well-made books, and especially to those who fall into all three of those groups.


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