Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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.