Saturday, August 08, 2020

Tall in the Saddle

Congratulations to us all for making it through another seven days in the Summer of the Pandemic. I sincerely hope you and yours are safe and healthy, and I look forward to a time when every greeting doesn't require that wishful addendum.

Here's what I've been up to for the past week.

Monday's gag refers to an artist known for making large scale sculptures of everyday objects. I've always enjoyed the playful quality of his work, and the commitment to executing such ambitious sculptures.
Before writing today's post, I wasn't aware this one, but it's now my favorite Oldenburg piece.

Everyone has had a pesky song (or song fragment) stuck in their brain at one time or another. For this panel, I drew larvae of the moth Helicoverpa zea, an agricultural pest that's sometimes called an earworm because it's often found feeding on corn. They're also know as cotton bollworms or tomato fruitworms, names which are descriptive, but not nearly as catchy. 

I this young entrepreneur had thought to serve the lemonade in rustic Mason jars, the price could easily have been doubled.

Among alligators, this is known as the reverse iceberg effect. It's a phenomenon similar to humans appearing professional in online meetings by wearing a business top and pajama bottoms.

Friday's panel is a self-referential take on the familiar cartoon trope of a restaurant patron finding a fly in their soup. Just about every cartoonist has used that setup, but for our money, the king of soggy fly gags is J.C. Duffy, creator of The Fusco Brothers comic strip. We feel that we've accomplished something when we come up with a variation that J.C. hasn't done.
My colleague Jeff Knurek shared this photo of the comics page from the Indianapolis Star, with Bizarro stacked atop another fly gag, in Dave Coverly's Speed Bump. This newspaper is running grayscale images of the color comics, which look a little dark and muddy. We create a pure black & white version every day, which looks cleaner on newsprint.
Of course, we're grateful to every paper that carries Bizarro, in whatever form they choose to print it.

What, beans don't talk back to you?

Thanks for reading Bizarro, and for visiting the blog. Keep those comments and social media shares coming. Your feedback keeps us inspired to make more funnies for you.


Check out Dan Piraro's blog for his review of the week's gags, and to see his latest panoramic Sunday Bizarro page.

Recommended Listening

Kind of Like Spitting, the Portland indie band led by singer/guitarist Ben Barnett, has released an album of songs written by the late Pittsburgh musician Karl Hendricks. 

Learn 2: The Songs of the Karl Hendricks Trio is a heartfelt tribute to a great musician and writer who died in 2017, leaving behind his loving family, and a multitude of friends and fans.
I was privileged to work with Karl as the cover artist for many of his releases over the years, beginning in 1990 with the single by his first band, Sludgehammer. He was a joy to work with, and always had a clear idea for the way he wanted to records to look, while allowing me the freedom to bring my own style to the images.

The new KOLS album is available from Bandcamp now, and all proceeds from sales are being donated to Karl's family: Megan, Maeve, and Nell.



Saturday, August 01, 2020

Beating Around the Bushmiller

We're another week closer to the end of this annus horribilis, and January can't get here soon enough.

I don't have a clever intro this time, so let's jump right in to a review of the week's cartoons.
Mommy's little monetizer got some laughs, but the most enthusiastic responses to this panel were comments on Dad's t-shirt. It's a souvenir from the tour supporting their hit album, Some Record You'll Never Listen To.

This little packet of joy will spend the next decade or so in a kitchen drawer with multiple siblings.

Wednesday's cartoon can be read as a simple twist on the trope of people offering ideas to cartoonists or children's book authors. It might also serve as a comment on ostensible adults who feel the need to cosplay as military types. 

Not only are our homes now offices, they're also assumed to be miniature broadcast studios and A.V. departments.

Friday's panel pays punning tribute to Ernie Bushmiller, creator of the durable comic strip, Nancy. I tried to copy Bushmiller's drawing style as closely as possible for this one, and came away with renewed respect for his economical approach.

The dialog is a simplified version of an eloquent statement on comics by the late Jay Kennedy (1956-2007).

[I]n the fine arts, artists generally comment on the world only obliquely; and sadly, only those people who have the leisure to study art history can fully appreciate their comments. By contrast, cartoons are an art form accessible to all people. They can simply laugh at the jokes or look beyond them to see the artist’s view of the world. Cartoons are multi-leveled art accessible to everyone at whatever level they choose to enjoy.
Jay was a scholar and collector of underground comix, and a friend and champion of cartoonists, who helped and encouraged hundreds and hundreds of creators, including yours truly.

Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith has recently finished work on a graphic biography of Bushmiller, which is sure to be required reading here at Bizarro Studios.
Nearly thirty years ago, I wrote and drew this Nancy-centric piece for Heavy Metal. It was part of a mail order catalog parody. I still think it's at least as valid as astrology.

It takes special skills to sell not-yet-real estate.

Thanks for reading Bizarro, and for all of the comments and reposts. Don't forget to read Dan Piraro's weekly blog post, where he discusses the week's cartoons, and shares his latest gorgeous Bizarro Sunday page.

Also, please make sure you're registered to vote!

Bonus Track

For the past couple of weeks, after the passing of Ennio Morricone, I've been on an Italian Soundtrack kick. This swingin' tune was written by Piero Piccioni, another master of the genre, and it always brings a smile to my face.







Saturday, July 25, 2020

Way Out West

Happy Saturday, friends. I hope you've navigated safely through another week in the hellishly awful year MMXX.

Here's a look at what kept us busy at Bizarro Studios North:

We kicked off the week with a metaphor for any number of daily struggles we all face. Which reminds me, it's time to reorder a case of Tasty.

Frankie hates commuting as much as anybody.

Terminology note: We know that the character isn't named "Frankenstein," and is in fact properly called "Frankenstein's Monster," but there's nothing wrong with affectionately referring to him as "Frankie."
I asked for this model kit as a birthday gift many times over the years, and never got one, but I'm composing a persuasive letter to Santa this year.


This gag features two characters, but only one I had to draw. Since the patient is unseen, I hoped it would make them relatable to every reader.

It was surprisingly difficult for me to leave that empty space in the upper right. I had to remind myself that it's not necessary to fill every square inch of a panel. This is a visual application of a lesson I've learned (and continue to learn) from making music in a trio. My bandmate, Tom, has taught us that with fewer instruments, it's important to leave space in the arrangements, and not make them too "crowded."
The decision not to show the patient was also helpful in configuring the strip version of this gag. It would have been nearly impossible to include another character in the drawing and deliver the joke in the same way. Both the panel and strip imply more content outside of the frame.

Sometimes less truly is more. Thanks, Tom!


Additional research note: I've found references online to "furniturephobia" as an actual condition, but that doesn't sound convincing. However, a friend informed me that fear of couches is known as lechophobia.

I'm not a parent, but I'm reasonably certain this would keep a child quiet, not to mention entertaining the family with the classic "crawling against the wind" routine.

For this cartoonist, cowboys are as much fun to draw as clowns or the Grim Reaper, which is part of the reason they turn up often in my work. Friday's gag was unintentionally timely, given the recent passing of composer Ennio Morricone, whose many musical achievements include defining the sound of so-called Spaghetti Western films. This scene takes place in an imagined Eastern European production.

We wrapped up the week with a Saturday Switcheroo. Inside that tiny human dwelling, there's a microscopic mouse-hole. Inside of that, there's a subatomic human door, and on and on, in an infinitely recursive series.

For additional "inside comics" talk, please visit Dan Piraro's weekly blog, which usually pops up on Monday. While you're there, you can admire his newest Bizarro Sunday page, and check out the Bizarro Merch Table, where you still have a chance to snag some Secret Symbol enamel pins, and other stylish accessories. 
A portion of your purchase will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice, which shows yet another reason I'm honored to work with Dan.

Bonus Track
Here at Bizarro Studios North, we not only like to draw cowboys. We also enjoy cowboy music. One of the most durable cowboy tunes is "Ghost Riders in the Sky," first recorded in 1948 by the composer, one Stan Jones. Many dozens of cover versions followed over the decades.

This recording is one of our favorites, by Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers (May 23, 1910 – November 22, 1986), released in 1956 by Tops Records.



Tops was a budget label that issued soundalikes to cash in on other labels' hit songs. Their album covers were often more interesting than the music they contained, like this 1959 LP featuring a photo of a young Mary Tyler Moore.
The Scatman album, however, is a gem. The image used on the above video was taken from a 2006 CD compilation. Here's the 1956 cover design, in its original typographical and sartorial glory.
Courtesy of the Bizarro Studios North Archive

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Rooftop Serenade

Who'd like a few moments' escape from the horror and chaos that's filled our screens these many months? You could do worse than reading a few cartoons, and maybe having a healthy laugh in the process.

Here's the batch I put out this past week.


Your cartoonist could almost participate in this group. I'm not worried about literally being chewed up, but I'm unnerved by the sound of a person eating or chewing. Those TV and radio programs where a colorful host talks about a restaurant's food while eating it are more horrifying to me than any slasher film. 
The finished art is pretty close to my initial sketch, with a slight change to the caption. "Fear of mastication" sounds slightly more scientific.

Here at Bizarro Studios, we rarely make direct comments on current events or specifically address politics in our cartoons. We're working many weeks ahead of publication, and any timely commentary would most likely be stale by the time the gag's been printed. This idea seemed a little more universal, and more about human interaction than trying to be newsy.

Predictably, some of the online comments turned into virtual shouting matches. I'll just say that arguments against a simple courtesy that shows concern for others strike me as having been reverse-engineered to justify unfounded pronouncements made by a nincompoop with a huge megaphone.

Wednesday's offering was built on a nearly-invisible pun. When I submitted the sketch to my esteemed editor/partner, he told me that he read the gag three times before noticing that the last word wasn't "mignon." Sometimes our brains run an auto-correct algorithm that cartoonists can use to their advantage.

We got a few questions asking how the server's bow tie was attached. I believe that the pelt came from a nearly-forgotten animal known as the mastodandy, which evolved that unique marking.

There's no denying the End Times are closer than they've ever been. In my fantasy, if the angel Gabriel existed, he'd definitely be a jazz player.

The Four Sidemen here are all based on musician friends of mine. That information isn't required to understand the gag, but it made it more fun to draw.

We may have lost count, but we still aren't out of clown gags.

This should be read in that double-speed semi-whisper that accompanies ads for pharmaceuticals.

If you can't get enough of this behind-the-scenes comics talk, check out Dan Piraro's weekly blog, where you can also view his latest magnificent Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

The sax player in Thursday's gag is the late Ralph Carney. Ralph was a talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, in addition to being a generous and wonderfully silly gent, who cared deeply about his fellow humans. When the cartoon was published, I received quite a few heartfelt comments from friends who loved our Ralphie and miss him. 

I first heard Ralph's music in 1977, when I picked up the debut record by Tin Huey. Many years later, we became close friends when he had me design a CD cover for his Serious Jass Project band.

After releasing a couple of independent EPs, Tin Huey were signed to Warner Brothers Records, and released their brilliant LP, Contents Dislodged During Shipment, in 1979. This selection highlights Ralph's musicianship and humor.




Saturday, July 11, 2020

Magic and Ecstasy

As the days of weirdness and distancing blur together, we're trying to maintain our sanity by sticking to a regular schedule. That includes faithfully composing a weekly blog post review of the latest Bizarro cartoons. Here's a look back at the week of July 6.
Outside the office, he's pleasant enough.

A few friends mentioned that the off-duty Reaper dressed like yours truly. I'll concede a resemblance from the neck up, but I haven't worn aloha shirts in many years. Still, that one looks comfy. 

We can't see beneath the bar, but if he's wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors, maybe I was in fact drawing myself.

Nothing a little fabric softener won't fix.

I thought it would be quick and easy to draw a gag featuring two ghosts, and while it didn't take as long as some more elaborate panels, I spent a fair amount of time on the burlap texture and shading.

Readers, do you remember baseball?

When I was a youngster, I was forced to join Little League. One team (not mine) developed a chatter method that was eventually banned. In place of the usual cries of "Hey, batter batter," the entire team counted down from five, and then simultaneously yelled, "Swing!" It was surprisingly effective, and started many fights among players, parents, and coaches. That's some fine character building right there, my friends.

Only one of them is wearing the electronic collar.

This is a pre-pandemic drawing of a typical corporate Help Desk. Overheated battery packs are a hazard of the profession.

If you found this image disturbing, just imagine drawing it. I had to take frequent breaks, but it's my duty to deliver the comics for you, dear Jazz Pickles.

I've done quite a few gags involving mall information kiosks, and this one may be my favorite. In recent months, however, we all may feel like we're stranded in the Kierkegaard Galleria.

We at Bizarro Studios hope that our daily comic provides a momentary distraction from troubling realities, and occasionally lets us laugh at them together, even while isolated.

Don't forget to pop on over to Dan Piraro's blog, where he shares his latest Sunday Bizarro page, and offers commentary on these gags, along with other opinions and insights. His thoughts are always worth reading.

Bonus Track
Ennio Morricone
Marcia degli Accattoni (March of the Beggars)
from Giu' la Testa (aka Duck, You Sucker)



On Monday, July 6, Ennio Morricone died in Rome at age 91. Morricone was one of my all-time favorite composers, as I've mentioned in this blog a few times.


While working on comics this week, I've been revisiting the Morricone recordings in my music collection, and have been filled with joy while marveling at his many works of genius.
Instrumentalist/composer John Zorn wrote a moving tribute to Morricone in the New York Times earlier this week. 

The title of today's post, Magic and Ecstasy, was taken from another great Morricone composition.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep yourselves and your families safe and healthy.

See you next week. 

Saturday, July 04, 2020

On Deck Circle

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans. As we grill our hot dogs in isolation, and listen to neighbors risk bodily harm to set off amateur fireworks, let's look at the week's Bizarro cartoons.

Monday's gag ran the risk of angering my colleagues for revealing a trade secret, but everyone was cool. 
 
Before I do any work in Photoshop, I take a few practice swings with an IMSAI 8080 computer.
 
Insert celebrity parent name here.

This panel raises a question: What do porcine bikers call their motorcycles?

This stone age driver has just updated his automotive decorations. When he was younger and wilder, it sported a drawing of a mischievous cartoon kid peeing on a neighbor's wheel.

As soon as I sketched this shriveled-up character, I knew I wanted to feature him in a gag.
My sketchbook drawings are usually quite messy, and there are a few that even I can't decipher.

Saturday's drawing is loosely modeled on my friend Teresa Roberts Logan, who's a standup comic as well as a very funny cartoonist. I highly recommend her comic, Laughing Redhead. She has a unique humorous voice, and I enjoy the organic look of her artwork. I don't actually know how she feels about feng shui. That part, I made up.

For additional graphical merriment and pithy commentary, please visit Dan Piraro's blog, where you can also admire his latest widescreen Bizarro Sunday page.

Dan often opens his blog posts with well-reasoned and entertaining commentary on current ridiculous events, but the intro to last week's entry was a change of pace. Dan discussed some ideas that he formed, in part, as a result of reading The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. That post aligns with thoughts I've articulated (much less eloquently) regarding the way that mass-media entertainment, and technologies like radio and television, replaced self-made entertainment, and in some ways made people less social.

At one time, most homes had a piano and other musical instruments, and family members were able to play together for fun. Making music with other people is one of life's great joys, and at its best it's a social activity that relies on cooperation, listening, and empathy. When mass-marketed recording came along, I believe that people who made music for the pure enjoyment of it, began to compare themselves unfavorably to professional entertainers, felt that their efforts weren't worthwhile, and gave up on music, except as passive listeners.

Something similar happens with visual art. Just about all kids love to draw and color. Drawing is a form of communication that predates written language. It seems that at some crucial point in childhood, many kids become discouraged, whether it's because of parents, teachers, or peers. They decide that they can't draw, and give up, never developing artistic skills, and that's a shame.
 
Of course, some kids are wonderful, special, obsessed weirdos, who never take "no" for an answer, and pursue their creative passions despite forces that would discourage them. These are the people who create great stuff, and I'm glad to know quite a few of them.
 
A surprising number of cartoonists also enjoy making music, including Robert Crumb.
The tagline at the bottom of this 1972 Crumb record is a profound statement:
"Music self-played is happiness self-made."
 
Thanks for following Bizarro.
 
Bonus Track