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

Posted by on November 5th, 2010 at 12:01 AM


Family Food Chain, 1955, watercolor and ball point pen, 9″x12″.


LIBRESCU: An upside-down bird. An eyeball. A stick of dynamite. A tiny alien in a spaceship. A bunny. A crown. A fish tail. The characters “K2.” A piece of pie. These are all images that are embedded in your cartoons. What’s the meaning of these images and how did you start including them in your work?

PIRARO: According to my website, it’s an elaborate philosophical message that leads you on the road to ultimate Bizarro awareness. In truth, I started it in about ’95 or so. As much as I enjoy drawing cartoons, it still becomes a grind when you have to do it every day, all day, forever. Sometimes I would get bored, and I’ve always liked hidden images in seek and find. What was that children’s book?

LIBRESCU: Highlights Magazine.

PIRARO: Highlights Magazine, seek and find things — I loved that stuff as a kid. The only good thing about going to the doctor or the dentist was being able to read Highlights Magazine.

One day, on a whim, I decided to drop a little upside-down bird in the background of one of my drawings. And I thought, well that was fun, so a couple of days later, I did it again. And a couple of days later, I did it again. I Immediately started getting e-mails from people, saying, “What’s this little upside-down bird I’m seeing all the time? What does it mean? This is really fun. I find myself looking for it every day.”

And I thought: Of course! There are other people who enjoy this, too! So I started doing it regularly, adding other little characters. I did it for a few years. Then I put up the Web page that explained it all, with bullshit philosophical reasons for each one. That’s really the genesis of it.

None of it really means anything except for two symbols. One is the “K2.” Both of my daughters’ names start with K: Krapuzar and Krelspeth. It’s a nod to my daughters and to Al Hirschfeld, the whole Nina phenomenon. I started using the stick of dynamite when my wife and I got together in 2002, because she’s a very explosive person. Those are the only two things that really mean anything. The rest of it’s just for fun.

And it worked. I get e-mails virtually every day from people who really love looking for those hidden images. They do it with their kids, and they get disappointed when there aren’t any in there.

A few years ago, I started putting a little number by my signature because somebody said, “I’d like to know how many images are in there so I’ll know when to stop looking. Why don’t you put a little number in there somewhere?” I thought, yeah, Al Hirschfeld used to do that, another nod to Al. I’ll do it. So that’s that.


The Virgin and Her Daughters, oil on linen, 48″x48″, 1994.


LIBRESCU: Once you notice these little things, you can’t not look for them.

PIRARO: Yeah. There are different levels of cartoon reading. Some people will glance at the cartoon, read the caption, see the picture, and move on. Other people will really look. There are some people who have a much more casual acquaintance with the whole thing. They’ll write me an e-mail saying, “I’ve been reading you for years and I really love Bizarro, but last weekend I saw a piece of pie sitting under a chair. What is that about? Is that supposed to be part of the joke?” They never noticed it before. I’ll say, “No, I’ve been doing it for 15 years now.” [Laughs.] And then they go, “Oh, of course. Now I get it.”

Some people ask, “Why didn’t you put any of the symbols in this cartoon?” Well, because that cartoon is two people standing in the middle of the desert and if I had put one of those things in there, it would have become obvious. It would have confused a lot of people, and I don’t want that. I want to be able to hide it. I don’t want it to look like it’s part of the gag. So sometimes, when it’s just two people sitting at a table at dinner and there’s no background, I can’t just throw a bunch of images in there and have them floating around in the sky for no reason. I like to hide them.

LIBRESCU: So you have a cartoon that can been read on different levels, depending on who’s reading it.

PIRARO: I like to make a sort of semi-secret wink to the people who are more observant. Maybe that’s a good way to put it.


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