Saturday, September 30, 2023

Check, Please

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 created Bizarro in the late twentieth century and continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


A comic artist ain't no different than you or me or anybody excep' he knows how to draw pitchers an' is crazy in the head.
Popeye the Sailor Man, by Elzie Segar1

This image regularly turns up in my social media feeds, and it always brings a laugh tinged with perverse pride. It recently appeared on a day when we learned of yet another group of newspapers dropping nearly all print comics, and it took on a different meaning. 

Given the uncertain future of printed newspapers (or perhaps more accurately, the inevitable future that may arrive any day) Popeye's words feel cynically prophetic: One would have to be a fool to get into the comics business in these times.

But here we are. We'll keep at it as long as we can; perhaps eventually in some medium that hasn't been invented yet.
We'll also continue to feature a pipe pic in honor of Bizarro's Pipe of Ambiguity Secret Symbol in every blog post.

Today's model is H. T. Webster (1885-1952), a cartoonist who was responsible for multiple comic features that ran on different days of the week, including The Thrill That Comes Once in a Lifetime, Life's Darkest Moment, How to Torture Your Husband, and How to Torture Your Wife

Tom Heintjes, the comics historian (and charming human) who edits Hogan's Alley magazine, recently posted photos of Webster on Instagram, including this 1945 Time magazine cover. Tom wrote:
H.T. Webster’s most enduring creation was The Timid Soul, whose name was Caspar Milquetoast. His last name survives to this day as a description of someone excessively timid.
Thanks for educating me about H. T. Webster, Tom. I'm always learning something from you! 

In our latest bid for the cover of Time (or any magazine), we present this week's Bizarro cartoons.

To be fair, it's clearly advertised as a sac-to-table establishment.

Every day the restaurant manager has to think of a new way to startle the chef.

I've done several similarly staged restaurant gags, and I usually have to adjust the server's posture to fit the characters in the strip layout without having to make them too small to read. In this case, the alterations allowed me to draw tentacles.

When I finished the art, I realized that the customers resembled my spouse and me.

A cross-cultural athletic contest.

Wednesday's panel was inspired by my practice of watching slow-moving nature documentaries at a low volume to quiet my brain and (with luck) fall asleep. We recently watched a few programs about whales that were completely relaxing. I came up with the idea for this image in a semi-dream state but was fully conscious when writing the punchline.

Thursday featured my latest inanimate object comic. Feel free to suggest other household items, tools, etc. you'd like to see as protagonists in a gag.

He also holds onto an oblong rock and keeps tapping it with his thumb.

It's amazing how this guy can blend in with a crowd while wearing that jersey and hat.

Here endeth the latest output from my Little Shop of Humor. I hope we've provided momentary relief from the unending onslaught of depressing news.

Thanks for reading the comics, the blog, and the newsletter. We'll be back next week with more of this sort of thing. If you run into a cartoonist somewhere, please offer a word of encouragement, and if you're able, buy them a coffee.

1. I don't know the actual publication date of this comic panel, and I'm no expert on Popeye. I'm guessing it's Segar's work, but I could be wrong.

Bonus Track 

Robert Wyatt: "Sea Song"
from Rock Bottom
Virgin Records LP, 1974

Since a couple of our gags featured sea creatures, I decided to share this beautiful song by Robert Wyatt. I've been enjoying Rock Bottom for almost fifty years, and I never tire of it.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Fantasy Phobia League

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 created Bizarro in the late twentieth century and continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


Sometimes the creative process is just trying to catch yourself off guard.
Robbie Robertson

I recently watched the documentary Once Were Brothers, Robbie Robertson's autobiography in the form of a film. It was based primarily on his memoir, Testimony. The bulk of the film chronicles the formation, career, and breakup of The Band, told from Robertson's perspective.

Robertson may have indulged in a bit of self-mythologizing, but that's true of anyone telling their own story, and he certainly had the goods to back up his account. Any group relationship is complex, with each member having their own recollections and perceptions. I don't think that Robertson was the villain some of his bandmates claimed him to be. He was a stellar songwriter and a great guitarist and was aware enough of his own limitations as a singer to cede the vocal spotlight to Band members Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel.

I pulled the quote above from a discussion of his songwriting process. It applies to any creative endeavor. At times, you simply have to get out of your own way. That's as true of cartooning as anything else.

After spending several days fighting off a virus, I had a productive week in the studio, with a breakthrough writing day when I came up with enough usable gags for more than two weeks. I'm usually able to write just enough for any given week, but the ideas were flowing, and I tried to allow them to keep coming and get them down on paper. It's a satisfying feeling, to be relished when it comes along because soon enough, there will be another day of struggle to create a batch of gags.

I snapped today's pipe pic while attending the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Awards earlier in the month.

It's a 1950 sales brochure for the then-new Beetle Bailey comic strip. For the first year of the strip's run, Beetle was a college student, and he was frequently depicted smoking a pipe. Cartoonist Mort Walker had the distinction of producing the last comic strip personally approved by William Randolph Hearst.

Walker would have turned 100 this month, and his son Brian (also a cartoonist and a comics historian) presented a retrospective of Mort's career.

I was able to visit a centennial exhibit of Mort's work at the Society of Illustrators during my time in New York, and I was impressed with his drawing, which I haven't seen in a long time.

Happy hundredth, Mort, wherever you are.

For some more recent comic art, let's review the latest Bizarro cartoons.

This is a highly specific personal Hell.

And there's always an encore.

Wednesday's gag explores the mentality of certain collector types. There's a point where some people's interest goes beyond enjoying and appreciating something and turns into an unhealthy need to feel that others are denied that enjoyment. A related strain of this pathology is anger that the rest of the world isn't interested in one's fetish objects.

Not to paint all collectors with the same roller, but there is a practice of "slabbing" comic books in an unopenable plastic container to preserve them in whatever condition they've been appraised at—comics as commodities.

On a lighter note, the gag prompted Dee Fish, a cartoonist friend, to post this delightful sketch with a comment that she wished she could read a Weird Mammal comic book.

Dee is the creator of a semi-autobiographical webcomic, Finding Dee, which humorously chronicles her experiences coming out as transgender while pursuing her career as a cartoonist, illustrator, and writer. Recently, she has
 applied her impressive inking skills to the daily Dick Tracy comic strip.

A tip of the Bizarro fedora to Dee for her excellent drawing of the Bunny of Exuberance. Thank you, Dee!

Thursday's panel offered a look at current affairs.

Machine learning has a long way to go.

I recently spoke with a friend about the arms race among makers of hot sauce to develop the most chemically pure pain experience. 

I'm sure our character washed that pepper down with an outrageously hoppy IPA.

That's the latest from Bizarro Studios North. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings. There will be more for you next week.

Bonus Track 

The Kinks "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues"
Live on In Concert
ABC Television, 1973

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Adventures in Jersey City

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 created Bizarro in the late twentieth century and continues to do the Sunday comic from Rancho Bizarro in Mexico.


To err is human — to forgive, canine.

Hey there, Jazz Pickles. I'm still catching up on work and wrapping up an extra project I couldn't turn down, so let's jump right in with a pipe pic. 

This photo was snapped by reader David N at a recent New York Mets baseball game.

I was hesitant about sharing this because I disapprove of using an animal to solicit donations on the street. That poor dog cannot be happy or comfortable. The person who set this up may be in need, and I hope they find some assistance and stop placing their dog in this situation.

Normally, our pipe pics are posted in fun, but this time it's a reminder that our pets often will do anything to please us or to be in our company, and that bond should never be abused.

This week's Bizarro cartoons were all ethically created and sourced.

Vampires are generally more stylish than werewolves, but there are exceptions.

While he's at it, he should add some ears to his headpiece.

Drawing the citizenry involved some photo research on the part of your cartoonist.

The gag was meant to look like a dictator delivering a speech from a balcony, and the strip configuration did a better job of it.

Thursday's panel offered a lesson in communications etiquette and a warning to be cautious when pointing out breaches of texting manners.

The gag rather worked well as a vertical strip.

The character in the upper left of the panel is truly the original rock musician.

My sketch had a small amplifier in the foreground, but I didn't include that in the final art, finding it funnier to show the instrument cable running out of the frame and leaving its other end to the reader's imagination.

Those voices from the sky tell people to do the oddest things, don't they.

Beyond the Board 

Occasionally, I venture outside the studio. In late August, I visited the Pittsburgh Steelers office to deliver a gameday poster I designed, and to be photographed for their website.

Photo by Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers

This is the second year I've been invited to design a poster for a Steelers home game. The assignment placed me in an unfamiliar realm, but the gig was enjoyable, and everyone at the Steelers organization was pleasant to work with.

The project, involving several artists doing posters for all of the season's home games was curated and coordinated by our friends Kim Fox/Workerbird and Dan Rugh at CommonWealth Press.

A few posters are available for pre-order in the team's online Pro Shop.

I also traveled to New York and Jersey City for the National Cartoonists Society's annual Reuben Awards.

King Features threw a welcoming cocktail party for its cartoonists, at their headquarters in Manhattan.

Catching up with Patrick McDonnell, creator of Mutts

With Jenny Robb of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library
 & Museum and Hilary Price, Rhymes With Orange cartoonist

The next day, it was off to Jersey City for the NCS meetings and awards.

One of the first people I encountered was Terry LaBan, a great cartoonist I've known since the late 1980s.

The following day, a few of us took a field trip to visit WFMU, the independent freeform listener-supported radio station, which has a strong connection with the cartoonist community.

This must be the place!

Four cartoonists under the painted dome on WFMU's top floor: Johnny Sampson, Gideon Kendall, yours truly, and Jonathan Lemon.

Station Manager and Program Director Ken Freedman gave us the grand tour. Here he's showing us the live performance booth, where hundreds of musicians have performed on the air.

The building also houses an impressive collection of paintings on black velvet.

All hail Charles Nelson Reilly!

Big thanks to Jonathan Lemon for arranging our visit, and to Ken Freedman and everyone at WFMU for making us feel like big shots.

Thursday evening, everyone got dressed up fancy for the awards event. My friend Hilary looked particularly elegant in her white jacket.

We figured we could save money next year by trading blazers, and had an impromptu fitting.

She wore both items better than I did!

Bizarro was nominated for an award in the Newspaper Panels division. We didn't win, but the prize went to our buddy Dave Blazek for Loose Parts.

It was a pleasure to offer Dave my congratulations on his win.

I did come home with drawings by both Dave Blazek and Dan McConnell, and they'll have a treasured place in my archives.

Thanks for dropping by the old blog station. See you next week with more words and pictures.

Bonus Track 

Bongo Joe (George Coleman)
"Innocent Little Doggie"
Arhoolie Records, 1969

George Coleman a/k/a Bongo Joe (1923-1999) was a unique street musician who accompanied his vocals and whistling on a homemade percussion kit made from 55-gallon steel drums. His music perfectly embodies the fiercely weird independent character of WFMU.