When I was growing up I was a huge fan of newspaper comic strips. I remember reading those massive broadsheet weekend papers where you would have a double page of comics stuffed somewhere in the middle. Those papers were so big you could unfold it and lay it out on the floor in the lounge like a map when you read them. I loved Garfield, Peanuts, The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes in particular.
Although newspaper comic strips still exist today, they are hugely dimished in their cultural relevance and have been more or less superceded by online funnies. Which is a shame really because the nostalgic side of me misses the simple monochromatic art style that most of these strips would employ and how the artists would be forced to creatively make use of the panel format that they had to work with. For anyone who has even a passing interest in the creative process behind comic strips, I highly recommend The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary and The Prehistory of the Far Side which both offer some excellent insight from the creators into how they worked.
The other thing I miss is the timeless quality of these strips which would often run for many years with the same set of characters. Online comics tend to have a shorter lifespan and commonly use very topical humour that won’t age particularly well.
Because she’s just awesome like that, Jen recently picked up on my pining for these comics strips from my childhood and ordered Gary Larson’s The Complete Farside, an exhaustive two volume hardcover set that contains every single Far Side ever published. That’s over 4,000 comics spanning fourteen years (!).
Just look at this bad boy (on my crappy iPhone photos):
I’ve started working my way through them this evening. Its fascinating to see Larson’s work evolve over the early years as he takes his time finding a consistent tone for the series and gradually begins to create his own bizarre little world populated with talking insects, childish scientists and anthropomorphic cows. There are plenty of recurring locations and motifs including social interaction amongst different animal species, desert island scenarios, court room cases with unusual defendants and dinosaurs.
In short, I absolutely love it.
On a side note, there was some recent news that the bookstores Borders and Angus & Robertson were closing down and going into administration in Australia (as they are in many other parts of the world). Now, I don’t know the specifics in other countries but in Australia we’ve had a terrible book buying environment for years with government regulation designed to protect Australian book stores from the overseas market basically killing off any chance at competitive pricing. As a rough approximation, books in Australia are about 300% more expensive that other Western countries. The bestseller range in America and the UK generally sells around the $9-$12 mark in local currency. In Australia, bestsellers tend to go for $30.
So does that 300% markup exist for hardback and coffee table books like this Far Side compendium? Take a look:
$80 Australian dollars with free shipping when Jen ordered it from Amazon UK. Or she can go to her local Angus & Robertson and pay $340. A formidable 425% markup.
As with most other goods, Australians have gotten wise to the rip-off pricing and are now purchasing their books online in droves through Book Depository and price-checking websites like BookO. So it comes as no surprise that Borders went bust. The only remaining large scale bookseller in Australia is Dymocks. Their prices aren’t really any better. If they fold, we could very well have a situation in Australia where the only remaining national stores selling books are Big W and Target.
Anyway, thats enough rambling from me about bookstores, I’m going to put the kettle on and get settled in with some more Far Side.