Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Hilarity of Images

Happy Boxing Day, Jazz Pickles! On this beloved holiday, we're pleased to reveal Bizarro's newest Secret Symbol, The Pipe of Ambiguity.

The Pipe of Ambiguity, Established 2021, ©Bizarro Studios

Dan Piraro began sprinkling odd little symbols into Bizarro comics in the mid-1990s. I believe the latest addition was O2 (Olive Oyl) in 2017. The first one may have been the Inverted Bird, but details are murky.

On January 1, 2021, The Pipe of Ambiguity will join the roster of Secret Symbols. Dan and I agreed that it would be a fun way to continue to leave my mark on Bizarro as I begin my fourth year (!) of doing the daily comics. Since we're both fans of surrealist art, René Magritte's famous pipe seemed to be a good fit.

I've been quietly dropping the pipe into the comic for a while, but haven't counted it in the secret symbol tally. It made its first unofficial appearance in the May 5, 2018 strip, but not the panel version.
It's on the medical chart on the far left side of the comic.

The pipe's roots go back to this 2010 panel, which directly references Magritte.
We also hinted at its arrival in the above comic from November of this year. Dan has also drawn the pipe in a few recent Sunday pages.
While we were planning the introduction of the new symbol, I discovered a long-forgotten pre-Bizarro artifact in my studio.
Many years ago, I had a non-comics office job, and trudged through every workday bored, bitter, and angry. At one point, I spent an entire week in a windowless conference room with a dozen other unfortunate souls, receiving some sort of training that never stuck in my head. On the second or third day of this ordeal, I discovered a roll of masking tape on the table, and absentmindedly began tearing off small pieces and sticking them together. When quitting time finally arrived, I noticed that I'd fashioned the bits of tape into a pipe-like shape. This "automatic sculpture" was completed without any conscious effort or design on my part. Apparently, my brain was already marinating in Magritte's influence. It finally found an outlet on the funny pages.

Here's a preview of the description that will be added to the Secret Symbols page on

The Pipe of Ambiguity honors surrealist artist René Magritte (1898-1967), a figure of inspiration at Bizarro Studios. His 1929 painting, The Treachery of Images, embodies Bizarro's comic aesthetic. It shows a pipe floating above the words Ceci n'est pas une pipe, French for This is not a pipe.


Magritte was fascinated by the interplay of words and images, and in 1913 he published an illustrated essay exploring these relationships. The article included a drawing of a person speaking via word balloon, revealing him to be a surrealist who also used the language of the cartoonist.


The pipe reminds us to question our assumed perceptions of reality, and to remain open to higher meanings, or  "the bigger picture."


Certification Note: Appearances of the pipe prior to January 1, 2021 were unofficial, and were not counted in Bizarro Secret Symbol tallies.


Jazz Pickle Awareness Activity


Make a drawing of the pipe on an index card. Fold the card in half, with the drawing on the inside, and carry it with you in a wallet or pocket. To end any conversation not sufficiently surreal to hold your attention, produce the card, show it to the other person and exclaim, "This is a portrait of René Magritte." 


But don't take up smoking.


We received many correct guesses, as well as some wonderfully creative suggestions as to what the symbol should be. The names of everyone who submitted ideas will be placed in a bowler hat, and eight names will be drawn to receive prizes. Winners will be contacted in the new year to arrange for delivery of their prizes.

With that hoopla out of the way, let's take a look at our most recent cartoons, which is after all the main purpose of this weekly post.


We managed to hold off until December 21 before doing a Santa Claus gag. This one reveals that Saint Nick coined the phrase "carbon footprint."

Modern technology can make love triangles more likely, not to mention more complicated. 

Fortunately, the Elf on the Shelf didn't exist when I was a kid, or I'd be more paranoid than I already am. I imagine that kids hate this grinning stool pigeon, and plot its untimely end as December approaches.

It's disappointing when a friend has a public meltdown.
Poor Rudolph, indeed.

I sometimes accidentally transpose characters when writing or typing words or numbers. This quirk occasionally produces an idea for a comic, but more often just creates confusion.
That's all for this week, folks. Remember, on New Year's Day you can start looking for the Pipe of Ambiguity among the Secret Symbols. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog for more backstage comics banter, and to see what he's hidden in his latest Bizarro Sunday page.
Bonus Track
The Alexa/Siri comic reminded me of the song "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind," released in 1965 by the Lovin' Spoonful. While searching for a video to share, I found this delightful contemporary version by The Mona Lisa Twins, featuring the song's composer, John Sebastian.
There's something magical about siblings singing harmony, and the Twins provide a sweet complement to Sebastian's weathered and mature vocal.

Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US, and on some mobile devices, it may be necessary to select "View Web Version" in order to view the video.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

On the Level

Production at Bizarro Studios North was interrupted this week, when a nor'easter blew through Hollywood Gardens, PA. Our part of the country was spared the worst of it, and we only had to deal with  nine or ten inches of snow. These arms were made for cartooning, but this week, they were a-shoveling. We hope everyone else who was affected by the weather is again warm and dry.

Surprise Package

As we may have mentioned once or twice, we're going to celebrate the New Year with a new Secret Symbol. We're inviting readers to offer guesses and suggestions. We're inviting you to post and image on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BizarroSymbol2021. You can also leave your ideas as a comment on this post. Eight readers will be randomly selected to receive a special Bizarro prize.

Next weekend, we'll reveal the new symbol, so everyone can watch for it on New Year's Day. We'll contact the prizewinners in January, and send out the prizes later in the month.

Now, let's endure a visit with the Ghosts of Comics Past.

The drawing and dialog for Monday's panel were reverse-engineered to set up the punny caption. We're always up for another clown gag, so working it out was an enjoyable exercise. We offer our gratitude (and apologies) to songwriters Hank Crosby, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.

Honest communication is important in a relationship, but occasional misunderstandings are inevitable.

Many couples know this feeling, but it's worse for pandas.
I believe that the single equation shown doesn't provide enough information to determine unique values for x and K, unless some sort of magic is involved.

We strive to deliver a joke using as few words as possible, so we were rather pleased with ourselves for coming up with a gag using a single word.

Drawing this was a surprisingly disorienting experience. It never looked completely right to me, but I couldn’t figure out why... until Friday, after it was published, and a regular reader pointed out that the ground line should be parallel to the bottom of the frame. This bothered me all day, so I made a new version for my own files, and for readers of this blog.

I felt a little better, and was able to sleep Friday night.

Throughout this year, how many of us have scrambled to relocate a litter box so it doesn't show up on a video chat?

Thanks for joining us again, and don't forget to send your guesses, suggestions, or crackpot theories for the new secret symbol. Be sure to visit Dan Piraro's blog for more color and commentary, and to check out his latest Sunday page.

See you next week. Right now, I'm off to begin preparations for Monday's low-key Winter Solstice celebration with my immediate household.

Bonus Track

Here's a seasonal offering from my musical pals (Tom Roberts, piano & whistling; Dave Klug, drums & percussion) and me. We had to cancel our annual holiday show this year, but we're looking forward to keeping the tradition going in 2021.

"Christmas Island"
The Red Beans & Rice Combo
Performed at WQED-FM, December 2018

Many of you are probably familiar with Leon Redbone's 1987 recording of this tune. Our piano man, Tom, was Leon's pianist and musical director for six years, beginning in the late 1980s.

When Leon passed in 2019, Tom shared some memories of his mentor and friend. We all think of Redbone every time we perform this song.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Alas, Poor Campy

Happy Saturday, dear readers. The madness that is 2020 continues to escalate, and we're in the weirdest December holiday season most of us have ever experienced. Even Santa Claus has outsourced toy distribution to an unproven startup group.

Speaking of deliveries, let's see what the Bizarro Studios Comics Department shipped this week.

We kicked off on Monday with a gooey tragedy.

"Fluffs" is, as far as we know, a nonexistent brand of marshmallows. Campfire Marshmallows, a real company, was established around 1919. The image above is a 1980s version of their disturbing mascot, "Campy." Campy's feet are burning logs, and his body is made of fire. His body burns his head as he smilingly accepts his fate.

The current version of Campy is even worse. He's poorly designed, with an insipid, generic "cartoon" face. One suspects some Campfire executive's kid is responsible for this amateurish illustration. Worst of all, he's roasting the head of one of his own kind.

Oddly, they're all wagering with paper money. Neanderthals abide. 

That creepy tattoo was the last straw for Catwoman.
The strip layout of this gag gave readers a peek at the rarely seen Batmower.

There's something about an orange jumpsuit on the red carpet.
This hipster enterprise is my favorite gag of the week, although it was nearly the most embarrassing. I submitted it with a spelling error. Fortunately, our hardworking editors at King Features caught the mistake, and I corrected it before it was released into the wild.
If you're ever unsure about the word "artisanal," and without access to a spellchecker, I offer a handy mnemonic: Always remember to spell it as art is anal.
The panel art was too vertical to work well in the strip format, and required some creative rearrangement. Since the license plate was no longer visible in this configuration, we replaced it with the Lost Loafer, in order to maintain the Secret Symbol count.

Until this year, Good Humor trucks signaled their arrival with a music-box style recording of the ancient song "Turkey in the Straw." They wisely decided to drop that tune due to the many racist lyrics attached to it over the centuries. 
Good Humor trucks now announce themselves with a new jingle composed and recorded by musical innovator The RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan. RZA donated his music, royalty-free, forever, to Good Humor, and to any ice cream vendor who wishes to use it. We tip our hats to Good Humor and The RZA.

Saturday's panel salutes the adaptability of domestic animals. In my home, one of our cats has learned to step on the alarm clock and turn on the radio to remind us when it's breakfast time.

Remember, our new Secret Symbol makes its official debut on New Year's Day, and will be announced after Christmas.

While you're online, I recommend visiting Dan Piraro's blog to see what he has to say about this batch of gags, and to read his latest Sunday Bizarro page.

From the Vault

Comics writer Richard Gagnon recently interviewed me about Alphabet Soup Kitchen, a collaborative minicomic I did with fellow self-publisher Edward Bolman many years ago. It's featured on his informative blog, Who's Out There? 

Alphabet Soup Kitchen, 1987
Scan courtesy Bizarro Studios North Archives

Bonus Track

Tom Waits: Ice Cream Man
from Closing Time (Asylum Records, 1973)
Cover photography & design by Cal Schenkel

Note: Some YouTube videos are unavailable outside the US.

On some mobile devices, it may be necessary to select "View Web Version" in order to view the video.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Surprise Package

Another week in Our Pandemic Year is behind us, and that means we've got six new cartoons to revisit. 

Also, we're cooking up a little treat to celebrate the end of this annus horribilis, which I'll discuss a little later.

But first I'd like to show off my favorite low-tech office equipment.

The round brass doodad on the right is a Möbius + Ruppert pencil sharpener, along with a box of replacement blades and a recently-retired pencil. I've ditched two or three electric sharpeners over the years because they fractured the cores of my colored pencils, which are a key part of my cartooning process. This spectacularly simple tool produces a perfect point, and allows the pencil to be sharpened down to its last usable millimeter of pigment.

Sorry for the rhapsodizing. I do love this sharpener.

Now, let's review the drawings we published this past week.

In my mind's ear, the headmaster's voice sounds like John Cleese or Michael Palin.

Grant Wood's American Gothic has been parodied countless times since he painted in in 1930, so it was satisfying to come up with (what we believe to be) a fresh take on the subject. He was forty years ahead of the fashion industry.

Wednesday's panel salutes the ancient Roman Everyplebe with a quiet gag. I was happy with the character's contented facial expression, which a regular reader described as "pleasantly buzzed."

Thursday's premise is a tiny exaggeration of the technological impossibilities regularly seen in crime dramas. This trope reached a peak in the 1982 film Blade Runner, which was set in the then-future year of 2019.

In the extended director's cut of this gag, the forensics tech soaked the printed photo in tea, crumbled it slightly, and frayed the edges to simulate thirty years of aging.

I've mentioned before that I often use television nature documentaries viewed at low volume to quiet my brain and prevent insomnia. A few months back, I drifted off to David Attenborough's film, Hummingbirds: Jewelled Messengers, and the next day, wrote a hummingbird gag.

I do a lot of cartoons about clowns, but I don't think clown videos would work as sleep aids.  

In an example of coincidental timing, this comic ran less than a week after Dan Piraro blogged about an aspect of his investment planning. I wouldn't recommend putting your savings into plush toys, but I hope the idea at least paid a dividend of humor.

Thanks for checking in, and don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog to see what mischief he's been up to, and check out his latest glorious Bizarro Sunday page.

Now, about that treat for the new year.

To mark the close of the 21st Century's crappiest year, Bizarro Studios will introduce a new Secret Symbol on January 1, 2021.

We'll reveal exactly what it is a few days before its official debut. In the meantime, we'd love to see your guesses, suggestions, or completely wrong crackpot theories in the form of images posted to Instagram or Twitter, using the hashtag #BizarroSymbol2021.

Who knows, there may be a prize or two awarded.

Bonus Track

Cheryl's Going Home
John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
BBC Television, 1977

While working this week, I listened to a podcast called, Cor Baby, That's Really Me! - Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure, based on John Otway's autobiography, and read by the author.

Otway is a classic British eccentric, or what his fellow citizens would call a "nutter." He was convinced from a young age that he was destined to be a star, despite having no known talent, at least in the conventional sense. He's always had an abundance of optimism, dogged persistence, and a willingness to create his own opportunities. Plus, he's a hilarious storyteller.

This video is from 43 years ago this month, December 1977. Otway appeared on the BBC program, The Old Grey Whistle Test, with his on-again off-again (ad infinitum) partner, Wild Willy Barrett. Near the end of the song, Otway jumped onto Barrett's amp, which was atop a PA monitor, knocking over the equipment, and injuring his most delicate bodily parts. He continued anyway, in true show biz fashion, although he momentarily forgot the lyrics, only to have them shouted in his ear by Willy.


Many Otway & Barrett records hold a place of honor in the vinyl archives here at Bizarro Studios North. Last year, the duo recorded a new version of their first LP, live and direct to disc - the audio signal went straight from their mics to the needle cutting the master. 

They performed each side in a single continuous take, pausing for a few seconds between songs to allow for gaps between tracks on the vinyl pressing.

Otway & Barrett double LP reissue
Photo courtesy Bizarro Studios North

Saturday, November 28, 2020

50,000 Calories Can't Be Wrong

Bizarro Studios is closed for the long holiday weekend, so we'll keep this week's post brief.

Reference Photo of the Week

Cards on the Drawing Table

As we do every Saturday, we are pleased to offer a recap of our latest cartoon laffs.

A friend noted that this gag ran on the birthday of Boris Karloff. This was an unplanned but welcome coincidence.

I offer apologies to the continent of Australia for the use of a stereotype of their citizenry. As a youth, I was indoctrinated by Monty Python.

Isn't Bonsai & Barrel a mall store?

Thursday's panel offered a nod to a peculiar American tradition: the fad diet.

Our hero actually decided to take the pill making himself smaller before tackling this treat, for a more fulfilling experience.

This one was inspired by a friend's speculation about the origins of BMX after attending a rally. I enjoyed drawing the penny-farthing bicycle, and channeling the influences of both Edward Gorey and Chuck Jones.

We found the strip version of this gag to be a pleasing visual composition.

Thanks, as always, for checking out the blog. We'll return next week with a wordier offering. Meanwhile, please drop by Dan Piraro's blog, for his insights and a brand new Sunday Bizarro page.

Bonus Track

An Elvis-inspired performance by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Happy Surrealism Day

Today, November 21, is the 122nd birthday of the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, celebrated in some circles as National Surrealism Day. Bizarro CEO Dan Piraro sent me a reminder of the rule of the day: If you see something strange, say something strange.

Earlier this week, we brought a bag of donuts to the lunchroom to celebrate a milestone at Bizarro Studios North.

This is a peek at the thousandth cartoon to roll off our production line. We're pleased to say that we accomplished this without a single lost time accident, and no employee grievances filed.

I find it hard to believe that I'm about to finish my third year of creating the Bizarro dailies. It continues to be the best job I've ever had, and I'm going to keep at it as long as I can grip an inking brush.

For trivia fans, the finished version of this gag will run on March 10, 2021. Who knows what the state of the world will be by then? Let's hope for the best.

And, yes, I number every original and stamp it with the date it was completed. The left side of my brain won't be denied.

Meanwhile, here's a look at our most recent published work.

We started the week with an incendiary performance by a revolutionary dancer.

He may take frequent breaks to surreptitiously eat flies, but he's still more credible than Giuliani.

We brought a bit of art history to the funny pages on Wednesday, with a nod to the aforementioned René Magritte. The gag references his famous 1929 painting, The Treachery of Images, popularly known as This is Not a Pipe. The dialog is of course a direct adaptation of the painting's text, and a pipe appears on the teacher's desk. Or does it?

The Inverted Bird, one of Bizarro's secret symbols, parodies another Magritte work, The Son of Man.

Paul, Raymond, and René Magritte, 1905 

I based the drawing of the future artist on a photo of him with his brothers. I mixed features and clothing from all three of them, and it ended up looking more like Paul than René. Paul was known as the relatively cute Magritte Brother.

Like most of us, Old Man 2020 has had enough. Some readers didn't recognize the character as the outgoing year without showing him wearing the traditional sash. I may have missed an opportunity by not drawing a singed, threadbare 2020 ribbon as a hatband. However, with the universally-acknowledged suckiness of this year, the vast majority of people did get it.

Hey, it could be worse.

Another art history gag, featuring Auguste Rodin doing some unintended editing.

Photo research confirms that Rodin was an artist who actually wore a beret. I couldn't find any information regarding his height, but I believe he was taller than I've drawn him.

Thanks for reading the comics for yet another week. Your comments and social media posts are appreciated. If you'd like to read more about how the cartoon sausage is made, pop on over to Dan Piraro's blog, where you can also admire his newest panoramic Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

This is Not a Disco Song
Snakefinger, 1986

Note: Some YouTube videos are not available outside the USA.
If you're reading the blog on your phone, you may have to select 
"view web version" to see the video link. Damn technology!