Dan Piraro Cartoonist

Dan PiraroArt was my first and most consistent love. I realized that because I was an incurable smart aleck, I’d likely make more money in cartooning than fine art.

I got interested in the Old West when I was a kid in the early 1960s. Most of the adventure shows were about the Old West, and I was immediately hooked. I got cowboy boots for my fourth birthday and would not take them off, even to go to bed.

My grandfather was born to a family of Sicilian immigrants and was as in love with the American Old West as I am today. He bought me that first pair of cowboy boots and would have gotten me a pony too, had my father not forbidden it on the grounds that our yard wasn’t big enough to house a horse.

My mother taught me to be an individual. If I didn’t follow the crowd, I’d likely find the crowd following me.

Before I die, I want to play a cowboy in a Western. I don’t expect it to happen, but I’d actually pay for the privilege.

No cartoonist has ever topped B. Kliban. When I was in college, my roommate had a small paperback book of cartoons by B. Kliban, called Never Eat Anything Bigger than Your Head & Other Drawings. Since then, Kliban has been my favorite cartoonist and biggest influence in the form.

My biggest complaint about cartoons today is that so few cartoonists can draw. All cartoons have two components: the gag and the illustration. Plenty of cartoons today have funny gags, but few are illustrated by good art. I miss that about the early 20th century—the Golden Age of cartooning.

One of my favorite hobbies is listening to podcasts on science, history and philosophy. Almost nothing gets me more excited than new ways of thinking about things. Many of my cartoons come from my penchant for looking at traditional things and seeing them differently.

The biggest risk I have ever taken was to go to Europe in 1979 when I was a 21-year-old college dropout with little money, no knowledge of foreign travel, nowhere to go and no one to help me. No single experience in my life has done more to shape me and open my mind to the possibilities of life.

One of the great mysteries of my life is how all of my history teachers in school found a way to make history so utterly boring. In reality, history is a never-ending, real-life soap opera with characters that Hollywood can only dream of topping.

I have created more cartoons on two subjects than any other: the Old West and Psychology. The former, because the genre captured my attention as a kid growing up in Oklahoma. The latter, because the punch lines for a person on a shrink’s couch are limitless.

My favorite place in the West is Monument Valley. It holds immense romance and power for me, probably thanks to John Ford. As an artist, I can immediately see why so many films were staged there—few spots on earth hold that kind of visual majesty.

I still remember when my dad spotted Lawman’s John Russell sitting at a diner counter, drinking coffee. My parents encouraged six-year-old me to ask for his autograph, but I was too in awe to move.

DAN PIRARO, CARTOONIST
This year 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.