Dan Piraro was born and raised in the dead
center of the United States in the late 1900s. An avid artist since
childhood and an art school dropout, he had a successful career as a
commercial illustrator before becoming a cartoonist. BIZARRO
was first syndicated in 1985 and since then has built a steady and
loyal following in the United States and Canada, as well as in parts of
Europe, Asia and South America. (King Features)
Sandbox World– Progressive art can assist people to
learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in
which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their
interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social
emancipation.* How does New York play a role as a social character in
your art since you moved there?
Dan Piraro– New York City has
played an enormous role in my life and thus, in my cartoons. The people
one meets here on a daily basis, the pulse and personality of the city,
the creative energy that is evident at every turn, all these things
conspire to shape one’s perceptions in a powerful way. One direct way in
which I have been influenced by the city is in the people I have met.
The city is teeming with creative people in every field, well-known and
novices alike. As you attend parties, art openings, fund raisers, comedy
shows, theatrical performances, whatever, you quickly begin to meet
them which leads to exchanging ideas and inspirations and your being
invited to more events and meeting more creative people and before you
know it, you’re in the mainstream with the big dogs. This kind of
connection with other creative minds is invaluable and something you
can’t get just anywhere. There are only a handful of places on earth
with this kind of artistic atmosphere.
Sandbox World-Of all your strips you drew all these years, which one would be a perfect epitaph to sum up your life?
Dan Piraro– I’ve published over 8000 cartoons in my
career, so it would be impossible for me to think of one that sums up my
life. I don’t intentionally write cartoons that sum up my life so there
may not be one. My favorite cartoon of mine is one in which two
characters in burqas
are standing on a street in the Middle East somewhere. One says,” I’d
love to live in the West — being a transvestite here is pointless.”
If you were 26 today, and as a reflect on your own children’s growth as
individuals would you take a different direction as an artist today?
Dan Piraro– I’d make lots of different decisions if I
were young and knew what I know now. Who wouldn’t? I would never have
married my first wife, for one. But then I wouldn’t have my two
daughters, and life without them isn’t something I like to imagine. I’d
have moved to New York as a young man and applied myself to building a
fine art career. But then I’d doubtless be without a cartoon career and
might never have gotten into performance comedy, which is really
important to me. These hypothetical games always double back on you.Sandbox–
You handle in your strip some very serious issues that would offend
many partisan groups, have you ever been seriously threatened by any
group who did not agree with you?
Dan Piraro– I’ve been insulted many times but never
threatened. Most people are capable of complaining but not actual
violence so I figure the odds are in my favor that nothing serious will
ever come of my editorial stances. Seems like a nutjob
would rather go after an actual editorial cartoonist, someone who is
offending them on a daily basis, than a guy like me who interjects
controversy into my work only a couple times a month.
Sandbox World– Many artists do commissioned jobs. What was the strangest request you received or you did not feel right with?
Dan Piraro– Hasn’t happened.
Sandbox World– Taking an example of Rene Magritte
from one of your strips where he is a lousy panhandler, which artist
never really did it for you?
Dan– I’m not fond, or even tolerant of simple,
non-representational work like that of Mark Rothko. I can’t look at a
solid red canvas hanging in a museum without wondering if a song with
only one note, or a book that consisted of only one word would ever even
be published, much less receive acclaim.
Sandbox World– As a moral compass where do see yourself shifting from your original beliefs instilled from your parents?
Dan Piraro– The biggest shift would be in the area
of religion. I was raised Catholic and took religion seriously as a
youth. Accordingly, I read a lot about world religion and theology,
traveled, experienced the culture of various spiritual beliefs firsthand
and have become agnostic as a result. As cliche as it sounds, I have
come to believe that organized religion has done far more harm than
good, both to individuals and to society. Like all human endeavors, a
small handful use it for good, the vast majority use it as an excuse not
to think or act on their own. My veganism
and animal rights beliefs are different than the way I was raised, too,
of course, but I don’t think that it is really such a shift from my
parents’ beliefs. They would never perpetrate or tolerate animal abuse
in their presence, they just don’t realize how much misery their
lifestyle choices really cause. It’s more a matter of education than
Sandbox World– In the grand scheme of things where do you see yourself in the universe as an individual?
Dan Piraro– No one person amounts to anything at all
on the grand scale of the universe. The most famous and powerful
persons who ever lived are still a nano-second
blip in the grand scheme. But each person makes a huge difference in
the world around them for the few moments they are here and that is
important. For that reason, I try to make compassionate choices whenever
possible by not buying products of any kind that result from the death
or misery of another being. That goes all the way from not buying shoes
made in a sweat shop in Indonesia to not eating the tortured corpse of a
chicken. I also try to make positive contributions to society in the
form of art and humor. Making people laugh and/or think is a good thing
in my view.
Sandbox World– What one thing would you do to change society as a whole?
would be that every person on earth would lose their species-centric
arrogance and wake up to the misery caused by the daily choices they
make. The food they eat, the products they buy, the gas they burn. All
of these so-called “normal” activities wreak horrible damage on our
planet, our fellow humans, and the other species with which we share
this tiny island.
Sandbox World– Do you find yourself getting more
respect as a cartoonist today as compared to those cartoonists when you
started? It seems that mainstream is giving cartoonists more respect
with gallery shows, graphic novels, and more movies based on comics or
is society just getting lazier with computers and are reading less?
Dan Piraro– Yes, I think cartooning is experiencing a
wonderful renaissance which I am happy to see. With few exceptions, I
believe newspaper cartoons have gone steadily downhill since their
golden age in the early and mid 20th
century, but other forms have taken off in wonderful ways. Graphic
novels and underground comics are coming of age in a big way.
Sandbox World– What celebrity came up to you and was
a fan of your work and you were surprised to find out?That has happened
to me a few times and it’s always a thrill. The ones that stand out in
my mind are Charles Schulz, Dennis Kucinich, Alicia Silverstone, Daryl Hannah, and Bill Maher.
Not all of these people “came up to me,” but it was very gratifying
upon meeting them to find out that they were familiar with my work and
Dan Piraro– If you were to take a comic strip from
any newspaper and a major cartoonist fell ill one day and called you to
replace him for a few months. Which cartoonist would you replace and
why.It’s hard enough to do my own cartoon every day. The thought of
doing someone else’s makes me a little queasy.
Sandbox World– As a young lad which comic book artist or comic book strip artist really like and you wanted to emulate him later in life?
Dan Piraro-I’ve always been a fan of the character
design of the newspaper strip, Tumbleweeds. I used to draw those
characters in my early teens. Whatever you might think of the feature, TK
Ryan has a unique and superior design sense that you just don’t see in
newspaper comics. I still look at it every day just because I enjoy the
Sandbox World– Do you have any favorite young cartoonist who just started?
Dan Piraro– I don’t follow the industry very closely
so I normally don’t even hear of an artist until they’ve been around a
while. There’s an underground guy named Scott Campbell who does
incredibly funny things with historical situations. I’ve seen a bit of
his work in a publication called “Hickee”
published by Alternative Comics. The other cartoonists in that
anthology are very good, too. Campbell did a story about the Aztecs
(which I can’t remember where I saw) that was hysterical.
Sandbox World– Forbes declared Charlie Shultz
behind Elvis as a top grossing dead celebrity last year? Do you find he
prostituted his art to anybody with a checkbook unlike Bill Watterson and what became of Bill?
Dan Piraro– I’ve never blamed Schulz for licensing his work, nor admired Watterson
for not doing so. I don’t see how selling something makes it less
valuable, never have. If you want a piece of fine art, buy the original
cartoon and hang it on your wall. If you can’t afford that, buy a
licensed product and hang (or wear) that. It’s a cartoon, for god’s
sake, not a religious relic. In my opinion, Watterson took himself way too seriously, something far too many humans do.
Sandbox World– Do you think his legacy with Calvin will live a long time and do you worry about Bizarro’s own legacy in the milieu that you are in. After you are long gone, what do you want people to remember Bizarro for being. A comic strip or a social conscience?
Dan Piraro– I have no idea what his legacy will be,
nor mine for that matter. I’d like to think that people will remember my
art for a time after I’m gone, but there’s no telling. You do the best
you can and history has its way with you. I suppose that view is all
part of my not taking myself too seriously motto. Either way, I won’t be
here to care.
Sandbox World– Thank you for your time in the Sandbox Dan.
Dan Piraro– Thanks to you, Mr. Sandbox. I’ve had a lovely time.