Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's In A Name?

One of my regular gigs is providing a monthly spot illustration for Virginia Montanez's column PittGirl's Last Laugh, in Pittsburgh Magazine. In the December issue, Ginny takes locals to task for holding onto outdated names for local landmarks.

For this month's illustration, I focused on her comments about the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which people still refer to by its old name, the Sixth Street Bridge.

It's fun and a bit of a challenge to come up with the spot for PittGirl each month. Since it's a column with a specific personality and point of view, I always find a way to include the writer in the image. I've been doing this spot for two years now, and it still feels fresh. Until this summer, I'd been basing the drawings on one reference photo. After we met in person, and I got a better feel for Ginny's features, I think the art's improved.

Regarding the opinions expressed in this particular column, I sympathize with people who use the locational names for the bridges. If you're driving downtown, you still have to make the conversions in your head (Clemente = Sixth Street, Warhol = Seventh Street, Rachel Carson = Ninth Street). I'm willing to bet that very few New Yorkers refer to Sixth Avenue as "Avenue of the Americas."

However, people from my hometown can truly be crazy-making when giving directions, which often include a phrase along the lines of "turn left where the pony ride used to be," so I can see Ginny's point as well.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fashion Victim

Today's offering is a collaboration with the wonderful Hilary Price for her daily comic, Rhymes With Orange.
When I work with Hilary (which is not often enough!) our process is truly collaborative and usually involves a few email discussions to refine and shape the gag. My original submission is quite different from the published version.
The initial idea was pretty gruesome, and maybe a bit "much" for the daily paper.

Hilary suggested that we might instead show the Grim Reaper at a makeup counter, shopping for just the right exfoliating product. I was surprised and delighted to see the direction she took for the published strip. It's very funny, and is really an entirely new gag. The beauty of having a dialog when working on a comic is that one idea or comment can spark something completely unexpected in the mind of the other collaborator, often ending up somewhere completely unanticipated.

It's also worth mentioning a unique aspect of RWO: that small title block on the far left. I don't believe there's another strip out there using such a device, and it's very effective, in different ways.

At times, it seems to simply be a title, but it subtly affects the pace at which the reader gets to the payoff, and also usually contributes to the setup. Occasionally, it doesn't really click until after reading the gag, as in this example.

Many cartoons act as puzzles of sorts, presenting a contradiction or ambiguity, which is resolved in a surprising way. When we readers make that leap in logic, finding the explanation, we laugh as the tension is released, in much the same way that we laugh after being frightened during a scary movie.

This little twist on the normal comic strip format gives RWO a distinctive feel and rhythm, and it's a joy to study Hilary's work. Plus, it makes me laugh.

My earlier joint efforts with Hilary are archived in this blog's Orange Department.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Take Two

Today's Bizarro attempts to resolve a question regarding the walking dead.
It only stands to reason that when the Grim Reaper comes calling on a zombie, they've already met.

Dan Piraro's finished art is pretty close to my submission sketch. The theme gave him a good reason to place one of his trademark eyeball symbols on the floor. No doubt it had been recently tethered to that tasty brain.
Credit for this one must go to my lovely spouse Kim. She has a real talent for creating gag ideas, and has skills that would be the envy of any art director or editor. I do a lot of Reaper gags, but not many involving zombies. However, those lovable flesh-eaters are all over pop culture these days, and you can't avoid them. While scrolling through Netflix's recommendations, which naturally included many zombie films, she came up with this joke, which I immediately sketched out for Bizarro.

This post will remain (relatively) brief, as I'm writing it a few days prior to publication, in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio before hopping the shuttle to a gala and open house at Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. For the next 36 hours or so, I'll be catching up with cartoonist colleagues. By the time this is published, I'll be back at home, scribbling away.

As always, though, I must make mention of this blog's Bizarro Archive, where you can stroll through almost 150 collaborative efforts between Dan and me.
• • •
Despite my remarks above about not doing many zombie jokes, by odd coincidence, tomorrow I'll have a gag in Hilary Price's Rhymes With Orange comic which also features zombie and skeleton characters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two Characters in Search of a Punchline

Today's Bizarro comic references two of my favorite cartoonists: Robert Crumb and Ernie Bushmiller.
Robert Crumb, perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time, is the creator of Zap Comix, Mister Natural, Fritz the Cat, Flakey Foont, countless record covers (including the iconic Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company), and of course the once-ubiquitous Keep On Truckin' guys. He's been producing amazing work for 50 years, and he keeps getting better.

Ernie Bushmiller (1905-1982) was the creator of Nancy, a widely-disparaged daily strip which, perhaps paradoxically, is revered by many underground/alternative/smart-ass cartoonists. Nancy has been championed by the likes of Bill Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead, long-time comix artist and publisher Denis Kitchen, and Mark Newgarden, an acclaimed cartoonist and co-creator of the Garbage Pail Kids.

Every time I hear the expression "carbon footprint," my brain processes it as "cartoon footprint," and I tried for some time to find a way to build a gag around the sound-alike phrase. Crumb's Keep on Truckin' characters certainly have big footprints, and placing one of them in the role of a climate-change protestor echoes the way the characters were co-opted as universal symbols during the hippie era, much to the artist's consternation.

My original sketch showed the trucker being lectured by a non-specific character. When Bizarro's Dan Piraro substituted Nancy, he completely anchored the gag in the cartoon universe.
I freely admit to being one of those Bushmiller fans described above, and have one of the master's original comic strips hanging in my studio. Here's a tribute I created in 1991 for Mark Martin's Lillian Spencer Drake Catalog of Values.
Ernie is also rumored to have inspired a secret society of fanatical followers, which has neither been confirmed nor disproved, despite intense investigation. This badge may or may not be associated with the enigmatic organization.
As is often the case with newspaper comics, Nancy continues to run, more than thirty years after Bushmiller's passing, the work of a syndicate hired hand. The less said about the post-Ernie Nancy comics, the better.

Speaking of old cartoons, you can view all of my previous collaborations with Mister Dan Piraro right here.

Tune in a week from today for another bit of Bizarro business.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Election Day Special

Today's Bizarro depicts a politician speaking more honestly than he may have intended.
There's no submission sketch for this one, as the joke consists of new text added to a panel that's appeared before, though the art has been tweaked a little since its last appearance. The panel from 2011 uses the same comedic device: a hypocrite's words actually reflecting his actions.

Our next two new joint efforts will appear on November 11 and November 18. There are plenty more in the pipeline after that.

Please feel free to kill some quality time by viewing all of our past collaborations in this blog's Bizarro archive, but first, don't forget to vote!