Cow Tools – Gary Larson

Without necessarily any context, I would like to share one notoriously unfunny cartoon and its ironically hilarious explanation. Allow me to let the cartoon speak for itself:

“The “Cow tools” episode ‘is one that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. A week after it was published back in 1992, I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and die.” – Gary Larson

This is easily my favorite single-panel comic (if it may even be called that) of all time precisely due to the ambiguity of this concept of “cow tools” and the strength of the reaction from the artist himself about his own piece. Are these tools for cows, or made by cows? What about both? Was the barn built using these cow tools, hence its inclusion in the frame? What purpose does each tool serve? What did Larson want us to get out of this?

Larson, in the excerpt linked above, explains that there is nothing to get: “The ‘cow tools’ were supposed to be just meaningless artifacts-only the cow or a cowthropologist is supposed to know what they’re used for”. Phenomenal! So what, he missed the mark a little in conveying this idea of cowthropology – no harm in that. But Larson beats himself up about it: “The first mistake I made was in thinking this was funny. The second was making one of the tools resemble a crude handsaw-which made already confused people decide that their only hope in understanding the cartoon meant deciphering what the other tools were as well. Of course, they didn’t have a chance in hell.”

However, the mystery “Cow Tools” spread rapidly, bolstering The Far Side to new fame simply out of confusion. I highly recommend reading the full explanation of “Cow Tools,” just for a laugh even if there’s no higher point to it. I think there is something inspiring about creating something just for yourself, whether there is mass appeal or any significance to it, but finding value, personal or public, in it regardless. Larson phrases it best in his conclusion: “So, in summary, I drew a really weird, obtuse cartoon that no one understood and wasn’t funny and therefore I went on to even greater success and recognition.”


One Comment Add yours

  1. Viola B says:

    I LOVE GARY LARSON. He is my dad’s favorite comic. We have his books littered across our home. That being said I have never looked into it much further. This is hilarious, and Larson’s responses to it make it even better. The expression of the cow is too much!


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