7 Questions About Illustrating a Point with Bizarro’s Dan Piraro
by Matthew Crouch
Photo by Pat Johnson Dan Piraro
Photo by Pat Johnson
Dan Pirarois a surrealist painter, illustrator and cartoonist best-known for his award-winning syndicated panel cartoon, Bizarro. He and his wife, Ashley, reside in Brooklyn, N.Y. Piraro, a vegan who is active in animal rights issues, recently published his newest book, Bizarro and Other Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro. For more information, visit http://www.bizarro.com.
Dan Piraro: Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted to do for a living was draw. I wanted to be an artist. As an adult, I found it difficult to make a living in the fine arts. I ended up getting sucked into doing commercial illustration — advertising — because there was money in it and it looked like fun from the outside. I was miserable and really didn’t like it, so I continued my quest throughout my 20s, trying to figure out a place that I could make a living as an artist and have some creative control. At around the age of 24, I got the idea that I could maybe be a newspaper cartoonist. I thought that would be something where I could be creative but also make some money. That actually was the worst get-rich-quick scheme I ever had! It took many years after that to actually get syndicated and quit my other advertising jobs.
DD: What are your influences?
DP: Who knows! I think the only honest answer would be everything that I have ever seen. I think creative people let things come into their heads in one form and go out in another form. I guess that would be how I describe the styles and things I write about.
DD: Do you consider being a cartoonist a fun and exciting job?
DP: No matter how interesting your job is, if you have to do it day-in and day-out, it becomes routine and quite dull. I have often said that the best way to ruin any hobby is to get paid for it. That’s kind of what happened to me because cartooning was one of my favorite hobbies and when I started getting paid for it, it became this gun to my head, with deadlines and stuff. It took a while to enjoy it again.
DD: In the past, you have described your cartoons as surreal — what is your definition of that?
DP: I don’t even know the dictionary definition. I always have considered it to be very strange, sort of impossible things in normal settings. I always thought that was the gist of surreal art because I have always been attracted to unusual things happening in everyday life.
DD: When did your involvement in animal rights start appearing in your cartoons?
DP: I always have been sympathetic to the underdog — the animals. It is kind of natural for me to help defend those who can’t defend themselves. I think most people can’t bear to see an animal suffer. I used to do cartoons against wearing fur and hunting, but to be honest, I thought vegetarians and PETA people were freaks and hippies with too much free time. The missing link there was that I did not truly understand the nature of "food animals" and what they went through to get on my plate.
About five years ago, I started dating a woman (now my wife) who had been an animal rights activist since childhood. Her answers to my questions were really compelling, and I began to understand about factory farms, slaughterhouses and the laws regarding cruelty to animals. I began to lean that way. Then, one day, I went to an animal sanctuary and saw all of these animals in a non-stress, natural environment and I realized that they are every bit as individual as you and me. It washed over me and at that moment, I became vegan. I didn’t think of myself as an activist but I thought, "I’ve got to do something to get this information out." Shortly thereafter — because everything that goes in my head comes out in the form of a cartoon — lo and behold, there was a cartoon. Animal cruelty is not a very funny subject, so it was very difficult to write into cartoons; but eventually, it got a voice in my cartoons. Now, animal rights are something I deal with on an ongoing basis.
DD: Do you think lawyers can be funny and use that humor to illustrate a point?
DP: I imagine that everybody can be funny. I have personally known only a few lawyers in my entire life. A bunch of lawyers are on my e-mail lists and I am guessing that they are funny because they get my cartoons and they buy a lot of original artwork off my website. Humor is a great way to illustrate a point and educate. I am a big believer in it!
DD: What is your favorite law and why?
DP: That is a strange one. It is a good question, but it is not one that I have thought of before. Nothing springs to mind. On the whole, I am not a big fan of laws. I can say much about laws I don’t like. I can’t stand laws that pertain to victimless activities. A law against homosexuality makes me crazy; a law against marijuana drives me nuts. Those kinds of things just drive me crazy. As far as a favorite law, I can’t come up with anything because I am not a person who enjoys restriction of any kind. D