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THE BIZARRO ART OF DAN PIRARO

Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro, by Dan Piraro (200 9x10.5-inch pages, b/w and color; Abrams paperback, $24.95):

Piraro 10-24-06 Piraro’s panel cartoon was 25 years old in 2010, and although this excellent book was published in 2009, it is an entirely suitable anniversary celebration. In addition to a generous selection of daily and Sunday panels, the book also offers a sampling of Piraro’s sketches and paintings and hunks of prose tracing his personal and professional biography, including his Catholic upbringing in Tulsa, his first marriage and agonizing divorce and his subsequent marriage to Ashley Lou Smith, the love of his life (and daughter of cartoonist Ralph Smith). He also discusses the various causes to which he has given allegiance both in person and in his cartoon — the environment and animal welfare, to name two of the more conspicuous.

Until 2000, Piraro says he didn’t pay too much attention to the purely political content of the American so-called civilization. “Like most Americans, I followed world events via tv headlines, which don’t tell you enough to make an informed decision about anything,” he writes. “Like the vast majority of voters, I voted for president based on which candidate gave me the best ‘vibes.’ (For the record, I voted for Al Gore in 2000, even though the vibes he gave me were questionable — but Bush actually sucked the vibes right out of me, leaving me with nothing but the willies.) But when I realized that America was rather clearly on the way up Shit Creek and Bush had given all our paddles away to his rich friends, I started following the news more carefully.”

Piraro, Will Vote for Change And his political views found their way into Bizarro. But, in an attempt to be prudent, Piraro limited the frequency of his politically tinged cartoons — until the week before the 2004 election, when he ran eight political jokes in a row, after which “I endured a storm of complaints,” he said. In one cartoon slated for publication the previous summer, he showed presidential spokesman at a press conference being asked: “Is that the truth, or the ‘Manure du Jour’?” Said Piraro: “It was decided that this cartoon would be tantamount to saying te president was full of shit and would lead to cancellations, so it was never published.”

Piraro can be particularly virulent on the subject of homosexuality. “The idea that sexual orientation is a choice is so funny I can hardly stand it,” he writes. “Does this mean that Dubya and Jerry Falwell and Rick Santorum chose to be heterosexual but could just as easily have been gay? That would explain why this issue gets them so riled up.”

Throughout the book, in picture and prose, narrative text and captions, we have a splendid array of Piraro’s uncannily off-beat humor and his attractive and boldly hachured drawing style. He won the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben last spring as “cartoonist of the year.” He wasn’t there to receive the award, for which he had been nominated several times in the past, but he was gracious in reaction to it: “It’s a great honor, and I’m very happy to see my name on that list [of Reuben winners]. To be honest, I didn’t think that a relatively ‘outsider’ panel like Bizarro would ever be considered for a hall-of-fame-type award, so I’m surprised as well as flattered” — as reported in Editor & Publisher by Rob Tornoe, also a cartoonist. I’m still reading and enjoying this book.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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