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.


  1. I wasn't aware the Drifters were recording in 1946. Perhaps you meant 1964?

    1. You’re correct, Pat. Thanks for the alert! I’ve corrected the typo.

  2. As a dog lover/rescuer, I like to read as many 'dog-related' comics as I can - thanks for the WATSON link.

    Pooper-scoopers don't squeak; they clack clack clack. Very annoying if it isn't in your own yard '-)

    The first - and last - time I tried to rescue a c*t (calico), I ended up in ER with bites and scratches. I decided then and there to stick with dogs; in all my years of rescuing them, I've never been bitten or scratched.

    1. Sorry to hear of your bad cat experience, and thank you for rescuing dogs over the years.

      We’ve been lucky to have lived with gentle and affectionate felines over the years.

  3. Sorry to hear that Andrea. Although I've had a time or two with an ornery cat, I've been pretty successful, especially since the house overrun with rescues. We set up an outdoor shelter for the ferals and strays, where we TNR the ones we can catch and find homes for the ones that are willing. The local vet offered a discount before the city started paying for the procedures.

  4. Are you aware of the song The Limeliters sang about Vikki?

    1. I am now! Thanks, Tony. I knew nothing about her until I ran across the photo.

  5. Regarding Virgil Partch: I've always liked his Work, first seeing it via the Sunday funniest (Big George) in the 50's & 60's. While I was in the Army back in 1980, I acquired a paperback copy of the book he published in 1952 about his time in the Army (loaded with GREAT cartoons!); wish I still had that book. Even more interesting was the time I actually saw him on the old Grouchy Marx show "You bet your life"; Groucho was talking to random people in the live audience, and he just by chance fixed on a 30-something man who introduced himself as Virgil Partch. Grouchy asked him what he did, and he simply replied he was a cartoonist, with no elaboration. This particular show was originally broadcast in '51 or '52, so he probably hadn't yet hit it big and was still relatively unknown, given the lack of reaction to his name and profession at the time. What really threw me was how much he resembled his cartoons! I saw this show on one of the cable networks back around 1991, so Mr. Patch had already passed away. I had never seen him in photo or film before seeing that old TV show...

    1. Thanks for sharing your love for Virgil’s work. His best stuff still knocks me out.

      I bet the book you had was “Armed Farces.” It’s pretty easy to find at a reasonable price.

  6. Vikki Dougan was also the subject of a song by The Limeliters which I share with you now.

    1. Thanks! You know how much I enjoy discovering music!

  7. The Vikki Dougan song is on the 1961 album "The Slightly Fabulous" Limeliters."
    It has a very witty introduction by Lou Gottlieb. It was how I first learned of the manifest charms of Miss Dougan. Thanks for the memories. I'm now off to the Tip Jar.

  8. Until I recently started checking out the tunes on yr weekly blog I had always considered Bobby Goldsboro's'68 "The Straight Life" to be the worst pop song ever recorded. I know know that i was woefully uninformed. Keep those tunes & cartoons comin'!
    Dave Kob
    Lancaster, PA