Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Scales of Justice

Once again, we're pleased to present the regular weekly cartoon roundup from Bizarro Studios North.

An Instagram follower commented, "But the therapist is a pig, so he’s clearly bias [sic]. Wolf should be seeing a therapist who is a predator, like him." 

We reject that unenlightened view of counseling professionals. Bias? This little piggy has none.

Some readers may detect a whiff of editorial content in this cartoon, and they aren't necessarily wrong. Nearly all of my cartoons comment on (general or specific) human behavior. As to anything more political, I refer to a favorite quote from the late Jay Kennedy:
 " 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."
My general approach to gag cartooning is to avoid exaggerated gestures and exclamatory dialog, in favor of a deadpan delivery. I'd originally considered showing the two citizens bludgeoning each other for the emperor's amusement, with the same line of dialog, but thought that might be a bit too gruesome for the daily funny pages.

Speaking of human behavior, documenting every little event with a selfie has become, to many people, more important than the thing itself. At least the character above is photographing himself doing something he actually accomplished with his own (gloved) hand. 

He's equally qualified for a cabinet appointment.

The crew at this precinct sometimes refers to the interrogation room as "the herpetarium." Friday's gag was the most fun to draw of the current batch. While the animals in Monday's gag were stylized cartoon representations, I tried to render the reptilian detectives more realistically (at least their heads).

Saturday's panel was intended as nothing more than a rejoinder to a clichéd phrase, but seeing it again several weeks after drawing it, I'm finding additional layers in the comic. I promise that we'll start next week with a lighter laugh.

Thanks, as always, for reading, sharing, and commenting. Check out Dan Piraro's blog for his review of the week's cartoons, and his latest Sunday page.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Please Swallow Responsibly

Greetings from Bizarro Studios North. We started off the week with a bit of confusion, and are working to establish policies to ensure it never happens again.

Monday's gag was a milestone of sorts, being the first one in which I miscounted the number of Secret Symbols in the panel. Although the signature indicates four, there are actually five symbols in the art. Whether or not you look for and count the symbols, I at least hope the gag elicited a laugh. There's now a corrected version online, but today's blog post documents this embarrassing mistake.

Owls don't even make it into the top ten list of the world's loudest animal, and I almost drew today's cartoon with howler monkeys. However, the sound of the word "screech" ultimately sealed the deal for this gag. Also, the owlet was  perfectly suited for that eye-rolling expression.

Air travel would be a lot more tolerable if all passengers could be temporarily shut down. Since that's not practical, this fellow decided to disable his own sensory input. It's not necessarily recommended, but you must admire his ingenuity.

Some sharks don't have to swim constantly to stay alive. They're the ones who have to count calories.

I drew this one as soon as  I realized that, of course, gummy bears would prey upon Swedish fish. The land of candy can sometimes seem cruel.

The more we learn about the ways these devices invade privacy and harvest information, indifference would feel like an upgrade.

For further insight into this week's funnies, ask your virtual assistant to cruise over to, where you'll find Dan Piraro's comments on these gags, as well as his latest Sunday page.

Shameless Self-Promotion Department

When I'm not drawing eyeballs and dynamite, I perform with a music group, The Red Beans & Rice Combo. I'm lucky enough to have teamed up with a couple of very talented actual musicians, and our debut album, Let the Joy Begin! was just released by Bonedog Records. The album is available from the usual download sites, and you can listen to it on Spotify.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Chicken Wars

The staff here at Bizarro Studios North is still energized after seeing dozens of colleagues at the National Cartoonists Society's annual Reuben Awards weekend in Philadelphia over Memorial Day. We had a few drinks, caught up with friends, and toasted cartoonists who left us over the past year.

Among the many highlights were seeing special awards given to the legendary Arnold Roth and former King Features comics editor Brendan Burford. The award for graphic novel went to Emil Ferris's extraordinary book, My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
Hanging with Arnold & Caroline Roth, and MAD's Sergio Aragonés
With Zippy creator, Bill Griffith
I wish I had taken more photos during the weekend, but I needed both hands for beverages. We do, however, have pictures to share from this week's comics pages.

Have you ever heard a waiter say you'd made a terrible choice? Maybe not, but I do believe this comment was one hundred percent sincere. I'd forgotten that the ant farm toy was invented by a fellow Pittsburgher, Milton Levine a/k/a Uncle Milton.
Uncle Milton Levine

When Tuesday's cartoon appeared, a Bizarro reader commented, "I hope She-Hulk is running!" I couldn't disagree with that, though if we could truly have comics characters run for office, I'd give my vote to Lynda Barry's unstoppable Marlys Mullen.
Vote for Marlys!

Wednesday's gag is for artists of all types who constantly see their work altered, mangled, and generally misused all over the Web. We at Bizarro are fortunate to have enlightened, respectful readers, but, unfortunately, every artist occasionally encounters someone like the buffoon depicted above, though these types seldom exhibit this level of self-awareness.

One of the great pleasures of a favorite coffee shop is conversing with the other patrons and the hardworking people who craft that life-giving elixir we call espresso. I'm lucky enough to be a regular at a few cafes around Pittsburgh, all of which offer camaraderie and atmosphere that enhances my caffeine intake. I'm not sure if any of my locals ever received a text order from someone inside the shop, but it certainly wouldn't come as a surprise. 

Gag cartoons often rely on surprise to get a laugh, and sometimes that involves misdirection, or providing an unexpected explanation for some incongruity in the image. This one depends on the reader not noticing something in the image at first glance, and having to look at it a second time after reading the caption.

As an inveterate second-guesser and self-critic, I now wish I'd made the grass and shrubbery in the background much darker, or given the zombies paler flesh. Writing this blog post, it looks to me like there's way too much green in the panel. That tendency to dislike aspects of one's own work seems to be common among many artists I admire, so I at least feel that I'm in good company.

Saturday's gag had to be reviewed by the syndicate's legal team before we could run it. I didn't realize that the Popeye's fast food chain had ended their association with the famous cartoon character many years ago, so there was some question about using him in this context.

Our attorneys ultimately decided that the gag qualifies as "defendable parody," but we had a backup plan. If we had to drop the gag in its original form, we were going to swap in a Burger King bag showing their weird mascot, and edit the dialog to read, "I believe, sir, that with our combined military expertise, we could overthrow the king." 

Anything to avoid drawing a totally new cartoon.

While this joke was under review, I did some research on the name of the restaurant franchise, and read that the owner claimed he'd named the business after Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, Gene Hackman's character in the 1972 film, The French Connection. Hackman's character was a fictionalized version of real-life New York detective Eddie "Popeye" Egan, who was given the nickname by colleagues when he flexed his muscles after chasing down a suspect. The food chain owners can deny it if they want to, but it still comes back to a spinach-eating sailor.

Be sure to check out Dan Piraro's Bizarro Blog for his take on the latest batch of cartoons, and to see what he's created for the Sunday page.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Kid Could Do That

Greetings once again from Bizarro Studios North. It's Saturday morning, which means it's time for a review of the past week's cartoons.

Around my house, we watch a fair amount of British TV. That includes everything from crime series to comedies. We also seem to find plenty of vampiric material, so it's no surprise that some of those elements became commingled in a certain cartoonist's brain.

I spent more time than usual tinkering with the art on this one, specifically the teeth. My intent was to make the characters' fangs recognizable, but not immediately obvious. Ideally, they'd be missed at first, and recognized after reading the caption. A detail like this can be tricky, when considering that the the comic will be read both online and in print, and in two distinct layouts.
The fangs are indeed a little harder to spot in the printed strip layout, so I'm hopeful we got the balance right this time.

Realizing that it's been eight weeks since our last clown gag, we threw one in for Tuesday. I had fun deciding how to depict a clown in civilian duds.

As someone who works with ink every day, and has had an occasional spill, I completely relate to these dedicated craftsmen. I wondered whether people still know what White-Out is, let alone understand the term "illumination" as applied to manuscripts? Since I know that Bizarro readers are literate and informed, I was confident that our audience would get the gag.

After scribbling the phrase "Tunnel of Lunch" in my sketchbook, a few weeks passed before I came up with a usable cartoon. We hope that the commentary on relationships gives it a little more depth than a simple bit of wordplay.

Before completing the art for Friday, we passed along a sketch to our editors at King Features, to make sure they'd be okay with the word "pee." We got the green light, since the gag is funny and it involves dogs. Apparently if the characters were human, the wording might have been an issue, but a cartoon about a person peeing on a hydrant wouldn't have made sense anyway.

Bizarro CEO (Chief Eyeball Officer) Dan Piraro suggested this gag, which made us both chuckle. Cartoonists have a long tradition of poking fun at nonrepresentational art, as exemplified by this lovely Ernie Bushmiller panel.
I'm pretty sure that cartoonists ridiculing fine artists qualifies as "punching up."

Speaking of the refined arts, since I've jumped in to handle the daily comics, Dan has been devoting more time to painting, and is producing gorgeous canvases and ballpoint pen drawings. He's been posting as @diegopiraro on Instagram.

Also, be sure to check Dan's blog for his review of the latest Bizarro comics, and his always-spectacular Sunday page.

If you enjoyed the Bushmiller art above, or are interested in the nuts & bolts of comic strips, I highly recommend Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's scholarly book How to Read Nancy.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Smoke Rings

Another Saturday, another comics recap from Bizarro Studios North.
Cartoonists love the therapist/patient scenario. After all, we base a lot of humor on observed human behavior. Although plenty of people have imaginary friends, it's a rare (financially solvent) psychologist who has imaginary patients.

I had a vague notion about cigarette, candy or coffee machines, and other such conveniences as simple forms of robots. I reasoned that if they were to develop self-awareness, they might also have varying degrees of job satisfaction depending on the relative glamour of their assigned functions.
My first stab at exploring this idea didn't really make me laugh, although I quite liked the image of a gumball machine robot with wheels skittering around a space station to serve the children on board.
I set my next draft in a bar, a place where patrons regularly discuss their troubles. It was a little better, but not quite there yet. 

However, the bar setting gave me the idea that a gumball machine robot, even a successful one, would only have quarters on hand to pay for its drink. The logical companion would be an automated teller, who can spit out currency all night. Once I had the ATM in the picture, it worked much better. 

The next one underwent less radical changes on its way to print.

We love to pay comical homage to surrealist painter Rene Magritte. Dan Piraro's Bizarro Archive even has the artist's name as a search term to pull up all of his appearances in the comic. We're equally taken with the 1964 painting The Son of Man (a self-portrait with a green apple floating in front of his face) and 1929's The Treachery of Images (often called This is Not a Pipe.)

This past December, I referenced The Son of Man in a gag I wrote for Hilary Price's Rhymes with Orange comic.
Getting back to the subject of revisions as part of the cartooning process, my original sketch of Wednesday's Bizarro included a Piraro-like figure as the surrealist. I'm happy with the final version of the comic, but must admit I was looking forward to drawing and coloring that chunk of amber.

All too often, human speech is used to conceal our true intentions, whether from ourselves or from others. As a cartoonist, I sometimes turn that around and show a character explicitly stating their actual underlying message. The dialog in this cartoon was taken almost verbatim from an attorney discussing jury selection for a recent high-profile (and long overdue) trial.

Writing and drawing comics, like any creative endeavor, is really all about editing. We're always pleased when we manage to reduce a punchline to one or two word (and are absolutely ecstatic when we create a wordless gag). 

When staging the art, we also think about how the reader's eye will "track" through a panel. We assume most readers scan top-to-bottom and left-to-right, and we try to put the payoff in the lower right corner of the panel.
The diagram above shows my best guess for the order in which the elements this gag are revealed to the reader.

We wrap up the week with heartwarming shelter story, reminding us that every animal is beautiful to someone. To contrast with the adorable puppies, I drew Godzilla's offspring as a miniature version of the terrifying monster, and not the cutesy-poo goofball that appeared in the 1960s movies.
The theme music was the best part of Son of Godzilla, but that's a low bar.

Coincidentally, my first self-published comic, an eight page mini from 1985, parodied the Son of Godzilla character. 
I like to think that my drawing and writing have improved over the past 30-odd years. If any readers of this blog have a copy of this book, you are welcome to return it to me for a double-your-money back refund.

Don't forget to cruise over to Dan Piraro's blog to get the perspective on this week's gags from Rancho Bizarro, Mexico, and to admire his latest Sunday panel.

Earworm of the Week 
Björk - Human Behavior (1993)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fast Food

Happy Saturday, Jazz Pickles. I'm going to try and keep this update brief, since it's the opening day of our community's farm market and I don't want to miss out on the first offerings of the season. Besides, there's a local distillery who offers free samples at their table.

Monday's gag is dedicated to my cartooning colleagues. Most of us probably heard comments about applying ourselves our whole lives. I'm fairly certain that phrase turned up on a few of my old report cards. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job doing the daily Bizarro is having Dan Piraro as collaborator and editor. Early in the week, I create a pile of cartoon sketches and send them to Dan so we can discuss them and decide which ones make the cut. My first sketch of this one showed the Little Engine with a cigarette drooping from his mouth.
Dan suggested we move his cigarette to the rim of the smokestack, which gave us even more room for a lazy wisp of smoke. It's a small, but brilliant revision.

By the way, little engines make terrible pets, and are very hard on furniture.

There was some online speculation regarding what type of car is depicted in this comic. It bears a passing resemblance to a Volvo P1800, but perhaps this tag found in the glove box offers a clue:
(Posted with apologies to my fellow Italian-Americans)

Mama Calamari knows best, but kids rarely listen.
A friend of mine noted that the young squid was considerably more scared in the strip layout.

This gag features an old and very odd toy. They're still for sale, under the names Bug Out Bob and Panic Pete. The comments and questions on the Amazon product pages are worth checking out.

Continuing our tradition of poking fun at superheroes, we extend our ridicule to the citizens of Metropolis, who always need three guesses to identify their most famous citizen. He finally had enough and confronted them about it, but they still look confused. It's no wonder the guy has identity issues.

We round out the week with a variation on a classic cartoon theme of a person crawling through the desert. I enjoyed drawing the buzzards.

This week, I hit a bit of a milestone in my new role here at Bizarro Studios North, and finished the 150th cartoon under my authorship. 

The stack of 150 originals was lovingly placed in an archival storage box. Yes, I stamp the date on each original drawing and number it in the corner.

Putting the lid on the box reminded me to pause to thank Dan for trusting me to fill in the rectangle every day, and to thank every Bizarro reader for following, sharing, and commenting.

For even more behind the scenes commentary, pop on over to Dan's blog, and while you're there, gaze in wonder at his Sunday panel, and treat yourself to some Bizarro swag.

See you next week!