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Evolution Ha-Has (minus Gary Larson)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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So I’m putting together this post on great evolution cartoons that focus on the water-to-land transition and I remember this Gary Larson cartoon from the Far Side that depicts three fish in the water staring longingly at their baseball lying on the shore, a few feet from the water’s edge. The caption reads, “Great moments in evolution.” Hilarious, no? So I fire off an email to his rep asking permission to use it and I find that Mr. Larson has completely restricted (good luck with that one) the use of his cartoons in any electronic format whatsoever. It’s really quite a remarkable email – here’s the gist of it:

Although Mr. Larson appreciates his many loyal fans and is flattered by this attention to his work, none of his work is available for use in any electronic format for any reason. Mr. Larson feels strongly about not having his cartoons available on web sites, or in any electronic format, until copyright protection legislation is established for the Internet. Making Far Side cartoons available in digital form for anyone to download makes it impossible for Mr. Larson to control how his creative efforts are used — something that is very important to him.

Wow. That’s extreme. What about presentations? No dice, unless you use an overhead projector (what is that, you ask? Good question.) Newsletters? Nope. Posters? Nah. Merchandise? Obviously, no. But my lucky Far Side t-shirt is threadbare – can I buy another through you? Negative, soldier. What about a stinkin’ greeting card? Can I get a greeting card? No. No card for you. NO!

GAAAAAAAAH! Is it me or is this a special kind of paranoia? I understand the fear of losing income from piracy – as an illustrator whose work was taken by South Park without compensation, believe me, I get it – but I don’t think going on Internet lockdown is the solution. More than anything, keeping your work off the Internet prevents you from being part of the conversation and limits your reach substantially (if you were following Glendon’s and my coverage of Pinterest and its terms of service, I’m working on a follow-up along these lines.) But that is for another time. What I really wanted to do here was to highlight great fish humor. And there are other artists who are willing to be part of the conversation. So let’s converse, shall we?

“What next?” by Ed Heck

What Next? by Ed Heck

© Ed Heck. Used with permission.

“No Missing Links” by Tom Toles
This cartoon came out shortly after the announcement of the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae and is a favorite in the Shubin lab…

"No Missing Links" by Toles

TOLES © 2006 The Washington Post. Used by permission of Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

These are two of my faves… as more permissions roll in, I’ll post a few more gems. Enjoy!

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Jerrold Alpern 8:37 am 05/1/2012

    By choosing an absolutist stand on a much debated intellectual principle, Gary Larson is ensuring that his own rapidly fading relevance with younger generations will continue to decline at an ever steeper angle. I am an Education Volunteer in the 4th floor Fossil Halls at AMNH. Dozens of his cartoons are pertinent to our exhibits and would increase understanding of them if we could refer visitors to an accessible web site.

    The Stegosaurus is a good example. It was a cartoon of his that introduced the word “thagomizer” for the entire end tail and spike assemblage of the beast. Paleontologists picked up on it immediately and it has become a standard term of art, used in many professional scientific papers. It’s an amusing story and a good lead-in for a discussion of that dino’s peculiarities. However, I can’t use it with anyone under the age of 50, minimum. Younger folks are simply ignorant of Larson’s work because of its minimal exposure on the web. Minimal will turn to zero if he gets his way. It’s a shame, because scientists and educators everywhere treasure his cartoons and frequently use them as learning tools for students. Guess that’ll stop because I suspect that his books (some still in print) are purchased mainly by older fans. With no web availability, his audience will literally wither away.

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  2. 2. Alex Wild 10:07 am 05/1/2012

    Many of my students this semester have no idea who Gary Larson is. So I’ve stripped his cartoons from the existing presentations in favor of artists like xkcd who they are more likely to recognize. I don’t want to do that- Larson is brilliant- but there’s no point in using obsolete cultural references.

    What a shame it’s a willful obsolescence. It is as though Larson thinks the internet is a fad that will someday pass, rather than the new face of the entire human economy.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Glendon Mellow 10:46 am 05/1/2012

    That Tom Toles cartoon is terrific.

    As I’ve noted before, anytime an artist puts their work online, they have to do some risk assessment. The problem with Larsen’s stance in my opinion is that if he has no web presence, other people will put them up online without even a link or token nod in his professional direction.

    In my experience, by having an active voice (blog, Twitter, social media) online and engaging with fans and peers, that community will rush in to announce uncredited work as it crops up on sites and ask for creator’s work to be respected.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Glendon Mellow 10:47 am 05/1/2012

    (Ooh dang, typo on Larson’s name in my comment. Whoops.)

    Link to this
  5. 5. MikeTaylor 11:15 am 05/1/2012

    Completely insane. It’s not as though Larson’s cartoons are hard to find on the Internet for those who care to. The only effect is policy has is this: that the only people who’ll see his work are the ones who torrent it in bulk.

    File under Just Doesn’t Get It.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM 5:44 pm 05/1/2012

    It is a Principled Principle.

    But now I know why that Larson guy faded away.

    Link to this
  7. 7. SLW-L 8:26 pm 05/1/2012

    So sad! I was introduced to the Far Side by my dad at a pretty young age. He used to always keep a Far Side calendar on his desk where you tear off a page to reveal a new cartoon every day; occasionally I still find those pages hiding in some of my older books (used as bookmarks). I didn’t realize that many young people aren’t aware of Gary Larson’s work. I’m sure it would be insanely popular now if he’d share online. Shame.

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  8. 8. Glendon Mellow 1:26 am 05/3/2012

    One of the best examples of internet success is probably the Girl Genius comics.

    The entire comics are published online to read for free. FREE. But they make money selling print copies anyhow. The fans want to hold ‘em in their hands.

    Quality can win.

    Link to this

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