In 1980, Gary Larson unleashed The Far Side on an unsuspecting public. This single-panel comic would go on to change the way both artists and the public approached the daily funnies. The Far Side ran for 16 years, and it left an indelible impact on everyone who read it. Cows read poetry. Scientists played pranks on one another. We found out the real reason dinosaurs became extinct. Over the years it seemed that everyone was able to name a favorite. However there is one particular comic that stands out as the greatest in the long and rich history of The Far Side: Midvale.
In case you are unfamiliar with that word, it’s the name of a particular school. Not just any school, mind you. It’s the name of a school for gifted students. Midvale School for the Gifted. A place, one would assume, populated with our best and brightest. Well, almost...
The genius of this single-panel is in its simplicity. We’ve seen it before, we’ve done it before. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen people do exactly what’s depicted in the comic, myself included. We are all guilty of door-confusion. We’ve all pushed when we should have pulled. We’ve all pressed on the wrong side of the door, confused by hinges or single-bar levers. If the unnamed student had simply looked up, he would have seen the “pull” sign as well as the outside hinge. But he didn’t. And therein lies the subtlety of Gary Larson.
“Midvale School for the Gifted” is the greatest comic in the rich and deep catalog of The Far Side. The kid is a genius when it’s used as an ironic moniker. The kid is distracted perhaps. The kid is having a rough morning. The kid is us. He is all of us. We are all students at the Midvale School for the Gifted, at least occasionally. The brilliance of this panel is in its ability to resonate on a personal level. We’ve all muttered “genius” or “idiot” to to ourselves when we do something stupid.
I have had this comic panel laminated and hanging on my classroom door for longer than I can remember. Finally this year, a student asked about it. She insinuated, not seriously, that I was making fun of the students. I assured her I was, and I was also making fun of myself, and everyone I’ve ever known. I’m not sure if she grasped the relevance of the comic, but I know someday she will. Sooner or later we all push on the pull door.