No drug symbols in “Bizarro”
That eye above the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill – you know that’s the sign of the all-powerful, diabolical Illuminati?
And when you play the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” backwards, you hear, “Turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man...” again and again and again.
Oh, and when you watch “Three Men and a Baby,” the ghost of a young boy who died in the house where the movie was being filmed peeks out from behind a curtain.
All urban legends. And none of them true.
Perhaps not to the same degree, but the comic strip “Bizarro,” which is carried daily in the Observer-Reporter, has been subject to the same kind of conspiratorial whispers and speculation. Drawn and written by Dan Piraro for almost 30 years, the story has it that Piraro’s single-panel strip is packed with drug references, and, more to the point, references to the designer drug K2, a form of synthetic cannabis.
Here at the Observer-Reporter in the last six months or so, we have received a couple of complaints from readers about “Bizarro,” asking that it be pulled because of the alleged drug references.
So, we put the question straight to Piraro on the phone one recent afternoon: What’s up with the purported drug symbols in “Bizarro”?
And the explanation turns out to be less sinister than it is endearing.
“I assume they’re referring to the K2? Both of my daughters’ first names begin with K. I’ve been doing that since about 1996, long before that manufactured drug was ever invented.”
The symbols are also a tribute of sorts to fellow Missourian and cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, who was known for his caricatures of theater and entertainment figures until his death in 2003, and was also known to stash references to other things in his work.
“I’ve always been a fan of hidden things or things to look for,” Piraro explained. “My regular readers get a kick out of looking for them … It’s all just a lark.”
Some of the other symbols Piraro uses frequently in “Bizarro” include a rabbit, a crown, a stick of dynamite and an upside down bird. The number of symbols in each strip are noted by Piraro in a number above his signature.
Piraro has been creating “Bizarro” since January 1985, when it emerged in the wake of the success of “The Far Side,” Gary Larson’s single-panel cartoon that arrived five years before. The appearance of “The Far Side” helped shake up newspaper comics pages, with publishers realizing there was an audience for hipper, more surrealistic humor and not just for the relatively tame, old-school variety promulgated by the likes of “Beetle Bailey” or “Blondie.” Duly liberated from a job as an advertising illustrator that had left him unhappy, Piraro has built an audience with “Bizarro” over the last 28 years that places it in about 350 markets around the world. He has also branched out into other areas, putting a one-man comedy show on the road, creating fine art and, in 2007, designing a limited-edition T-shirt.
After becoming a vegan about 11 years ago, themes having to do with this lifestyle change and cruelty to animals have crept into “Bizarro.” Piraro also skewers consumerism and corporate greed in his strip, and took some jabs at President George W. Bush at the height of the Iraq War.
“It’s always funny how many people will concern themselves with little things in comic strips,” Piraro said, “as if comic strips have the power to change the world, though I wish they could.”