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‘The Far Side’s’ Gary Larson Takes a Break

Think of it as a human equivalent to hibernation; he certainly would.

For Gary Larson, who presides over the greatest menagerie since Noah’s and the most peculiar since P. T. Barnum’s, has retreated to his cave for a spell.

His “Far Side” panels provoke nearly as much vehement dislike among comic traditionalists (". . . please drop ‘Far Side.’ It is sick”) as it does ferocious loyalism among its fans. Long thought by detractors to have taken leave of his senses, Larson now has taken leave of “The Far Side” for a 14-month sabbatical.

But like the Lone Ranger, he has left his own silver bullets to remember him by: “Far Side” reruns from the thrilling days of yesteryear, the early 1980s, when Larson’s cartoon koans were just beginning to register in the American brainpan.

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Nearly 3,000 cartoons later, “He felt he needed to get away from the deadline situation for a while so he could just try to regenerate his cells,” says his syndicate editor, Lee Salem. Larson, 36, recently got back from Africa with his bride of a few months, and may take up the study of the jazz guitar.

Larson himself has no comment. The doodlin’ hermit of Puget Sound is as publicity-skittish as Thomas Pynchon. The only way you knew he was there was by the oblique little oddments that he sailed daily into our consciousness from a drawing board he set up in another and more perplexing universe.

Larson’s droll, even macabre sketches have demonstrated that the unspeakable is not necessarily the unamusing (two great white sharks in pearls and black tie: “Well, if you’re almost ready, I’m dressed to kill”).

Since his first cartoon sale (six for $90) to a Seattle-area magazine in 1976, about 700 newspapers now carry his work. And, Salem reports, “sales since the announcement (of the sabbatical) have exceeded cancellations,” in part because, unlike Woody Allen’s early, funny movies, Larson’s newer fans haven’t seen his early, funny panels.

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