Saturday, February 26, 2022


Greetings from Bizarro Studios North, where we're trying to hold onto hope for sanity and humanity during a week of horrific world news, and the disappointing but unsurprising silence of spineless politicians still clinging to the malodorous shirttails of a disgraced former elected official.

We wish peace and safety for everyone around the world, and hope that our funny words and pictures provide occasional moments of relief.

To that end, we begin with this week's surreal pipe pic. It's a self-portrait by one of our favorite artists, René Magritte, titled La Lampe Pilosophique (The Philosopher's Lamp.)

Over the years, Magritte has been the subject of quite a few Bizarro comics, and his famous painting The Treachery of Images was the inspiration for our Secret Symbol, The Pipe of Ambiguity

We salute René Magritte, and his compatriots in the leftist, anti-war Surrealist art movement.

René made an appearance in Bizarro again this week, which you'll see as we review our latest comics.

Robin got off to an early start fighting crime on Monday.

Tuesday's comic was an unintentionally timely military gag.

After sketching the panel, I realized that I'd have to do some creative shuffling to get it to work in the horizontal strip layout, and I scribbled this rough guide for myself.

I ended up flipping the image to position the speech balloon and caption box on the same end of the panel.

Not to mention the calming scent of floor trout.  

Unlike Tuesday's ant comic, I was not planning for the strip when I drew this panel. In the strip layout, I usually position a word balloon beside the character who's speaking, since there's no headroom.

I redrew two of the pirates in an attempt to accommodate the balloon placement, but the scene didn't convey the feeling that they were whispering about their shipmate.

I went back to the original staging, and slipped the tail of the word balloon behind the leftmost character. I wasn't sure it would work, but I think it's clear. 

By the way, I'm sharing these mainly so I don't feel that my first attempt was a complete waste of time.

There's our old friend, Magritte, in a parody of his painting, The Son of Man. In the original, a man's face is hidden behind an apple, so the doctor's recommendation to get more fresh fruit makes sense.

This one went through a few iterations on its way to the funny pages.

My first completed drawing replaced the apple with a chocolate candy, which allowed me to use the funny-sounding word "bonbons." But, no matter how many times I revised it, the black & white drawing looked like a poop emoji (💩). Newspapers run comics so small, it would probably have looked more like actual poop. 

Next, I tried a peppermint swirl candy. That wasn't too bad, but I eventually realized that a green m&m was the answer. The shape and color echo the apple in the original painting, and the bold letter m could easily stand for Magritte.

While stewing over these revisions, I forgot to write the number of Secret Symbols next to the signature. For those who like to find thems, there are five in this one.

A bold choice of material.

That's the latest from our cartoon office. If you're in the mood for more commentary (on comics and other matters), pop on over to Dan Piraro's blog. You can also view his always-impressive Sunday Bizarro page. From there, you can bounce to his surreal serialized western epic, Peyote Cowboy.

See you next week, if maniacs don't blow up the world...

One More Pipe!

A few days ago, Facebook's "memories" feature reminded me about this comic from 2014, written by yours truly and drawn by Dan.

What is it with me and pipes? Perhaps I should schedule a session with the therapist from Wednesday's panel.

Bonus Track

Slim Gaillard: "Atomic Cocktail" (1945)

In the words of Charles Mingus, "Oh, lord, don't let them drop that atomic bomb on me." Or on anyone else, for that matter.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Old World Craftsmanship

Welcome to your weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, located just off the highway in scenic Hollywood Gardens, PA. The last few days have been busy and stressful (don't ask!), so instead of my usual rambling introduction, we'll jump right in with a pipe pic.

Photo: Ed Ford/AP

If one can believe the site where this fascinating photo was posted, the two gents pictured are George Braunsdorf (6 feet 4 inches) and Joe Damone (5 feet 1 inch) demonstrating the "Double Ender" pipe in New York, on June 2, 1949. 

According to the caption, "the pipe was designed as a means of conserving  tobacco by a couple of pipe smokers down on their luck, or, sharing a smoke at a ball game."

Thanks to eagle-eyed Bizarro reader and pipespotter Andréa D for the lead on this one.

In other news, I've been selected as the Winner for the 2022 Best of Pittsburgh Award in the category of Woodcuts For Use In Printing. This, despite the fact that I have never in my life made a woodcut for use in printing.

Every year I receive an email from these scammers, trying to sell plaques and "crystal" awards that I can use to impress whoever might be fooled by such ridiculous crap. They even wrote a nonspecific but hilarious press release for me.

While I ponder whether I should start doing Bizarro as a woodcut, let's review the latest comics in their current form.

If any streaming platform launches a series about a baby vampire Eros, please contact our attorneys.

We're almost certain that Tuesday's gag marks the first ever appearance of the word "trepanning" in a syndicated newspaper comic.

Earlier this month, King Features updated their Comics Kingdom site, and since then, it's been displaying the horizontal strip version of Bizarro. I conceive and draw the daily comics with the panel layout in mind, and consider the strip to be an alternate version. Comics Kingdom is supposed to default to the preferred panel form, and we hope to have things back to normal soon. This didn't happen to Dennis the Menace!

I had already planned to share the strip version on the blog, because it's a little different from the panel.

In this layout, we see some of the monster's other tools, along with his favorite coffee mug.

What else would you use to guard a field of candy corn?

In keeping with my tradition of second-guessing every comic, I now wish I'd deleted the word "somehow" in this panel. Otherwise, I'm happy with it. Imagine the existential horror of becoming a termite if you're made of wood.

As usual, I prefer the panel version over the strip. The portrait layout feels more claustrophobic, which is what I was going for with the drawing. The strip is too roomy.

Three hours barely scratches the surface.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North, folks. Don't forget to cruise over to Dan Piraro's blog for more pithy commentary from a cartoonist who's won actual awards.

One last tidbit: I recently recorded a short interview for Peter Anthony Holder's The Stuph File Program. I make my appearance at the 43 minute mark, right after "Brady Bunch" alum Christopher Knight.

Bonus Track

Josef K: "Sorry for Laughing"
Postcard Records, 1981

My favorite Scottish post-punk band.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Mixed Signals

Happy Saturday. We've added quite a few readers and subscribers recently, so I'll begin with an intro for those who have joined us recently.

The blog is a weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I've been writing and drawing the Monday-through-Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018.

Bizarro's creator, Dan Piraro, continues to produce the Sunday Bizarro, which is always a marvelous example of comic art. He's also working on an epic graphic novel, Peyote Cowboy, which is available free online at, and will eventually be published as a physical book, on real paper. 

I usually begin each post with an image involving a tobacco pipe, in honor of The Pipe of Ambiguity, one of Bizarro's many Secret Symbols. The Secret Symbols are little doodads that we sprinkle here and there in the comics just for fun.

Most of the pipe pics I find online are photos of men in standard authorial/academic poses, so I'm always on the lookout for something different, and this one is a doozy, with its French beatnik vibe.

Our model is American actress and model Vikki Dougan, photographed in Los Angeles in 1957. Ms. Dougan, who is still with us at age 93, only acted in in seven films and a handful of one-shot parts in TV series, but she was a regular in tabloids and gossip columns. She became famous for wearing low-cut backless dresses (earning the nickname, "The Back") and for dating a series of leading men, including Glenn Ford and Frank Sinatra. She supposedly rebuffed overtures from Marlon Brando, Elia Kazan, and Jerry Lewis.

In a New York Times article last year, she expressed frustration over the fact that her clothing overshadowed her acting career, and that she had written a memoir she hoped to publish soon.

Perhaps her memoir will explain how she could possibly have turned down a date with Jerry Lewis.

Unexpected Appearance

I was surprised when friend and fellow cartoonist Jim Horwitz dropped my name into his comic Watson this week.

I was doubly flattered as a daily Wordle player, although using my name as a first guess is a questionable choice on Watson's part.

Jim has a unique style, and I look forward to reading the comic every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Watson can be sweet and sentimental, or dark and strange, sometimes all at once; much like Jim himself. 

Watson is unlike any comic strip you've ever seen, and I recommend it highly.

Prior to 2018, Jim and I both wrote gags for Bizarro, and it was Dan who introduced us. Everything is connected, my friends.

Now, let's review the latest gags I've placed in the funny pages.

Monday's panel prompted finger-wagging responses from multiple correctionists, who complained that the cartoon was inaccurate because calico cats are always female (apparently including cats that wear human clothing and play guitar.)

In fact, calico cats are almost exclusively female, but male calicos can exist as a result of genetic irregularities, such as having a second X chromosome. Mutations aside, there's nothing in the drawing that specifically signals gender. Those expert opinions were built on faulty assumptions.

My main concern was whether to use the letter "L" once (as in "calico") or twice (as in "Metallica.) I decided to go with the shorter spelling.

I'd originally sketched this panel with the caption "Court Jouster" and the jouster illustration, but decided that it wasn't much of a gag. The addition of the lecturer provides some distance from the wordplay, which is now presented as serious history by a guy wearing giant shoes and a foam rubber nose.

When they lose a patient at Potatoville General Hospital, one assumes they change out the eyes. As we've stated many times in the past, always trust a medical professional who carries a pipe.

I tried to make the doctor look a little like my cartoonist hero, Virgil Partch.

It doesn't resemble the man so much as one of his self-portraits, but I'm happy with it.

In truth, he just enjoys the squeaky sound it makes.

Last year I did a Bizarro panel using a traffic light as a character, which I don't recall seeing in comics. I wondered if I could come up with another gag, and who a traffic light might hang out with. 
Whenever I cast inanimate objects in a comic, I prefer not to add physical human attributes such as faces, arms, or legs, but I liked the look of these human bodies with the road sign and signal as heads. I also thought that the SLOW sign's body language added a nice echo to the dialog.

Sometimes, you just have to pun, without shame or apologies.

That wraps up another week of words and pictures from your cartoonist. Be sure to visit Dan Piraro's blog for his weekly report, along with the aforementioned Sunday Bizarro page.

RIP Anne D. Bernstein

The comics and animation community is mourning the loss of Anne D. Bernstein. She was a wonderful cartoonist, writer, editor and friend. In the 1990s, as comics editor at Nickelodeon Magazine, Anne gave assignments to a scruffy assortment of oddball cartoonists, bringing our work to a huge and enthusiastic audience.
On regular trips to New York to visit clients and hustle illustration work, I particularly looked forward to spending time at the Nickelodeon offices. My springtime visits often coincided with Anne's birthday, and she always hosted friends for a cocktail at some hip bar I'd never have found on my own. 
L-R, Scott Stowell, Carmen Morais, Anne D. Bernstein, Irwin Chusid, Wayno
Pen Top Bar, New York, May 1999

I loved talking about comics and music with her, and always learned something while laughing.
Anne once mentioned something about the bar in the back of the Times Square Howard Johnson restaurant. I thought she was joking, so she insisted we go and have a drink. The bar looked like a DIY basement project someone’s father built using scraps of paneling. It was a delightfully surreal experience, and I can forever tell people that I once had a HoJo martini, thanks to Anne.
Anne's longtime friend Heidi MacDonald posted a beautiful tribute on the comics culture blog, The Beat
Anne was smart, funny, accomplished, generous, and a supporter of weirdo cartoonists. It's impossible to say enough about the encouragement she gave to all.

Thanks again, Anne. Rest peacefully.

Cartoonists, musicians, writers, and artists of every type receive help along their way from generous champions. New York Times opinion writer David Brooks published a timely column on this topic the other day. The entire essay is well worth reading, and a few quotes particularly struck me.
We create our culture collectively, as a community. A culture doesn’t exist in a single mind, but in a network of minds.
Artists are not the only creative ones here. The early champions, who play such a powerful role in sculpting the cultural landscape, are playing a profoundly creative role.
It's a thoughtful opinion piece, and a reminder that our own community of readers (Bizarro's Jazz Pickles), who support and share our work play an important part in our creative process, and so I thank each of you who are reading this rambling blog entry. 
See you next week.

Bonus Track

The Squares: "The Out Crowd"
Roulette Records 45, 1965
Since our pipe pic oozed bohemian cool, I chose a record that's the polar opposite. This ode to nerds was written by Arthur Resnick and Kenny Young, who also composed "Under the Boardwalk," the Drifters' 1964 hit.

I knew I wanted this record as soon as I saw the label. The vinyl was digitized from the copy in my personal collection, so you're hearing it the way I did, surface noise and all.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

The Voice of the Pork Chop

Last week, Pittsburgh's music community learned that Jerry Weber, the beloved owner of Jerry's Records, had died at age 73. Jerry was THE source for vintage vinyl records here for over forty years. 

Over the past week, tributes to, and memories of Jerry flooded local radio, TV, and social media, as well as emails, phone calls and conversations. Instead of a pipe pic, today I'm sharing a photo of my friend, Pittsburgh legend Jerry Weber in his element.

Photo: Philip G. Pavely, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2012

The word "generous" was almost universally used to describe Jerry. He wasn't in business to make a killing, but to rescue records and get them into the hands of fellow music lovers. Customers (myself included) have fond memories of spending hours shopping in the densely-packed maze of shelves, and approaching the counter with a stack of records to purchase. Jerry would flip through the pile, commenting favorably on some choices, and arrive at a total cost well under the already below-market prices.

If Jerry knew you were interested in a particular record, artist, or genre, he would hold items to offer to you. He regularly gave away miscellaneous things he found among record collections he'd purchased, like posters or photos. I can still hear his greeting whenever I entered the store, calling out, "Wayno-o-o-o! I have some oddball records you might like. Come back here and take a look."

Over the years, I did several designs for t-shirts and signage at Jerry's various locations, including the shirt he's wearing in the photo above. That design was originally created by his longtime employee Jay Malls, and in 2012, I adapted it for an event called Vinyl-Palooza. Here are my earliest t-shirt designs for Jerry's.

In 2013, Jerry and his son Willie came across a pristine copy of a rare 78 by Bogus Ben Covington, "I Heard the Voice of the Pork Chop." Only a few copies were known to exist in the 21st century, and Jerry got word of the discovery to underground cartoonist and fanatical record collector Robert Crumb, who had visited the store in 2004 when he was in town for a museum exhibit. Crumb offered to do a custom drawing of Jerry and Willie, giving the Webers full ownership and reproduction rights to use the art in any way they wanted, in exchange for the Covington record.

I scanned the art for Jerry, and was stunned by the beauty of the original drawing. A priceless record was exchanged for an equally priceless work of art.

Crumb even drew Jerry wearing the shirt Jay and I designed. The Crumb image was itself used on t-shirts and in advertising, as seen in the more recent photo below.

Jerry at Vinyl-Man's Clubhouse (photographer unknown)

Jerry sold his store to employee Chris Grauze in 2017, but his "retirement" was brief. A couple years later, he opened a smaller warehouse space in Pittsburgh's Swissvale neighborhood called Vinyl-Man's Clubhouse. The name was perfect. Jerry made every customer feel like a welcome member of his tribe. He helped generations of people build collections without going broke, and although he and his store were known worldwide, he was a true Pittsburgh treasure. We were fortunate to know this kind, friendly gent.

While drawing the following comics, I no doubt listened to several records that I bought from Jerry.

The only thing missing from Monday's cartoon was a frappuccino.

Pun Day arrived on Tuesday this week. This gag required some extra preparation for print. The main drawing was simple, but it took much longer to design the psychedelic background and to choose colors for it.

I tried to make that background work in the black & white panel, but it turned into a cluttered mess, so I deleted it for this one.
In order to show the complete figure in the strip version, I turned it into a vertical layout, with elaborate background in color strip only.

I rarely post all four variants of a daily comic, but these were different enough from each other to share for comparison.
I went more than a little meta with Wednesday's reversed vampire gag.

Another victim of parental and societal expectations.
Friday's comic pays tribute to the late conceptual artist Christo, and mocks the emerging trend of "immersive" art exhibits. Currently, people are going gaga over a multimedia van Gogh exhibit in several cities. In fact, there are two competing van Gogh "experiences" going on around the country. 
I haven't seen it, but I'm not convinced that animated projections and loud music constitute an appropriate appreciation of the artist's work. It feels like a dumbing down of history and culture.
Visitors to the Pittsburgh exhibition can even take selfies in front of a giant "Gogh Steelers" helmet. Everybody knows that Vincent loved American football.

Then, just the other day, I spotted this travesty:
I never had a chance to view any of Christo's large scale projects in person, but I saw his Wrapped Snoopy House when I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

More photos of the wrapped doghouse, and a Peanuts strip referencing Christo appeared in a post on Jean Schulz's blog after Christo's death in 2020.
Research for this panel also led me to a Christo self-portrait, which prompted me to alter my original sketch for the gag.  

The cloth ropes and eyeglasses definitely improved the drawing.

Christo's work wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but what art is? He was pretty much the classic definition of a conceptual artist, with the idea and planning playing the most significant roles in a project.

In my younger days, I was aware of Jenny Holzer's art, which involves words and ideas shown via large-scale installations, billboards, or projections on buildings or other surfaces, through reading about it and seeing photos in magazines. At the time, I thought it was mildly interesting.
When some friends and I saw a 1990 Holzer installation at the Guggenheim Museum, her art affected me deeply, and I understood that it had to be experienced in person, on a large scale, as the artist intended. It was designed as an immersive experience, with the viewer entering the art and being surrounded by it. 

My objection to the van Gogh and Kahlo blockbusters is that I feel they don't honor the artists' intent. There was no conception of "multimedia events" in their time. But what do I know, I just draw cartoons.
Gags set in tattoo parlors always provide opportunities for placing secret symbols.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North. Thanks for stopping by. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog for his thoughts on these comics, plus a fresh Bizarro Sunday page.

Bonus Track

Esquivel and his Orchestra
"Bye Bye Blues"
from Infinity in Sound, Volume 2
RCA Records, 1961

In the late 1980s, while crate-digging at Jerry's Records, this LP cover caught my eye.

I'd never heard of this Esquivel fellow before, but I dug his fashion sense. Besides, the price was right.

In the old days, Jerry would price records so that, with sales tax, they'd round up to the nearest dollar.

After playing this best-of collection over and over, I asked about other LPs, and, true to form, Jerry would set aside clean copies of every one he found. I eventually acquired all of the albums, and grabbed extra copies to share with friends. I was part of a tape-trading network back then, and made my own Esquivel compilation, which I swapped with other music fanatics.

Paste-up Cassette Cover, 1991 from my archives

When my friend Irwin Chusid, a music historian, DJ, producer, journalist, and preservationist, was working on the release of Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, the first Esquivel compilation for Bar/None Records, I was among several Esquivellians consulted to make suggestions for the track selection. I'd worked with Irwin in the past on several projects with freeform radio station WFMU.

Irwin put me in touch with Esquivel himself, and we corresponded for a few years. I spoke with him by phone once, and mailed him copies of his records that he no longer had. It was a thrill to speak with the maestro, and to read the letters he sent, composed on a typewriter outfitted with a wild Olde English style typeface.

Esquivel was thrilled to know that people were rediscovering his music decades after he created it, and he gave many interviews to journalists before his death in 2002.

Every day I see this snazzy photo of Esquivel, which hangs near my drawing board.

In 1990, Nonesuch Records released The John Zorn Radio Hour, a promotional CD with the avant-jazz musician playing and commenting on music that he loved, along with many of his own recordings. 

During the program, Zorn said, "Esquivel created a beautiful pop mutation." That's the best description of his music I've encountered.

As I review my introduction and closing to this entry, I'm reminded of the way that varied interests, activities, and people in my life linked up, leading to opportunities and friendships I never could have expected. 

The great power of music is in connecting people. Jerry Weber, through his generous nature and love of music, also brought people together and made their lives richer. Genuine shared experiences are infinitely more valuable and gratifying than crass attempts to turn the paintings of a great artist into an IMAX sports-disco-rave.

Apologies for the extra-long post. I'd better get back to work making more comics!

Take care, stay warm, and listen to some music you love, or something you've never heard before.

See you next week, with a new pipe pic.