Despite being a mostly family-friendly – if surreal – comic, even The Far Side isn’t immune to controversy. From misunderstood images to offended celebrities, creator Gary Larson has faced criticism in the past, and has credited his editors with keeping him from making even bigger mistakes. However, there is one hated comic he’s not only defended, but lists among his personal favorites.
In the past, The Far Side comics have offended Jane Goodall with a joke at her expense, outraged Amnesty International by taking torture too lightly, and drawn the ire of animal rights groups whenever there’s the hint of inter-species violence. Some disagreements are the results of honest misunderstandings, jokes getting lost in translation, or people simply not appreciating Larson’s brand of humor. However, one Far Side comic went unappreciated by some for its venture into child cannibalism.
Why Far Side’s Witch Comic Was Controversial
In The Prehistory of The Far Side, Gary Larson dedicates an entire section to the topic of Far Side‘s most controversial entries. Among them is one of his favorites, the tale of parents who hired a witch as their babysitter for the evening. The couple return home from their date night to discover what should be a horrifying situation for most parents: the babysitter – a literal, stereotypical Halloween-style witch – has cooked and eaten the children. The joke, of course, comes from parents’ very specific and mundane reaction – instead of being horrified, they’re irritated that the witch has consumed both their offspring. Larson accurately describes the situation depicted in the comic as “ludicrous,” but this didn’t stop angry parents from complaining about the violence towards children implied in the panel.
Why Gary Larson Loves Far Side’s Witch Comic
However, despite this reaction, Larson argues that he stands by the comic, calling it “one of my personal favorites.” He points out that the comic taps into the odd concept of traditional fairy tales being full of violence while directed at children. Explaining his continued affection for the strip’s humor, Larson says:
First of all, this cartoon “couple” have not hired a witch-like babysitter to watch their kids – they’ve hired a witch! Secondly, they’re not horrified at what’s occurred, as we might suspect, but mostly indignant. And lastly, they’re especially upset that the witch ate both their kids – as if to suggest one would have been pretty bad, but both is really unacceptable.
It’s difficult to disagree with Larson: the situation is inherently absurd, as is to be expected throughout The Far Side. It’s a joke satirizing the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel with a literal witch eating children, with the parents’ response being indignant annoyance. However, The Prehistory of The Far Side makes it clear that implied violence against vulnerable subjects was a surefire way to garner complaints. Indeed, Larson initially believed the response to another comic – which shows dogs using a cat as a tetherball – would end his career. With The Far Side‘s popularity came a huge mainstream audience, many of whom were uncomfortable with even the hint of violence towards children and animals – even if was done by a cartoon witch.
The Far Side never took itself too seriously. It was always the home of ridiculous premises and situations, a place where cows plotted to turn the tables on Farmer Brown and cavemen playing the first games of checkers. The witch babysitter is no different: an absurd situation that plays on contrasting the mundane and the surreal. Thankfully, The Far Side lived on despite even its harshest critics, and Larson has the judgment to recognize which critiques had a point, and which comics nevertheless deserve an audience.
Next: Why Gary Larson Retired From Far Side (& Why He Returned)
Source: The Prehistory of The Far Side