Friday, October 15, 2021


Obscurity of the Day: Eureka!


Gary Larson's The Far Side opened up a long-moribund vein of humour in newspaper comics, one that hadn't really been seriously mined since the early days of the form -- science and scientists. Back in the 1890s-1900s wacky scientists were a regular sight in comics sections, fueled by the rapid-fire scientific advances that were coming out of their labs. 

The genre never died out completely, but Larson brought it back with a new twist -- he wrote gags often featuring off-kilter scientists, but as often as not readers were expected to have at least a modicum of scientific literacy to get the gags. Larson's syndicate might well have admonished him for that approach with the idea that he was excluding a portion of newspaper readership, but thankfully they didn't, or at least were unsuccessful at reining him in. The Far Side in effect told scientific illiterates that they should look elsewhere on the comics page for their laughs. 

The Far Side appealed to an underserved target audience, the so called nerds and geeks. That audience turned out to be far larger than newspaper editors imagined, and so The Far Side took a long time to catch on -- with editors that is, not readers. For proof, check out Jeffrey Lindenblatt's The 300 posts here on the blog to see how slowly the panel gained papers. 

Once The Far Side had proven that there was an audience, naturally everyone wanted on the bandwagon. While many me-too entries focused on the unusually deadpan delivery of the gags, a few tried to latch onto the science aspect. That brings us, finally, to Eureka! by Munro Ferguson, a strip unapologetically and emphatically about science and scientists. This strip began in Canada at the Globe and Mail, but eventually got a small foothold in the States.

Not having access to the archives of the Toronto Globe and Mail*, I can tell you only that it is supposed to have started there sometime in 1985**. I don't know if it was a Sunday, daily or something else at the time. It was not until three years later that Universal Press Syndicate picked up the daily strip for US syndication, which began on November 28 1988***. A Sunday might have been available from the beginning, but the earliest I can find is January 8 1989 (and it's about the Big Bang, which would make for a good first Sunday). 

Eureka! is all about science and scientists, unlike The Far Side which is not so single-minded. This seems to have made Ferguson's strip a harder sell, even to editors whose eyes had been opened by the popularity of Larson's panel. Eureka! also has a much different tone, more whimsical and goofy, that sets it apart in a good way. Readers don't need a carbon copy of The Far Side, but some editors frankly can't see beyond the obvious. And even if they did, you can see them wondering what exactly they would drop in order to add this strip, which seems to offer a somewhat narrow base of interest. 

A few papers added the strip to their weekly science pages, but the clientele that ran it every day was vansishingly small. No wonder, then, that Universal Press pulled the plug sometime in 1990; my latest examples are from May of that year. 

According to an online bio of Ferguson, who is also known as a filmmaker/animator, the strip continued in the Globe and Mail until 1992.


* If you have a Toronto library card then you have access to those archives online. If you'd care to do a little research on the strip I'd be very appreciative if you could share the definitive start and end dates and frequency of Eureka!

** Source: a widely printed article from Gannett about the strip, printed in November to December 1985 in various papers.

*** Source: Santa Fe New Mexican.

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