Dan Piraro, Creator of Bizarro

September 21, 2007

    His saucy, sarcastic, sometimes grotesque but hilarious humour extends beyond the printed panel, Bizarro. A syndicated cartoonist since 1985, Dan Piraro is also a stand-up comedian, performing shows for small and large appreciative audiences with the Bizarro Bologna Show. He is of a rare sort, capable of seeing the "funny" in everything.

    The single-panel creator was born Dan Charles Piraro on October 10, 1958 in Kansas City, MO and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With his heart set on being a fine artist, he attended the arts program of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, but left before completing a degree.

   Taking low-level jobs to pay the bills, Piraro slaved delivering telephone books, then filing press-on type.*(1) Life as a serious artist was a dream that was fading from view. He found work at an advertising agency and, at age 24, transferred his artistic skills to cartooning.

Piraro 4

    King Features Syndicate liked Bizarro and took on Piraro when he was 26 years old, using the panel as a replacement for the departing Gary Larsen's Far Side. (Larsen had moved his comic to Universal Syndicate.) Piraro found it a struggle to continue working at the ad agency and produce a daily cartoon. "So then I was stuck with both," he told in an interview on CecilVortex.com. "I had the panic of the deadline and I hated my day job. And that went on for years before I made enough to be able to get away from it."*(2)

    During this time, Piraro married and had two daughters. After 16 years, his marriage fell apart.
Devastated, he still "had to write a funny idea every day and keep my cartoon deadline going. Piraro was able to keep up the pace and able to produce comic panels that showed little sign of a year of deep distress.

   With Piraro's quirky sense of comic humour, the Bizarro panel is very popular in some markets and less so in others. Mostly to entertain himself, the cartoonist added little symbols to his panels: a slice of pie, an upside-down bird, a firecracker and several other small pictures. He wondered if his readers would notice the additions. Well, they certainly were reading his panel carefully - the letters stared arriving with abundant "What's that"? questions. 
That is just what Piraro likes - to keep the attention of readers, to make them ask.

    In November of 2001, the Bizarro Bologna Show hit the stage for the first time in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rather than doing a boring lecture tour, the imaginative Piraro created a one-man theatrical event with song, poetry, clairvoyance, puppets and great humour. (Lately his daughter, Killian Piraro, has joined him on stage with her violin.) Playing at sites around the US, the show has been a great hit. The Bizarro Bologna Show won the Fringe Festival Award for Best Solo Act, out of three hundred or so choices, in 2002. (See his website for upcoming dates and news.)

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   While at a convention years before, Piraro met Ashley Smith, daughter of cartoonist Ralph Smith (creator of "Through Thick and Thin") and step-daughter of Chris Brown (Of "Hagar the Horrible" and "Raising Duncan" fame) They began dating in 2001 and only a few months later were married in 2002 by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas. In true Piraro style, the wedding was a spur-of-the-moment event while on a vacation with Ashley's family and the pair haven't looked back.
He had met Ashley's family only the day before.

    An activist and teacher in animal rights, Ashley has been a vegan since a child, avoiding all meat and animal products. With his wife's guidance, Dan Piraro became a vegan in 2002, after learning of the personalities and communication that animals have, and the miseries and treatment animals are subjected to, to become someone's dinner. After being up close to critters on a trip to an animal sanctuary, he was surprised to find animals were not "dumb". On his website, he comments that, "Cows, pigs and chickens are as smart, friendly and loving as dogs and cats." (His daughters are now also vegans.)

    Piraro includes veganism in his comic panel, along with his thoughts on social issues, the environment and political events. He receives a fair amount of hate mail on topics such as gay rights, gun control and oddly enough, whenever he takes a poke at Fox News. Apparently there is a group "who believes that Fox News covers the news in a more fair and balanced way than any other network on the planet." *(3) He and Ashley both sport animal rights tattoos that he, of course, designed.

    Since he has survived life's ups and downs while still creating great laughs, the pressures and deadlines of cartooning are no longer a bother to Piraro. He has been able to refine his daily routine to fit in the many other projects that are important to him. He is able to write the ideas for Bizarro in about an hour's time, then draws out the panels when he gets the chance. In about two days, he can create a week of the hysterically-funny cartoon, with writing taking only about two hours of that time. He enjoys the looming deadline to get his work done.

Piraro 2
Piraro 1

    Bizarro appears in about 250 newspapers around the world. Piraro has won several awards for his eclectic cartoon, including the Best Cartoon Panel of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society in 2000, 2001 and 2002. It has been nominated several more times. Also a fine-artist, he has won awards for his oil paintings (which also have the special Piraro flare for strangeness). Piraro has a dozen books to his credit, including the latest, a book about his life and art, entitled, "Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro", published Abrams, 2006.

    With a firm grip on the ridiculous and a humour that seems to fill his whole life, Dan Piraro is a man of huge talents, with a kind heart and a warrior's spirit when it comes to animals. He could be an example for more people to follow. Dan and Ashley make their home in New York City. Their house is often occupied by several cats and foster animals - even the occasional chickens and chicks.

    Oh - and the meaning of the firecracker in the panel? The small lit stick of dynamite represents his wife, Ashley. It "represents to me the ability of one small thing to change everything drastically in an instant. Like an explosion."

   See the absolutely absorbing Bizarro website: www.bizarro.com

   *(1) http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/268419_bizarro01.html

   *(2) http://cecilvortex.com/swath/2007/06/21/an_interview_with_dan_piraro.html

   *(3) http://www.satyamag.com/aug06/piraro.html

© Susanna McLeod 2007