Cartoonist Dan Piraro looks up from his drawing monitor: “You mind if I keep working a little bit on the side here while we talk?”
Piraro is a busy man.
His one-panel comic series Bizarro is featured in more than 350 daily and Sunday newspapers, which requires him to churn out a hand-cramping seven cartoons a week.
He maintains a strict routine to keep up with this level of demand so he alternates his attention between his work station and his webcam where he chats with me via Skype.
Piraro is absolutely absorbed by his literal task at hand.
He responds to each of my questions with a laid-back gusto- not dissimilar to the feel of his daily strip, although there are some topics that get him going. Take the environment for example.
“Virtually all animals know not to shit where they sleep,” Piraro said. “They try to defecate as far away from where they live and raise their families. In a local sense we do that but in a larger sense we’re poisoning the one planet that’s inhabitable to us.”
That’s one of the few riffs Piraro goes on during our 28-minute conversation.
He is a man of passion when he feels drawn to a topic.
It was the way he was raised.
His parents were Kennedy Democrats.
Public service was a big deal in their home and they wanted their children, Dan and his sisters, to show the same sense of responsibility their beloved president had.
“I was raised to believe that certain things in life are more important than your job or social standing,” Piraro said. “We were sort of raised with that notion that it’s up to everyone to build and maintain a society worth living in.”
Piraro doesn’t hide his liberal political views in his strip but he said that he doesn’t consider himself much of a political cartoonist either.
He’s different. Hard to pin down. So is his work.
In the world of syndicated cartoons, there are humorous comic strips featuring cute kids or sarcastic animals and then there are political strips that maybe feature cute kids or sarcastic animals who have a bone to pick with a specific politician or political party.
Piraro tries to keep himself within the lines but sometimes his sensibilities get the best of him.
This happened in 2005 when he drew a panel relating to gay marriage and changed it due to concerns that it would not be received well.
Piraro said that sometimes he worries that his panel will be received differently to a general audience that he wants it to be.
“My editor will call me saying that a certain cartoon might upset people in more conservative markets,” Piraro said. “It could result in losing a newspaper client and getting my strip replaced with something that doesn’t make pointed political statements.”
Piraro will sometimes side with his editor.
It’s not worth losing a client over a panel he isn’t 100% invested in.
But most of the time, Piraro said that he will take the risk of getting his point across.
Public service, remember?
“I’m not a balls-to-the-walls political activist but with my strip I have a growing audience and a sense of obligation to address some issues that seemed to me to be social injustices that could be repaired with changes in attitude,” Piraro said.
Despite the reluctance of syndicated strips to go political, Piraro says there’s one figure everyone’s making an exception for.
“When I started doing cartoons on Donald Trump I expected a similar response as to when I was doing George W. Bush cartoons,” Piraro said. “Lose a paper here or there but nothing happened. They didn’t mind I was taking these pot shots at Trump even though I’m technically not allowed to delve into politics.”
Readers don’t seem to mind either.
Dan claims his readership has actually gone up since Trump took office but he’s not allowing for “anti-president” material to dominate his strip any time soon.
He limits himself to one Trump cartoon for every seven panels he produces.
For now, Bizarro is more focused on the patented absurdism that makes it unlike anything else in the funnies.
Whether it’s a crossdresser lamenting the pointlessness of cross dressing in the Middle East or God creating mankind when he was piss drunk over a wild weekend, Bizaroo is the product of Dan Piraro’s hypernormal imagination.
It’s not die-hard political satire but it’s not exactly a cat who for some reason enjoys lasagna.
“My cartoons are an artistic representation of the way I think and imagine things,” Piraro said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not a millionaire.”
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