Gary Larson’s Far Side comics weren’t just hilarious daily treats, and his popular “Thagomizer” panel actually inspired the naming of the spiked part of the stegosaurus’ tail. Always one of Larson’s favorite subjects to return to, the comic genius used cavemen as the perfect surrogate for modern man, and they were usually his most relatable panels.
Whether they were devising primitive versions of technology or simply being silly, Larson’s ancient humans often looked and acted a lot like the people that the reader encountered on a daily basis. While the cavemen were almost always humorous, the absolute funniest primitive panels have kept readers in stitches for years.
Sports fans have often been compared to primitive man, and it seems as if Larson shared that sentiment when he depicted the raucous ways of early humans. Using a common basketball taunt in the “Air Spear” panel, Larson once again tied ancient man back to the modern day with a subtle barb.
Unlike a basketball hoop which is very small, the image of a spear missing a giant mammoth is absurd enough to be hilarious on its own, but the taunt is just icing on the cake. Despite the fact that missing the mammoth means going hungry, the other cavemen can’t help but taunt their poor friend.
Before Paper And Scissors
The best Gary Larson comics are simple but effective, and it is the jokes that take a second to sink in that are often the funniest of all. Depicting what could possibly be the first playing of rock paper scissors, Larson imagines a world before the invention of the latter two elements of the game.
The caveman obsession with rocks was a trope Larson returned to frequently, and the subtle visual of seeing the three cavemen totally bamboozled is classic Larson humor. The joke could probably work without the caption, but the addition of the words pushes the joke over the edge into hilarious territory.
Early Experiments In Transportation
The basic premise of many of the caveman Far Side comics is Larson’s speculation about the birth of certain pieces of technology and how they may have initially failed. The comic says it all through Larson’s artwork, and the “Early Experiments in Transportation” panel is like a photo taken moments before disaster.
The ill-fated caveman strapped to the top of the big wheel is obviously in for a bumpy ride, and the panel is especially funny because it doesn’t show the punchline, only the setup. The funniest Far Side comics conjure further images in the reader’s head, and every person who sees the panel can picture the outcome of the so-called experiment.
Primitive man obviously didn’t have a lot of time for recreation back in the day, but that didn’t stop Larson from putting his cave dwellers in humorously familiar situations of play. “Early Checkers” is a simple yet effective panel that gets funnier the longer the reader explores it.
The reader gets a rare glimpse into the mind of the caveman, and the earnest look on his face is a testament to Larson’s artistic skill. When the reader finally follows the line of sight down to the game board, the punchline finally reveals itself as there are literally only two pieces on the entire board. A less confident artist would have made the joke more obvious, but Larson’s sense of humor let the reader come to it as opposed to the other way around.
Primitive Spelling Bee
Larson made so many caveman panels in his career that readers quickly caught on to his formula. In “Primitive Spelling Bee” he put a twist on his usual tropes by showing that cavemen are just as smart as anyone else, and even have modern anxieties like the reader.
As the contestant on stage struggles to spell the word cave, another laments the fact that he’ll be given a word to spell that would vex even an anthropologist. Obviously, no words existed back then, but the choice to use a scientific word that is used in modern parlance is Larson showing his own scientific prowess. Though he is no scientist, Larson often liked to remind readers that he was smarter than the average caveman.
With each new generation of technology, the gadgets of the past look more and more primitive, and Larson found it was doubly so for the cavemen. The absurd image of a gigantic stone microscope is the kind of humor readers had come to expect from Larson, but he doesn’t stop with the visual alone.
Looking through the microscope and confirming that he is, in fact, looking at a mammoth, the confident caveman confirms it with words in a hilarious punctuation for the panel. While not explicitly a failure, the uselessness of a gigantic microscope is a joke itself, and the happy look on the caveman’s face sells the joke perfectly.
What Zog Do
Though Gary Larson was hardly a fine artist, he had a way with drawing that proved he was no slouch in the artistic department either. “What Zog Do” is Larson’s interpretation of an important turning point in human evolution, and he offers readers a glimpse of the painful lessons that cavemen had to learn the hard way.
The reader goes on a little journey in the panel as they first see cavemen seriously burning themselves to cook food, before their eyes are called across the panel to Zog patiently waiting for his food to cook. Writing in the stilted way that is usually associated with cavemen, Larson gives the suffering cave folks their aha moment while also exhibiting his darker sense of humor.
One of the things that made Far Side an iconic comic strip in the ’80s and ’90s was that it found a way to be relatable without being typical. “Early Plumbers” is a perfect illustration of that idea, and Larson uses his favorite cavemen to present a situation that the reader had undoubtedly been through themselves.
Calling a plumber to the house usually always spells financial trouble, and the fact that the trend existed all the way back in caveman times is especially funny. Plus, the visual of the plumber caveman looking down a hole in the ground as if it is complicated plumbing will never stop being hilarious.
Larson’s sense of humor was always a bit absurd, but the weirdest Far Side comics pushed things to their furthest extent with off-beat visuals. Larson answered the age-old question of where a wheelbarrow came from by showing the sad fate of the caveman named Barrow.
With his noggin plowing through the dirt, Larson’s panel undoubtedly lead to a few double-takes as readers leafed through the newspaper’s funny pages. The premise of the Far Side caveman series was usually that cavemen did things the most counterintuitive way, and Barrow’s discovery is perhaps the strongest illustration of that concept.
Newspaper comic strips rarely have an impact on the real world, but Gary Larson’s famous “Thagomizer” panel inspired scientists to adopt his term. Featuring a caveman giving a presentation of dinosaur anatomy, long-time readers of Far Side get to learn the grizzly fate of the caveman Thag.
Obviously squashed by the stegosaurus’ massive spiked tail, Thag gets a chance to live on in his own goofy descriptor. Definitely one of Larson’s darkest panels, it is still handled with a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek so that the reader is too busy laughing to consider how grim Thag’s fate really was.
NEXT: 10 Darkest Far Side Comics By Gary Larson