Bizarro’s Take on American Indians Dan Piraro grew up wanting to look Indian and ended up paying homage to them with his humor.

bizarro american indians true west magazine

When I was a boy growing up in a very small town in Oklahoma in the early 1960s, I sometimes saw Indian kids around town wearing mohawk haircuts.

As a devotee of Western movies and TV shows, I begged my parents to let me wear my hair that way. They denied my request, probably because of their own sense of decorum, but it was likely wise; I’ve no idea how a white kid wearing an Indian haircut would have been received by our Indian neighbors in those days.

bizarro american indians true west magazine
(Above) This gag reminds me of my childhood in Oklahoma, when my family had to circle the wagons to protect ourselves, not from Indians, but from tornadoes every spring.

Still, I spent a lot of my early years dressed as a cowboy or Indian in my free time and running through what woods and fields I had available, with my plastic six-shooter or my toy-store bow and arrow.

bizarro american indians true west magazine
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were favorites of mine as a child, and I’ve featured these characters in numerous cartoons over the years. This one is my favorite, playing on my childhood curiosity over why people from two different parts of the world came to be called Indians.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in big U.S. cities on the coasts. Though I had ceased dressing like an extra for Stagecoach by the time I was a teen, as an adult, I have often worn old-fashioned, corny Western shirts along with my other more sophisticated urban attire.  A couple of years ago, however, I moved to a small town in central Mexico and have begun wearing something of a cowboy costume again: boots, belt, Stetson and the same corny, vintage cowboy shirts.

bizarro american indians true west magazine
Left image: As a boy, I imagined I could track like the Indians, even on paved streets. I put my ear to the ground to guess my friends’ location: “Three Huffys and a Schwinn—four, maybe five blocks away.” Sadly, I never developed the knack for it. Right image: This is a play on the “us vs. them” argument, one of the oldest political ploys in history.

I have, however, lost my desire (and ability) to sport a mohawk haircut. Of course, Mexico has a much larger native population than the U.S., so communing with Indians here is a daily experience, and I truly enjoy it.

My move to Mexico has ushered in my retirement. Since January 1, 2018, I have created only the Sunday Bizarro cartoon. A longtime collaborator and friend, who draws by the name of Wayno, does my Monday-Saturday cartoons. After drawing more than 12,000 published Bizarro cartoons, I am now focusing on fine art, much of which has surreal Mexican themes.

bizarro american indians true west magazine
Left image: Compared to European attitudes toward sex, the U.S. is still puritanical. While a split-second glimpse of a female breast on broadcast TV can send the nation into conniption fits, you can torture and slaughter as many people as you like on TV and no one bats an eye. Right image: If Indians had controlled gambling on the frontier, history may well have been reversed as cowboys lost their weapons and horses to debts. Who knows, they might have sent all of the destitute palefaces to live in Oklahoma.

Drawing cartoons about an oppressed minority like American Indians can be a delicate affair. I’m happy to report, however, that I’ve heard from many Indians over the years who truly enjoy my Indian-themed comics and have not received a single complaint. I’ve found that very gratifying.

Dan Piraro began drawing cartoons during the mid-1970s in college, but was not published until his feature, Bizarro, was syndicated in newspapers in 1985. He has since won numerous awards for it, including the National Cartoonists Society’s “Best Newspaper Panel” and “Cartoonist of the Year.”

Where Cowboy Hats Rule!

What do you think?

Dan Piraro

The year 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the syndication of Bizarro, the single-panel cartoon by Dan Piraro regularly featured in True West’s column Truth Be Known. Piraro has reprinted Bizarro in 16 collections. Since 2001, he has traveled the country in an award-winning one-man comedy show. The National Cartoonists Society honored him with its Reuben Award in 2010. His most recent “bizarro” experience was hosting Fox’s short-lived reality show Utopia. He continues to work on his cartoons, from his California home in Los Angeles.