Saturday, January 25, 2020

Get Off My Back

Today is the beginning of the Year of the Rat. Whether you celebrate Lunar New Year, Gregorian New Year (January 1), or none at all, I hope 2020 treats you well.

Let's look back on this week's (rat-free) Bizarro comics.

We started the week by combining two recurring topics: cats and a doctor's office. My spouse and I live with two feline family members, who regularly demand breakfast much earlier than we'd like. One of them has learned to turn on the clock radio. On particularly frigid mornings, they sometimes choose warmth over food, which inspired this cartoon.

Working on Tuesday's gag proved to be a rich educational experience. My search for high-resolution reference photos taught me that hippopotamuses are repulsive up close. To be fair, they're probably put off by humans. I also learned that the birds who eat ticks from the hides of hippos and other creatures are called oxpeckers, and that their eating habits aren't mutually beneficial, as was once thought. They're now considered to be parasites, since they often pierce the skin when pecking at ticks, and cause injury or infection.

The strip layout of this gag  required some additional flora.

Multiple commenters on one of the social networking platforms mistakenly thought they were being asked to guess our dapper devil's entry code. Others assumed they should explain the joke to your cartoonist.
There's a thin (mint) line between marketing and racketeering.

Friday's panel shows the influence of Sam Gross's 1970s work in National Lampoon, although if Mr. Gross had done this, the last word of dialogue might have been "asshole."

This program runs back-to-back with America's Got Scales.

Thanks for following for yet another week. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog, for additional commentary, and a shiny new Bizarro Sunday page.

Dan also reported on a comic being removed from his Instagram feed for a supposed violation of Instagram's "hate speech guidelines." The comic is still up on my feed, and apparently IG is okay with the many hateful comments posted in response.

Bonus Track

"Hippopotamus," by Sparks, from their 2017 LP, Hippopotamus.

Sparks, the musical project of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, have been active since 1972, and have released more than two dozen albums. Their music is consistently funny, smart, and unique. The brilliant filmmaker Edgar Wright is working on a Sparks documentary, which we at Bizarro Studios can't wait to see.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Black & White in Color

It's been an odd week for Bizarro. There wasn't a single gag involving a cat, a dog, a clown, or a pirate. We'll try to remedy that situation  next week.

Here's a look back at this
uncharacteristic batch of drollery.

This gag ran on the day the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced, and is a riff on the Motion Picture Academy's conditional acceptance of films produced by streaming services. There was an unsuccessful movement among old-school members to disallow streamed features, but they can still qualify as long as they have a minimum seven-day run in a Los Angeles theater.

Content aside, I understand the appeal of streamed features: They're not preceded by a string of commercials, and they don't get interrupted by (other) people's phone conversations.

For those who follow the Oscars, and whose livelihoods are affected by them, the nominations and awards exhibit many of the exclusionary biases present in other societal structures, which are probably more important than quibbling over how and where audiences see any particular film.
The strip layout for this gag shows a deeper view of the Alley of Reluctant Acknowledgement.

We at Bizarro Studios can't get too worked up about the Oscars. Cartoonists have our own awards to fret over.

Tuesday's panel depicts the closing scene of an imagined Twilight Zone episode.

A peek into the near future, if not the present.

Parent-child conflicts are the same everywhere, including the afterlife.

Friday's comic brings us back to the cinema, and counts on the reader to be familiar with the term film noir, and to realize that its antipode might possibly be termed film blanc.

We recently watched a 1949 film noir titled The Window, which featured a strong and believable performance by a young actor named Bobby Driscoll. After watching the movie, we looked him up, and learned that his work in The Window won him a miniature statue, The Juvenile Oscar, which was occasionally awarded to child actors.
Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with showbiz kids, Driscoll's post-adolescence career was erratic, and his life took a series tragic turns. 

If you have an opportunity to see The Window, we recommend checking it out.

We started and ended the week with gags about degrees of unfairness. Saturday's caption is a simple pun on the term "den of iniquity," referring to a place where people gather for naughty purposes.

For additional color and commentary on this week's gags, take a peek at Dan Piraro's blog, where you can also see his latest Sunday Bizarro page, and stock up on Bizarro swag. Now that he's mostly retired from cartooning, he's been creating an amazing body of fine art, which you can view (and buy) at the Diego Piraro site.

Bonus Track

"The Washington Affair"
Syd Dale

A noir-ish theme taken from the KPM Library Music LP Impact and Action (1967). This is a fine example of what's often referred to as Crime Jazz.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Industrial Accident

We had a minor mishap at the studio this week, when I knocked over a "tip-resistant" ink bottle. Damage was relatively contained, although I had to abandon a comic in progress and start over. If I'd been inking digitally, this could have been avoided, but I can't quit my beloved analog tools.

At least I can be proud of myself for not pinning the accident on one of our cats.

Let's review the week's cartoons, as I await delivery of an area rug to hide the carpet stains.

The hamster wheel's always crowded in January, isn't it.

Every politico needs an experienced a spin team.
When a gag has a word balloon and a caption box, I generally try to place both items on the right-hand side of the strip. When I did that with this one, I had to assign the dialog to a different character, which involved swapping their mouths.

As I typed the paragraph above, I realized that I probably could have gotten away with simply using a mirror image of the panel art. A lesson learned for the future.

This is the way they tell the story of Sisyphus in Hannibal, Missouri.
I broke my own rule about word balloons and caption boxes with this strip, but it worked just fine with the diagonal composition of the art.

My cats have never changed a password, but one of them loves to help when I'm working with Photoshop. He often types undecipherable text, but most of his hi-jinks are maddeningly subtle, and more difficult to reverse. 

I use a stylus and tablet instead of a mouse, and he regularly switches the tablet into "precision mode," which locks it into a super-enlarged view of the screen.

Of course, he's never spilled a bottle of ink.

Friday's architectural joke is my favorite of the week. Bizarro's readers confirmed my confidence in their vocabulary.

This gag includes a relatively rare appearance of the Frozen Pie of Opportunity secret symbol.

This is a simple gag, utilizing a favorite form of wordplay, which I refer to as a streptonym. I may be the only person in the world who uses that term, but I'm sticking with it.

Don't forget to browse Dan Piraro's blog, where he'll share his thoughts on these comics, and present his latest panoramic Sunday Bizarro page.

I'll share a scan of the ink-damaged page I had to scrap, when the final, cleaned-up panel is published a couple of months from now.

Bonus Track
The Jam, mocking my clumsiness.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Panic in the Year Three

We're back from our New Year's celebration, where we tried our best to ignore current events for a night. I hope you all had a fun and safe evening.

Our celebration was fun, but I got the least popular noisemaker.

This week kicks off my third year as Bizarro's daily cartoonist, and I'm looking forward to writing and drawing a lot more comics for your enjoyment and/or puzzlement.

Here's a look back at the most recent batch, published as we crossed over into 2020.
We got in under the wire with one more pirate comic.
Here's an early sketch, which eventually turned into the kebab gag.

Old Man 2019 ended his tenure looking remarkably intact, given the events of the past year. Let's hope that Baby 2020 has an easier go of things.

Unsurprisingly, these passengers trampled each other in a stampede to claim overhead compartment space.

A friend, who is a Doctor of Neuroscience, shared this comic on her Facebook page, prefaced with the following note:
For Sophia Tolstaya, Colette, Vera Nabokov, Dorothy Wordsworth, and so many other other "thank you to my dear wife and typist" who were actually editors and ghost writers.
The good doctor not only got the joke, but also provided a wonderfully thoughtful and appropriate context for it, for which I am grateful.

I just noticed that Vlad's "explaining hand" pose is very similar to Adam's body language from the day before.

Another example of humans creating the deities they want.

If you've a hankerin' for more color and commentary on this batch of cartoons, check out Dan Piraro's blog, where he'll also show off his first Sunday Bizarro gag of the New Year.

Bonus Track

Brian Eno's "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More"

The "Hades Express" cartoon made me think of this song from Eno's 1974 album, Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy). There's no real connection other than the song's title, but it gave me a reason to share a favorite number from a favorite LP. 

Tiger Mountain was Eno's second solo record after leaving Roxy Music. This one, and his first, Here Come the Warm Jets, are delightfully weird, and still sound fresh nearly fifty years after their original release.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Year-End Closeout

Although this is our final dispatch of the year, you can rest assured that we'll be back in 2020 with daily offerings of words and pictures, followed by weekly ramblings for those who care to hear even more from us.

Here's the latest batch of amusing quadrilaterals, with superfluous explanations and commentary from the author.

Our underworld executive seems to be pleased with the PR firm's recommendation. It's certainly worked in the past.

We realize that the Earth's South Pole is located on Antarctica, and is even colder than the planet's North Pole. Our character gained his saintly nickname based on behavior and wardrobe, rather than geographic location. He's Santa's polar opposite, so to speak.

Wednesday's panel generated a bumper crop of comments reflecting what I'll simply refer to as a wide variety of interpretations and assumptions. All I will add is, if this fellow's reputation is legit, he'd have a sense of humor about himself.

This is what's commonly referred to as an achievable goal.

As usual, we put our favorite gag of the week in the Friday slot. I liked this one because it appears that there's nothing unusual happening, and what's going on only becomes clear after the reader processes the image and words, making a surprising connection.
We think the strip layout works pretty well, too, and it might even take an additional beat for the gag to be revealed.

Polly would also like a smear of liver pate on that cracker.

We at Bizarro Studios North send our best wishes to all readers who celebrate holidays of any kind at this time of year, or no holiday at all.

I'm celebrating the completion of my second full year as the daily Bizarro cartoonist. I am grateful for every reader, for the support of my wonderful spouse, and for the fact that Dan Piraro continues to do the Sunday cartoon.

Working on the comic, and sharing it with the world continues to be a rich educational experience. One of the many things I've learned is, if the first word of a posted comment is "actually," I can probably skip the rest of it.

Seriously, I'm continually impressed with Bizarro's readers. Every comment is appreciated--even the ones I end up deleting.

Thanks to every one of you for following along on this journey. I hope you'll stick with us in the coming years.

Don't forget to check out Dan Piraro's blog for his latest Sunday page, and closing comments on 2019.

Cartoon Imitates Life

Our December 19 comic resonated with David, a Bizarro reader from Minnesota, who told us that he rigged up a modified artificial tree when a cat named Walter joined their family five years ago.

David was kind enough to share this photo of Walter and the tree.
David writes:
This is Walter trying to figure out how to get up the tree just after the inaugural installation. The tree is the top of a full-size artificial tree. It is mounted to a five foot piece of 4" PVC pipe. The pipe is braced and anchored to the floor with screws through the base plate and carpet, grabbing into the sub-floor plywood.

The next morning Walter climbed to the top of the furniture just out of the frame to the left, and launched himself into the tree. We had to move the furniture. That was five years ago and he still tries to get up there.
He is way too smart, athletic, and bored. A bad combination.
Sincere thanks to David for sharing the photo and story. Walter sounds like a cat with loads of personality.

Bonus Track?

For my year-end post, I'm not including a musical selection. 

Instead, I invite you to share a link to one of your favorite tunes.

Whether your choose something that relates in some way to one of this week's cartoons, or if it's just a song you think I'd enjoy, I look forward to hearing what you recommend.

As my good friend Tim Wolfson of The Corncrib Bar says, "Music improves the human condition," and we should all welcome some improvement in that area.

Thanks again. See you in 2020.

Saturday, December 21, 2019


Today, Saturday, December 21, is the Winter Solstice. In ancient Rome, the Feast of Saturnalia celebrated solstice and honored the god of agricultural bounty with a week of feasting, debauchery, and gift exchanges, much like today's December festivities.

Those of us experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder can take heart in the knowledge that after the Winter Solstice, daylight hours begin to lengthen.

Let's recap the pre-solstice selection of Bizarro cartoons, and hope that next week's are a little brighter.

We at Bizarro Studios are supporting a congressional bill requiring that for every actor who publishes a children's book, Hollywood must give a cartoonist the lead role in a movie.

If this were a real game, I could imagine enjoying it enough to play one or two rounds, but not enough to dedicate any basement floor space to it.  
This was my first attempt at a comic using the caption, which I immediately rejected as being unworkable, and not very funny. Before today's blog post, no one outside the studio has seen this sketch, and you can probably understand why.

Their relationship is evolving...
At best, it might slow them down.

Friday's panel is my favorite of the week, for a couple of reasons. The gag itself takes an extra beat or two to reveal itself, even with the words "witness" and "protection" in the text, which is satisfying to a cartoonist.

I was also pleased with the placement of the Secret Symbols in this one. My editor at King Features, and even Dan Piraro himself had trouble finding one of them. They both contacted me to see if I'd over-counted.

Although I'm too old to have been spied on by that damn Elf on the Shelf, I still managed to develop a healthy sense of paranoia. Kids today just have things handed to them.

Don't forget to ride your digital sleigh over to Dan Piraro's blog, where you'll receive the gift of another  magnificent Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

I suppose it's okay to share a Christmas song now. Here's a pretty unusual one.

Sun Ra (1914-1993) left behind a large body of brilliantly bizarre music, spread out over more than 125 LPs. He claimed to have traveled to the planet Saturn sometime in the 1930s. Although he's usually thought of as a jazz composer, musician, and bandleader, his record label, El Saturn, also released quite a few rhythm & blues and doo-wop records, including this oddball holiday tune. 

On this session, Sun Ra plays harmonium along with a mysterious group musicians and singers identified only as The Qualities.

Enjoy. Let's chat again before the New Year.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Sweet Idiocy

We're approaching the end of 2019, which will mark the close of my second year as Bizarro's daily cartoonist. With the first 600-plus cartoons in the rear-view mirror, I'm ready to accelerate into 2020.

Actually, because of our deadline schedule, I've already completed and uploaded the first several weeks of 2020. So, we have fresh gags in the warehouse, ready to deliver to your screens, or, for those whose cities still have them, daily newspapers.

Speaking of papers, as the newsprint biz continues to oxidize and crumble, we were heartened to learn that Bizarro is now carried by The Microsoft Network, so we'll soon be popping up anywhere among MSN's many sites, portals, and apps.

Here's a look at our most recent offerings.

The week started with the latest in our long-running (or never-ending) series of clown-based gags.
The strip layout gave me more space to exaggerate the length of the protagonist's coiffure.
I normally draw the original art for the standard vertical panel layout, and figure out how to make it strip much later in the process. In this case, I planned ahead and turned my Bristol paper sideways to extend the drawing. I believe this is the first time I consciously planned the strip layout at this early stage.

I'd like to try out a session in a sensory deprivation tank sometime. This office lets patients dip a toe into the salinated water before going into full-on darkness and silence.

Bivalves are apparently adept at reading their partners' nonverbal messages. 

As with the oysters above, I enjoyed drawing the ant as realistically as my capabilities allow. When I look at this one, in my head I hear the pet making an excited clicking sound as it awaits its treat.

I know, cartoonists are weird.
My initial sketch was slightly different. I liked the image of people nonchalantly accepting a giant insect as a domestic pet, but I felt it could be improved if I worked at it a little more.
This revision added the funny-sounding word "thorax," but we weren't quite satisfied with it yet. Finally, we came up with the idea that an ant might be appealing as a pet because it's hairless, and ran with that.

This pup is responsible for one of those new designer breeds after mating with a Goldie Retriever.

This isn't the first time Bizarro tweaked the popular Jack Russell Terrier. This panel ran six years ago, and referenced an actor from an earlier era.

I could claim that my gag is a callback to the 2013 panel, but honestly, I'd forgotten about the earlier one until Dan Piraro recently reminded me. I suspect there are many other possible Russell Terrier breeds waiting to be identified. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

I'm not sure whether this qualifies as a second clown gag of the week, but certainly jesters are at least related to clowns. 

Incidentally, that little scepter resembling its owner is called a marotte. It would be kind of cool to see these become a fad, with all sorts of people carrying around small effigies of themselves. Get on it, kids!

Be sure to take a look at Dan Piraro's blog, for even more behind-the-scenes discussion, and to see what he's come up with for his latest Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

"How Sweet to be an Idiot"
by Neil Innes 

from the TV series The Innes Book of Records

Monday, December 9, was the 75th birthday of one of my musical and comedic heroes, Neil Innes. This is the title song from his first solo album, released in 1973.

Neil was co-leader of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, beginning in the 1960s. The Bonzos famously appeared in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film, performing their song "Death Cab for Cutie."

If you're a Bizarro reader, there's a good chance you've heard some of Neil's music. He worked with the Monty Python troupe, and wrote the original songs for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He also wrote the music for The Rutles, and appeared in the special All You Need is Cash, along with Eric Idle, as members of the "Pre-fab Four."

As a teenager, I was such a fan, that I made a duck hat like Neil's after I spotted a "Quacksie" plastic pull toy in a store and recognized that it was what he used to create his signature headpiece.
Sometime in the 1980s, I read in a fan club newsletter that during a Canadian Python tour, Neil's duck had disappeared, along with most of the group's wardrobe. I contacted Neil through the club, and sent him my duck, which I believe he still has to this day. Later, I received a very gracious note of thanks, along with an assortment of photos, posters, and other memorabilia, which are among my most treasured possessions.

Somewhere, perhaps at my parents' house, there's a photo of me wearing the duck. If I ever run across it, I'll certainly share it.