Saturday, July 30, 2022

Desert Island Dummy

This is the weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I have been writing and drawing the Monday through Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018. My partner and friend, Dan Piraro, who created Bizarro in the late twentieth century, continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


  A genius is the one MOST LIKE HIMSELF.
Thelonious Monk

I've been thinking about creativity as a daily practice, and exactly what can be deemed original, if that's even possible. I almost used this quote to open this post:  

Life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything.
Life is about creating yourself

I thought Bob Dylan coined it, but found that he was paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw (whose first sentence didn't include "or finding anything.")

Instead, we began with a similar sentiment, by jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, as transcribed by saxophonist Steve Lacy. 

It occurred to me that Dylan's rewording of Shaw is entirely in character for someone who's absorbed an ocean of cultural influences, and used bits and pieces to create his own massive body of work.

Gag cartoonists work with recognizable characters, themes, words, and phrases, and try to put their own spin on them. It's inevitable that multiple cartoonists sometimes produce similar or identical setups and punchlines. It's happened to me before, and I know it will again. Fortunately, most of us recognize the common experience, from both perspectives.

These thoughts began to swirl in my head when someone pointed out a comic that was similar to one I'd recently done, and accused the other cartoonist of theft. I knew that wasn't the case. We both started with a familiar premise, and chose different dialog to turn it into a gag. The lesson I took from this was to avoid reading comments on social media.

Online thievery of cartoons is maddeningly common, but it rarely occurs among fellow artists. Here's a brief rant I posted on the Book of Face in 2016:

If you want to make clever political commentary using a cartoon image, don't alter an actual cartoonist's work with your own "improvements." It's incredibly tiresome to see the work of colleagues stolen and defaced every day. Whatever your political bent may be, and however honorable your cause, you undercut yourself by engaging in thievery to make your point.

Draw your own damn cartoon. Thank you.

The difference between legitimate fair use and robbery can be nuanced and perhaps debatable, but if we're honest with ourselves, we know which is which when we see it.

In his 1980 ROZZ-TOX Manifesto, artist Gary Panter said, "Inspiration has always been born of recombination." Though I've read Panter's document often over the decades, I find something new every time, and there are still parts that are a little over my head, but it's always worth revisiting.

I'll close this intro by returning to Dylan, who echoed Monk's declaration in the song "Maggie's Farm."

Well, I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you to be just like them.

Now that I've got that out of my system, here's this week's pipe pic, from the cover of a 1970 Blondie comic book.

The full cover shows Dagwood acting as a dressmaker's dummy, while asserting his masculine nature by puffing on a pipe.

A tip of the Bizarro summer straw to faithful reader and prolific pipespotter Andréa for bringing this gem to our attention.

The Blondie comic strip has been running since 1930, and is distributed by King Features Syndicate, which also distributes Bizarro.

Speaking of Bizarro, that's what we're supposed to share on this blog, so let's get on with it.

Fortunately, this buccaneer has generous health benefits, which cover imaging services.

Tuesday's panel plays with two familiar cartoon tropes: a castaway on a tiny island, and a ventriloquist whose dummy may or may not be alive and sentient.
I enjoy doing clown gags, and I love it when I come up with a wordless gag. This one checked both boxes.

Although the drawing and joke are simple, I hit a snag when doing the strip conversion.

One of my regular tricks for making a panel into a strip is to frame the art with a "nightclub spotlight," adding solid black areas to both ends of the layout. In this case it looked as if we were spying on the clown through a telescope.

I then tried extending the tile wall and the shower curtain to fill the space, but it looked like an impossibly wide bathtub. I neglected to save a screen grab of that version, but rest assured, it was ridiculous.

I eventually tried a white "reverse spotlight," with an edge that gradually dissolves, instead of a solid border. It works nicely, suggesting a steamy bathroom. Sometimes the job involves solving little puzzles.

Yet another cartoon trope appeared on Thursday. The patient in a therapist's office is a bottomless source of comedic raw material, since we humans are so filled with anxieties and neuroses.

Of course that's how a goth moose would dress to annoy the parents.

A few months back, I sketched a judge sitting behind a piano instead of  a normal courtroom bench, and eventually wrote a gag to fit it. Pro tip: Drawing a full keyboard is more work than one might think.

I recommend visiting my partner Dan Piraro's weekly blog, to see what he made of this batch of cartoons, and to check out his newest widescreen Bizarro Sunday page.

Also, please consider subscribing to my free newsletter, where I usually share a peek at an upcoming gag and some old art or design from my files. If you're not ready to subscribe, you can read previous newsletters on the archive page.

Dummies in History

The desert island ventriloquist gag prompted this note from Bizarro reader Black Mold, a disc jockey on the great New Orleans radio station WWOZ:

Did you know that the first mention in writing of the blues being performed on stage was a 1910 newspaper critic's review of a ventriloquist act where the dummy sang the blues?

He backed up this delightful factoid with an excerpt from The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville, by Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff.

Now I've got another volume added to my reserve list at the library...

Black Mold hosts a wild blues program on WWOZ called Music of Mass Distraction, which I highly recommend. I'm also a proud supporter of 'OZ, and have been a listener since 1983.

Dummy Bonus Track

"Dummy" by NRBQ
from the album Dummy (Edisun Records, 2004)

I know the exact date I bought this disc. It was at the band's 35th anniversary reunion show, on May 1, 2004. I discovered my ticket stub tucked inside the booklet.

The CD packaging includes several photos of a set of NRBQ ventriloquist dummies, created by an artist named Heidi Kennedy. She achieved striking likenesses of each musician.

Clockwise from top left: Joey Spampinato, Terry Adams,
Johnny Spampinato, Tom Ardolino

Thanks for reading Bizarro, and for following the blog. 

And remember: Try your best to be just like yourself. 

See you next week.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Insect vs. Arachnid

This is the weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I have been writing and drawing the Monday through Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018. My partner and friend, Dan Piraro, who created Bizarro in the late twentieth century, continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.



Art needs hard work more than hard work needs art.
Franz Kafka

Once again, it's time to review the week's Bizarro comics, but not before we share another pipe pic found on the information superhighway.

This strange pipe holder/display was found on a site for collectors of MAD Magazine items called MadTrash. It's possibly from the 1940s or 1950s, and appears to be a version of a ubiquitous, unnamed advertising character that was at least a partial inspiration for MAD mascot Alfred E. Neuman. 

The piece comes from a massive collection owned by Dr. Gary L. Kritzberg. I tried contacting Dr. Kritzberg to ask if he'd mind me reposting the photo, but never heard back from him. Since it's out there on the MadTrash site, I thought it would be okay to share it here with proper accreditation. If you know Dr. Kritzberg, please direct him to the blog, and vouch for my character.


I found the Kafka quote at the top of this post in a New York Times review of a book collecting drawings by the writer. Kafka drew odd little figures in the margins of his travel diaries, letters, and college notebooks. A friend, Max Brod, preserved many of them, although Kafka dismissed them as "scribblings." Brod said that Kafka was "more hostile to his drawings than he was to his literary production," and wanted his drawings to be destroyed when he died.

Kafka may have valued his drawings less than his writing because he dashed them off quickly. That might be what he was referring to when he wrote about art and hard work in a letter to a friend in 1903. 

On the other hand, he could easily have destroyed the drawings himself while he was alive, so perhaps he secretly hoped they might survive and be seen and appreciated at some point.

The quote makes sense to me. Art that seems uncomplicated can require considerable effort to get to its "simple" state. Hard work, as an end in itself, doesn't necessarily require any artistic intentions.

Whatever Kafka actually had in mind, the idea is worth considering as we form opinions about art of any kind.

The following comics may not be museum-worthy, but I assure you that hard work and artistic intent went into their making. 

And nobody turned into a giant insect the entire week.


Sometimes we need to reach for modest goals, although this panel contains more Secret Symbols than the average Bizarro daily.


It's something of a game among cartoonists to squeeze one more variation out a familiar trope. Dan Piraro discussed this in his blog last Sunday, where he published a great desert island gag.

I regularly turn to islands, the therapist's couch, the old west, heaven and hell, etc. For my money, the undefeated champion of fly-in-the-soup cartoons remains J.C. Duffy of The Fusco Brothers. Of course, that won't stop me from doing more of them.


Yes, this is just a cartoon, but there's an element of despair for the human condition beneath the funny drawing.

Not only do you need the right tools, but dressing for a job can also put you in the frame of mind to succeed.


It's fair to say that the ghosts wearing linens have become a personal trope in Bizarro. There are more to come in the next month or so.


We ended the week with a character from Greek mythology dropped into a classic cat-and-mouse rivalry. 

That wraps up another week of scribblings from Bizarro Studios North. Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog to see what he has to say about this bunch of gags, and to check out his latest spectacular Sunday Bizarro page.

Don't forget, you can also subscribe to my free newsletter, where you can see a preview of an upcoming Bizarro cartoon, along with something old from my cartoon and design files.

Bonus Track

The Rolling Stones
"The Spider and the Fly" (Mono)
Released January 1, 1966

For a hot summer day, we offer a lazy blues from the Rolling Stones.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Book Smarts

This is the weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I have been writing and drawing the Monday through Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018. My partner and friend, Dan Piraro, who created Bizarro in the late twentieth century, continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


I don't care what you've heard, this is a crazy mixed up world.
Willie Dixon, "Crazy Mixed Up World"

Hello again, Jazz Pickles. I'm looking forward to a relatively relaxing Saturday after some unexpected manual labor last week. We spent some time working in the hot sun, reinforcing the fence around our vegetable garden, which had been set upon by hungry varmints. 

The experience made me grateful that I don't have to depend on my own agricultural skills to survive, although I did learn how to build a chicken wire fence, or as the packaging called it, "poultry netting."

Today's pipe pic is appropriate to the summer season.

In this century, toys that that produce soap bubbles are rarely modeled on tobacco pipes. The few available today are primarily marketed as costume props for adults.

The quote at the top of this entry comes from a song written by Willie Dixon, and recorded by Little Walter Jacobs. Dixon (1915-1992) was a blues musician, songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and record producer. He wrote over 500 songs, including blues standards such as "Spoonful," "The Seventh Son," "Wang Dang Doodle," and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover."

After completing my gardening chores, I switched gears and met my bandmates in the nearby town of Carnegie, PA, where we played our arrangement of "Crazy Mixed Up World," and other favorite tunes.

L-R: Wayno, Dave Klug, Tom Roberts
Photo by Sheri Edmondson

Making music with my good friends was a fine reward for a little farmhand work earlier in the day.

On Monday, it was back to the funny pages for your cartoonist. Let's see what we put out there on newsprint this past week.

I never read The Velveteen Rabbit as a child, but I was at least familiar with the title. When I thought of the caption for this panel, I read the book to see if there was a gag to be found. Like many children's books, it's sentimental and more than a little terrifying. I'm glad I read it as an adult; it might have traumatized my younger self.

A violin doesn't fit the mood at every table. Sometimes, another instrument is called for.

I had fun drawing the books inside the little free library. Popular Surrealism is one I'd grab if it existed. I also tweaked Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, and used Joseph Heller's Catch-22 as a spot for Bizarro's O2 secret symbol.

The other visible titles refer to actual books. In fact, two are excellent graphic novels by friends of mine.

This is Vince Dorse's Untold Tales of Bigfoot, a terrific all-ages adventure story about the friendship that develops between Bigfoot and a lost dog. You can order a copy here. Vince was surprised by the inclusion, and he blogged about it on Thursday.

Mary Fleener is a longtime pal, and a great cartoonist and musician. I wrote a blurb for her graphic novel Billie the Bee, which the publisher decided not to use, but I'm happy to share it with you:

Mary Fleener has been developing her cartoon chops more than thirty years, and this modern yet timeless book-length fable demonstrates beautifully how serious woodshedding can pay off. Billie the Bee is a mature, accomplished work by one of the best cartoonists of the post-underground generation.

You can order Billie from Fantagraphics or other book retailers

The remaining titles are books that I have here in my home office:

VIP Quips is a 1975 rebus book by my main man, Virgil Partch, also known as "VIP." It's not his best work, but it has its own charm.

Down Beat Magazine published annual collections of their jazz record reviews in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

The hardcover volumes are beautifully designed.

Hey Look! was a series of filler pages created by Harvey Kurtzman in the late 1940s for Timely Comics (which later became Marvel). Kitchen Sink Press collected many of them in a nifty hardcover volume.

The sign near the construction site reads "Cherubs Working Ahead."

His story is visible for all to see, but she has to be taken at face value.

I normally post only color comics, but I found the black & white strip layout of this one to be quite pleasing. The distance between the cards and the blank space surrounding them made for a clean, uncluttered design.

The development of human spoken language was soon followed by the invention of hyperbole.

Thanks for checking out my work for the week. Be sure to visit Dan Piraro's blog, where he'll have more to say about these gags, and will reveal his latest Sunday Bizarro page, which is always a superb example of comic art.

If you crave even more words about cartoons, you can subscribe to my newsletter. Each one includes a peek at an upcoming Bizarro cartoon, and an image from my vast archives of forgotten art and design.

Bonus Track

John Coltrane, "Blue Train"
from the album Blue Train
Blue Note Records, 1957


This classic John Coltrane recording opens with a beautiful trombone intro by Curtis Fuller. About halfway through the tune, Fuller takes a masterful, understated solo.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Honk if You Read Comics

This is the weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I have been writing and drawing the Monday through Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018. My partner and friend, Dan Piraro, who created Bizarro in the late twentieth century, continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


July is whizzing past us, but it wouldn't be a Saturday without a new post sharing the week's cartoons, would it?

I'm trying to get a little further ahead of schedule, and have also started working on a surprise project that came my way, so this entry will be much less verbose than usual.

Our pipe pic of the week is a rare example of understated advertising from the tobacco industry.

Now, it's on to the week in cartoons.

We started off with an Independence Day gag. As an old friend of mine used to say when observing his kids engaging in a questionable activity, "Somebody's gonna end up crying."

Note that the employee accomplished much without making mistakes, whereas management avoided errors by doing no actual work.

A nature documentary that featured a segment on wood frogs inspired this comic. That, and calculating our quarterly estimated taxes.

My internal editor (and second-guesser) suggests that the word "always" could have been deleted from this gag, and I can't disagree.

Friday's panel made me doubly happy, being a clown gag and wordless. Many readers mentioned experiencing a slightly delayed payoff, which always pleases a cartoonist.

This is a musical we wish existed.

That's the latest batch. Thanks for popping by. We'll be back in a week with more words and pictures.

Don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog for additional commentary, and to marvel at his latest gorgeous Sunday Bizarro panel.

There's no bonus track this week. Please choose an appropriate tune that you like, and pretend it appears here.

See you in seven days.


Saturday, July 02, 2022

Stains & Stones

This is the weekly dispatch from Bizarro Studios North, where I have been writing and drawing the Monday through Saturday Bizarro comics since 2018. My partner and friend, Dan Piraro, who created Bizarro in the late twentieth century, continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"


It's the July Fourth weekend, but for many, there's little to celebrate this year. Rulings by hacks on the country's highest court push the country closer to its new identity as Saudi America, or the United States of Surveillance, Ammo, Oppression, and Greenhouse Gases.

Corporations Über Alles

Pyrotechnical displays feel like little more than sparkly distractions from rampant power grabs, and it's sometimes difficult to make jokes while the rights of fellow citizens are being ratcheted back to nineteenth century levels, or worse.

Yet, on occasion, we're reminded that humor has a purpose in the worst of times. A few days ago, we received a lovely message from someone who read Bizarro for the first time after finding some comics on Instagram:

If you are the artist behind the creativity, I'd like to extend a genuine thank you for your work. Today was a sack of crap. I stumbled on your humour, it's wonderful, I smiled and laughed; thanks. The day still resembles a sack of crap but you've lightened the weight of it.

That note certainly made my day, and provided extra motivation to keep working. Thanks to brand-new Bizarro reader Andy B for the kind words, with hopes that the sack of crap was followed by better days.

With good will in our hearts, let's review the week's cartoon output.

We kicked it off with my latest inanimate object gag, depicting (as a witty commenter mentioned) "relationsnip" problems.
This one's a mashup of cartoon tropes: the evolving fish and the desert island. We've used both many times in the past, but this is our first two-in-one. Our protagonist has made an evolutionary leap, but might starve on that patch of land.

The next day, we regressed to a straight up desert island gag. Apparently, my humor isn't making any evolutionary progress, although this one may have a subtext of social commentary.

Macbeth Cleaners proudly notes that they've never had to attach this tag to a customer's order:

We saw a wide range of reactions to Thursday's panel. Many people who commented missed the Shakespearean reference, but those who got it seemed to like it a lot. 

I'm not an expert on the Bard by any stretch, and thought that a reference to one of his most familiar lines was fair game for a comic. I still do, and offer no apologies for not spelling it out. I only mention the negative comments because it was a bit shocking to see how many people were angry that a cartoon they didn't like has the temerity to exist.

I'd sketched an early version of the gag at least ten years ago, which I share here for the first time.

The final version, with its more concise dialog, is far superior to that sketch.

The reception may be spotty, but it's almost unbreakable.

Another gag based in no small part on personal behavior.

I freely admit to having no idea what is on granddad's plate.

Your guesses are welcomed.

Also, don't be that guy.

That wraps up another litter of funnies. Please come by next week, and check out a new batch of jokes. And don't forget to visit Dan Piraro's blog to see his newest Sunday Bizarro page, which is always a wonderful work of art, along with his commentary on comics and other matters.

If you'd like to see a teaser for an upcoming Bizarro comic, along with a graphic artifact from my files, you're cordially invited to subscribe to my newsletter. You can easily unsubscribe at any time, so there's nothing to lose.

Don't forget, kids: Fight the theocracy!

Bonus Track

I was dreamin' in my dreamin'
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleepin' it was broken
But my dream it lingered near

In the form of shinin' valleys
Where the pure air recognized
Oh, and my senses newly opened
And I awakened to the cry

And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
From the meek the graces shower
It's decreed the people rule

People have the power

I hope you're right, Patti.