Thursday, August 20, 2009

20 Questions with Dan Piraro

For 24 years, Dan Piraro has been bringing to the comics page his unusual, irreverent, and, yes, sometimes bizarre, view of the world.

BIZARRO, Dan’s single-panel feature, launched in 1985 in the wake of Gary Larson’s FAR SIDE. But Dan soon distinguished himself from the comics pack with a fresh and individual voice.

A humorist without peer, Dan Piraro is also an amazing artist. I marvel at each daily panel and at how much detail Dan manages to pack in. I also look for the the little “Easter Eggs” Dan includes: the Eyeball of Observation, the Pie of Opportunity, the Bunny of Exuberance, the Flying Saucer of Possibility, the letters "K2,” the Crown of Power, the Dynamite of Unintended Consequences, the Lost Loafer, the Arrow of Vulnerability, the Fish of Humility, and the Inverted Bird.

Read BIZARRO in your favorite newspaper, online at the Daily Ink, or one of the fine newspaper websites using King Features’ Comic Kingdom, like the S.F. Gate.

I’d like to thank Dan for squeezing in these 20 questions amidst daily deadlines and comedy shows, and I don’t even mind that he called me “Kyle” in his email. (Kyle?).

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

I drew constantly from the time I was a toddler and my parents recognized I had a lot of talent. I grew up thinking I would be a fine artist and became a cartoonist in my early 20s as I looked for a way to make a living as an artist.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I sent cartoons off to syndicates for a couple of years, then got signed with BIZARRO. It was my first paying gig.

3. Describe the process you went through to get BIZARRO syndicated.

Just drawing as many cartoons as I could, showing them to friends, sending the best ones off to newspaper syndicates. This took a couple of years and probably 20 separate submissions before I got a call from Chronicle Features in S.F., wanting to develop my work over a period of months in hopes of syndicating it.

4. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

Hard to say. Since I know what will get by and what will get turned down, I rarely draw cartoons that will get rejected. I have some adult cartoons that I like that have never been published. There is one in my blue book, Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro called "Medusa at a Nude Beach," which I think is great.

5. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

Print comics make more money; web comics have great leeway in terms of topic and imagery. If I could make as good a living on the web, I'd drop the newspapers and go for the freedom of the Internet. Many of the best comics are Internet only.

6. You also do stand-up comedy. Tell us about that.

I used to get asked to speak to groups interested in what life is like for a cartoonist. I got good at it and made people laugh, so I decided to put together a stand-up comedy show with visuals. I started doing that in 2001 and have been doing it now and then ever since. I've done a few small tours but have sworn that off. Now I just do single shows when asked and if the money is good.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or is it a welcome challenge?

It's very limiting but I've learned to live within the guidelines. See # 5 above.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Revilo, Kliban, GET FUZZY, TOM THE DANCING BUG, many of The New Yorker guys.

9. Who looks sexier with the bald head, Daddy Warbucks or Ziggy?

I'm straight, so I don't find men sexy. Even cartoon men. Ziggy is cooler; Warbucks is less creepy.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

The concept comes first, then I come up with words and a pic to express it. I don't know how I "develop" ideas, I just surf the web looking for something that stirs up an unusual idea and go from there.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

I used to, but after consistently making daily deadlines for 25 years, through death, sickness, divorce, adultery -- you name it -- I don't worry any more. I figure I'll make it somehow.

12. You’ve done several vegan-themed BIZARRO strips. How long have you been a vegan?

I went from meat-eater to vegan in the summer of 2002 after reading about factory farming and visiting a farm animal sanctuary.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

A hands-on editor is good if you agree with their opinions. I trust my editor, Brendan Burford at King Features, implicitly, so I always get a lot out of his suggestions and advice. But he is very hands-off 90% of the time.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

Book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Going Native by Steven Wright (not the comedian).

TV shows: (current) Weeds, 30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords, Michael and Michael Have Issues, Damages, Lost, True Blood, Dexter... yes, I'm sort of a junky.

Films: The Big Lebowski

15. What are your tools of the trade?

I draw with a mechanical pencil, ink with brush and India ink (even the lettering), scan it into Photoshop and do all the changes and coloring there.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

It sure as hell isn't the groupies, they're all teenage boys. I'd say being my own boss, doing what I like and actually making a living, travel opportunities. (speaking engagements, book signings, etc.).

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

I've met a number through the NCS (National Cartoonists Society). We have a convention once a year and I've been able to become friends with people like David Silverman (Simpsons director), Sergio Aragones, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee, etc.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Practice. That's the only way to learn to draw and write in ways that interest readers. Create comics you would like to read; don't try to predict what others might like.

19. How important are awards?

They are meaningless to anything other than your ego. They don't help your career a bit.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

I killed Jimmy Hoffa.


Dan Reynolds said...

Dan's always had great work. I always enjoy a cartoon that has a good hook in it. This is why fish never read the comics section.

Keep them coming, Scott.

Dan Reynolds

Scott Nickel said...


I'd love to interview you. Are you up for 20 Questions?

email me at