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.


  1. Anonymous8:37 AM

    In the UK there was a ventriloquist called Peter Brough who had a dummy called Archie Andrews. This was in the 50s and 60s. The ridiculous part was that he had a programme on the radio called “Educating Archie”. The Guardian newspaper commented “ the one medium in which a ventriloquist's skill would seem to be totally unsuitable”

    1. Anonymous12:14 PM

      Ever heard of "The Charlie McCarthy show"?

  2. The chest x-ray panel brings to mind stories of advanced medical imaging being used for other purposes. Here is a link to a PDF of a newsletter from The Oriental Institute in 1991 discussing CT and MRI studies at the University of Chicago Hospitals of some of the OI's Egyptian mummies. There is a photo on page 6 of a mummy about to enter a CT chamber.

    1. Mitch4: That was fascinating! Thanks for the informative and scholarly reading. I appreciate learning new things from thoughtful Bizarro readers.

    2. Randy Vogel1:54 PM

      One of my buddies is a researcher who was involved in the effort to ID Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, by x-ray examination of concreted agglomerations of cannonballs. Xref and

    3. Randy Vogel1:59 PM

      Oops. Better link here: see pic of Norman Link and cannonball agglomerate on p.9

    4. No links allowed, eh? Maybe 3rd try's the charm:

  3. Carol W7:47 AM

    I have often wondered if cartoonists have a lectionary similar to the one preachers use. Many times while reading the daily comics in my newspaper, I see a theme repeated in 3-4 different strips on the same day. I always find it interesting to see the “take” each one has on what I thought must have been on a “prompt”. Am I right?

    1. It's most likely coincidence, unless the gags are associated with a specific holiday or season. Although many of us probably look at a list of special days for each month, I wouldn't say we have a lectionary. But thank you for teaching me a new word!