POSTED ON APRIL 27, 2011:
Tulsa native Dan Piraro creates a world that's odd, offbeat and, well, Bizarro
Dan Piraro can't tell you where he gets ideas for his offbeat cartoon Bizarro. Because he doesn't know. No cartoonist does, he says.
"None of us know. None of us have an answer," he said during a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn. "I know one guy who just says, 'Egypt.' The truth is, it's just the way my mind works. If I still my mind and let it wander around and think of things, hopefully I'll come up with something I can turn into a joke."
A Tulsa native, Piraro began creating his Bizarro cartoons 26 years ago, and he'll bring them back home for an exhibition that opens this weekend at Dwelling Spaces, 119 S. Detroit Ave.
Bizarro, which appears locally in the comics section of the daily paper's Sunday edition, offers a bizarre perspective of ordinary life. Some panels are inspired by politics or pop culture, others by music or animal rights, and others are, well, just plain bizarre.
The exhibit, which opens Friday, April 29 with a reception from 7-9pm and hangs through the end of May, consists of 25 original pen and ink drawings from the Bizarro daily and Sunday collection.
The reception is free and open to the public.
Piraro, who dabbles in fine art as well, has exhibited both types of art before, but he's never hosted an all-Bizarro show where he's offered the pieces up for sale.
During the reception, Piraro will perform a tiny comedy show, sign copies of his books and other memorabilia, and basically hang out with reception guests.
Piraro was in town last November for a reception and performance at Philbrook Museum of Art and a charity performance at the Elks Lodge. It was at those events that Dwelling Spaces owner Mary Beth Babcock thought of inviting him to display some work and perform at her shop.
"For me, knowing people like this are from Tulsa, that's what my focus is with the shop," Babcock said. "And he's obviously eclectic and fun, and that is what I want. I'm starting to raise the bar on the art and stuff I bring into the shop, so I thought, I'm just going to ask. The worst he can do is say no."
Piraro didn't say no. He was planning a trip to Tulsa for the spring to record some original music with his friend Tony Smith, who has a home recording studio, and, after checking out Dwelling Spaces' website -- and liking what he saw -- he said yes to a show there.
"You don't want to do a show in a place that doesn't match your sensibilities, but that place totally matches my sensibilities," he said.
Piraro began drawing his cartoons while working at an advertising agency.
Strange Strip. Bizarro, which appears locally in the comics section of the daily paper's Sunday edition, offers a bizzare perspective of ordinary life.
"When I was a kid, my favorite thing was always art," Piraro said. "I was genetically blessed with a lot of art talent and interest, so I decided I wanted to be an artist. But being from Tulsa, I didn't know how to go about it. It's not like my parents hung out with artists in Greenwich Village."
So he went into advertising illustration, and he'd create these absurd little cartoons for the amusement of his friends and coworkers. Finally, someone encouraged him to try to get them published.
The process of syndication took a few years, but now Bizarro appears daily in 350 markets in the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia.
Piraro used to tour regularly as a stand-up comic, most notably with his one-man show "The Bizarro Baloney Show," but now he just does special performances when a good opportunity presents itself.
Most recently, Piraro's been dabbling in music, which is what originally brought him back home for the weekend.
"I didn't do any kind of music until I was about 50, and then I decided to teach myself to play guitar," Piraro said. " I learned to play by looking up chords on the Internet. I got good enough that I could write songs. I started writing songs again, just for fun, and I got such a kick out of it, I thought maybe I should play a few of these songs in my comedy shows or in clubs."
He played a couple of them at his November shows in town, and Smith offered to help him record them. Piraro said they'll probably record five or six songs, put them on a CD and offer the CD to fans on the Bizarro website.
He also created a T-shirt for Dwelling Spaces.
"He went on my website and said, 'Do you have a T-shirt with 'Tulsa' spelled out with a rope?'" Babcock said. "I said, 'No, but I'll get right on it.'
"The next day, I got an email with a design. He said, 'Don't feel like you have to use this, but I took the liberty of designing one for you.'"
Babcock didn't turn down his design, and the shirt is for sale in her store.
"I'm personally proud of people like Dan," she said. "With my eclectic and colorful taste, Dan was just a natural gravitation for me to reach out to. I love that there's people like him who are accessible and will take the time to do something like this."
Tulsa in Ink
Circle Cinema, 8 S. Lewis Ave., has a new exhibit hanging in its gallery of drawings of Tulsa landmarks called "Tulsa Pen and Ink Land Mark Drawings" by local artist Betty Notter.
"I became interested in drawing scenes of Tulsa when I moved here in 1977," Notter wrote in her artist's statement. "I went to art school in Louisville, Ky., and attended the art institute in Dayton, Ohio. Tulsa was new and different than where I lived in the past; the art deco buildings, spacious skies and parks translated into great paintings and drawings."
The show is free and open to the public and will hang through May 22.
Philbrook Museum of Art launched a campaign in April to raise $12,000. Through its Facebook page, the museum asked fans to donate money that would allow museum admission to be free throughout the month of May.
The goal of the program, Jeff Martin, Philbrook's online communities manager, said, is to "erase any real or perceived barriers between the community and the institution."
"As of this moment, Philbrook is more diverse than ever," Martin said. "The popular free Second Saturday program now averages over 2,300 guests per month. In 2010, minorities made up 41 percent of overall attendance. But the museum isn't satisfied. Philbrook is giving the online and local communities a chance to unite with a singular purpose and keep the museum free for one month."
Admission to the museum will be free during May, and donations to "Don't Pay in May" can still be made via the Philbrook's Facebook page and website, philbrook.org.
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