Saturday, December 25, 2021

Holiday Droppings

It's Christmas Day, and to those of you who celebrate it, I wish you a happy one. We've sandwiched several holiday comics into this week's batch, because the season is so rich in mythology, and we're hoping some of these gags might generate greeting card revenue.

Since today is a holiday for so many, I'll do my best to keep things moving along quickly.

We open this post with a traditional pipe pic, as drawn by Thomas Nast (1840-1902).

The German-born artist is sometimes referred to as "The Father of the American Cartoon," and was famous for his biting editorial work criticizing New York Senator William "Boss" Tweed. Nast was largely responsible for creating the popular American vision of Santa Claus, whom he usually depicted with a pipe.

Perhaps one day, Bizarro's own Pipe of Ambiguity will achieve iconic status. Until then, we'll keep placing it in our comic panels. There's probably one somewhere in this most recent bunch.

A friend told me that Monday's panel was "batshit crazy," and I can't argue with that description.

For the Winter Solstice (a popular holiday at my house), we shared a bit of meteorological verse, referencing the popular and widely parodied poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas."

I did a gag based on the familiar verse a few years ago in my old feature, WaynoVision.
By the way, our official policy is that any recitation of this poem using an exaggerated regional dialect and local idioms should be banned as a form of torture.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a certain self-dealing senator followed Santa's example and gave our planet a lifesaving gift?

Everybody in the world assumes they should receive gifts on this poor guy's birthday.
As someone who writes a medium-to-long blog post, as well as an email newsletter, every single week to talk about what he's done over the past seven days, I have to acknowledge the irony in my making fun of those annual holiday letters.

I haven't checked into a hotel in a couple of years, but I think I remember what a registration desk looks like.
Saying that something is "on the fritz" is an American idiom meaning that the thing referenced is broken or not working properly. It's origins are murky, but it may have been imitative of the sparking sound of a broken electric appliance.

That's our Xmas Week selection, dear readers. I'll be back with a new post on January 1, as we jump into another Bizarro year. New Year's Day will be the start of my fifth year as your daily cartoonist, which for me is a pretty swell holiday gift. I hope you continue to enjoy our words and pictures. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog. He's always got interesting things to say about our comics and other topics, along with a gorgeous Bizarro Sunday page. This week, Dan said some very nice things about our ongoing partnership, and even made me blush a little. I would add that he's a dream to work with, too.

Best wishes for whatever holidays you observe.

Bonus Track

The Kinks: "Father Christmas"
Arista Records single, 1977

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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Left-Handed Compliment

'Tis the week before Christmas, and we've been busy making cartoons for next March, while dealing with a small deluge of those unexpected obstacles and difficulties that periodically enter everyone's lives. We're all okay here, but this post might end up briefer than usual. Of course, I'm just getting started, so who knows?

This week's pipe pic is a dramatic portrait of the great Art Carney.

Carney (1918-2003) was a brilliant comedic actor, probably best known for his long-running portrayal of sewer worker Ed Norton on various incarnations of Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners TV series. 
A favorite moment in one Honeymooners episode had Norton mentioning that it was payday, and some of the workers were gambling with dice, followed by the immortal line "You might call it a floating crap game." 
Historical Note: "Floating crap game" was a slang expression of the era describing illegal gambling that moved from place to place in order to avoid discovery by the authorities.
Carney also made several records singing in character as Ed Norton. They're all enjoyable and recommended to connoisseurs of unusual music.

Now, let's take a look at what floated out of our studio over the past six days.

We eased into the week with an avian pun.
This scenario is cruel, even for The Reaper. It's a reference to the familiar quote, "[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." It's usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who did indeed use it in a letter in 1789, though a version also appeared in literature as early as 1716.

Wednesday's panel illustrates an unintended consequence of the demise of print, although being smacked with an iPad is no picnic, either.
Before composing the full-scale musical, Andrew Lloyd Weber presented this bagatelle.
This is actually part of a larger cognitive study to determine why it takes three citizens of this city to identify its most prominent resident.

I was rather pleased to have written an autocorrect gag that wasn't already done by my colleague Mark Parisi, who frequently builds jokes around everyone's technological nemesis in his award-winning comic, Off the Mark.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North. For a lengthier (and probably more entertaining) recap of these panels, visit Dan Piraro's blog, where you can also see his latest Bizarro Sunday page. His panoramic art on Sundays is always stunning.

Front Runner

Although 2021 isn't quite over, we have a strong contender for the first annual Know-It-All of the Year award, based on an email responding to this cartoon from last Friday.

The note is reproduced in full below, with the writer's name and city removed. We assure you that this is authentic.

In your cartoon of Dec. 10, 2021, which appeared in [local paper], I'd like to point out that most all string instruments (violins, guitars, banjos, etc.) are played with the LEFT hand on what is called the fingerboard, (the long, slender piece of wood that the strings rest on) and the right hand does the strumming. Probably only a musician would notice that the parrot/eagle should have had the neck of the guitar pointed to the right side of the cartoon, so his LEFT wing would be pressing the fingerboard and the right wing would have done the strumming.

I've played in college and community orchestras since 1968. While I play oboe (not a string instrument), I did teach elementary strings and band over my 30-year career. Just wanted to let you know, if you venture into future musical cartoons.

We at Bizarro Studios stand up to acknowledge and salute the correspondent's snotty blend of indignation and condescension. We'd like to give special mention mention to their wholesale erasure of Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale, Elliot Easton, Tony Iommi, Slim Whitman, Albert King, Dave Wakeling, and all other southpaw guitarists and bass players.

Perhaps the writer taught music at a Catholic school, where left-handed students' sinister tendencies were beaten out of them with those long slender pieces of wood used to measure things.

Bonus Track

Dr. Isaiah Ross
"Feel So Good"

Dr. Ross (1925-1993) was an American blues musician and one-man band, who played harmonica, drums, and (left-handed) guitar, in addition to singing. His 1954 recording of "The Boogie Disease" on Sun Records includes the memorable lyric, "I may get better, but I'll never get well."

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but gratuities are welcomed.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Are We There Yet?

My week has been fairly productive, and I'm happy to be catching up on the few days I took off for Thanksgiving. We'll jump right into things with our pipe pic for this week. It's a dignified shot of the great Dizzy Gillespie.

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (1917 - 1993) needs no introduction, but that jacket he's wearing made me quote a Warren Zevon lyric: "I'd like to meet his tailor."

Let's see whether anyone as cool as Diz turns up in our latest batch of gags.

This one attempts to explain why pigeons are sometimes called "rats with wings."

Tuesday's panel features a frequent Bizarro protagonist in a favorite setting. The Monster is a rich comic character, and tattoo parlors offer plenty of space for multiple Secret Symbols.

As I've mentioned in the past, I have no tattoos, but that Sluggo design reminded me of a couple I might consider if I were to get one.

Our gag for Wordplay Wednesday includes a pun and alliteration.

My destination of choice would be Hoboken, since it actually exists.

On Thursday, we presented a scene from the gripping courtroom drama, Hood vs Wolf. 
Do music executives with gold records on their office walls still exist?

The week ended with our first Christmas cartoon for 2021. We held out as long as we could, but the season is upon us, and we conceded.

If I'd done the strip version in its normal horizontal configuration, it would've been a lot of blank space with a tiny drawing of the officer, so I opted for a vertical layout.

This is how it appeared in newspapers who carry Bizarro in its alternate format, but we've rotated the image for easier reading.

That's the weekly wrap-up from Bizarro Studios North. Thanks for visiting.

For additional commentary, plus a spectacular Sunday Bizarro page, pop on over to Dan Piraro's blog.

Bizarro in the Wild

Sharp-eyed reader Danielle A sent us this terrific photo taken in the United Nations Gift Shop in San Diego's Balboa Park.

Lovingly taped to a shelf of Russian matryoshka dolls are four Bizarro comics and, on the far left, an old WaynoVision comic. WaynoVision was my solo feature before I closed up shop to become Bizarro's daily cartoonist. That particular panel has been shared (and stolen) more than any of my other gags.

If you spot a Bizarro comic in the wild, please send a photo, along with location info. You be in on the ground floor of a new hobby.

Thanks again, Danielle!

Bonus Track

Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong
"Umbrella Man"
from The
Timex All Star Jazz Show
CBS TV, January 7, 1959

Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Gillespie and Armstrong carried on a public feud, going so far as to mock each other on record (Gillespie's "Pops' Confessin' and Armstrong's faux-bop "Whiffenpoof Song") and, more aggressively, in interviews.

Their relationship changed for the better in the late 1950s, after, they became neighbors in Queens, New York.

Ricky Riccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, describes this beautiful clip in his 2020 book, Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong:

Armstrong and Gillespie grew to be close friends and eventually buried the musical hatchet with their immortal televised duet on "Umbrella Man" in 1959, neither man giving an inch or changing anything about their individual, groundbreaking styles. But in the second half of the performance, both men also revel in their natural talents as singers, showmen, and comedians, inducing waves of laughter from the studio audience just seconds after dazzling them with their virtuosity.

Mr. Riccardi's deeply-researched book is highly recommended, and makes a strong case for reevaluating a period of Louis Armstrong's career that some critics dismissed. This reader certainly gained a greater appreciation of Armstrong's big band recordings. I'm especially grateful for being directed to this video, showing genuine affection and respect between these two giants.


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but gratuities are welcomed.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Young Man With a Corncob

This week, Santa made an early delivery to Hollywood Gardens, PA. On December first, I received an email from my brother containing this embarrassing but hilarious pipe pic of your cartoonist. It could easily be titled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Doofus.

Yes, that's me during my brief flirtation with pipe smoking, desperately trying to look cool and failing miserably. At the time, I was a terrible college student, with no interest in the engineering program where I was enrolled. Our urban campus, however, was ideally suited to the underachiever. The main floor of the student union was a huge lounge/cafeteria, with a lunch counter selling six-foot hoagies by the inch, and a couple dozen pinball machines. I spent far more time playing Spin Out than attending lectures.

It was the era before smoking restrictions, and people lit up just about everywhere. My fellow class-cutters and I rode public transportation to campus; our first stop each morning was a tobacco shop called The Briar Bowl, where we'd pool our funds for a pack of exotic imported smokes, and head to the student union for cigarettes, coffee, and multiple games of spades, before buckling down and hitting the pinball tables.

The area also had great little record shops (most of which sold underground comix), cheap restaurants and bars, and funky, overstuffed bookstores. My formal education never stood a chance.

Here's the uncropped print in all its adolescent glory.

Note that we extravagantly ordered the rounded corners. Unfortunately, our primitive camera couldn't capture fine details. I wish the image was clear enough to read those papers on the bulletin board. With the calendar alongside it, my teenage bedroom resembles a prison cell, which wouldn't be totally inappropriate. The following year, when our photographer began his college career, we commuted together by car, and soon learned the secret to maxing out parking meters by stuffing a penny and a pop tab into the coin slots.

I abandoned tobacco not long after this picture was taken, but I'm tickled that the photo has survived.

I like to think that my extracurricular studies prepared me for my eventual career in cartooning. Let's see how that worked out this week. 

Oh yes—I always forget to mention that clicking on any comic panel will link to a larger image.

The forecast for the next few days is occasional paisley with scattered gingham.

I pulled an Alfred Hitchcock move on Tuesday, and cast myself in the panel, along with my bandmates Dave and Tom. I took artistic license in portraying the upside down member of the group, who actually plays piano, not bass. I couldn't fit a piano into the panel, but to be fair, Tom provides the bass lines when we perform. In fact, we've given his left hand the nickname "Mo Bottom."

Speaking of a change in direction, I only had to make minor adjustments to the art to accommodate the strip layout. I think it works pretty well in both configurations.

Wednesday's panel is based on one of Aesop's more controversial fables, about an industrious ant turning away a hungry grasshopper in wintertime. Aesop cast the ant as a hero, but many interpret the grasshopper as a stand-in for artists and their contributions to society.

A friend of mine provided a succinct, perfect comment on this gag: "Everyone's a critic."

The AA battery pays tribute to Robert Crumb's Zap Comix, copying the title logo from Zap number 1. Now, that was an educational text.

I recently wrote several gags featuring "Subject P." Sometimes the writing process bestows extra gifts. We have three in the pipeline, scheduled over the next few months.
An enterprising businessperson finds alternate uses for tools of the trade.

My favorite element is this background figure. In yet another solipsistic indulgence, I drew a decade-old Bizarro comic on the front page, even though no one would know that unless I pointed it out. Oops.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North, and thankfully, we're nearing the close of this self-referential entry. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog, where you'll see a new Bizarro Sunday page, and find out what's occupying his active mind of late. 

I also recommend catching up on Dan's epic graphic novel in progress, Peyote Cowboy. It's a wild and surreal western, which will eventually be published as a physical book, but we can read along online, for free, as it develops.

Bonus Track

Cliff Edwards a/k/a Ukulele Ike
"I'm a Bad, Bad Man"
from Bandit Ranger (1942)

Cliff Edwards (1895-1971) was the voice actor for Pinocchio's insect messiah in the Disney film, and was a popular performer in his own right in the 1920s and 30s. I believe that's a tenor ukulele he's playing in this clip. He was a good musician, but an unconvincing cowboy outlaw.

We have one Ukulele Ike record in our archives. Its cover caricature is a mashup of Edwards himself and Jiminy Cricket.

Ukulele Ike Sings Again
Disneyland Records, 1956
Cover art by Francis Xavier Atencio

The blog and newsletter are always free,
but gratuities are welcomed.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Worm Jerky

Brace yourselves, folks. We've entered another fraught holiday season, with the probability of a new pandemic surge as we deal with fatigue over reasonable and necessary precautions, and pigheaded resistance to a safe and effective preventative. Not to mention further normalization of violence, as long as it's perpetrated by a select class of weaponry fetishists.

Despite my tendency to voice a lack of faith in humanity (see above), I do realize that I have plenty to be grateful for, and I try to keep those people and things in mind. Among these gifts is the ability to connect with people like you, who read and enjoy Bizarro—and even those who don't always enjoy it.

America's Thanksgiving holiday was based on the whitewashed reframing of a particularly horrific chapter in the country's history, but taking time to express gratitude for people and things in one's life is never a bad idea, and it predates the colonization of North America by centuries.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope yours was calm and uneventful, with no political arguments or food fights. I'm writing this post early in the week so I can take a few days off and return to my drawing board refreshed and energized.

As is our practice, we begin with a pipe pic. This one comes direct from my record shelves: Vivian Stanshall's 1978 LP, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

Stanshall (1943-1995) was a founding member of the Bonzo Dog Band, who are much beloved here at the studio, and he had a fascinating and varied career after the Bonzos disbanded in 1970. Among his many projects, he was the master of ceremonies on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells album, and he co-wrote songs with Steve Winwood into the 1980s. He was a longtime drinking buddy of Keith Moon, and the pair were responsible for legendary and outrageous pranks. Stanshall is often described as a classic English eccentric, but that seems inadequate for this singular character.

My most eccentric behavior is spending just about every day making comics and letting them out into the world. Let's review the latest batch to escape from my workshop.

Spyware was less discreet in its infancy, and body heat generated by nervous stoolies often melted the wax recordings.

Tuesday's comic can be read as a simple joke, or as an allegory.

The strip version illustrates the sidewalk's peril with a withered variant of Bizarro's flying saucer symbol.

Rodents are able to adapt and thrive in many environments. Firehouse mice are no exception.

Naturally, Bizarro offered a nontraditional Thanksgiving scene. I had fun drawing this one, especially the zom-bunny portrait in the hallway.

We all know how intelligent our pets are, yet we sound like imbeciles when we speak to them. If we weren't managing their food and hygiene, they probably wouldn't tolerate our babbling.

Over the years, I've based several gags on The Picture of Dorian Gray, but this one is my favorite because nothing in the text mentions Oscar Wilde or his novel. I give our readers credit for having a general cultural awareness enabling them to get this joke.

I searched for reference images in order to portray the Monopoly man (whose name is Uncle Pennybags) and Richie Rich (whose middle name is a dollar sign). Pennybags has a benign retro clip art vibe, but as I studied panels from Richie Rich comics, his appearance became increasingly disturbing. He's weirdly distorted, with a giant head and misaligned eyes. He has a diminutive torso perched atop outsize legs, and looks like a deep sea diver who surfaced too fast. Plus he always wears that humiliating outfit. He's nothing if not instantly recognizable.

That wraps it up for another week. Thank you for reading the comic and following these ramblings. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog for his latest Sunday page and to see what else he's been up to.

If you'd like to be notified when I update the blog, you're welcome to subscribe to my free newsletter. It lands in your inbox every week, and each edition includes an exclusive peek at a yet-to-be-published comic.

Bonus Track

Vivian Stanshall & bIG Grunt
"11 Mustachioed Daughters"
From BBC1's Marty Amok, broadcast in March, 1970

The hyperkinetic performer who solos on the custom built "theremin leg" is Bonzo Dog Band alumnus Roger Ruskin Spear. Spear frequently collaborated with Stanshall, and released some wonderful records under his own name.

Marty Amok was an Easter special starring comedian Marty Feldman, proving once again that British television was superior to anything we had in the states.

The blog & newsletter are always free,
but gratuities are welcomed.