Saturday, January 16, 2021

Under the Weather

Another Saturday has rolled around, and yet again we find ourselves at the end of a head-spinning week of events. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue set a record for most impeachments, and we're crossing our fingers that his final exit four days from now will be uneventful.

Since we introduced the Pipe of Ambiguity as Bizarro's new Secret Symbol, I've been seeing examples of pipe imagery on the web. I'm not implying cause and effect, only noting that since the symbol is in the front of my consciousness, pictures of pipes jump out at me.

My dear friend and fellow cartoonist/illustrator Mark Zingarelli recently posted this helpful hint (or "life hack" in today's parlance) on his Facebook page, and naturally I had to share it here.

With all that's been happening in the news, you might have missed some of our recent cartoons, so we're presenting them all in a convenient blog post for your amusement.

Health care professionals have to blow off steam from time to time, just like the rest of us.

He'll soon be leader of the cave village.

Horror writers know to build stories around their readers' fears. This piece features prominently in his literary collection, Tales of Mystery and Catatonia.

This fellow is planning for a future when we can again travel in relative safety. I managed to do a cowboy-themed comic without having the fun of drawing a cowboy. I should have given our would-be tourist a snazzy western shirt.

Friday's gag is a prime example of a cartoonist using humor to help cope with our troubles or fears. In my area of the country, a lot of us may experience seasonal affective disorder. Our winters are usually long, cold, dark, and gloomy. This time around, those meteorological factors are coupled with the fatigue of many months of isolation and self-quarantine (or at least they should be).

When we're able to move about again, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's photos from their travels, and to reuniting with friends near and far.

One waggish commenter suggested that this comic's protagonist suffered from overexposure to Jimmy Buffett's music. For this listener, there's no safe level of Jimmy Buffet. But that's me. Whatever brings you enjoyment without harming others is fine by me.

And if we're a democracy, how did we get stuck for four years with a mendacious criminal despot? An apian monarchy would have been preferable, but let's hope for an orderly transition to something closer to normal in the coming week. Pincers crossed.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North. Thanks for checking in on us. If you're interested in additional comics commentary, you ought to visit Dan Piraro's blog, where you can also admire his latest Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

Therapy and psychology are recurring themes in our comics, and we certainly believe that humor can be therapeutic. Music offers similar benefits, and a terrific new album that was released this week has been nourishing my soul.

The album is Maquishti, a collection of solo performances on vibraphone and marimba by Patricia Brennan. My copy arrived in Thursday's mail delivery, and it provided my working soundtrack for most of Friday. It’s already a favorite, and I know I’ll return to it often.

Here's a live version of "Sonnet," which is one of the compositions included on Maquishti.

To quote a good friend: Music improves the human condition.

Saturday, January 09, 2021


Well, this year is off to an unfortunately eventful start, isn't it. All I will say about current events at this time is that reliable sources in Hell report that Nixon has been doing cartwheels there since mid-week.

A few readers have mentioned that a significant percentage of my Bizarro gags are cowboy-themed. I recently found some of my elementary school photos, and this one from third grade probably explains a lot.

I insisted that I had to wear that shirt for my school picture. I still believe I made a smart choice.

With the news dominated by cosplaying goons, you may have missed some of the week's comics. For your amusement, we present a handy recap.

For his sixth birthday, he's getting his first corporate directorship.

Remember when narcissists were relatively harmless figures of fun?

They do things the old-fashioned way at Dodge City General Hospital.

By the way, medical research has found that biting down on a leather strap is much more effective than biting a bullet.

Some of the windowsills show signs of waif damage, and the seller failed to disclose that the previous owner was murdered by a pair of drifters.

He needs reading glasses for closeup work, be can see far out just fine.

Sometimes when we cartoonists brainstorm topics for humor, we come up with more than one usable joke. That happened to me a couple of months ago, when I wrote two gags riffing on the phrase "memory foam mattress." The first one ran on December 28, and the other was published today.

Had I found four more variations, I might have run an entire week of memory foam gags.

Thanks to all for reading Bizarro, and for your comments and email. Be sure to visit Dan Piraro's blog, to see what he's cooked up for Sunday's comics page. It's a real beaut this week, and he also offers some solid commentary on the horrible news of the week.

And if you're not reading Dan's surreal western graphic novel, Peyote Cowboy, what are you waiting for? The art is stunning, and he's already twenty episodes into the wild and woolly storyline.

See you next week. Until then, be nice to yourselves and to each other, and don't follow fascists.

Bonus Track

Allen Toussaint
Who's Gonna Help a Brother Get Further

Allen Toussaint (1938-2015) was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, and a key figure in popular music worldwide. I saw him perform a few times, and was always impressed by his gentle nature and humility. His music is in heavy rotation in my workspace.

Note: Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US, and on some mobile devices, it may be necessary to select "View Web Version" in order to see the video.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The Pipes Are Calling

Happy New Year from Bizarro Studios. Congratulations for making it through what felt like the longest twelve months of the 21st Century. Let's hope things improve this year.

Scan courtesy of the B. London Archives

For your amusement, we present a review of our final gags of 2020.

It's clearly time to replace that mattress.

Although this gag was built on a simple pun, the layout, requiring four word balloons and a caption box, proved to be a little tricky. I also discovered that I have a lot of difficulty typing the word "eucalyptus." Fortunately, it doesn't come up often, only when I text my koala friends.

The latest example of the streptonym, a favorite form of worldplay at Bizarro Studios North.

The final comic of December included two sticks of dynamite tucked into the art, including the rarely-seen peppermint twist variant.
We kicked off 2021 with the official debut of Bizarro's new Secret Symbol: The Pipe of Ambiguity. I'm enjoying placing it into the art, but we probably won't add any more symbols in the foreseeable future. We have enough to keep track of as it is.

Perhaps the blowhard who spent the last four years promising a "phenomenal" replacement for the ACA was expecting extraterrestrials to miraculously deliver it. It wouldn't be the most outlandish idea he's floated.

Thanks for sticking with us as we send our words and pictures out into the world. We hope they provide a daily distraction and an occasional laugh. Please check out Dan Piraro's blog for his always-pithy commentary, and his newest Sunday Bizarro page. 

Also, if you enjoy beautifully-drawn, surreal western adventures (and who doesn't?), you going to love Dan's graphic novel, Peyote Cowboy.

Photo Credit: A tip of the old porkpie to my good pal (and longtime comics hero) Bobby London, for the photo at the top of the post.

Bobby recently shared this scan of a TV Junior magazine from his childhood. It's his personal copy, ink stains and all, which he's held onto since 1959. When I saw it on Bobby's Facebook page, I immediately stole downloaded it. 

The upside-down image of Heckle & Jeckle caught my eye, showing them to be ancestors of Bizarro's own Inverted Bird.

Bobby is currently hard at work on The Essential DIRTY DUCK, to be published by IDW. 

In addition to collecting his long-running strip from the pages of National Lampoon and Playboy, the book will include a biography of the artist and some other surprises. It's already on my wish list. Bobby is one of the giants, and it's gratifying to know Dirty Duck is getting a proper book collection.

Bonus Track

Our closing tune has no connection to any of the week's comics. It's just a goofy record that I love.

This 1968 single is the only known release by the Family Frog. I've never located any information as to who's responsible for this oddball gem. It may simply have been a bunch of studio players having fun between takes, imitating Bob Dylan singing a Beatles song.

Courtesy of the Bizarro Studios North Vinyl Archive

I first encountered this humorous version of "Help!" on a Bonzo Dog Band bootleg LP released in 1976. For years I thought it was a rare Bonzos outtake, but it was only a bit of mischief perpetrated by whoever issued the bootleg album.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Hilarity of Images

Happy Boxing Day, Jazz Pickles! On this beloved holiday, we're pleased to reveal Bizarro's newest Secret Symbol, The Pipe of Ambiguity.

The Pipe of Ambiguity, Established 2021, ©Bizarro Studios

Dan Piraro began sprinkling odd little symbols into Bizarro comics in the mid-1990s. I believe the latest addition was O2 (Olive Oyl) in 2017. The first one may have been the Inverted Bird, but details are murky.

On January 1, 2021, The Pipe of Ambiguity will join the roster of Secret Symbols. Dan and I agreed that it would be a fun way to continue to leave my mark on Bizarro as I begin my fourth year (!) of doing the daily comics. Since we're both fans of surrealist art, René Magritte's famous pipe seemed to be a good fit.

I've been quietly dropping the pipe into the comic for a while, but haven't counted it in the secret symbol tally. It made its first unofficial appearance in the May 5, 2018 strip, but not the panel version.
It's on the medical chart on the far left side of the comic.

The pipe's roots go back to this 2010 panel, which directly references Magritte.
We also hinted at its arrival in the above comic from November of this year. Dan has also drawn the pipe in a few recent Sunday pages.
While we were planning the introduction of the new symbol, I discovered a long-forgotten pre-Bizarro artifact in my studio.
Many years ago, I had a non-comics office job, and trudged through every workday bored, bitter, and angry. At one point, I spent an entire week in a windowless conference room with a dozen other unfortunate souls, receiving some sort of training that never stuck in my head. On the second or third day of this ordeal, I discovered a roll of masking tape on the table, and absentmindedly began tearing off small pieces and sticking them together. When quitting time finally arrived, I noticed that I'd fashioned the bits of tape into a pipe-like shape. This "automatic sculpture" was completed without any conscious effort or design on my part. Apparently, my brain was already marinating in Magritte's influence. It finally found an outlet on the funny pages.

Here's a preview of the description that will be added to the Secret Symbols page on

The Pipe of Ambiguity honors surrealist artist René Magritte (1898-1967), a figure of inspiration at Bizarro Studios. His 1929 painting, The Treachery of Images, embodies Bizarro's comic aesthetic. It shows a pipe floating above the words Ceci n'est pas une pipe, French for This is not a pipe.


Magritte was fascinated by the interplay of words and images, and in 1913 he published an illustrated essay exploring these relationships. The article included a drawing of a person speaking via word balloon, revealing him to be a surrealist who also used the language of the cartoonist.


The pipe reminds us to question our assumed perceptions of reality, and to remain open to higher meanings, or  "the bigger picture."


Certification Note: Appearances of the pipe prior to January 1, 2021 were unofficial, and were not counted in Bizarro Secret Symbol tallies.


Jazz Pickle Awareness Activity


Make a drawing of the pipe on an index card. Fold the card in half, with the drawing on the inside, and carry it with you in a wallet or pocket. To end any conversation not sufficiently surreal to hold your attention, produce the card, show it to the other person and exclaim, "This is a portrait of René Magritte." 


But don't take up smoking.


We received many correct guesses, as well as some wonderfully creative suggestions as to what the symbol should be. The names of everyone who submitted ideas will be placed in a bowler hat, and eight names will be drawn to receive prizes. Winners will be contacted in the new year to arrange for delivery of their prizes.

With that hoopla out of the way, let's take a look at our most recent cartoons, which is after all the main purpose of this weekly post.


We managed to hold off until December 21 before doing a Santa Claus gag. This one reveals that Saint Nick coined the phrase "carbon footprint."

Modern technology can make love triangles more likely, not to mention more complicated. 

Fortunately, the Elf on the Shelf didn't exist when I was a kid, or I'd be more paranoid than I already am. I imagine that kids hate this grinning stool pigeon, and plot its untimely end as December approaches.

It's disappointing when a friend has a public meltdown.
Poor Rudolph, indeed.

I sometimes accidentally transpose characters when writing or typing words or numbers. This quirk occasionally produces an idea for a comic, but more often just creates confusion.
That's all for this week, folks. Remember, on New Year's Day you can start looking for the Pipe of Ambiguity among the Secret Symbols. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog for more backstage comics banter, and to see what he's hidden in his latest Bizarro Sunday page.
Bonus Track
The Alexa/Siri comic reminded me of the song "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind," released in 1965 by the Lovin' Spoonful. While searching for a video to share, I found this delightful contemporary version by The Mona Lisa Twins, featuring the song's composer, John Sebastian.
There's something magical about siblings singing harmony, and the Twins provide a sweet complement to Sebastian's weathered and mature vocal.

Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US, and on some mobile devices, it may be necessary to select "View Web Version" in order to view the video.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

On the Level

Production at Bizarro Studios North was interrupted this week, when a nor'easter blew through Hollywood Gardens, PA. Our part of the country was spared the worst of it, and we only had to deal with  nine or ten inches of snow. These arms were made for cartooning, but this week, they were a-shoveling. We hope everyone else who was affected by the weather is again warm and dry.

Surprise Package

As we may have mentioned once or twice, we're going to celebrate the New Year with a new Secret Symbol. We're inviting readers to offer guesses and suggestions. We're inviting you to post and image on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BizarroSymbol2021. You can also leave your ideas as a comment on this post. Eight readers will be randomly selected to receive a special Bizarro prize.

Next weekend, we'll reveal the new symbol, so everyone can watch for it on New Year's Day. We'll contact the prizewinners in January, and send out the prizes later in the month.

Now, let's endure a visit with the Ghosts of Comics Past.

The drawing and dialog for Monday's panel were reverse-engineered to set up the punny caption. We're always up for another clown gag, so working it out was an enjoyable exercise. We offer our gratitude (and apologies) to songwriters Hank Crosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.

Honest communication is important in a relationship, but occasional misunderstandings are inevitable.

Many couples know this feeling, but it's worse for pandas.
I believe that the single equation shown doesn't provide enough information to determine unique values for x and K, unless some sort of magic is involved.

We strive to deliver a joke using as few words as possible, so we were rather pleased with ourselves for coming up with a gag using a single word.

Drawing this was a surprisingly disorienting experience. It never looked completely right to me, but I couldn’t figure out why... until Friday, after it was published, and a regular reader pointed out that the ground line should be parallel to the bottom of the frame. This bothered me all day, so I made a new version for my own files, and for readers of this blog.

I felt a little better, and was able to sleep Friday night.

Throughout this year, how many of us have scrambled to relocate a litter box so it doesn't show up on a video chat?

Thanks for joining us again, and don't forget to send your guesses, suggestions, or crackpot theories for the new secret symbol. Be sure to visit Dan Piraro's blog for more color and commentary, and to check out his latest Sunday page.

See you next week. Right now, I'm off to begin preparations for Monday's low-key Winter Solstice celebration with my immediate household.

Bonus Track

Here's a seasonal offering from my musical pals (Tom Roberts, piano & whistling; Dave Klug, drums & percussion) and me. We had to cancel our annual holiday show this year, but we're looking forward to keeping the tradition going in 2021.

"Christmas Island"
The Red Beans & Rice Combo
Performed at WQED-FM, December 2018

Many of you are probably familiar with Leon Redbone's 1987 recording of this tune. Our piano man, Tom, was Leon's pianist and musical director for six years, beginning in the late 1980s.

When Leon passed in 2019, Tom shared some memories of his mentor and friend. We all think of Redbone every time we perform this song.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Alas, Poor Campy

Happy Saturday, dear readers. The madness that is 2020 continues to escalate, and we're in the weirdest December holiday season most of us have ever experienced. Even Santa Claus has outsourced toy distribution to an unproven startup group.

Speaking of deliveries, let's see what the Bizarro Studios Comics Department shipped this week.

We kicked off on Monday with a gooey tragedy.

"Fluffs" is, as far as we know, a nonexistent brand of marshmallows. Campfire Marshmallows, a real company, was established around 1919. The image above is a 1980s version of their disturbing mascot, "Campy." Campy's feet are burning logs, and his body is made of fire. His body burns his head as he smilingly accepts his fate.

The current version of Campy is even worse. He's poorly designed, with an insipid, generic "cartoon" face. One suspects some Campfire executive's kid is responsible for this amateurish illustration. Worst of all, he's roasting the head of one of his own kind.

Oddly, they're all wagering with paper money. Neanderthals abide. 

That creepy tattoo was the last straw for Catwoman.
The strip layout of this gag gave readers a peek at the rarely seen Batmower.

There's something about an orange jumpsuit on the red carpet.
This hipster enterprise is my favorite gag of the week, although it was nearly the most embarrassing. I submitted it with a spelling error. Fortunately, our hardworking editors at King Features caught the mistake, and I corrected it before it was released into the wild.
If you're ever unsure about the word "artisanal," and without access to a spellchecker, I offer a handy mnemonic: Always remember to spell it as art is anal.
The panel art was too vertical to work well in the strip format, and required some creative rearrangement. Since the license plate was no longer visible in this configuration, we replaced it with the Lost Loafer, in order to maintain the Secret Symbol count.

Until this year, Good Humor trucks signaled their arrival with a music-box style recording of the ancient song "Turkey in the Straw." They wisely decided to drop that tune due to the many racist lyrics attached to it over the centuries. 
Good Humor trucks now announce themselves with a new jingle composed and recorded by musical innovator The RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan. RZA donated his music, royalty-free, forever, to Good Humor, and to any ice cream vendor who wishes to use it. We tip our hats to Good Humor and The RZA.

Saturday's panel salutes the adaptability of domestic animals. In my home, one of our cats has learned to step on the alarm clock and turn on the radio to remind us when it's breakfast time.

Remember, our new Secret Symbol makes its official debut on New Year's Day, and will be announced after Christmas.

While you're online, I recommend visiting Dan Piraro's blog to see what he has to say about this batch of gags, and to read his latest Sunday Bizarro page.

From the Vault

Comics writer Richard Gagnon recently interviewed me about Alphabet Soup Kitchen, a collaborative minicomic I did with fellow self-publisher Edward Bolman many years ago. It's featured on his informative blog, Who's Out There? 

Alphabet Soup Kitchen, 1987
Scan courtesy Bizarro Studios North Archives

Bonus Track

Tom Waits: Ice Cream Man
from Closing Time (Asylum Records, 1973)
Cover photography & design by Cal Schenkel

Note: Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US.

On some mobile devices, it may be necessary to select "View Web Version" in order to view the video.