Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jah, Humbug!

Here's a twist on a familiar scene from a seasonal favorite:
Charles Dickens' best-known work has been updated, recast, and restaged countless times, and we're happy to add our version to the canon, with Jacob Marley's distant great-great-nephew Bob filling in for him.

Here's the concept sketch I submitted to Dan Piraro:
Interestingly, my sketch shows an elevated view of the scene, which was partly inspired by Dan's style, while his finished art employs a straight-on eye-level camera angle, which is my usual default.

Please feel free to revisit the ghosts of cartoons past in this blog's Bizarro Index.

This is a good time to thank you once again for reading the comics and this blog, and for everyone's feedback, support, encouragement, and wisecracks.

Whatever holiday(s) you may celebrate, I hope they're all enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Archetype, there's a cliché in my trope."

Today's Bizarro comic tears down and rebuilds a time-honored cartoon motif.
Just about every cartoonist has done some variation of the "fly in my soup" setup. In fact, Dan and I just published one last week. Today's offering utilizes the comic panel form itself to comment on the idea of such a gag.

The final art is staged very much like the submission sketch, but Dan did a better job of maintaining consistency within the cartoon's logic by putting a suit and tie on the customer. In my version, the diner is naked, which is simply not credible.
This self-referential approach, which both questions and answers the very concept of the cartoon, may seem overly intellectual or esoteric. Therefore, as a palate cleanser (or palate soiler), we present the same drawing with different text for a no-nonsense lowbrow laugh. It's not publishable in a daily paper, but perhaps could have appeared in the old National Lampoon.
My next team-up with Mister Piraro will appear on Xmas Eve, and our many previous joint efforts are viewable in this blog's Bizarro index.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dealer Incentives

This Sunday's Bizarro comic is yet another clown-based joke.
Bizarro ringmaster Dan Piraro and I both love a good clown gag. I believe we share the same feeling about clowns: we're not afraid of them, we just don't like them.

The submission sketch was formatted for a regular daily panel. The final art follows the same general staging, but Dan gave it his full-on Sunday treatment, which is spectacular, as always.
As mentioned above, clowns appear in many of our gags. Here's a look at our other polka-dotted funnies.
Our growing pile of collaborations is archived in this blog's Bizarro Index.

Coming up on Wednesday: a meta-gag.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Mmm Mmm, Good

Today's Bizarro cartoon revisits a time-honored gag motif: a fly in someone's soup.
In this scenario, the fly is no accident, and in fact, its arrival is foretold by the customer's bib. The final art follows the submission sketch very closely, which is always satisfying for me as a gag writer.
I've utilized the old the fly-in-the-soup setup a few times in the past, as shown in these examples.
It was fun to find yet another new twist by adding a lobster bib to indicate what the character is about to eat. Though I've worn a few lobster bibs in my time, I do recognize that they're inherently a little silly.

Here's one more item playing with the idea of wearing a bib to advertise the content of a meal:
Check in on the 15th and 18th of December for more waggery, including yet another fly/soup variation. In the meantime, please enjoy our previous comical conspiracies.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Odd Man Out

Today's Bizarro comic features the unfortunate victim of electronic crime.
The final, published cartoon turned out to be quite a change from the submission sketch, although the character looks very similar.
Dan Piraro, Bizarro's head honcho, liked the concept of an identity being almost a physical object that could be returned as well as taken, but thought the gag needed some more work. He suggested that we show the same awkward character talking to someone (perhaps at a party) and have him say, "I had my identity stolen last month but, unfortunately, they returned it almost immediately."

That change sounded good to me, as interacting with another person would add to the guy's discomfort and reinforce the joke.

I drew this a couple of months ago, and looking at it now, it seems there's an tinge of sadness (maybe even unfairness) to this gag. I remember the idea coming up as a joke made in conversation. Some friends and I were speaking about someone with a cranky personality and no clue about keeping his personal information secure. We reasoned that if his identity had been stolen, the thieves would probably return it right away.

If the comic had included a continuing character with a well-established odious personality, the gag could have been built on the reader's knowledge of the character's history. Being a standalone gag, we had to show him as generally weird-looking. I'm wondering if I might eventually have found some other way to get the idea to work, without making the character the butt of the joke just because of his looks.

Comments are welcome. Is this gag simply funny, or is it also a little cruel?

Of course, there's no excuse for any adult to wear that shirt.

December will be a banner month for my collaborations with Dan. We've got at least four more lined up before the year ends. The next one will be up on Monday, and explores a favorite setup for gag cartoonists.

All of our previous joint efforts are viewable in this blog's Bizarro archive.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Long, Strange Strip

Though never a fan of the Grateful Dead, I always enjoyed interpreting song lyrics in comic form, so I happily accepted an invitation to contribute to Kitchen Sink's Grateful Dead Comix in 1991. 

I'd done comix adaptations of song lyrics in the past, many of which appeared in my friend Mary Fleener's minicomix series Chicken Slacks. I illustrated songs by Louis Jordan, Ben Vaughn, The Residents, Half Japanese, the Velvet Underground, and Beaver & the Trappers. 

To prepare for the Grateful Dead project, I picked up a book of GD lyrics to look for something that suggested a narrative, and finally settled on "Tennessee Jed," with words by Robert Hunter.

My original art was black & white, which the publisher photographed and converted to a two-layer "blue line" for coloring. Back then, the line art was shot onto a clear acetate overlay, and the artist applied color to a second layer of Bristol board, was printed with the art in pale blue. I added color to the foreground characters by painting on the reverse side of the acetate with animation cel paints, then used the Bristol board layer to create the textured backgrounds, applying a combination of ink, paint, colored pencil and collage, including several wallpaper samples. It drove the printers crazy, but it worked out all right.

I recently ran across scans of the eight-page story on a Tumblr feed called The Bristol Board. It was rather flattering to see this tagged a "forgotten masterpiece."

The comics were also collected in a book. The paperback version is readily available today. There was also a snazzy hardcover version, in an edition of 500 copies, which included a plate signed by Jerry Garcia. 

Each contributor received a copy of the hardback, which was a nice little bonus. I sold my copy long ago (for much more than my page rate!). I still have all of the original art, if some fanatical Deadhead is interested in buying it as a lot. For each page there's a tight sketch on tracing paper, the black & white inked art, and the two-layer colored finals. All serious offers will be considered!

Oh, and I still can't stand their music.

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!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spare Parts

Today's monstrous Bizarro comic is the result of a happy accident.
Bizarro CEO Dan Piraro created the art for this panel, but had to scrap it, because he'd somehow repeated a gag from earlier in the year. If you're keeping track of 365 cartoons every year, sooner or later one will be forgotten—or repeated.

The thought of this creation going unseen bothered me, so I got to work trying to come up with a new punchline so it could still be published. I wrote two versions, the one shown above, and one with the monster replying, "It's taken me forever to assemble my collection. I could never break it up." Dan opted for the briefer version, which is usually the way to go.

The process behind this particular comic illustrates a point that any cartoonist can verify for you: Occasionally, a gag will come to mind fully-formed, or nearly so, but, for the most part, writing comics is work, plain and simple. It requires skills which can be cultivated, such as developing an awareness of potential raw material, but the notion that creating cartoons (or any other art for that matter) is the result of some "gift" bestowed on a lucky few is off the mark. In some measure, that idea is a bit insulting to someone who works at any craft. 

Artists create good works because they do it over and over, always striving to improve, and trying to figure out what to keep and what to edit out.

I hadn't intended for this blog post to become a sermon on creativity! I just wanted to show that there are many paths from idea to finished product, and this one was a little different from my usual explanation.

Since this gag was only written by yours truly, there's no submission sketch to show. So, for your enjoyment, here's a snap of Dan Piraro celebrating the publication of today's comic.
Working with Mister Piraro is a wildly enjoyable part of my weekly routine, and I'm happy to share all of our earlier collaborations in this blog's archive. There's another dandy one coming your way in less than a week.

Happy Devil's Night. I found my favorite costume in the attic, and can't wait to break it out for Halloween.
Yes, that's me as a young'un, masquerading as a cephalopod

Monday, October 21, 2013

Music in Miniature

Here's a Bizarro cartoon that's simple and to the point.
The final art by Dan Piraro closely follows my sketch, although my version shows an electric guitar, which is just absurd, since there's no amplifier visible.
This gag was inspired by a young friend of mine named Otis, who helped me come up with a comic idea a couple of years ago.

One day this summer, I ran into Otis and his family in our neighborhood, where a terrific local band was playing. I mentioned to them that my recently-formed musical ensemble would be performing in September, and Otis's dad, Scott, asked about my involvement. I replied that I was the vocalist, adding, "I play a little harmonica." Otis fell to the sidewalk laughing, picturing a tiny instrument.

I do in fact own a Hohner "Little Lady" harmonica, but as you might imagine, it can be a choking hazard.
For live appearances, I play normal Hohner Marine Band harps, which cannot to my knowledge be accidentally swallowed.

Please feel free to enjoy our previous comic collaborations in the Bizarro archive.

Watch for a monstrous new gag coming up on Devils' Night (October 30).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Smell You Later

Today's Bizarro comic features a police officer working with a nosewitness.
Dogs and cats are excellent subjects for comic gags. We all tend to anthropomorphize our furry companions, so it's not a great leap for a reader to see them in familiar human situations, while exhibiting their canine (or feline) nature.

Dan Piraro's published comic is quite different from my submission sketch. The composition is improved, and so is the text.
"Turn around and bend over" is much funnier than "face the other way!" Try working both phrases into your conversation today, and see if I'm right.

As many readers my know, every Bizarro comic is composed twice for publication. Most papers carry the standard panel version, but some publish it in strip format. This involves shuffling things around, and often, Dan draws additional elements to fill the space. This one works particularly well in the widescreen format.
You've got to love the look of defiance on that chihuahua.

This weekend will be bookended by collaborative Bizarro comics, with a new one popping up on Monday, inspired by a young friend who's inadvertently helped me in the past.

As always, you're welcome to trudge through our previous comical conspiracies. There are now well over a hundred.
Dan Piraro blogs about Bizarro every day. His post on this comic is quite amusing and also includes an older canine cartoon from his archives.