Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Art History in the Funnies

Today's surreal Bizarro comic is yet another joint effort by Dan Piraro and yours truly.
Magritte has been the subject of quite a few New Yorker cartoons, but I believe he's a rarity in the daily comics. Had this run in the New Yorker, the explanatory label "surrealist" would probably have been unnecessary. The tattoo is a reference to Magritte's painting The Treachery of Images, and the apple is from his famous 1964 work The Son of Man, a favorite of the New Yorker cartoonists.  

Here's my original sketch:
A few days later, Dan sent me this brilliantly revised version:
Perfect! Mister P found a way to incorporate the apple in front of the guy's face, and retain the "Muscle Beach" feel of the gag. This added layer enriches the joke (which, sadly, is probably lost on most readers of the funny pages).

Check out our previous collaborations here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Split Decision

The Federales rejected our original design for East End Brewing Company's Coffee Porter. They decoded our "eye opener" rebus, and decided that it could be construed as a health claim.

They agreed to approve the design if we separated the images and released the beer using two different labels:

Now, East End completists will have to buy two bottles, and display them side-by-side. 

Buying more than one bottle of any of East End's brews is always a good idea.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Careful, man, there's a beverage here!

I've had a couple of fun local gigs this month involving some of my favorite liquid refreshments.

First up is a t-shirt design for Espresso a Mano, an artisanal coffee shop where I have been known to have a cup or three. Keeping things very local, the screen printing was done by our good buddy Michael "Zombo" Devine, a true Renaissance Man.

Here's the molto semplice design, followed by a nice stack of shirts, ready for purchase:

EaM's proprietor, Matt Gebis, is practically giving these away for $14 a pop.


I'm also working (once again) with my good neighbor, the incredibly busy brewmaster Scott Smith of East End Brewing. One of Scott's newest brews manages to combine beer and coffee. It's not unlike those carrot-parsley-celery combos that provide the benefits of multiple nutritional drinks in one satisfying concoction. The new Coffee Porter uses coffee from Indiana Pennsylvania's Commonplace Coffeehouse & Roastery.

We haven't received final approval from the Feds yet, but the latest changes they asked for were very minor, so we feel safe giving a preview:

The name Scott originally submitted didn't meet with the government's approval -- they feared it might be interpreted as a health claim -- but it's very cleverly shown in the rebus illustration on the label. Sneaky, aren't we?

East End will soon have new improved growler suits available, to keep your jug o' suds at drinking temperature. The new version of this insulated valise, which we're still fussing over, will feature a lush velour-like (or at least velour-looking) interior.

Bringing things full circle, I've learned that Commonplace is one of Espresso a Mano's suppliers, so it turns out that this entire post is about drinking, drawing, and designing in Western PA.


UPDATE 11/19/10
Well, the bureaucrat took a second look at the Coffee Porter label and bounced it. The official word is:
"Upon second review, the symbols state "EYE OPENER". This implies a physical effect that the copffee (caffeine) will have on the consumer."
Interestingly, it took a second review to decode the illustrations! They were apparently so excited, they added a "p" to the word "coffee."

Back to the (digital) drawing board. 

Maybe we can make a t-shirt with just the symbols on it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blah, Blah, Blog

Today's Bizarro is the latest in what's becoming a satisfyingly large pile of collaborations between Dan Piraro and yours truly. As with the last one, I'll start with my initial sketch, followed by a trail of email messages wherein we deconstructed and rebuilt the gag, hammering it into something usable.

The idea for this joke came from an email from my friend and neighbor Gwyn Cready, an award-winning writer of romance novels involving time travel and numerous steamy interludes. She recently announced a "blaunch" party for the publication of her latest book.

I immediately latched onto the term "blaunch" and recognized its meaning to be "web launch," in the same way that the word "blog" is a blending of the words "web" and "log."

Following that template, I came up with this rough, attempting to point out the  artificiality of much online existence:
I quite liked the rhythm of this, with the familiar example (blog) followed by two similarly-constructed coinages. The surprise of these odd-sounding words coupled with the recognition of their derivation was the intended source of the laugh, in addition to the commentary on the unreality of the web-based interactions (although that's an easy target.)

Initially, Dan rejected the gag, but I persisted in trying to make something of it. Our email dialog, additional revisions, and the final version follow:
Piraro: This one is kind of fun but I don't think I'll use it. It would work better if "blog" was actually a word without the b, like the other two words are. Know what I mean?
Wayno: Ah, but it is a word on its own! Blog is a shortened form of Web log. That's why I used "L" words in the rest of the text (web-love, web-life). I try to fact-check all of my gags! Of course, it's your call.
P: You're right about the blog thing, but it doesn't have the right ring to it somehow. I don't know, it's a judgment call.
W: Yeah, I agree. "Blog" has become a word unto itself, and its origin is already so obscure as to be pretty much irrelevant. Too bad!
Then, a day later, I submitted a revised version, with the email subject line: Take 2, or Beating a Dead Emoticon
W: I'm taking a shot at salvaging the cartoon with the dude at the computer declaring his love. The point of my obscure wordplay in the original version was to emphasize the unreality of the situation ("web-love of my web-life"). This version piles on the cyber/virtual/simulated synonyms.

It's not clear in the rough, but there's an avatar for the guy in the corner of the screen that's meant to be a suave tuxedo-clad smoothie, and the girl on the screen is meant to look artificial, with a bit of scenery behind her in that awkward, forced "Farmville" perspective.

It's probably too much to cram into a tiny space, and maybe not all that effective, but I'm giving it that old college try! My never-say-die approach worked with the Atheist Anagram Society!
If you decide to pass on it, then I'll just consider it to have been a good mental workout.

P: I like this angle, too, but I'm wondering if it could be simpler. I don't know anything about "Farmville" except that it is a virtual world of some kind and lots of people are doing it. Could it be that a guy in a bar is saying to a hot babe, "Thanks for the invitation, but I'm dating someone in Farmville"?  Seems a simpler, funny way to poke fun at virtual lives. Let me know if you think this works or if you can think of a similar way to do this joke.

W: Oh yeah! I like it. A guy at a bar talking to a hot babe makes it even clearer that he's passing up the real for the virtual. And you're right, a simpler approach has more impact. 

Since we're fussing over this endlessly, I suggest editing one two-letter word, changing "in" to "on." So it will now read: "Thanks for the offer, but I'm dating someone on Farmville."

I think "on Farmville" emphasizes that it's virtual, whereas "in Farmville" sounds like it could possibly be a real place. 
This has to be the longest route ever taken to get to a punchline, but I really enjoy the back-and-forth. Plus, recounting all of the iterations will make for an interesting blog post!
P: Okay, it's a go. But the last question I have is, are there people on Farmville? I'm assuming so, but I don't want a bunch of emails correcting my logic.
W: Ha! Good question. Yes, there are people. And they look ridiculous!

Finally, here's the published cartoon, beautifully executed by Mister Piraro:

Another tortuous journey from concept to execution, with you readers dragged along for the ride. I'm very pleased with the published piece, which is effective and stripped down to the essentials. As I study Dan's work, I'm often impressed by the deadpan, matter-of-fact expressions and body language of the comic's cast. An outrageous statement can become a lot funnier when the character delivering it is completely blasé.

As always, our earlier joint efforts can be found by searching for the Bizarro label

Watch this space for more.

PS: I apologize for the inconsistent paragraph spacing in this post. Blogger can be uncooperative, and the more you try to make adjustments to compensate for its idiosyncratic behavior, the worse it becomes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Idiocy, Explained

Today's Bizarro is the latest collaboration between Dan Piraro and yours truly. I usually post Dan's published cartoon followed by my sketch, but I'm switching it around this time to show how the gag evolved.

While working with the radio on, I heard cliche "blithering idiot" used in an interview (probably an in-depth political story). It occurred to me that the word "blithering" has a rather funny sound to it, but that it's rarely seen on its own, and is always associated with the word "idiot." 

I came up with this sketch, separating the conjoined terms:
Not bad for a tarted-up pencil sketch, and worth a giggle, although it's a little on the broad side.

After I sent it to Mister P, the following dialog took place over the course of a week. It provides a peek at our joint process of developing and refining a joke -- if it's possible to use the word "refining" in this context.
Wayno: Did you make a decision on the blithering idiot gag yet?

Piraro: I think I'll make something of the idiot cartoon, yes. I just had a thought that I wish I could use but I can't: I'd love to draw it as an audition, with the idiot standing in front of a panel of three judges, drooling, pants around his ankles. One judge says, "Your fucking is good but your blithering needs work." A boxed caption at bottom is "American Idiot Auditions." Hahahaha! Oh well.
W: I like your take on it! That would have been a great one! I also considered showing the goofy character talking with a career counselor, who says something like "I think you have the makings of a successful idiot, but you need to work on your blithering."
P: Your career counselor version works well, too. I'm really wanting to put another reference in there along with blithering, though. Is there another adjective that goes with idiot besides "fucking" and "blithering"? I can't think of one. If it were a British comic I could use "bloody" but I think in this case it would seem weird and gruesome. Does "Your drooling is good but you need to work on your blithering" work? Let me know if you come up with anything.
W: How about we move away from the adjective form, since I can't think of another adjective to place before the word "idiot" that would work. Maybe "Your wardrobe is just about perfect, but you need to work on your blithering." 
It's possible that we're starting to over-think it! The directness of the original sketch could be the way to go. This is great... a deep, scholarly discussion of the fine points of a cartoon about an idiot! Ha!
P: Probably over-thinking it, you're right. Perhaps we are the idiots. Come to think of it, I have been blithering a bit lately. I'll sit on it for a week and see what I think then. A fresh look often changes everything.

One week later...

W: I think I have the idiot thing pretty close: The caption says "Idiot Career Counseling." The idiot is sitting in front of a serious-looking guy's desk. The guy behind the desk is looking at his resume and says "Overall, this looks good. How much blithering experience do you have?"

P: Love the idiot gag, you nailed it.
W: This has been a lot of fun. A real collaboration!
About a week later, I got a peek at today's masterpiece. Among other improvements, Dan toned down the wackiness of the character, providing more of a surprise when the reader gets to the caption. A sillier looking character would probably have been a distraction. 

In Dan's version,  the reader's eye starts at the word balloon, then drops down to the caption, and finally gets a little reward as it trails upward to see the slack-jawed applicant. A brilliant execution, as always.


And that, boys and girls, is how cartoon sausage is made.

Our previous joint efforts are viewable by searching for the Bizarro label, and there are more to come.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Little Toast

Today's Bizarro comic is another food-related joke written by yours truly, and drawn by Dan Piraro, the Most Meticulous Brush in the West:

There's nothing deep or intellectual this time around; I have no axe to grind or indignation to vent, just a bit of silliness to share. A package of Melba toast spotted in the grocery store led me to an image of workers on an assembly line placing tiny slices of bread into itty-bitty toasters, which I found to be absurdly amusing.

Here's the original submission:

I love the background details that Dan added, particularly the chute delivering bread to the guy loading the toasters. In my sketch, the conveyor belt travels right-to-left, which Dan reversed. I think left-to-right works better for readers in the Western world.

I must say, however, that I think the smaller props make this gag funnier, so I'll award myself a few points for the scale of the bread and toasters in my rough. Otherwise, Dan's finished work is--as usual--a marked improvement over the concept piece.

Click here to view our previous collaborations. Once we complete a few more, I think a gallery show is in order!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Step Right Up!

Here's my latest gag for Dan Piraro's comic, Bizarro

I'd been kicking this idea around for months, revising the names of the three freaks, and writing the descriptions over and over. Finally, I sat down to sketch out several submissions for Dan, and ended up with this:

The word "freakshow" works much better than "sideshow." I wasn't sure whether "freakshow" would fly with the syndicate, so I was happy to see that change in Dan's final version.

There's no question in my mind that the phrase "high-fructose corn syrup" sounds a lot funner than "genetically modified fruit." Say each one out loud. I think you'll agree.

The talented Mister P also creates a special header panel for each of his Sunday strips, although some newspapers don't use them. Here's the header for this one:

Knowing about the headers, I submitted the idea (below), which Dan completely outdid with his wild barker. My sketch was intended to look like him.

As always, I'm thrilled to see one of my ideas brought to life by my friend Mister Piraro.

• • •

All of our previous collaborations are viewable by searching this blog for the Bizarro label.

Please consider joining my Facebook Artist's Page, and check out my prints of musical performers currently available from Portland's RockPop Gallery.

And, since you're already wasting time at work, I recommend reading Dan's blog, which gives insight into his creative process, documents comments from angry readers, and always has funny links sprinkled throughout. He also sells his original art at very reasonable prices. Dan's original black and white art is astoundingly beautiful.

• • •

September 17 update: Dan's comments on this same strip.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Peel Slowly and See

Once again, I have the privilege of seeing one of my gags drawn by Dan Piraro for his Reuben-winning daily comic, Bizarro. It's a spin on the long-standing comic cliche of a guy slipping on a banana peel.

I've read various accounts tracing this to the early days of music-hall comedy at the turn of the 20th century. One site I came across claims it's rooted in an actual urban hazard, and that rotting banana peels were all over city sidewalks before anti-littering laws became commonplace. Whatever its origins, it's become visual shorthand for a simple joke.

In a neat little Hitchcockian stroke, Dan depicted himself in the cartoonist's role. 

Here's the sketch I submitted to Mister P:

Dan chose a rather elegant way of using three people indicate a crowd, rather than drawing the dozen figures suggested by my sketch. Now that I look at it, I think I was drawing myself as the cartoonist in this version.

My original showed the victim as a high-hatted dandy, which I imagined as a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge, the Monopoly game's Rich Uncle Pennybags and The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley. This is the traditional motif, where a confident, pompous character gets his comeuppance by slipping on the peel, and is cut down to size in front of onlookers. Dan shows a working stiff in overalls (perhaps the driver of the nearby delivery van) as the unfortunate victim of the stray banana.

As usual, Dan's changes streamline and improve the cartoon. In my sketch, the stuffed-shirt in the top hat distracts the reader, taking attention away from the cartoonist muscling through the crowd. The crux of my gag is that the guy busting his way in isn't offering medical or legal help, but instead wants to document the other fellow's misfortune as a drawing. The cartoonist is the real butt of the joke.

Thank as always to the gracious Mister Piraro, for exposing his audience to another of my gags. All of our previous collaborations are viewable by searching this blog for the Bizarro label. There will be a few more in the coming weeks. Watch this space!

If you're a Facebook user, please consider joining my Artist's Page. Also, please check out my prints of musical performers, which are available from Portland's RockPop Gallery.

September 15 Update:

At the risk of creating an infinite loop, here's a link to Dan's blog, with his comments on this comic.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Buzz

Here's my latest gag for Dan Piraro's comic, Bizarro

It's an extra kick to see it as a Sunday page.

It seems that people have been doing this bee-beard thing since the early 1800s. It doesn't require any talent other than the ability to stand very still without passing out from fear. I figure that someone should have changed it up a bit after 200 years, and it leads to an absurd and amusing visual. That's really all there is to the joke.

My original was conceived as a magazine cartoon, in a squarish format, which Dan didn't change all that much, other than streamlining the punchline and adding some lovely background detail.

All of our previous collaborations are viewable by searching this blog for the Bizarro label.

If you're a Facebook user, please consider joining my Artist's Page, and also, please check out my prints of musical performers currently available from Portland's RockPop Gallery.

NEWS FLASH: Last night, Dan Piraro was named Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society, and received the prestigious Reuben Award.

Congratulations to the very talented Mister Piraro on this well-deserved honor!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quiet, Please!

Here's my latest gag for Dan Piraro's great daily comic panel Bizarro:

Without taking sides, it's a bit of commentary on the competing noise pollution we're often forced to endure. 

In the spirit of fairness, however, I do believe that infants should come equipped with an "airplane mode" setting, and that it should be enforced.

For comparison, here's the idea as submitted:

All of our previous collaborations are viewable by searching the blog for the Bizarro label.

By the way, Mister P has been nominated for 2010 Cartoonist of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society. The winner will be announced at the end of the month. Best of luck, Dan!

If you're a Facebook user, please consider joining my Artist's Page.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Room for Cream

At the risk of wearing out my welcome on the comics page, here's another of my Bizarro gags:

I'd forgotten about this one, and had to do some searching to find the original submission.

This joke was inspired by frustration, anger and caffeine withdrawal. A couple of months back, I attended a conference at a hotel/convention center. I intended to start my day with an espresso or three, and was astounded to note that every little diner, coffee shop and concession stand sported a sign saying that they "proudly" serve Starbucks coffee.

After covering several blocks, I finally found an independent shop without the ubiquitous green rubber-stamp logo. As I sipped my drink, I scrawled this nearly-illegible sketch and photographed it with my phone:

The t-shirt in the sketch says "I begrudgingly drink Starbucks coffee." "Reluctantly" works just fine, too.

A funny gag can overcome weak art, but I think I pushed the limits with this submission. As always, Dan Piraro's finished comic is a true work of art.

Stay tuned for a couple more in the near future...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Unsafe at any Speed

For the third time this week, here's a Bizarro cartoon written by yours truly:

There's not a lot to say about my submission. I wouldn't even call it a sketch. It's more like an item on a to-do list. I wasn't trying to compose a scene, but rather to jot down an idea so I would't forget it later, and dashing off the two figures was quicker than if I'd written a verbal description of the scene.

Dan's addition of the word "Dude" makes it funnier. I've used it to humorous effect myself in an earlier comic.

At the moment, there are a couple more Piraro/Wayno collaborations in the pipeline, so keep checking the funny pages.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Inside the Box

Two days in a row? I'm afraid so! Here's the latest Piraro/Wayno comic, appearing in papers around the world.

I know that some of my jokes can be a little obscure or require the reader to think, but sometimes you've got to run with an old-fashioned poo gag:

What with cable TV cannibalizing itself left and right (how many shows about over-bred families can there really be?), I imagined MTV's washed-up franchise being picked up by the pet network. Coming from Fluffy, the comment is no more convincing than when uttered by any number of rappers or starlets on the original series.

As usual, Dan Piraro turned what was practically a stick-figure drawing into comic gold.

The original sketch

Our previous collaborations can be viewed in my blog archive.

If you enjoy Bizarro, I recommend spending 99 cents on the official iPhone app.

I usually know in advance when my work will appear in Bizarro, but I was surprised yesterday and today. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. A trifecta?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Not Literally a Sandwich

Once again Dan Piraro has transformed a scribbled scraps of paper into a comic masterpiece.

Here's my original submission, complete with correction tape:

This version had the punchline delivered by Whopper Junior.

Mr. Piraro liked the wordplay, but said "I've never seen or heard of Whopper Jr. I'd like to use a more readily recognizable character, maybe Burger King, even though he's not literally a sandwich." The King works very well in the final art, particularly with that creepy leer frozen on his mug.

Dan made several other design choices that resulted in a superior composition. Having McCheese hold the photo in his left hand allowed for a clear view of his mayoral sash, and draping it from his right shoulder makes it easy to read.

We have several more collaborative comics coming up, and you can find my previous Bizarro contributions here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Yarp Fro Em!

Here's my latest collaboration with Dan Piraro.

It took a while to arrive at this gag, but I like it a lot—it's brainy and smart-alecky at the same time. It does require a bit of work on the reader's part, and I have a feeling most people will just be baffled and move on to "Classic Peanuts."

Here's what I submitted to Mister P. This barely qualifies as a sketch, but once again Dan worked his artistic magic to bring it to life.

Late last year, I submitted an earlier version of the joke:

Dan decided not to use this one, although he did tell me it made him laugh. Apparently, cartoons that mention dyslexia in any way get certain people riled up, and they start sending angry letters and emails.

After being rejected, I didn't want to give up on this one. The idea of an organized group based on non-belief is inherently funny, even if it is a simplification. I kept playing around with it and eventually came up with the anagram angle, so it all worked out (by which I mean I got another joke published).

I think the original idea is still pretty funny, but in comparison it seems rather lazy and obvious
not much more than a pun or a t-shirt line. The final version is richer and more surprising, with a layer of humor that wasn't there in the dyslexia gag.

If you missed our earlier collaborations, you can find them all on Dan's blog.

Stay tuned for more in the near future, including a good old non-intellectual poop joke!

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Keeping it Cool

Just in time for picnic season, my pal Scott Smith at East End Brewing Company will offer insulated "Growler Suits" at the warehouse. They should be available around late May.

Designing this item was an unusual and challenging project for me, and it was fun to venture beyond my usual cartoon/illustration cocoon.

Scott gave me digital versions of existing art from labels and tap handles (including the excellent Fat Gary design, by Mario Zucca), and we jointly came up with the idea of using them as travel stickers on a piece of luggage. Fortunately, he had a wonderfully beat-up old tweed suitcase on hand, which I scanned in pieces and digitally reassembled to use as the background.

These shots of a prototype came courtesy of They're busy right now at their facility in Hawaii, preparing a shipment for thirsty Pittsburgh beer lovers.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bizarro meets Wayno in the Jungle

Today's Bizarro comic features another gag written by yours truly. This is the sixth one so far, and we have at least four more in the pipeline.

Here's the sketch as I submitted it to Dan Piraro. The original is very small, about 2 inches square, with the caption pasted on top of the art. Dan's final version is nearly identical to my sketch, which is flattering because he usually makes changes that greatly improve the composition and get the gag across much more effectively.

Some of the ideas I submit are not much more than scribbles. As subsequent comics appear, I'll post the published versions alongside my sketches to show how Mister P turns barely coherent doodles into cartoon gold.

Speaking of Bizarro, I highly recommend the Bizarro iPhone app.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Get 'em while they're hot!

The limited edition Hell with the Lid Off posters mentioned in my previous post are now available.

They're 11"x 17" full color offset prints, in a
signed and numbered edition of 30, and are priced to sell at $20 each (plus postage/packing).

Order yours from my new Big Cartel shop.

By the way, if you're in Pittsburgh on February 20th or 21st, do not miss the actual event. It's sure to sell out, and it'd be a shame to miss the sampling of magnificent barleywines, plus Kelly's legendary mac & cheese (and other tasty accompaniments).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hell With the Lid Off!

The good folks at Kelly's Bar & Lounge here in Pittsburgh have commissioned me to create an image to advertise their sixth annual barleywine festival. A black & white version will begin appearing on lampposts and in local dives in the near future, and will, I hope, be promptly stolen by connoisseurs of lowbrow ephemera.

Kelly's will also have a two-color tee shirt available during the festival.

On top of all that, I'm producing a signed & numbered limited-edition 11" x 17" full-color offset poster, which will be available soon. Details to follow. In the meantime, here's a preview:

It turned out looking like a vintage firecracker label, which was sort of a happy accident.

I attended last year's HWTLO and it certainly lived up to the name. With Kelly's justly-famous bar food, multiple flights of craft-brewed barleywine (including the luscious and heady Gratitude from East End Brewing), and a capacity crowd of revelers, this is an event not to be missed.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s

This February, Fantagraphics Books will release a compilation of 1980s minicomic art in their anthology Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s, edited by Michael Dowers. The hardcover volume contains nearly 900 pages of self-published work from dozens of artists who formed a loose underground network in the pre-Internet days. Planning for Newave! began well over a year ago.

These little eight-page Xeroxed books were sold and traded through the mail and were rarely published in editions of more than a hundred or so copies.

Two of my efforts, Festive Desperation and Mondo Howie #5, are included in their entirety. I may have one or two additional pages somewhere in this monster.

There's also an exhibit of original art from many of the book's artists to open at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Seattle around the book's publication date.

I'll have two pieces in exhibit, previewed below.

We’re Number 1
approx. 4.28” x 5.6”
Ink on Paper, 1987
Originally published in Festive Desperation

Slobbering Monster Howie
approx. 5.68” x 7.38”
Ink on Paper, 1989
by “William Bunch” (pseud.)
Originally published in Mondo Howie #5