Saturday, January 20, 2018

Artificial Intelligence

My smartphone has learned that I'm working on Bizarro. When I type the word "Jazz," the predictive software anticipates "Pickles" as the most likely word to follow. This is either cool or creepy. Maybe both.

And, yes, that's a real, unaltered screen grab.

Now, as Siri suggests, I'm compelled happy to present this week's batch of Bizarritude.

If there really is an afterlife as depicted in popular culture and various belief systems, new arrivals might well be overcome with manic pleasure, and celestial therapists would be needed to help them adjust. Right?

Ask your doctor if NoLoft is right for you.

The layout of today's cartoon spoofs the 1950s cover art to The Tower Treasure, the first book in the eternally popular series, although my characters look as if they might have come from the original 1927 version.

The fictional brothers usually got involved in solving crimes being investigated by their father, Detective Fenton Hardy—often at Dad's request. Fenton really believed in Take Your Child to Work Day.

The second therapy cartoon of the week includes a patient suffering from Obvious Statement Disorder, and four Secret Symbols.

Bizarro's CEO (Chief Eyeball Officer) and I exchanged several emails discussing accessories for the phony pirate. I'm torn between "umbrella up the sleeve" and "drinking bird on the shoulder" as the most ridiculous.

This gag with Frankenstein's monster doing a mundane task is my favorite of the week, mainly because I like drawing him, but also because I'm always happy when we come up with a cartoon that does its job without words.

As you may know, some newspapers only had a comic strip sized space available when they picked up Bizarro, so we also produce a "landscape" version of every cartoon. This one was tricky since the image is so vertical.
Usually, we move a word balloon or caption block around, and tinker with the art a bit to make it work in a strip layout. But every once in a while, you have run a tall, skinny gag sideways. Readers of the strip version not only get to see Frankie's shoes, but also the eyeball symbol that was out of frame in the regular panel.

Our final gag of the week shows a character from Greek mythology when he was the new guy on the job, before he got the gig carrying Earth on his shoulders. As the new guy on Bizarro, I can relate, but unlike Atlas, I'm thrilled to be here!

Be sure to check Dan's blog tomorrow, where he'll offer his comments on this week's cartoons, and top off the week with another spectacular Sunday panel. In fact, you ought to read Dan's blog every week. I do, and not just because Siri told me to.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Six Cartoons and a New Vocabulary Word

Week 2 of Bizarro 2018 has wrapped up, which means we've gone 14 days without a lost-time accident.

Here's a recap of this week's offerings.

The Grim Reaper is a favorite of cartoonists everywhere, and we figured this panel should be nine times as funny as a cartoon with just one reaper. The additional ink needed to draw and print the extras comes to you at no extra cost.

Here's what can happen when you wait until the last minute to order props for your theater. There were no human skulls available, so this production of "Hamlet" had to settle for an alien cranium. They hoped no one would notice, but there was an eagle-eyed crackpot in the front row. 
Office supplies analyze and critique each other just like we do.

This caption originally read, "Lunchtime at the National Bureau of Standards," but that left no room for the picture, so we went with "the lab" instead. This marks my first use of The Lost Loafer.

Here at Bizarro Studios, we admire educators. Teachers work very hardat least our teachers did—and they rarely get enough thanks. This gag is a token of our appreciation for all they do. It's not much, but, hey, we just make cartoons, it's the best we have to offer.

An example of reverse-engineering to set up a weird pun. While working on this one, we learned the word planchette. It's not the surname of an award-winning Australian actress, but, rather, that heart-shaped contraption used to produce messages from the spirits. A lot of research goes into your daily laffs!

That's it from Bizarro Studios North for this week. Be sure to read Señor Piraro's blog for a beautiful Sunday cartoon, plus Dan's commentary on this week's shenanigans.

Big thanks from the new guy (below, right) for all the nice comments, crazy suggestions, and words of encouragement.

Men in Hats: Dan Piraro & known associate Wayno
See you next weekend.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Bizarro Studios North is Open for Business

Greetings from Bizarro Studios North, in scenic Hollywood Gardens, PA.

We've wrapped up my first week at the helm of the Good Ship Bizarro, which I'm now piloting Monday through Saturday under the watchful eyeball of Cap'n Dan Piraro.

If you're new to this blog, welcome aboard! I've known Dan for almost ten years, and we've worked together many times before launching our new partnership on Monday. If you'd like to see our earlier collaborations, please feel free to click through this blog's Bizarchive.

Dan has a tradition of writing a weekly post reviewing the latest Bizarro panels, and encouraged me to continue that practice. I'm more than happy to oblige, as I enjoy talking about the process of creating cartoons.

So, without further introduction, here's a recap of my inaugural week of Bizarro.

This punchline came before the drawing. All I had to do was decide which mythical creature to include. After scrapping sketches featuring a unicorn and Nessie, I settled on Bigfoot. He appears frequently in Bizarro, including one of my old gags.

I also included him a couple of times in my recently-retired feature, WaynoVision.
Here's one, and here's another. I'm confident he'll stomp into Bizarro again in the future.

If you're a fan of Sasquatch (and who isn't?), I heartily recommend Untold Tales of Bigfoot, by my good buddy Vince Dorse. It's a beautiful, all-ages story that deservedly won a National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award for online comics.

Tuesday's cartoon is rather dark and depressing. We thought that would be appropriate for a winter's day when a lot of people are returning to work after the holidays, if only to remind you that you aren't alone.

I once did another gag featuring a matryoshka* doll, and it was so popular, people copied it, deleted my signature, and shared it tens of thousands of times all over the web. Anything that gets stolen that widely deserves to be explored further.

Is the driver actually psychic, or is he just messing with the cop? I'm a cynic, so I think he's pulling a fast one, but I admire his effort.

Since it's my first week here at Bizarro, I felt obligated to include a gag involving pirates. Also, since I come from Pittsburgh, my hometown friends expect it. We have some sort of sports club here called the Pirates. We had fun composing image and the ridiculous dialogue to set up this silly pun. Plus, we got to include an umlaut.

This is my favorite cartoon of the week. Although I live with two cats, I have a lot of doggie friends, and I'm probably more dog-like in my own personality. This one began its life as a sketch I drew for a friend. I thought it could work well as a cartoon, so here we are. Dan offered some artistic suggestions that helped make the little guy look extra sad and adorable.

Saturday's comic features an overconfident papier-mâché character. Our editors felt our first sketch was a little too "S&M" for the funny pages, but we're happy to share the rejected version with you, dear Jazz Pickles.

Before I close, here's another piñata gag that was too naughty for the newspaper.

For the ultra-curious, the sketch that turned into Friday's cartoon:

And finally, because pugs are so lovable, a portrait of a local canine pal:

That does it for this week's funnies. Thanks to everyone who sent words of congratulations, commented, shared, or taped a cartoon to the fridge. We love to hear from readers, so please feel free to comment.

Don't forget to read Dan's weekly blog post, for his perspective on the week's offerings, capped by his spectacular Sunday comic.

For a lot more nonsense, you're invited to follow my blatherings on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

See you in a week! I'll try to be less verbose next time, but make no promises.

*I have to look up that word every time I mention it.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Eyeballing the Future

I'm starting the year with a new comics gig, as the daily cartoonist for Bizarro.

The award-winning, multi-talented, and immaculately-mustachioed Dan Piraro will continue to produce those beautiful Sunday pages, and I'll be on board (working closely with Dan) Monday through Saturday.

Dan and I have been collaborating since 2009. Over that time, I've written around 150 gags, filled in as guest cartoonist for two weeks, and assisted as colorist for three years. Now, I'll get to work with my favorite cartoonist every day, as we plunge headfirst into 2018.

I'll have more to say next weekend, continuing Dan's practice of posting a weekly review of Bizarro cartoons.

And, we'll continue to sprinkle Secret Symbols here and there in the daily comics.

Thanks to everyone who has read, shared, and commented on WaynoVision over the last three years. I've just ended that feature so I can devote my comedic energies to Bizarro, but the entire run on WaynoVision will remain online for your clicking pleasure.

Happy New Year, Jazz Pickles!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Son of (Snow) Man

Here's my latest collaboration with my good pal, Hilary Price:
Hilary made a few subtle changes to the art and dialog, but followed my submission sketch very closely.
I've always enjoyed the art of surrealist René Magritte, and have referenced his famous painting "The Son of Man" several times in the past.

Cartooning is for the most part a solitary craft, so I take advantage of every chance I have to collaborate with an artist I admire. My previous Rhymes With Orange appearances are archived on this very blog.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mind the Gap

All prose has factual gaps that must be filled in by the reader… "Write for your audience" means, in part, gambling on what they know.

I found this recent New York Times piece on reading comprehension and retention to be informative and thought-provoking.

Although the author, psychologist Daniel T. Willingham, specifically discusses prose, the concept applies equally to cartoons.

Cartoons often have factual (or logical) gaps that the reader must fill in—but not too quickly. That gap in a well-crafted cartoon might at first seem nonsensical, and when the reader discovers the missing connection (or explanation), the resolved tension produces a laugh. If that resolution comes too easily, or is overtly explained, the gag is unsatisfying.

In his contribution to the blog 10 Rules for Drawing Comics, Zippy cartoonist Bill Griffith concisely says, "Ambiguity is OK. Ask the reader to meet you halfway."

Another example that speaks to me as an artist comes from saxophonist Steve Lacy's transcription of notes from pianist and composer Thelonious Monk:
Don't play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don't play can be more important than what you do play.
Monk's advice can be interpreted as encouragement to edit, but it also applies to that idea of the audience filling in the gaps.

Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about the structure of cartoons, so maybe my mind is simply using my own interest/obsession as a way of connecting the observations of Monk and Willingham to Griffy.

In any case, the Times article is well worth reading (and comprehending).
Monk photo ©2017 Concord Music Group

Monday, November 06, 2017

Comic Coincidence

Recently, my good friend Dan Piraro and I independently came up with the same gag, but took slightly different approaches. This happens to all cartoonists from time to time, particularly when commenting on something that's current.

Here's my WaynoVision cartoon from September 18:
The day it ran, I heard from Dan via email:
I’ve got a Sunday comic in the pipeline that makes the man-bun/man-loaf pun! I added a lot of other bread types so it goes a step further but it’s going to look like I copied you. DAMN!
And…great minds!
Yesterday, Dan's take on the very same tonsorial topic appeared:
In the Bizarro version, Dan added four more doughy variants, going much further into the realm of the absurd, hitting it out of the park and into the stratosphere with the Man Holiday Cookies payoff.

We've each said in the past that we share a similar sense of humor, but this is a little scary.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Will Work for Toys

I'll be participating in a comics festival at my local library next month. One of the organizers and I were kicking around options for an all-ages hands-on activity. We came up with the idea of providing an unfinished cartoon panel for attendees to complete. It will include a single character, no text, and plenty of free space, so participants can add their own character(s), scenery, dialog, or caption.

Later, I realized that this was a replication of a formative childhood experience. I (vaguely) recalled entering an art contest from the back of a cereal box, which included a bird character isolated in a plain white space. I'm fairly certain I completed the drawing by showing the bird dueling with some other character. One of them was using a hand saw instead of a sword. At the time, I was about 8 or 9 years old.

Although my cartoon art is just a dim memory, I still vividly recall coming home from school one afternoon to find a package waiting for me. Inside the box was a Mattel V-RROOM! Engine toy. This was a plastic contraption made to look like a motorcycle engine. You'd mount it to your bike, turn the key, and it made a loud motorcycle noise. That was all it did. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.

A bit of Googling turned up a couple of images confirming at least parts of my recollection. The Post Cereal company ran a cartoon contest with several Mattel toys as the prizes, and apparently, I was one of a thousand fourth-prize winners.

Initially, I thought the bird character might have been Toucan Sam (the mascot for Kellogg's Froot Loops) but it turns out to be Billie Bird, from Post's 30-minute ad posing as a cartoon show, "Linus the Lion-Hearted." 
Linus & Billie
Billie was voiced by Carl Reiner, and the series boasted an impressive roster of writers, actors, and musicians. Voices were done by Jonathan Winters, Sheldon Leonard, Tom Poston, Stiller & Meara, Ruth Buzzi, and others. Some of the music was arranged by recording industry stalwart Johnny Mann.

I'd love to find a high resolution scan of the contest, so if you're a cereal box collector and you have one of these boxes, please get in touch.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


I'm pleased to share my latest collaboration with my friend Hilary Price.
Usually, we have several discussions regarding a gag, and it changes on its way to publication. In this case, there was a small revision to the dialog, and Hilary adapted the art for a better fit in the horizontal strip layout.
This change is staging put the fox and wolf on all four legs, adding at least a touch of realism to the scene.

If you enjoyed this cartoon, you're encouraged to review our previous collaborations, all saved on this blog.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Leg to Stand On

This post is a week late, but here (finally) is the May 3 Rhymes With Orange comic strip, co-created with Hilary Price.
The gag took a while to take form, as is often the case when Hilary and I work together. The strip I submitted featured a selection of shabby/inferior items with appropriate names, listed as items from a fictional low-expectations publication.
The last two items are blurred, just in case I find a use for them in a future gag*. Hilary told me she liked the image of a piano with one leg on a cinderblock, and suggested we pursue that as a standalone gag, perhaps with some sort of "there goes the neighborhood" punchline.

We toyed with the idea of either a snooty-looking couple, or perhaps a pair of Beethoven-like figures saying that the neighborhood used to be so much more sophisticated, or something like, "You said it was safe to park it here."

It didn't come together until Hilary wrote the "diminuendoed" line. That use of a musical term wrapped the gag up very nicely indeed. Using a shovel to hold up the lid was a terrific little extra in the final comic.

All told, we played around with it over the course of almost two months before it was finished. If we lived closer to each other, we could have nailed it over a couple of beers.

*Note: I salvaged the "substandard poodle" drawing for a WaynoVision gag (the link won't work before the publication date of May 31).