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


  1. I saw Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for the first time in 1968 or 69 in Toronto. Mind blown.
    Saw them again, a year or two later, again in Toronto several and gave a gift, a pair of jewel-encrusted tweezers.
    It was a long way between Suzy Creamcheese and Movin' to Montana....