As if creating his daily comic strip, "Bizarro," which runs in 350 newspapers nationwide, didn't keep him busy enough, Dan Piraro blogs regularly (bizarrocomic.blogspot.com), sits on the board for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York, and fosters "everything from cats and dogs to chickens, roosters, geese, a raccoon, a sea gull, a lamb, a goat, and a calf." He also recently published a collection, Bizarro Buccaneers: Nuttin' But Pirate Cartoons. A vegan for six years, Piraro, 50, incorporates animal rights issues into his work in hopes his readers pause long enough to think about the message behind the joke.
Q How do you produce a daily comic?
A Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. I like to surf the Web and look at various images and articles until stuff starts to occur to me. On an average day, I get one or two ideas. About once a week I'll have a great day and get four or five ideas. Once I get an idea, I write it down: I don't go into much detail; I just jot down words and scribble some drawings to remind me of what I was thinking. Then I go back and turn it all into a real cartoon. Drawing a cartoon a day is not that hard—thinking of a cartoon a day for 23 years is the trick.
Q Was it difficult going from omnivore to vegan without being a vegetarian first?
A It has to do with the kind of person you are, the kinds of experiences you have, and the guidance you get. I gave up eating animal products for ethical reasons. Basically, I found out all the details in a single weekend [at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.]. I saw the clipped beaks, the scars, and it affected me. I knew it was cruel, and I couldn't support it anymore. I had to stop instantly. Also, I was dating a woman—who became my wife—and she was already on board with it. She knew how to do the shopping and cooking. So, I just started eating different things. I never felt like I had to give up that much. I gave up a few things, but over time I found vegan alternatives I liked just as well.
Q Such as?
A The thing I miss the most is barbecue. When I smell barbecued meat, it makes my mouth water. So, I have barbecued seitan. I don't eat meat substitutes all that often, maybe once a week or so. At first I depended heavily on them, but as the years go by I find I need them less. When I first went vegan, I was not a big fan of vegetables in general, but giving up fatty fried foods changed my palate. My wife makes these amazing miso-based vegetable soups, and I'd never eaten anything like them before. People think of veganism as a diet of sacrifice, but it's really not. I eat a wider variety of foods now than before I quit [eating animal products].
Q Were you involved in animal rights before you went vegan?
A Many years ago, when I still ate meat, a neighbor was mistreating his dog, and I called a rescue group. I couldn't stand the idea of animals being mistreated. I understand people who have that dual mentality—companion animals and food animals—because I was that guy. I went out of my way not to find out where those [food] animals came from. I just thought they were on a Fisher-Price farm with a red tractor and green grass, rolling in the dirt until they were killed—quickly.
Q Is it difficult to foster pets and give them away?
A It is hard sometimes because some have such great personalities, but you get used to it. It becomes a mind-set where we know these two are staying, these two are going. I also know I'm doing a good thing, because if I kept them, pretty soon I'd have no room to foster anymore. So, I'm saving a lot of lives by sending them along.