Saturday, April 24, 2021

Innocent Until Proven Goofy

Hello again from scenic Hollywood Gardens, PA. Before we jump into our review of the latest Bizarro dailies, here's this week's Pipe Pic, featuring comic genius Harvey Kurtzman.

Among Kurtzman's many achievements, he was the founding editor, and the main writer for the first 28 issues of MAD. He's responsible for inspiring generations of wisenheimer cartoonists. This image was his author photo from the seventh issue of Kurtzman's post-MAD publication, Help!

After posting last week's blog entry, I doodled the final page in my most recent sketchbook. I then started a new one with my usual ritual: numbering the pages with a rubber stamp, putting a "please return" notice on the first sheet, and attaching a pocket of pens and pencils to the front cover. I've filled an average of one sketchbook per year over the past three decades.

These books will never be exhibited as works of art, or reprinted for collectors to study. They're just part of my daily work routine, serving as repositories for words, phrases and images that might lead to finished cartoons. I carry one with me just about everywhere, to capture any potential gag ideas. My colleague Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange) refers to these potential comic concepts as "kernels," an apt descriptor.

Most of their pages would be meaningless to anyone else, but these volumes provide a comforting sense that I've documented a few unformed ideas, and will have a starting point when it's time to write a new batch of gags. They're this cartoonist's security blankets.

With that digression out of the way, let's review this week's comics.


At this point, she's just flapping it in.

A reflection on perspective, acceptance, and letting go.


I wonder if this may have been a childhood nickname. 
The gang's other members are Dopey and Daffy, animated mugs who were also saddled with unfortunate names. A friend commented that I made the perp look "simultaneously clueless and sinister." That may be, but I simply tried to draw the character as accurately as I could. Now those two qualities are all I can think of when looking at him.

Veterinary psychologists have found that this situation is a common feline dream. Unlike humans who have nightmares about being in social situations without their pants, cats experience no anxiety or embarrassment upon awakening.

I recently read an article about the artist Ai Weiwei, discussing the joy he gets from being around his cats. He observed:
I’ve learned so much from animals. It’s important to be around another species that has a completely different set of instincts and intuitions. Humans are so rational. We are defined by our knowledge, and that blocks our emotions and understanding of ourselves. But anyone who opens their mind or heart to cats can experience something that can’t be found in human society. They teach you that you can have a happy life without knowing anything at all. They take care of themselves, and they make their own fun. To be an individual, to be self-content — those are nice qualities for a life.

We can all learn from our feline companions.

The monster's not a bad sort, he's just frustrated about the way his warmest sweaters end up all stretched out.

That covers it for another Bizarro week, folks. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's weekly blog for his thoughts on these gags and other, more weighty matters. While you're there, you can also admire his latest Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track (with Commentary)

I've shared musical selections by the Bonzo Dog Band several times in the past. They were a significant influence on my misfit teenage psyche, and I still listen to their records today.
Courtesy of the Bizarro Studios North vinyl archives
I recently rediscovered a folder of music columns I wrote in the late twentieth century. Unsurprisingly, one was an appreciation of a Bonzos record. My words follow the video link below.

Passport to Absurdity:

The Bonzo Dog Band’s The Intro and the Outro


"Hi there, nice to be with you, happy you could stick around, like to introduce Legs Larry Smith, drums." 


So begins "The Intro and the Outro," to my mind the quintessential Bonzo Dog Band recording. After naming the seven Bonzos over a vamp that bears a passing resemblance to Duke Ellington’s "C-Jam Blues", Viv Stanshall introduces "Big John Wayne, xylophone" and the proceedings veer into hilariously ludicrous territory.


The British blues-rock craze is deftly emasculated with the line "Over there, Eric Clapton, ukulele" followed by a bar of anemic plinking; a daring move given the era’s worship of guitar-gods, but the bit that still cracks me up is "And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes... Nice!"


"Intro," from the Bonzos’ debut album, Gorilla, is sort of an audio analogue to the cover photo of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (coincidentally released the same year, 1967), with the "actual" band members surrounded by contemporary and historical figures of varying degrees of fame. In contrast to the wax museum feel of the Pepper photo, "Intro" is hyperkinetic. I first heard it in the mid-70s, on the double LP, History of the Bonzos, and was so knocked out that I played it several times in succession before listening to the rest of the album. 


"Intro" is a powerful and beautiful work, made by enthusiastic young maniacs fresh out of art school, that still sounds original and continues to reveal new joys decades after its creation.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Drinking Dogs & Digital Dough

Welcome to the latest cartoon recap from Bizarro Studios North. As usual, we have a fresh batch of gags, puns, and social observation to review with you, but only after we share another found image celebrating the Pipe of Ambiguity, Bizarro's newest Secret Symbol.

This week's blurry pipe pic is a frame from a 1971 TV ad with animation designed by cartoonist Gahan Wilson (1930-2019). Wilson was an early influence, and is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists. I own several well-worn books collecting his work, which I've had since my teens.

As a young nerd, I subscribed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the first thing I did when it arrived was to find that issue's Gahan Wilson cartoon. 

Occasionally, he even provided a cover illustration. 

This is my favorite Gahan Wilson cartoon. The pulpy image was photographed from my copy of the 1975 Tempo Books paperback, The Weird World of Gahan Wilson.

It’s a perfect Wilson gag: elegant, simple, deadpan, weird, and hilarious.

Gahan Wilson's work is among many inspirations sloshing around in our skulls, and we're grateful for his consistently excellent output over the decades. 

Here are our latest stabs at prompting chuckles from readers.

This gag may have been born of nostalgia for dining at a restaurant, which we hope to experience again before the year is out. 

By the way, in the newspaper comic universe, the musical choice of angsty teens is naturally The Smythes.

In a move to serve the mythical aquatic creature demographic, Apple introduces their new SeaPhone.

Anyone who works behind a bar is automatically eligible for sainthood.

If my count is correct, this is the 25th clown gag to appear since I took over the Bizarro dailies in 2018, with four more in the queue as of this posting. I suppose the gag-writing section of my brain is a sort of clown car, with eternal room for just one more.

As usual, our favorite gag of the week appears on Friday. We love crytpocountry music, but we wish it consumed less energy.

In response to a few persnickety commenters, I'll mention that the vocal mic shown above is the latest Bluetooth version, so no cables are needed.

This monastic order recently accepted a new member, known as Brother Loophole.

As mentioned in some previous posts, we conceive and draw each panel in the vertical panel (portrait) layout, and then use that art to build the horizontal strip for papers that require that format. This usually requires that some elements are added or removed. Occasionally the process results in a superior version with a  different feel, as this one did.

The reader's eye roughly traces a "Z" on a vertical panel, similar to reading text on the page of a book, but follows an upper left to lower right diagonal path when reading a strip.

In our panel layout, the reader picks up the text message, followed by the smiling monk, finally landing on the bearded monk who's also reading the text we've already seen.

When reading the strip, the viewer again encounters the text message first, then sees the bearded monk's phone and his backward-glancing eyes, leading us to Brother Loophole. This sequence delays the payoff for an extra beat or two, which makes a slightly more effective composition.

Building the strips each week is always a bit of a puzzle. This part of the process is sometimes a frustrating exercise in problem-solving, but it  forces me to look at a gag's physical construction from more than one perspective.

That's the week in review, wrapping up with a dose of over-analysis. Thanks for coming back week after week. Don't forget to pop by Dan Piraro's blog to see what he has to say about this batch, and to read his latest magnificent Sunday Bizarro page.

See you next week, Jazz Pickles.

Bonus Track

The Monks: "Oh, How to Do Now"
from Beat Club (German TV, 1966)

Formed in 1964 by a group of American GIs stationed in Germany, the Monks were primitive, experimental forebears of punk and noise rock. They never took a vow of silence.

Note: Some YouTube videos are not available outside the US. On some phones, you must select "View Web Version" on the blog in order to see the video preview and link.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Harmonies and Humor

With spring in the air, we're scheduling time each day to get away from the drawing table, breathe outdoor oxygen, and absorb some vitamin D. We're hoping to spend today outdoors tending to yard maintenance, so our post will be a little briefer than usual.

This week's pipe pic, modeled by Tennesee Ernie Ford (1919-1991), comes from our vinyl archives. My copy of his terrific 1957 album, Ol' Rockin' Ern is in an unusual format: It's spread over three 45 rpm EPs. Each disc has the same cover photo, offering triple the viewing pleasure.

Today, Ford is mainly remembered for his 1955 recording of the Merle Travis song "Sixteen Tons," but prior to that unexpected hit, he became a household name after a few TV appearances as "Cousin Ernie" on I Love Lucy.

It's tough to compete with Ernie's friendly smile and immaculate pencil mustache, but we're here to show you the week's comics, so let's give it a go.

We hope we're able to come up with more hyena gags in the future, because hyenas are fun to draw.

Tuesday's panel was unexpectedly challenging. I wanted to draw the witness and artist realistically, in contrast to the goofy caricature. I intended to portray human features a caricature artist could latch onto, without making him look like a cartoon to begin with.

Wednesday's panel required photo research, and I believe the statue as depicted is relatively true to scale.

The neighbors complained about his baying at the full moon, but now he's fully house trained.
Your Bizarro trivia: The logo on the box of "Howl" biscuits is based on the original 1956 edition of Allen Ginsberg's poetry collection, as published by City Lights Books.
Alas, reality is seldom as stately as fiction, and these tools are colorful but ineffective.
Perhaps it's time workshop some fresh material.
Thanks for dropping by for our weekly review, and please keep those comments and pipe pics coming in. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's weekly blog, where he shares whatever is on his always-inquisitive mind, along with commentary on the week's gags and a brand new Sunday Bizarro page.
Bonus Track

Although it lasts for just 90 seconds, this video is a favorite here at Bizarro Studios North. Tennesee Ernie harmonizes with the Everly Brothers, and the three of them simultaneously play one guitar.

I've been a fan of the Everly Brothers for many years, and was lucky enough to see them perform live on their 1985 reunion tour.

Their sense of style was as big an influence as their music, and when my own band plays live, I often wear a "continental crossover" tie in honor of Don and Phil.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Mail Order Mischief and a Momentous Milestone

Happy Saturday, Jazz Pickles. We're back to share the latest six-pack of gags, along with another amusing pipe-related image.

First, however, I'd like to mention that it's a special day for Your Obedient Cartoonist.

Twelve years ago today, my first published collaboration with Dan Piraro appeared. After nine years of writing gags, including three years as Bizarro's colorist, and a couple of week-long runs as guest cartoonist, I started doing the daily gags myself. After more than three years on the job, I'm learning a little more about the craft of cartooning every day, and loving the best gig I've ever had.

My sincere thanks go out to every reader, and eternal gratitude to my comrade Dan for leaving the side door unlocked and allowing me to show my work in the gallery he established in the late twentieth century. I hope to keep doing it for a long time to come.

We now return to our regular programming.

This week's pipe pic comes from a well-used book on my reference shelf: a reprint of the 1929 Johnson Smith novelties catalog, which seems appropriate as we just celebrated April Fools' Day.

This essential hardcover (in a slipcase, no less) was published in 1970. I most likely bought it from the remainder table in a mall bookstore, when such places existed. It includes a wonderful introduction by humorist, writer, storyteller, and radio and TV personality Jean Shepherd (1921-1999). Shepherd's voice, if not his name, is familiar to most of America thanks to endless airings of A Christmas Story, the film based on his writings. Shep, as he was known to fans, narrated the film, and made a brief on-camera appearance.

Before we go searching for our whoopee cushion and cigarette loads (a teenage favorite of a certain mononymous cartoonist), let's review the week in Bizarro.
What do scientists know, anyway? The vacuum of space is a hoax intended to control your behavior. Some readers interpreted this cartoon as a form of political commentary, but I prefer to see it as an exploration of the baffling human practice of willfully ignorant, even prideful self-destruction.
Tuesday's panel explains the real reason side-by-side washers and dryers are usually configured with their doors handles facing each other. They're less intimidating when they look a little goofy.
If you fall out of the boat, you'll be late for the torment and damnation. 
By the way, the gondolier of Hades is wearing wail-cancelling headphones.
On prior April Fools' Days, we've been known to place an intentionally incorrect Secret Symbol count in the signature. Last year, I even used a different number in each configuration of the comic. This time, however, I made a fool of myself by undercounting the number of symbols in this panel. There are actually seven, not six as indicated. 
If this gag didn't stimulate your funny bone, you can still laugh at the boneheaded cartoonist.
After a year of lockdown, many of us can relate to having a conversation with a plant.

While researching Saturday's gag, I learned that these ubiquitous annoyances are called "air dancers" or "tube men."

That's the recap for this week. Don't forget to pop by Dan Piraro's blog to see what he has to say about this batch of drollery. While you're there, take a peek at his latest magnificent Bizarro Sunday page, and feel free to shop for some groovy Bizarro swag.

Bonus Track

Charles Mingus: The Clown
Atlantic Records, 1957

Note: Some YouTube videos are not available outside the US. On some phones, you must select "View Web Version" on the blog in order to see the video preview and link.

Our previous bonus track (and pipe pic) featured Charles Mingus. I hadn't planned to share another of his  recordings this week, but when I was writing this post, I was reminded of the unusual collaboration between Mingus and the aforementioned Jean Shepherd, which shows a darker side of Shep.

Mingus described the genesis of this piece in an interview:

I felt happy one day. I was playing a little tune on the piano that sounded happy. Then I hit a dissonance that sounded sad, and I realized that the song had to have two parts. The story, as I told it first to Jean Shepherd, is about a clown who tried to please people—like most jazz musicians do—but whom nobody liked until he was dead.

And people think we're harsh toward clowns in Bizarro.

The Pipes Are Calling

If you run across any amusing images featuring pipes, be sure to alert us. We're on the lookout for pipe pics to share on the blog. Thanks!