Saturday, July 21, 2018

No Commercial Potential

Portions of this dispatch from Bizarro Studios North are longer than usual, which is fitting since the first gag of the week sports a lengthy caption.

We kicked things off with a literary reference, updating Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis for the 21st century.

I was introduced to Kafka by the writings of another twisted genius, Frank Zappa. We're Only In It for the Money, the 1968 album by Zappa's band The Mothers of Invention, was the second LP I bought with my own money. (The first was the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, whose cover is brutally parodied by Money.)

The lyrics and credits panel inside Money's gatefold sleeve included instructions for listening to the album's final track, a harsh piece of musique concrete entitled "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny." The first instruction was to read Kafka's dystopian short story In The Penal Colony. The story is grotesque and disturbing. In other words, perfect for a disaffected young smart aleck. 

That "assignment" from my new musical hero led me to check out some of Kafka's other works, including his best-known piece, The Metamorphosis. The first line of the story in the translation I read is:
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
That sentence remained lodged in my cranial filing cabinet for all these years, and finally slipped out in the form of a cartoon.

Tuesday's aquatic gag resulted from an honest typo by Bizarro CEO Dan Piraro. He mentioned it to me, and suggested I ponder the phrase to see if it suggested an image that would work as a cartoon. 

About a month later, I made this rough sketch, which prompted Dan to suggest adding a "school" field trip entering the museum. That was the perfect little detail it needed.
Converting the panel to a horizontal strip layout required some planning, as seen in this sketchbook spread, but it all worked out satisfactorily.
That missing letter "e" still bothers me, but perhaps it'll turn up at some point, like an unmatched sock.

If not for email archives, I'd never have remembered how we arrived at this gag. Dan and I frequently bounce ideas back and forth, sometimes for weeks or even months. Our comedic sensibilities are so similar, we're not always sure who planted the kernel for a particular cartoon. Some people have even suggested that we're beginning to look alike.
Many corporations are downsizing, and Calendar Talent Enterprises is no exception. Rumors abound that Saint Patrick will be doubling as the outgoing Old Year.

This cartoon garnered an ego-boosting tweet from Tony Norman, a columnist and the Book Review Editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Tony is a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) writer, as well as a knowledgeable comics reader, who has moderated many panel discussions with comics creators, although the comment above will undoubtedly damage his reputation.

We resisted the urge to show the Dean with a dummy, emphasizing the fact that he's always practicing his craft.

This gag might be lost on some readers, since hiding from photographers while being arrested is a thing of the past in our current post-shame culture.

I'm really not as pessimistic as this cartoon might imply. Not every day, anyway.

For further insight into our creative collaborations, please visit Dan Piraro's Bizarro blog, where you can also order groovy swag from the Bizarro Shop, and admire Dan's latest magnificent Sunday page.

This Week's Bonus Track

"The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" might be too much for the average reader/listener, so here's a more accessible cut, which I hope will serve as a gateway drug.

Artistic Addendum

Speaking of heroes, I was initially drawn to the Money LP by this ad, which ran in a few Marvel comic books.
It was designed by Cal Schenkel, who was Zappa's main visual collaborator for many years. Cal was responsible for creating dozens of amazing album covers as illustrator, designer, and photographer. He currently sells art through his website, Galerie Ralf. His prices are reasonable, and I recommend checking out the Galerie and ordering a giclée print or hand-painted original.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to help plan and stage an exhibit of Cal's work, which was a terrific honor. He was truly kind and gracious, and signed a couple hundred LPs for fans that evening.

Standing beside a master

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Pity the Fool

Greetings once again from Bizarro Studios North, in Hollywood Gardens, USA. If you're reading this, congratulations on surviving another Friday the 13th. 

Now, let's see what sort of nonsense we put on the funny pages this past week.

We started the week with a typical domestic scene involving the monstrous couple next door, and a fine example of passive-aggressive behavior.
This earlier version, sketched about a year ago, was nothing more than a riff on the monster's flat head. It wasn't much of a gag, and ran counter to his well-known fear of fire. Showing these characters having a mundane disagreement, as all couples sometimes do, had more appeal, so we set it aside to revisit later. I did a second version (now lost) with the Bride saying, "I’m glad you’re making progress in your ‘fear of fire’ workshop, but I’m trying to sleep." That was a little better, but after further consideration, we finally developed the version that ran this week.

This approach might possibly reduce the sting of an unpleasant verdict. If the defendant still hasn't cheered up, the judge could always inhale some helium before delivering the sentence.

Wednesday's comic is not based specifically on any individual cabinet member who recently resigned in disgrace because of multiple scandals, and whose policies are just as odious as his unethical, self-serving behavior. It could apply to any number of public figures.

Last week, Bizarro referenced Oscar Wilde, and now we tweak Robert Louis Stevenson. This isn't my first Dr. Jekyll gag. The author[[ appeared in this 2017 WaynoVision comic:
I met the actual Mister T at the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con, where he was promoting his comic book, Mr. T and the T-Force. He was smaller than I expected, and he really did keep his brow furrowed non-stop.
L-R: Roy Tompkins, Laurence Tureaud, Wayno
It's taken 25 years, but I finally drew him in a cartoon.

This silly gag was inspired by the familiar image of an impending shootout viewed from a weird perspective.
Tiny Charles Bronson, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Dan and I both enjoy cowboy scenes, though he's much better at drawing horses. I grew up during the heyday of TV westerns, and before getting into the cartooning game, briefly considered a career as a cowpoke.
Unfortunately, I was not a very intimidating gunslinger, so I abandoned that dream.

Old technology meets new in Saturday's cartoon. It's entirely possible that hipster teapots may start wearing antique cozies any day now.

For further analysis of the week's cartoons, visit Dan Piraro's blog, and don't forget to check out his latest Sunday page.

Musical Endurance Test of the Week

My hat's off to anybody who can make it through this 1984 rap by Mr. T.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

We Have Tar

It's the Saturday after the Fourth of July, and I still have all of my digits, so I'm happy to type up another post revisiting the week's Bizarro comics.

I'm not crazy enough to explain this one. However, plenty of people had comments to offer after Dan Piraro shared it on Instagram.

I enjoy looking at creative works made by untrained artists, so this joke is in part self-directed. The business of dealers selling this type of art involves a multitude of contradictions and ethical dilemmas. The concept of "authenticity" is almost beside the point. Our savvy roadside vendor has recognized a suggestible and exploitable demographic.
The strip version of today's cartoon left a little too much dead space, so the signs were rearranged, and I added a new one.

By the way, Baltimore's American Visionary Museum is a fascinating place to see all sorts of outsider art, and I recommend checking it out.

Wednesday's comic updates Oscar Wilde's novel for the Internet age, although it's much more more common for people to post unrealistically flattering profile pictures. If Dorian does manage to hook up, his date should be pleasantly surprised to meet him.

When I first saw the 1933 Invisible Man movie on TV, I actually thought the character was supposed to be the mummy in glasses and clothing, so this cartoon almost wrote itself. 

Hmm, I just noticed that two cartoons in a row started with the word "dude." I'll try to give that a rest for a while.

We generally prefer situational gags over those based on puns. You'll see no "cereal killers" or "hare salons" here. However, when we come up with a surprising pun, we like the challenge of building a cartoon around it. We were pleased with this one, which can be enjoyed as simple wordplay, or read as layered commentary.

Saturday's gag is pretty much straight self-reportage, and although the caption is specific to cartoonists, the situation is familiar to people in any number of professions. Insomnia is no fun, but a brain that's hard to turn off is preferable to one that never starts up.

For even more cartoonsplaining, check out Dan Piraro's blog, and marvel at his latest Sunday Bizarro page.

This Week's Bonus Track

James Jeffrey Plewman (1948 - 2014) was a fascinating musician known by the stage name Nash the Slash. His familiar costume for performing seems to have been inspired, at least in part, by the Invisible Man.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Only One

This week's batch of cartoons completes my first six months of doing the daily Bizarro daily. I've found the readers to be loyal, attentive, opinionated, and funny, and we're grateful for every one of you. 

Although Dan Piraro is prone to blushing, I must also say that I'm truly lucky to have my favorite cartoonist as my editor. Doing a daily cartoon is a continuous learning process, and the best job I've ever had.

So far, I've only miscounted the secret symbols once (and we've since corrected that panel in the online archive), and have received surprisingly little hate mail. A few readers have even left tips via this blog, which brightened my spirits and helped to feed my caffeine habit.

Now, on to the latest shenanigans.

Speaking of jobs, I used to have a normal gig where I had to go to an office every day. One day when I was off sick, I spent the day under a blanket on the living room sofa. Around 2:00 PM, our two cats trotted over to the front door of the apartment, and sat looking up at the mail slot. In a few minutes, the postal carrier arrived, and the cats watched as the day's delivery was pushed through the slot and fell to the floor. They then looked at each other, and went back to whatever they were doing. I was at home the next day and saw the same sequence of events. Apparently, the mail delivery provided them with a moment of entertainment every day. I probably should have sent them a catnip toy once in a while.

We were proud of the fact that we didn't do a typical gag about people hating the sound of bagpipes. Our would-be Romeo simply chose the instrument for its volume.

Insider cartooning tip: Bagpipes are weird looking, but they're still easier to draw than a bicycle.

Backyard cookery has come a long way since the days of the simple charcoal grill. Increasingly elaborate (and expensive) setups are available to indulge suburban food nerds. The gent in today's cartoon has taken things to a new level, going as far as indulging in pizzaiolo cosplay, to the annoyance of his offspring.

Many (most?) people would rather eat a chunk of drywall than a conversation heart candy. I'm one of those weirdos who actually enjoys them, and I look forward to the half-price sales every February 15th. If you get a box with one that says FAX ME or OH, YOU KID, the candy is past its expiration date, but is probably indistinguishable from a "fresh" box. 

My first
sketch showed an even larger heart that had crushed an unsuspecting farmer. The idea of aliens assuming that people actually use the candies to communicate was kind of funny, but the gag still felt a little off. 
For the inked art, I added a couple of extraterrestrials trying to figure out what went wrong with their offering as the Earthlings fled in terror.
Although we liked the look of the floating aliens, the perspective and size relationships in the sketch were a little confusing, so we removed them, and went back to a saucer in the sky for the final version.

The rulings of the board are final, but even if you aren't granted parole, at least you go back to your cell with a plush toy.

Here's another gag that we changed after I finished inking it.
The original version was much more dramatic, but we decided to play down the tentacles, allowing the reader an extra beat to discover what's happening.

This goes to show how much we care about giving Bizarro readers the best quality cartoons we can, making changes even after the artwork is fully completed.

While you're wasting time online, why not visit
Dan's blog for his take on this week's gags, and to see his latest Sunday page. You might also order some cool swag from the Bizarro Shop.

This Week's Bonus Track

Wednesday's gag got this song stuck in my head. 

As earworms go, one could do a lot worse.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Artificial Illiteracy

As I write this dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, I'm catching up after a weekend getaway to Connecticut and New York. We visited the Brooklyn Museum and caught the astounding exhibit, David Bowie Is.
The multimedia collection includes film & video, costumes, artwork and lyrics, and more. It runs through July 15, so if you're in the area, I enthusiastically recommend checking it out. One of my favorite pieces was the original art layout for Bowie's 1980 LP Scary Monsters. The original was huge, and it was fascinating to see the paste-up in its collaged glory.

The weekend mini-vacation was fun, but I'm happy to be back at work on more comics for Bizarro's faithful Jazz Pickles. Here's a rundown of the latest batch.

We started the week with a canine twist on a cliched scene from just about every TV cop show. I was pretty happy with the facial expressions and body language in each of the characters. My first sketch was pretty close to the final art, but after roughing it out, I realized that if the Chihuahua's ears were turned down and back, he'd look more threatening to the suspect.

The main benefit of autocorrect is having a culprit to blame for our mistakes, so it's useful in a way its developers may not have intended.

Sometimes our cartoons include layers of social commentary. Other times, we feel like doing a silly gag that makes us laugh. Interestingly, there's another member of the Pied family who plays the fiddle, and is effective at luring swarms of bumblebees.

Thursday's corporate gag includes a tip of the hat to MAD Magazine, which was one of my early comedic influences. The character with a pencil in his hand is meant to resemble MAD's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, doodling the odd bird-like creature that often shows up in the magazine for no apparent reason.

We love to draw Frankenstein's monster, so any time we can work the creature into a gag, we're happy. The monster also seems to be pleased with his new ink.

Difficult or critical parents are common enough cartoon subjects, and we dip into that well now and then. Although I'm not a parent myself, we strive for equal humorous reference to disobedient children, too.

Come back to visit again next Saturday, and please pop by Dan Piraro's blog to check out his latest Sunday page and his commentary on this week's cartoons.

Bonus Track

When I was but a wee lad, "The Supermen" was the first David Bowie song I ever heard. This version remains a favorite.

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.