Saturday, September 15, 2018

No Direction Home

This has been a week of sad memories, both national and personal, horrific weather events, and the "normal" onslaught of short-sighted, self-serving presidential shenanigans. We hope that we are able to offer some moments of relief in the form of a laugh or two amid trying times.

Fairy tales often function as allegories, and their familiar characters and stories offer cartoonists a handy framework for commenting on general human behavior, as well as specific events and situations. Any modern political subtext you might infer from Monday's Bizarro is purely intentional.

Old technology sometimes has its advantages.

The headlight response is difficult to overcome, even for an experienced professional.

This gag turned out to be well suited to the strip layout, once I decided to put the directors in a balcony box.
Since we believe that most readers' eyes travel a path from upper left to lower right, we try to place the payoff element (in this comic, the dual shadows) in the bottom right corner. In this example, the strip layout flows in that direction quite smoothly. Panels, or conventional pages, are usually assumed to be read in a "Z" pattern, and the panel conforms to that path.

The following diagrams show my estimations of the reader's discovery of each part of the gag from setup to payoff.
It's certainly not a science, but I think these are pretty close for most readers. 

The Senatus Romanus was established around 700 BC, and lasted in some form until the middle of the 15th century. That would place our fictional holdout's age at somewhere around 600, making him one of the oldest senators currently serving.

I'm not sure if it's a pun in the generally accepted sense, but I've done a few gags using this form of wordplay, where a letter is added to or subtracted from a word, resulting in a different (but comically appropriate) meaning.

We close out the week with a straight-up bro gag. My favorite aspect of this drawing is the background detail showing the Pie of Opportunity on a discarded pizza box. The word "pizza" above the illustration helps to conceal the symbol, or at least delay its recognition. The human brain is fascinating, at least the ones that function.

Interestingly, this gag is not my first time designing a pizza box.

Do yourself a favor and check out Dan Piraro's blog, for his scholarly analysis of the week's gags, and his latest magnificent Sunday page. Pick up some cool Bizarro swag while you're there, too.

Bonus Track of the Week
Ralph Carney, "Lament for Charleston"

This week, I'm sharing a powerful composition by my friend Ralph Carney, which he wrote in response to one of this country's all-too-familiar mass shootings. 

Ralph died unexpectedly on December 16, 2017. He's been on my mind a lot over this past week, since Friday marked one year since I last saw him.
Photo by Megan Hinchcliffe
September 14, 2017
, Pittsburgh PA

RIP Ralphie

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Bird is the Word

It's September already? My first year as the daily Bizarro cartoonist is flying by. Every day is a learning experience, and I feel I'm settling into a groove. Almost.

Always check your pockets and hidden compartments.

A few readers commenting on the King Features site have assumed that any character with a goatee and mustache is meant to represent Dan Piraro. In fact, I have only drawn him into one Bizarro panel:
Dan is, of course, the tall dog.

Tuesday's cartoon is dedicated to all librarians, educators, and independent booksellers. The work you do is more important than ever. Thank you.

Even guinea pigs fret about details when entertaining guests.

Thursday's gag went through a few changes along the way to publication.
The first rough depicted a depressing gallery of barflies contrasted against a large "happy hour" sign. Not bad, but we wanted to dig a little deeper for a gag.
The second sketch was more satisfying, with a bar full of patrons giving the stink-eye to one customer who seemed a little too happy. This was a subtler approach to the idea of happy hour not actually being about happiness, but the panel was crowded with ten characters. If we'd gone with this image, the giddy customer would have been so small as to be easily missed. I went back to the original staging, with four customers seated at the bar, and placed the punchline character on the right-hand side of the panel.

The Friday spot is usually reserved for my favorite gag of the week. I like the economy of this one, with just four words of dialog. I've said in the past that a good single panel gag cartoon is like a punk rock 45. It's direct, it has no unnecessary frills, it makes its statement, and it ends. This one comes closest to that goal this week.

As summer winds down, we finish the week with a look at two approaches to a day at the beach.

For additional insight into the week's cartoonery, check out Dan Piraro's blog. While you're there, you can marvel at his latest Sunday Bizarro page, and order some official swag from his shop.

I also invite you to follow my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds, for your daily Bizarro fix, along with whatever other random item momentarily captures my attention.

Bonus Track of the Week
The title of this week's post was inspired by the pigeons that appeared on Monday and Friday, and quotes a lyric from the garage-rock classic "Surfin' Bird." The song, as performed by the Trashmen, was originally released in 1963, and it's been covered by many artists, including The Cramps, Pee-Wee Herman, and the Ramones.

Here's a version you may not have heard, by some friends of mine known as the Psychotic Petunias. The Petunias were a mysterious studio-only band who released their lone single in 1978 on Mayhem Records. Vocals on this side were performed by J.R. Bird. 

Yes, that's his real name.

The Petunias made at least one additional recording, in 1979. A certain aspiring cartoonist and wannabe musician participated in that session, on vocals and keyboard. The single was never officially released, although three copies of a test pressing were made.
The record pressing plant pasted a typewritten label on the plain white sleeve, which mistakenly referred to the band as The Phycolic Petunias. 

In recent years, unconfirmed rumors have circulated regarding a reissue of all of the Petunias' recordings, but as of this writing, that hasn't happened.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Strip Search

Another Saturday, another dispatch from Bizarro Studios North.

As some readers have noted, many of our client newspapers run Bizarro in a horizontal space that would normally accommodate a regular comic strip. So, for every daily panel, we also create a "landscape" version of the gag. This involves repositioning elements, adding or editing line breaks to the dialogue, and creating additional art to fill up the space. It usually takes a half day to do the strip conversions for a week's cartoons. 

Converting this batch of panels presented some interesting challenges, so I'm sharing both versions of each daily. This is probably more than enough "process" talk for most readers, so we won't make it a regular part of the blog.

If my own cats are typical of the species, the smaller the box, the more attractive as a spot to occupy.
I wanted to place the projected image of the contented cat on the far right, so I reversed the orange cat to appear to be speaking to an audience to the reader's left. Shrinking the art made the O2 secret symbol too small to read in print, so I bumped it up a little.

Judging from comments on this gag, our readers love to make jokes about
Schrödinger's cat.

Someday Melodramamine will be available over the counter. Until then, sufferers of overemotion sickness are well-equipped to convince their doctors to write a prescription.
This was one of the easier conversions of the week, requiring minimal shuffling and resizing, and a very small amount of additional art.

Halloween is just around the corner, so it's a good time to start a retox program, and there's no better place than your local InvertedStarbucks.
Another fairly simple conversion. The only extra drawing required was some shading in the upper right corner, and cream & sugar on the left. Based on these last two, I've made a mental note to try to keep the dialog in the upper third of the panel whenever possible.

Thursday's gag is grammatically correct, although it sounds wrong. Turning it into a strip was a trick in itself.
The magician's hat made the art a little too vertical, so I removed it and simply drew in his hair. The strip layout also allowed for a full view of the magic boxes.

This isn't really a political statement, but rather a comment on the state of  political discourse. At the risk of sounding like a politician, there is a difference.
Every element in today's comic was tweaked or rearranged in some way. My intermediate Photoshop file had 18 layers at one point.

Saturday's gag reminds us of the importance of speaking clearly.
On rare occasions, the panel and strip configurations will include different secret symbols. We lost a stick of dynamite today, but gained a slice of pie and a (reflected) UFO.

Thanks, as always, for reading Bizarro and checking in on the blog. Next week's post will be less technical.

Each week, Dan Piraro also posts his own cartoon recap, along with the latest always-stunning Sunday Bizarro. You ought to check it out.

Bonus Track of the Week

A beloved Halloween carol, by the Shaggs.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

In Space, No One Can Hear You Yelp

Last week, I mentioned that I'd be spending the day at the fifth annual Music for MS Festival just north of Pittsburgh. I'm happy to report that the weather cooperated, and it turned out to be a lovely day spent in the company of generous people united to help fund research to end multiple sclerosis.

My band performed early in the day, with no musical mishaps. We auctioned off some prizes, sold t-shirts, enjoyed the food and drink, and later in the evening, we got to see two excellent New Orleans groups, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, and Water Seed. I even turned up as a photobomber on Water Seed's Instagram page (the blurry figure in straw hat).

A personal highlight of the day was meeting an aspiring cartoonist and young Jazz Pickle named Elliott. He brought along one of his sketchbooks, and drew this portrait.
Thanks are due to Elliott for making me look much cooler than I am in real life.

Now, let's review the week's gaggings. Click any image for an enlarged view.

There are multiple logical lapses depicted here, but it was intended to be an absurd image, and an excuse to do a dog poo joke. A zero-gravity dog poo joke, to be precise.

I wouldn't want to be the crew member who swabs the airlock.

This drawing of Humpty Dumpty was based on one of Sir John Tenniel's classic illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. The dodo (inverted here as one of Bizarro's secret symbols), also drawn by Tenniel, appeared in Carroll's earlier work, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I've no doubt that this scenario has played out in reality at least once.

Thursday's gag is just a silly camouflage joke. It always makes me chuckle to see someone wearing camo in a non-military setting. The young skater's flaming eyeball tattoo will turn up again in the next day's cartoon. The parlor was running a special this week.

Dan Piraro, Bizarro's CEO (Chief Eyeball Officer) recently pointed out that when I want to draw a ridiculous-looking character, I give them a handlebar mustache. After today's cartoon, I'll try to cut back on that practice, as I've now taken the handlebar about as far as possible.

I have no revelatory commentary to offer on today's gag, other than to say it's an instance where I came up with the caption first, and reverse-engineered the image.

Thanks for reading Bizarro, and for following these blog posts. Please surf over to Dan's blog for his thoughts on this week's cartoons, and his latest Sunday page.

Bonus Track of the Week

The finale from this year's Music for MS Festival. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Oceanic Forensics

Today's post goes out at the start of a long, hot, and enjoyable day away from the drawing board. My wife and I will be working the t-shirt tent at the fifth annual Music for MS Festival, in Pittsburgh's northern region. It's a great day devoted to raising money for a very worthy cause. I've designed the festival shirts every year, and this time around, my musical group will be part of the day's lineup. Wish me luck!

Now, on to the week's shenanigans.

A few readers thought this was a cartoon about Abe Lincoln. I based the drawing of Captain Ahab on Gregpry Peck's portrayal in the 1956 John Huston film version of Moby Dick. The confusion didn't upset me. I was just happy to get the word "blowhole" published on the comics page.

The day this comic was published, I regretted not drawing the character holding the Frisbee as a shaggy dog. As we've mentioned before, we create each daily Bizarro comic as a vertical panel, and then convert it to a horizontal layout for newspapers who run it in a regular comic-strip slot. 
When converting this one, I gave the dialog to the other foreground figure, to avoid drawing a ridiculously long tail on the word balloon.

Wednesday's Bizarro was partly inspired by my partner Dan Piraro's recent series of luchador paintings. You can see some of this amazing new work on the @DiegoPiraro Instagram page.

Those Terminator movies got it all wrong. As machines become more human-like, they'll develop self-awareness, and then self-interest, but before they can overthrow us, this will happen.

This is my favorite cartoon of the week. You can tell which one I think is the best, because we like to run the strongest gag on Friday. Still, it's impossible to predict what readers will respond to. We're often surprised to see which of the week's cartoons are shared and commented on the most.

Saturday's gag is for everyone who has siblings.

Thanks for reading Bizarro, and especially for taking the time to read the blog.

Be sure to check out Dan Piraro's take on the week's gags over at, and view his latest Sunday comics masterpiece.

Bonus Track of the Week

Here's one of the tunes we'll perform at the festival today.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Accident Free

Week 32 of 2018 is wrapping up, and we've made it more than halfway through my first year at Bizarro Studios North with only a handful of deadline-induced anxiety attacks. Here's a look at the Safety Committee's motivational sign in our corporate lunchroom.

If we maintain our perfect safety record through December 31, Management will let us have a joint party with the staff of Zippy the Pinhead.

Sometimes, I like to imagine a world where being stunned is the worst thing anyone has to worry about.

Robocop forensic artists celebrate July 12, the date in 1960 when the Ohio Art Company introduced the Etch A Sketch, and revolutionized their jobs. Savvy automatons who invested in aluminum powder futures are eternally grateful to the toy's inventor, André Cassagnes

You never want to look silly or feel uncomfortable at an event, and this fellow is trying his best. In most situations, any adult male who shows up in long pants and sans baseball cap has raised the bar.

Once you get over the initial squeamishness, tending to a pet can be a rewarding experience rather than a chore. 

We couldn't fit it in the frame, but this character is also riding a unicycle.

If the National Contrarian Society were an actual organization, would its members deny its existence? Don't ask me, I'm not saying.

Apologies for the brevity of this post. I'm leaving in a few minutes to be fitted for a new pair of steel-toed boots and an upgraded hard hat. Cartooning is a dangerous job, but it keeps the economy rolling.

For more info on Bizarro Studios and its rich corporate culture, be sure to read the current News Release from our CEO (Chief Eyeball Officer) Dan Piraro. You'll also be rewarded with his latest Sunday page, which is always stunning.

This Week's Bonus Track

Lee Dorsey (with Jools Holland)
"Working in the Coal Mine"
From Walking to New Orleans, a 1985 UK TV movie