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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of  Academic Computing and User Services

I Learned it from Dr. Fun

Sometime in 1994, I ran across an Internet cartoon named Dr. Fun. It was some time after Al Gore had invented the Internet and I don't remember if I found the reference on a mailing list somewhere or if in the early days of surfing, I ran across the Dr. Fun page.  But, once I found it, I was an instant fan. The Far Side was still being drawn by Gary Larson, a year before his retirement in 1995.  Dr. Fun exhibited the slightly off-beat (sometimes more than slightly) sensibilities of The Far Side, but with a bit of Internet and computer geek humor thrown in as well.  Since it didn't appear in newspapers, Dr. Fun's range of humor could sometimes include a bit of profanity or a lean to the scatological. But it could just as equally fall on the intellectual or esoteric side as well.

Dr. Fun first appeared on the Internet in 1993, and ran until recently, when David Farley, Dr. Fun's creator, ceased publishing the Internet-based comic.  Up until then, Dr. Fun had appeared more-or-less regularly with five cartoons per week, published each working day.  What was initially striking about Dr. Fun was that it combined colored black-pen drawings over digital photos or textures as the background.  This was a unique style which wouldn't have been nearly as effective in a newspaper as it was on line.  (Although, Dr. Fun was briefly syndicated by United Media and a collection of Dr. Fun cartoons is available as a book.)

Long-time readers of Dr. Fun will note Farley's preoccupation with chickens, marshmellow "Peeps", and disembodied heads in jars (kept alive, of course.)  But, the subject matter was varied and often reflected pop cultural icons, current events, and computer geek culture in a different light. I think I was most impressed by the wide ranging references to various scientific or academic esoterica (at least esoterica to me sometimes).  This could include astronomy, computer science, entomology, information technology, literature, microbology, music, paleontology, and even zoology.

I have to admit that before Dr. Fun, I didn't know what a nudibranch was, why multituberculates shouldn't have been smug, where solifugids live, or who the heck was cthulhu (OK, I just never read any H.P Lovecraft). So invariably, I'd find myself Googling (on Google, just to be clear) the Dr. Fun punch line every once in a while and after a bit of research, I always got the joke. One of the pleasures of Dr. Fun, was that you never quite knew what might come next.

Alas, as went The Far Side, so has gone Dr. Fun.  David Farley writes on his Dr. Fun page, "In the past I've mentioned that it would end at 520 weeks. Was that the plan from the beginning? No, because there was no plan at the beginning other than to show people some neat cartoons in a whole new format. A couple years ago, after I came back from a long break I decided that Doctor Fun needed an end date, and ten years looked like a fair deal for everybody." Counting when Farley was on hiatus from Dr. Fun, I guess the 10 years stretch from 1993 to 2006.  

The Dr. Fun collection remains online "as long as ibiblio wants to keep hosting them."  So, hundreds of Dr. Fun cartoons can still be enjoyed, assuming you understand the reference in the punch line. But I'll miss the new installments that were such a regular amusement.  Dr. Fun really is an Internet original.  If the Smithsonian were ever to open a museum of Internet culture, I think Dr. Fun would definitely have to be included.


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