Saturday, February 27, 2021

Simple Machines & Gaelic Insects

Greetings once again from Bizarro Studios North, where the cartooning never stops, or rarely does. A few days ago, I left the drawing table for a few hours, and ventured into the outside world. Unfortunately, it was to have root canal surgery. 

I can't say it was enjoyable, but the experience wasn't as awful as its common idiomatic usage indicates. If this post has fewer words (or more typos) than usual, blame the aftereffects of medication.

I found this week's pipe-pic on the internet. This is not an album I have in my collection, but I felt compelled to share the image.

While we ponder whether Father Bob's stem-clenching led to any dental problems, let's review our most recent comics.

 
We eased into the week with a wordless two-panel gag showing history's first recreational vehicle conversion.
 
 
This business eventually folded, when they realized that their packaging costs zeroed out any profit on the product.
 
 
It's even more effective on humans.
 
Few comic book readers are aware of the Hulk's sensitive side, which is what truly makes him incredible.
 
As I've mentioned int the past, I try to choose the best of the week's batch to run in the Friday slot. A gag based on a pun rarely makes the cut, but this one gave both Dan and me repeated bouts of the giggles, so I figured readers might enjoy something silly to start the weekend.
 

For Saturday, we pivoted from straight-up comedy to pathos. I believe this is the first time I used an individual Secret Symbol five times in a single panel.

That's the latest output from our fun factory. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog, to check out his latest Sunday Bizarro page, and read about what's currently occupying his curious mind. It's always worth a visit.

Bonus Track

Bongos, Bass & Bob: "Oral Hygiene"
50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watts Records, 1988

While undergoing my endodontic treatment, this tune came to mind. The members of the trio were Dean J. Seal (bongos & vocals), Penn Jillette (bass & vocals), and Rob Elk (guitar & vocals).

Technical note: Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US. On some phones, you must select "View Web Version" to see the preview link.

Trivial Note: The label that issued this album was usually referred to as "50 Skidillion Watts Records," and was founded by brothers David and Jad Fair to release music by their amazing band, Half Japanese. The number of zeroes used in the numerical version of the label name varied across releases.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Puppet First Class

Here in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US, we've spent most of the past week shoveling snow, which isn't much to complain about considering the combination of dangerously cold temperatures and lengthy power outages affecting other areas.

Stupid groundhog.

It wasn't all drudgery, though, as we took time to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Ox, quietly and at home.

 
In the early part of this century, we mailed a series of Lunar New Year cards, which served as seasonal greetings to friends, and illustration samples for art directors. This one, from five years ago, featured a character with a pipe, which gives me an excuse to share it again.


Let's take a look back at our latest comics from this Year of the Ox.

Oh, the humanity. It's so tasty!

The soldier here is heavily (and hairily) armed, and fifty percent out of uniform.

Wednesday's gag triggered a pang of nostalgia for shopping malls, which never appealed to me in the past. COVID isolation must be getting to me.

The strip layout necessitated some creative rearrangement of Secret Symbols, but it allowed me to show the side panel of the kiosk.

My initial sketch attempted to comment on the cinematic cliche of a serial killer's lair filled with dozens of lit candles, but I think the rewrite resulted in a better gag.

They're nowhere near the totals for cowboys, cats, dogs, or clowns, but we're building a decent library of bro-based gags here at BSN.
This strip conversion also required some symbol-shuffling. I usually try to place the same set of symbols in both the panel and strip formats, rather than making myself (and my editors) count and keep track of different totals on a single day. I must admit, I was happy with the image of the dynamite perched on the bill of the character's cap.

Some scholars read Moby-Dick as an allegory for humanity's quest for meaning, but it might also be about our search for companionship.


The jury will now exit in an orderly "V" formation.

That's all for this frigid week, friends. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog, to check out his latest Sunday Bizarro page, which is always magnificent.

I hope you're all safe and warm. See you next Saturday.


Bonus Track

Since we ended the week with an avian gag, here's an appropriate tune from our vinyl archives.

Rico Henderson and the Citettes
Strictly for the Birds
Citation Records, 1958


NOTE: Certain YouTube videos are unavailable outside the United States.
On some phones you must select "View Web Version" to see preview/link.


This quirky number was written by Irving Szathmary (1907-1983).

Irving Szathmary, circa 1950s
Szathmary was a composer and arranger whose most successful gig was writing the theme and scoring every episode of the Get Smart TV series. Sazthmary's youngest brother, William, achieved show-biz fame under the name Bill Dana, who was best-known for his faux-Bolivian character José Jimenez.

I can find no information on bandleader Rico Henderson. Maybe it was a pseudonym for Szathmary, who ran the Citation label.

 
My copy has a sticker on the label reading, "Thanks for the Spins - Harold Wald." My guess is that Wald was a salesman or distributor who delivered records to disk jockeys. Whatever its origin, the sticker is a delightfully enigmatic artifact.


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Three of a Kind

Instead of opening this post with commentary on the second impeachment, we've decided to share this delightful street sign, spotted in the Bayou St. John neighborhood of New Orleans.

The photo arrived via text message from my friend Tom McDermott, a masterful piano player and composer who lives near the sign. He's also a prolific limerick writer, and a fine caricature artist.

In the Year Before COVID, Tom McD paid a visit to Pittsburgh, and thrilled a small group of fortunate locals with a joyful house concert. That's him, sandwiched between your humble cartoonist, and my wildly talented bandmate Tom Roberts. Yes, I know two piano maestros named Tom.

I'm looking forward to a time when we're again able to gather to enjoy food, music, and each other's company. I'm preparing for that day by working hard in the studio to get a bit further ahead of publication.

Here's a look back at our most recent cartoon output.

We kicked off the week with a punning and vaguely political gag.

I was pleased with the strip layout for this one.

My Bizarro Studios partner, Dan Piraro, recently recommended that I watch My Octopus Teacher, a documentary on Netflix, correctly predicting that it would blow my mind. Dan's also recommended it to readers via social media, and I heartily second him. Go watch it as soon as possible.

The art the teacher displays in this gag is loosely based on Roy Lichtenstein's 1964 painting, Nurse. I'm generally a fan of twentieth century pop art, although Lichtenstein engenders mixed feelings. He became wealthy by appropriating the imagery of living, underpaid comic artists, who never profited from his use of their art, transformative though it may (or may not) have been. Is making a large format painting of another artist's image significantly different from writing a symphonic arrangement of a songwriter's pop tune, which would involve payment for licensing? I don't know for certain, but it'd be worth discussing over drinks, when discussing things over drinks is possible.

While laying out the text, it occurred to me that "Lichtenstein, Warhol, Rauschenberg and Grooms"1 sounded like a lost Tom Lehrer song. I was probably half-remembering his composition about Russian mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky.

Late last year, at age 92, Tom Lehrer put all of his musical compositions into the public domain, making them free for anyone to reuse and perform in any way they like. Instead of taking other artists' work without permission like Lichtenstein, Lehrer released his own creative output into the wild, in order to give it new life.

The fact that Lehrer is the third pianist named Tom mentioned in today's post is weirdly coincidental. I'm now imagining Roberts, McDermott, and Lehrer forming a trio called "ZZ Tom."

Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services, in their endless hunger for content, have added films and TV series from all over the world. We've enjoyed quite a few series produced in Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Korea, and elsewhere. We've also discovered that the trope referenced in this comic is alive and well outside of North America.

This celestial visitor was heard to describe us as "puny, prickly Earthlings."

Tarzan of the Cats may seem meek compared to his cousin who was raised by apes, but at least he uses a litterbox.

All hail Linen.

Thanks, as always, for visiting us here at the ol' blog. Don't forget to check in at Dan's weekly blog, too. He always has something interesting to say along with sharing his latest magnificent Sunday Bizarro page.

Bonus Track

For those curious to hear Tom McDermott's music, here's a clip of him performing Professor Longhair's classic "Tipitina."

NOTE: Certain YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US. On some phones you must select "View Web Version" to see the video content

Tom is a self-employed musician navigating this time of limited (or nonexistent) opportunities to perform, so CD sales are more important than ever. If you're interested in some great music for your home, check out Tom's recordings, all of which are available from Louisiana Music Factory.

One of my favorites is his 2019 album Tom McDermott Meets Scott Joplin. Tom writes, "This isn't an album for purists, but I hope the impurists out there will wallow in its freshness." I couldn't have said it better.

I also love his book of limericks and drawings, Five Lines, No Waiting.

Notes

1) I've since realized that I must have been reminded of "Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean, a novelty song from the Watergate era. The dark corners of my brain are crammed with useless material.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Cowpokes & Clowns

According to a certain Pennsylvania rodent, we're in for another six weeks of winter. After enduring the past eleven months, that'll be a cakewalk.

Last month, a longtime friend celebrated a milestone birthday. I searched through my files and turned up a set of illustrations he'd commissioned from me many years ago, which I sent to him as a birthday gift.

I've long forgotten the original purpose for these drawings of a character we named Dexter, but it was cool to see them again. I regret that none of these images shows Dexter holding a pipe, but I have a great pipe image found in the wild to share next week.

I still draw in ink over blue pencil today. Let's take a look at some current work to see if my style has changed much over the decades.

I was a child raised by television, and so were quite a few Bizarro readers. Several people noted that the doctor in this panel bears a resemblance to character actor Milburn Stone, of "Gunsmoke" fame. That was my intent, but when another reader mentioned that the layout was similar to the office set on "The Bob Newhart Show," I was surprised and had to agree. I've seen that series multiple times over the years, and its furniture placement must have stayed with me.

Bizarro HQ received a note of appreciation from a reader who's actually named Chuck Gunderson. The Chuck who wrote to us spells his last name with a single "s," which I take as evidence of further cost-saving measures at the Justice Department.

Wednesday's panel employed a trusty comedic device: the old verbal switcheroo.

This trick might also work with humans. We'd achieve herd immunity in no time if COVID vaccines were tucked inside Chik-fil-A sandwiches.

After an absence of nearly two years, this character reappears in Bizarro.

We find him to be entertaining, but his Amazon reviews are mixed.

Coming full circle, we closed the week with another cowboy-themed gag.

Thanks for checking in on us. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog to see what's on his mind, and to marvel at another gorgeous, panoramic Sunday Bizarro.

Bonus Track

Grico Samon
"Who Put the Hole in the Doughnut"

While hunkered in place, we've been doing some decluttering, and are even considering letting go of some records and compact discs. This one, however, is a keeper. The label image and digitized audio were done right here at Bizarro Studios North.

I remember finding this at a record show, in a box of singles marked "MISC/ODD," where I knew I'd strike gold. This strange and mysterious artifact has a place of honor in my little case of "bulletproof" records.


 


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Tater Tao

Today we should all congratulate ourselves on (just about) making it through the first month of the new year. I'm trying to maintain a positive attitude, so let's say we're one month closer to getting our COVID-19 vaccines.

 
While scrolling through my photo archives, I came across this 2015 "record head" shot featuring a forebear of the Pipe of Ambiguity. The record cover art was done by Sam Norkin (1917-2011). Norkin was a prolific cartoonist who specialized in caricatures of Broadway actors and ensembles. At first glance, his work probably reminds the viewer of Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003). While there are similarities in style, and certainly in subject matter, Norkin's art is more wildly exaggerated and angular, even Cubist. 
Norkin did this wonderful drawing of Cab Calloway for a 1955 LP on Epic Records.

The "Bingle" photo is a souvenir from a phase I went through several years ago, when I wasted a lot of time taking record-head selfies with items from my collection. It was fun, but thankfully, I now have a weekly deadline to keep myself busy making cartoons.

Speaking of which, here's the latest batch to roll off the production line here at Bizarro Studios North.

 
He's a good employee, but don't startle him when he's concentrating on a repair.
 
 
The only time most Americans encounter Roman numerals is in reference to Super Bowl games, although the NFL showed less than total commitment when they named the 2015 game "Super Bowl 50" instead of "Super Bowl L." Apparently, some football fans were miffed, but maybe it was a wise decision. The version with the Roman numeral almost looks like "Super Bowel."
 
 
While doing my research for this gag, I learned the difference between the words pictograph (a drawing or painting on a rock wall) and petroglyph (a carving or inscription in rock).
 
 
The CEO of the Mister Lactose Corporation is a former military operative who participated in musical torture initiatives.
 
 
Friday's spiritually-enlightened spud was fun to draw, although I later realized that for potatoes, having more than two eyes isn't a big deal.
 
We ended the week with an unintentionally timely gag. Fortunately for this patient, he has more than forty colleagues who are eager to show the way, and then some.

That's the latest from our US headquarters in scenic Hollywood Gardens, PA. Thanks for popping by. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog to check out his latest Sunday Bizarro. He's also been reporting from what looks to be a restful getaway on a mountainside near Oaxaca City, Mexico. He seems to be in an enviable state of relaxation and bliss, which makes me very happy for him.

Bonus Track

Tom Waits: "Ice Cream Man"
from the album Closing Time
(Asylum Records, 1973)

 NOTE: Certain YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US. On some phones you must select "View Web Version" to see the video content.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bears Don 't Cry

This week we watched the peaceful inauguration of our country's new President and Vice President, and saw that it is indeed possible for elected officials to act like adults.

The new administration will certainly not be perfect, but things already look promising in many ways.

The highlight of the day for us at BSN was the young inaugural poet Amanda Gorman. Her writing is brilliant, and she was poised, powerful, and on point. She served as a refreshing contrast to the grunting criminal imbeciles who desecrated the Capitol just two weeks prior. Perhaps we have reason to be hopeful for the future after all.

Transitioning from the sublime to the ridiculous, we're tickled to share another pipe-related image.

 
This is a screen grab from the 2015 horror-comedy Moose! The Movie, a low-budget indie film written by Tundra cartoonist Chad Carpenter. The dapper gent pictured above is Tom Gammill, creator of the comic strip The Doozies. Tom also has a side gig as a producer for The Simpsons, and he's one of the funniest people on the planet.
 
Our gig here is to do our best to send little packets of humor out into the world, and hope they bring our readers some levity. Here's our latest batch of comics.
 
My first sketch of this gag was captioned "Vice Signaling," but the final caption was more effective and satisfying. 
 
As I write this post, I notice that the character in the bow tie reminds me of the work of Willy Murphy (1936-1976). Murphy, though not as well-known as some of his contemporaries, is one of my favorite underground cartoonists. His writing was sharp and smart, and he directed much of his satiric commentary at the counterculture. His character, Henry Henpeck, suffered some form of humiliation in every story, but in the last panel was always shown describing an imagined triumph to reluctant listeners. This representative page is from the second issue of Murphy's posthumous comic book, Flamed-Out Funnies.
From the Bizarro Studios North Comics Archive

Tuesday's gag grafts together two wildly disparate pop culture references, for a peanut butter cup of humor.
 
If you have compound eyes, and you look through a kaleidoscope the wrong way, do you see a single image?
 
I took some good-natured heat from a few banjo aficionados I know, though they clearly recognized this as a joke and not a manifesto. I also pointed out that the character said "practice" rather than "play," and that as someone who plays ukulele, I'm fair game for similar jokes.

I'm fairly certain that this happens regularly.
 
Let's hear it for lowered expectations. What really hurts is that this is his agent, not his publisher.

That's the weekly wrap-up from Your Obedient Cartoonist. Don't forget to check out Dan Piraro's blog to see what he's cooked up for his always-sumptuous Sunday Bizarro page, and his always fascinating commentary on the week's comics and current events.

Bonus Track

Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt (Weren't No Kin)
Otis Jackson
Recorded in 1949
 
Since a new president took office this week, here's a musical tribute to a previous American leader. The sound is so full and complete, it's easy to miss that it's purely vocal, with no instrumental accompaniment.
 

I first heard this tune on a wonderful LP called "Get Right With God," which was issued in Europe in the early 1980s.
Listeners with more than a passing interest in rock and roll understand that the music has deep roots in Black church music. You don't have to be a religious believer to dig the performances collected on this album. All you need is ears.

 
 
NOTE: Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US. On some phones you must select "View Web Version" to see the video content.