Dear Gary Larson: Your Kids Go Out At Night; Let Them Be
from the letting-go dept
A whole bunch of you sent over this note from Gary Larson, which gently asks fans of The Far Side to stop posting his comics online:
On the one hand, I confess to finding it quite flattering that some of my fans have created web sites displaying and / or distributing my work on the Internet. And, on the other, I’m struggling to find the words that convincingly but sensitively persuade these Far Side enthusiasts to “cease and desist” before they have to read these words from some lawyer.
What impact this unauthorized use has had (and is having) in tangible terms is, naturally, of great concern to my publishers and therefore to me — but it’s not the focus of this letter. My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control.
I actually believe this statement is an old one (a quick search shows it popping up many years ago as well — at least going back to 2005), so I’m not sure why it’s suddenly being submitted by multiple people, but I’m guessing it was recently mentioned on a big site (Reddit, maybe?). Either way, assuming Larson still feels this way (and if he doesn’t, someone please let me know!), it’s still worth discussing. The fact that there does not appear to be any official source for Far Side strips online, at least suggests that Larson and his publisher still feel this way. It appears this “letter” is sent out with each takedown notice that his publisher sends out.
While some of the submissions bashed Larson, the letter is actually pretty reserved and calm. Unlike some complaints like this, he does not talk about “stealing” or complain about how he can’t eat because of this. While I think he (and his publisher) are greatly overestimating how this might have any sort of “negative” impact on them, he’s not going off the rails and attacking people. Instead, he (as many content creators have done over time), talks about it from an emotional level, comparing his works to his children:
So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am.
Of course, part of being a parent is (at a certain point) recognizing that your children have grown up and don’t need to tell you where they are. They do go out at night, and you should respect that, and recognize that they might not really be in trouble. I’d argue that this is a case where that’s absolutely true.
If you look back at the massive success of The Far Side, it would not be crazy to suggest that a not insignificant portion was due to the fact that many, many, many people cut out or copied Far Side comics, and posted them on their refrigerators or office walls or wherever it was they shared comics. For years, I used to have a “God at his computer” (with a giant “smite” button) Far Side (from a page-a-day calendar from sometime in the 90s) taped to my computer. Of course, those were all cases of Larson’s “children” going out at night as well.
In fact, I’d argue that the lack of old Far Side comics being allowed online these days is actually doing much more harm to The Far Side franchise and Larson’s reputation, than if he simply left them on. It takes The Far Side out of the discussion. Meanwhile, we’ve seen how new webcomics, like xkcd take the exact opposite approach. xkcd doesn’t just put all its comics online, or not complain about people sharing them on other sites, but with each and every comic, it gives you the embed code so that you can embed it via a hotlink. And, rather than hurting xkcd creator Randall Munroe, it seems to have massively increased his possibility. And even though all the comics are for free, xkcd books are still in high demand, and Munroe makes pretty good money selling prints of each strip, despite all of that.
Or, if you don’t consider Munroe/xkcd a peer because his comics come from a different era/world, how about Scott Adams, with Dilbert, which at times has had a similar reputation as The Far Side, and also owes a great debt to people sharing copies of its comics on their office walls. And, just like Larson and The Far Side, Adams has to deal with a publisher/syndication company that wants to sell his books. And, yet, the Dilbert website has a full archive of all Dilbert comics for free, with a nice search engine. It also makes it easy for anyone to share and embed the strips on their website if they want to do that (for free). On top of that, not so long ago, they created a nice feature that makes it ridiculously easy to license any Dilbert strip for all sorts of uses, with a couple of clicks and a simple price. And, it doesn’t sound like any of this has “harmed” Dilbert’s ability to earn money. In fact, it has done quite the opposite.
So, while I don’t know for sure why this is suddenly getting attention, it seems like it’s time for Gary Larson and Creators Syndicate to maybe reconsider their position. The children have grown up. You don’t need to protect them any more. You can set them free and watch as they do wonderful things that make you proud.