A Conversation with Bizarro cartoonist Dan Piraro, Part One of Three

Posted by on November 3rd, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 


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LIBRESCU: In the past, readers might have seen a cartoon in the New Yorker and looked at the signature. Many times the name was all they’d ever know about the artist. Today, we have Facebook and blogs. A reader can Google your name and find a way to be in instant communication with you. You’ve even done a book tour where you’ve slept in fans’ homes. How do you feel about the two-way interaction that we have now?

PIRARO: I absolutely love it. My career spans both eras. The first 15 years of cartooning, I had no contact with readers unless they wrote me a letter. As you know, being a writer is a very lonely profession — you do your thing, you put a stamp on it, you send it off to be published, and that’s the last you ever hear about it. You never know if anybody’s reading this stuff. Does anybody care? Does anybody appreciate it? Has my work meant anything to anyone?

I found that to be isolating when I first started back in the ’80s. I was one of the first handful of cartoonists to put my e-mail address on my cartoon every day. I really enjoyed it when I started getting a lot of e-mails from people. It fueled me in a new way. I could judge which cartoons were really hitting the mark and which ones were confusing people, because readers would write me and say, “I don’t get this.”

So, yeah, I really thrive on that. In my personal life, I’m very much an introvert. I don’t go out a lot. I don’t go to a lot of parties and that sort of thing. I’m not very friendly or confident in situations where I’m anonymous. I’m not the kind of guy who could make friends with strangers at a bar or a party if nobody knows who I am.

On the other hand, I have a performer’s personality. I’m always ready to get up in front of an audience and do comedy or something. I love that immediate feedback. When I go to book signings and things and people introduce themselves to me, then I’m super-friendly and relaxed and I’m not the least bit shy. I’d love to talk to psychologists about what that personality profile means or if it has a name. Personality profiles always ask, “Are you an extrovert or an introvert?” Well, I’m both and I’m the extreme case of both. Other people have that quality also.

I started doing standup comedy shows and giving talks about my cartoons because I enjoy the feedback. I love the instant reactions of the audience when I’m showing cartoons on a screen, reading the captions in funny voices and hearing people laugh, expounding on the cartoons with comical anecdotes, or doing standup comedy routines.

I love writing my daily blog. I wish I could make money off that thing. I love reading the comments and hearing from people on Facebook. But if I didn’t have this cartoon thing, I wouldn’t be going on Facebook every day and just chatting with people. That’s not my thing. But I love putting the art out there and getting people’s responses. That’s what I really love using it for.

So I couldn’t be happier with the Internet situation in the sense that it gives you a connection with your readers. People are always so excited when I answer them and respond to their comments and things. They get really hooked on it. They feel like I care, that I’m not some inaccessible celebrity that’s off somewhere in the ether, the way that some people might expect.

I think of myself as a very, very low-tier celebrity. The word celebrity is ridiculous in the first place. You can meet the most famous actor in the world and if you chat with them for 10 minutes, you realize that this is just an average person who happened to get into a job that causes people to harass them in public. There’s really no magic about it. The magic disappears as soon as you meet them.

But people do associate magic with it, so they assume when they write to me that it’s a one-sided conversation. They’re thrilled when I respond. It’s nice to be able to do that, to humanize myself, because I don’t like that kind of weird separation that happens between fandom and celebrity. I’m not even comfortable saying that.

 

 

LIBRESCU: I think that part of it is that people think that someone who does what you do is an incredibly busy person and they’re impressed that you took the time out of your day to reply to them.

PIRARO: That aspect of it is true. I do work seven days a week, and at least eight hours a day, if not 10. But I think that answering e-mails, writing blogs, and returning comments is part of the job. It bothers me a lot when I find an e-mail that’s three months old that I missed. It bothers me so much that somebody wrote to me and I meant to write them back and I didn’t. It makes me feel like some stuck-up jackass who doesn’t care about the people who I depend on for my income. I hate that feeling. But it’s inevitable. I get dozens and dozens, sometimes hundreds of e-mails a day, and can’t personally answer every single one of them. But I do my best.

 


 

This interview continues tomorrow as Piraro talks about his typical work day and why comic strips have gotten so bad.

 

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