Dan Piraro‘s Bizarro is a ubiquitous newspaper comic that usually doesn’t need much in the way of introduction. Favourite strips are widely shared by fans – cut out or photocopied from newspapers (or, more recently, printed from a website) to be pasted on office doors, cubicle walls and school binders. As a matter of fact, that’s where I spotted my first Bizarro strip: scotch-taped to the office door of my college English teacher. Oh, I’ve seen them before, of course, but this was the first time I consciously noticed one of them. Teachers of all stripes seem to have a thing for Bizarro – I had a university psychology professor once who actually collaborated with Piraro on some strips, an achievement of which he was justifiably proud.
As usual, one can rely on the intrepid Tom Heintjes of Hogan’s Alley to conduct a worthwhile interview with whichever artist one is interested in. Read it here: Mondo Bizarro: The Dan Piraro Interview. I’m not going to compete with Heintjes’ ability to summarize, so I’ll just quote:
« Since Bizarro’s January 22, 1986, debut, Piraro has taken his panel in directions simultaneously surreal and topical. In a comic universe where world-weary talking dogs exist alongside nihilistic housewives, Piraro gives his cartoons heft by skewering his own bêtes noires: wasteful consumerism, environmental destruction, corporate greed and sheeplike people, to name a few. Though his humor is never didactic, Piraro’s work is remarkable in its unwillingness to pander, even when the occasional panel borders on the inscrutable. For example, he once used the Etruscans as a punchline; if you skipped history class that day, tough. Since sustained excellence like Bizarro‘s is rare in any medium, his willingness to shepherd his panel into its third decade is great news for comics fans and for the more than 200 papers that carry the strip. Though Piraro maintains that Bizarro is a comic strip for people who don’t read comic strips, we all know better: Bizarro is a comic strip for people who love comic strips. »
Piraro is not the only cartoonist spoofing social conventions, endowing animals with the gift of human speech or forging surreal situations out of everyday occurrences… but he does it consistently well. His easily recognizable, flowing art style is the frosting on the cake, and very nice frosting it is, too. Yet who can grasp the scope of such prodigious output? Bizarro collections (there have been thirteen of them – fitting number, isn’t it?-, all quite out of print) generally end up in the discount bin of bookstores (often neighbours to disheveled anthologies of Gary Larson‘s The Far Side, another omnipresent yet somehow underappreciated strip). For all my affection for Piraro’s goofy world, I only own Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro (Harry N. Abrams Publisher, 2006). Some of the strips in this post have been scanned from it (others were found in the trackless depths of the Internet.)
Pleasantly, Piraro wears his politics, heart and sympathies on his (rather accommodatingly large) sleeve:
Most Bizarro cartoons feature a recurring object or creature (added value for a comic strip that’s already rich in detail). Some of my favourites: the Eyeball of Observation, the Pie of Opportunity (a piece of pie – blueberry, I think), the Dynamite of Unintended Consequences, or Firecracker of Pop (a dynamite stick), the Fish of Humility (or at least its tail), and my very favourite, the Bunny of Exuberance. One can just tell that Piraro enjoys his work. What kind of jerk still enjoys drawing the same strip after 30 years*?!
Don’t forget to visit Bizarro’s official website!
*Since 2018, Piraro’s pal Wayno has been drawing the dailies, with Piraro keeping the Sundays all to himself.