Category: Comics

BiologyComicsdinosaurspaleontologyScience

Ladies and Gentlemen…the Thagomizer

If your adolescence happened to occur during the 1980s or ’90s, then your sense of humor was very possibly influenced by Gary Larson’s The Far Side. For those of you who may not be familiar with The Far Side, first – welcome to the daylight, hopefully you had a pleasant upbringing in your Amish cave. Second, The Far Side (along with Jim Davis’ Garfield) absolutely dominated the comics page in the local newspapers from the early ’80s up through the mid-90s.  The comic spawned more than twenty books and countless greeting cards and calendars.

The Far Side was a surreal and irreverent single-panel comic, often with a focus on animals and nature, and it counted scientists, paleontologists, and biologists,among its many fans, with the likes of Jane Goodall and Stephen Jay Gould contributing pieces for the foreward for several Far Side compilations.

While everybody has a favorite Far Side comic (ed. note: well clearly not EVERYBODY. It’s kind of hard to imagine that Turkish president Erdogan is a big reader of the comics page), this comic, printed in 1982 was one of the more popular and clip-and-pin-on-the-cube-wall worthy:

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Courtesy United Press Syndicate and Gary Larson (1982)

Funny stuff, yeah?  Well LOTS of people thought it was funny and copies of that comic were undoubtedly clipped out of innumerable editions of the local fishwrap and thumbtacked to just as many office doors and cubicle walls. One of those who clipped the comic was Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and he apparently liked it so much, that he referred to the tail spines of a stegosaurus as the “Thagomizer” during the 1993 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Since that conference, the term has been adopted as an informal anatomic term and is used by the likes of the Smithsonian Institution, the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur, and Dinosaur National Monument in the U.S., and even more importantly, has its own Wikipedia page.

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The Thagomizer. (The arrows make it so much easier to see, right?)

So, now more than 25 years after the comic was first published, and more than 60 million years after encountering his ignoble fate, Thag Simmons lives on forever. And for those concerned about scientific accuracy, first may I point out this was a comic and second, when asked about his comics and their legacy, Larson was quoted as saying “Father, I have sinned – I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon“.

Now I just wonder if we can get Ankylosaurus’ tail knob renamed to something like “LampreyOnlineThumper”.