Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Piraro Meets Larson


Bizarro is brought to you today by Sex, Violence, and Illegal Aliens.

Here is a completely true story that I don't believe I've ever mentioned in a public way before.

In 1981, I was 23 and working as a rookie ad designer for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Tx. (Their headquarters, believe it or not.) I was drawing cartoons simply to entertain myself during downtime and my coworkers encouraged me to get them published. I hadn't seen a comics section of the newspaper in years and thought there was no place for anything more surreal than Marmaduke. But one of them brought in a cartoon from a newcomer, Gary Larson, called "The Far Side". I'd never seen his work before and was surprised that newspapers were, in fact, publishing the sort of cartoons that previously had only been seen in magazines. So I decided to submit my work.

I sent work to the 8 or 10 cartoon syndicates whose addresses I could find at the public library (NO INTERNET!!) and got encouraging responses, but no "takers". One day, I got a phone call from an editor at Chronicle Features in San Francisco, the same syndicate that gave Larson his start. He said he liked my work a lot but since they were selling Larson's work and it was only just then starting to catch on with editors, they didn't feel they had the resources to push another feature in the same category. But he wanted me to keep submitting new work so he could see how I was progressing.

We kept in touch and I sent in new work every month or so. A couple of years later, in 1984, I got a call from them saying that Larson had jumped to another syndicate and that now they had room for me. I was ecstatic. This began a several-month period of my submitting work, them editing it, giving suggestions, and generally grooming me for a daily gig.

During this grooming period, I happened to see an ad in the paper saying that Gary Larson would be appearing for a book signing at a local shopping mall bookstore. I was extremely shy with strangers back then, but decided to go meet him and see what he could tell me about the syndicate he had just left and I was about to join.

When I arrived, it was one of those small, narrow bookstores you see in the typical suburban mega-mall, and at the entrance of the shop was an average looking guy with round, wire frame glasses sitting by himself at a folding table with a stack of books. No one was speaking to him. I introduced myself by saying something like, "I'm Dan Piraro, I've been hired by (editor's name) to replace you at Chronicle Features." He smiled at this and said, "replace me, huh?"

He was a very nice, soft spoken, quiet sort of guy and he answered my questions about syndication. He vouched for Chronicle Features and their editors and said he'd had no complaints about them at all, but that he decided that now that his work was starting to gain some momentum, a bigger syndicate with a larger sales force seemed like a good business move. His words were something to the effect of, "I have no idea how long this is going to last so I figure I have to make as much as I can while I am able."

He fully expected his popularity to wane and wanted to make the most of it, which seemed logical at the time, neither of us knowing what an epic career lay ahead for him. I chatted with him for perhaps half an hour, during which time he signed and sold maybe three books. He hated that first book tour so much that I believe he never did another. I've sat at lonely tables in bookstores, too, and I don't blame him.

I saw Gary only once more, about ten years later, at the funeral of one of our mutual editors. Afterward, we smiled and reminisced about the bookstore meeting and it turned out the "replace you" line was what he remembered most. By this time, he lived in a huge, gated property outside Seattle with attack dogs roaming the grounds like Mr. Burns of "The Simpsons". I was still in a normal house in a normal neighborhood in Dallas, of course. I had a Papillon that roamed the yard from time to time, but it wasn't really the same.

I hadn't thought of that incident in years until it sprang into my head last night like a ninja from the past. Just thought you might enjoy it.

27 comments:

Kerry said...

FWIW, your Papillon used to scare me.

Doug Savage said...

This is great. Thanks for sharing this story, Dan!

Anonymous said...

A cargo hat is a great idea. In fact, you can already get one: http://www.scottevest.com/v3_store/40tec_hat_v2.shtml.

I don't know about cargo watches, but multi-tool watches (think "Swiss army knife on your wrist") are out there.

These are the things that make modern life so wonderful.

- Lawyer Dave

Odd Todd said...

Dug this story...

Jake said...

I love stories like that. I met you last year at MoCCA. We chatted for a minute and a half. You were pleasant.

Richie de Almeida said...

Great story!

I, too, have met and spoken with Gary Larson, and you know what? He DID want fries with that.

Ok, I admit it... my story isn't as good as yours. Come to think of it, that was probably just some guy with glasses and not really Gary Larson.

Randy said...

Great story. I was crushed when Larson stopped writing the Far Side and elated when I discovered you and Bizarro.

Randy

MarkS said...

Cool Story

Gary Larson is in retirement somewhere plotting his return to the "Off-Beat Comic Strip" lime-light. Sort of a "Far-Side/Bizarro Smackdown" in the making.

Anonymous said...

And I did. (Enjoy it). Thanks.

JK said...

That's a cool story. It might be a bit late now, but it would fun to see what the two of you would come up with if you collaborated on a few sketches. (Do cartoonists ever do that sort of thing, or are they too territorial?)

John Reid said...

thats a great story Dan, I had always wondered if there were any sort of connection between you and Gary Larson. Im a big fan of both your work for many of the same reasons.

Christina said...

Yeah, but with your massive humor, gynormous artistic talent, compassion, writing neurons, and a sexy, beautiful wife (half nekked too), if you also had a mansion and fancy this and that the universe would implode. You are totally fortunate vegandude (it's one word now). I'm so grateful to be moving just one hour away from San Francisco. This post gave me another external validation to this huge move I'm making in just one day.

justjohn said...

Marvelous story Dan.

Thanks.

Randall Collura said...

Thanks Dan, that was a nice vignette.

Lori said...

Cool story. I'm glad to hear that he didn't have a giant ego and was happy to talk to you. It always sucks when a person you admire turns out to be a real jerk.

Mike Cheel said...

I did enjoy reading this. Gary and you are two of my all time favorite cartoonists and I believe it is because of your similar style.

Shawn said...

Gary Larson altered the way I look at the world. The way he personified inanimate objects and animals pulled the rug out from under our species' superiority complex. Reading the books in high school, my laughter would build going from drawing to drawing until I'd be in tears and I'd have to put the book down as I was on the floor convulsing, unable to breath. Before the Far Side, there was Mad Magazine. I would always laugh at that Mad too, but nothing can ever match the brilliant succinctness of The Far Side humor. My mom used to get annoyed at me even though she enjoyed them too. The Far Side is up there with The Marx Brothers, Robin Williams, the best MST3000, and Monty Python. But among these great artists, Larsons work has changed my world view the most.

Allan Koay said...

Gary Larson is awesome. are all cartoonists nice guys like you two? i know jazz musicians are very down-to-earth people, cause i've met quite a few famous ones.

Stacy said...

That is a cool story. I've always loved Larson's work. My older brother used to get me some kind of "Far Side" calendar every Christmas. I wanted a Barbie, but nooo.

btw, I WANT a cargo watch. Get those things into production.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story.

One of Larson's panels got me through grad school. It features the entrance to a "School for the Gifted" and a rather gormless guy pushing on a door that says "pull".

And now your panels get me through the day.

Thank god for talent.

Anonymous said...

Great story! You couldn't replace Larson (of course!) but no doubt you've inherited A LOT of his fans, myself included.

daveintoronto said...

Gary Larson is good- been enjoying his stuff for years. But YOU are....uh......kinkier. Like- wierd- but in a GOOD way.
Barring some kind of cartoonist burn-out, You-too, will someday live like Monty Burns!
"Release the hounds!" Etc.

rob said...

Very cool story. I always wondered how cartoonists get started.

G.M. Smith said...

Thanks Dan,

I won't quit my day job after all!

Anonymous said...

Cool! Nice story! Never knew how he looked like.. I always assumed he looked exactly like that fat bespectacled kid he always drew.

ojeano said...

I want the cargo watch.

I love this story! I love it when people inadvertently open doors for each other, and the curious follow their hunches to go through them. It's not just a benefit to the artist, it's a mind and soul saver for the likes of we who love true wit.

And your story gives some insights into your pre-internet creative process.

I was the one who told you about the "origins of small talk" video. Had to tellya - and that's who I am when allowed to remain anonymous, or think I'm posting too many responses.

ojeano said...

I want the cargo watch.

I love this story! I love it when people inadvertently open doors for each other, and the curious follow their hunches to go through them. It's not just a benefit to the artist, it's a mind and soul saver for the likes of we who love true wit.

And your story gives some insights into your pre-internet creative process.

I was the one who told you about the "origins of small talk" video. Had to tellya - and that's who I am when allowed to remain anonymous, or think I'm posting too many responses.