Dan Piraro Wins NCS Reuben

Posted by on May 30th, 2010 at 2:12 PM

At the annual Reubens Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society, just concluded in exotic Jersey City, Dan Piraro collected, at last, the Reuben trophy as Cartoonist of the Year, a distinction for which he has been nominated several times and has deserved every time but has only just this time achieved.

That’s Piraro’s self-caricature in this sample of his Bizarro panel; he shows up every once in a while in the cartoon (as does his highly ornamented wife Ashley Smith, former rockette and alpine ski jump champion). More about Piraro and the slice of pie (next to his right foot in this drawing) in a minute.

But first, thanks to the ever-alert gang at Hogan’s Alley, here is a list of the winners of the NCS “division awards” for cartooning endeavors in the various genre of the medium. I’m listing all the nominees since, ostensibly, being nominated is nearly as much an honor as winning; the winners I’ve boldfaced and marked with an asterisk (*).

THE REUBEN AWARD

Cartoonist of the Year

Stephen Pastis, Pearls Before Swine
*Dan Piraro, Bizarro
Richard Thompson, Cul de Sac

TELEVISION ANIMATION

Kevin Deters – “Walt Disney Prep and Landing”
Mike Gray – “The Infinite Goliath”
*Seth McFarlane – “Family Guy”

FEATURE ANIMATION

*Ronnie del Carmen – Storyboard Artist – “Up”
Tomm Moore – Director – “The Secret of Kells”
Barry Reynolds – Character Designer – “The Secret of Kells”

NEWSPAPER ILLUSTRATION

Bob Rich
*Tom Richmond
Robert Sanchuk

GAG CARTOONS

*Glenn McCoy
V.G. Myers
Dave Whamond

GREETING CARDS

Glenn McCoy
Kieran Meehan
*Debbie Tomassi

NEWSPAPER COMIC STRIPS

John Hambrock, The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee
Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur
*Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, Zits

NEWSPAPER PANEL CARTOONS

Dave Blazek, Loose Parts
Tony Carillo, F Minus
*Hilary Price, Rhymes with Orange

MAGAZINE FEATURE/MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION

*Ray Alma
Anton Emdin
Tom Richmond

BOOK ILLUSTRATION

Lou Brooks – “Twimericks”
Tom Richmond – “Bo Confidential”
*Dave Whamond – “My Think-A-Ma-Jink”

EDITORIAL CARTOONS

Nick Anderson
Rob Rogers
*John Sherffius

ADVERTISING ILLUSTRATION

*Steve Brodner
Randall Enos
Mort Gerberg

COMIC BOOKS

Terry Moore, Echo
*Paul Pope, Strange Adventures
J.H. Williams, Detective Comics

GRAPHIC NOVELS

*David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp
Seth, George Sprott
David Small, Stitches

Now here is a sampler of Piraro’s fairly recent Bizarro efforts. We begin with a couple Sunday forays, including a black-and-white cartoon he submitted to Parade magazine, where his non-Bizarro (albeit still usually bizarre) cartoons frequently appear.

If you examine carefully the visual flora in the “50-Foot Woman” cartoon, you’ll see several pictographs that are quite beside the point of the cartoon and/or its joke: beginning at the lower left, a tiny stick of dynamite (fuse alight) and a minuscule space creature in a flying saucer; behind the officer’s seat, an eyeball; and on the dashboard, a slice of pie.

Some weeks ago, Ted Diadiun at the Cleveland Plain Dealer attempted an explanation of these mysterious glyphs. The short explanation, he proffered, “is that Dan Piraro, who has drawn the panel since 1986, is a fan of ‘seek-n-find’ pictures, and he’s just having fun.

“The longer answer is that one day in 1995, he dropped a tiny upside-down bird in a panel on a whim, just to see if anyone would notice. Then he did it again, and again, and soon began getting e-mails from readers asking about them, and complaining if they weren’t there. He developed a surreal philosophical explanation for each” and a name (the “pie of opportunity,” the “inverted bird,” the “flying saucer of possibility,” the “eyeball of observation,” the “crown of power,” the “mysteries of K2,” the “lost loafer,” th bunny of exuberance,” the “arrow of vulnerability,” and the “fish of humility.”
Piraro, who also does stand-up comedy, offered a more elaborate justification for these flights of emblematic delinquency in a 2001 collection of Sunday panels, Life Is Strange and So Are You:

“If you are a Bizarro fan, you ‘get’ things others miss. … You are among the blessed few who see through the yogurt of our earthy existence while most are blind to the everyday weirdness that surrounds them. … In your daily trudge through the yogurt, you may encounter the occasional Bizarro joke you do not understand. Chastise yourself not for this state of puzzlement. Walk not through the streets flagellating yourself and crying out to the heavens, ‘I do not get it, for I am a dullard.’ Instead, remain quiet, smile and nod knowingly and just play ‘find the upside-down bird, pie, eyeball, etc.’ In truth, even Piraro doesn’t get all of the jokes.”
Piraro told Diadiun that not a week goes by without a few questions. “The bunny of exuberance is the most frequently cited,” he said. There’s a group of senior citizens in Seattle who have formed a “Bizarro Bunny Bunch,” complete with sweatshirts. Piraro and his wife stayed with one of them once on a visit there.

“If this seems a bit off the wall,” Diadiun concludes, “well—don’t forget the name of the panel.”

And now here are a few more with a smattering of those compensatory visual symbols in case you don’t get the jokes. Pat yourself on th back for spotting the pie of excellence, the eyeball of observation, the flying saucer of possibility, K2, the stick of dynamite (which, as of 2001, had not yet acquired a title) and the famous jaw of jocularity.

Next time, we’ll carp and grouse a little about the winners and losers in this annual feat of self-indulgence while, at the self-same awe-inspiring time, committing a little free-wheeling criticism.

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