Mark Parisi's spent his share of time drafting daily Off the Mark gags over the past three decades, but lately, he's been doubling down at his digital drawing board working on even more comics. Today marks the release of his first middle-grade reader book, Marty Pants #1: Do Not Open! The first in a new series of illustrated chapter books with comic supplements, Marty Pants follows one Marty Pants, an artistic middle schooler with a wild imagination that may or may not help him save the world from teacher domination.
Parisi, who is somehow still well ahead of his Off the Mark deadlines (trust me, I checked!), got in touch with GoComics to tell us all about his kid's book debut and we were happy to follow up with some questions to ensure he keeps the humor coming on time. Read on for our full Q&A.
Mark Parisi: Marty Pants is written for middle-grade kids, but there are a lot of gags designed for fully grown humans to appreciate. I incorporated the same sensibilities that are in Off the Mark, including parodies, sight gags, ridiculous humor, and an insane cat.
GC: You've been drawing Off the Mark for 30 years. Does it feel like three decades have passed?
MP: I can't believe it's been 30 years. I wasn't even 30 when I started. I insist you double check that math.
GC: Every creator has a set of influences when they start out. Who are some creators you've been inspired by lately?
MP: Recent influences would include the current crop of single-panel gag cartoonists. I hesitate to name them because I'm sure I'll leave someone out, but they know who they are. They do such good work it, keeps me on my toes. For the book, influences include Lincoln Peirce, Terri Libenson, Dan Thompson, Rob Harrell, Norm Feuti, Jeff Kinney, Jack Handey, and Stephan Pastis. (And I bet I left someone out. Damn.)
GC: Marty Pants is a kind of hybrid illustrated novel featuring cartoon gags, plus the occasional comics sequence. How did your experience on Off the Mark inform your storytelling forms in the new book?
MP: Gag cartooning is so different because you're telling a short story in one frozen moment. I wasn't even sure I could write for multiple characters with an unfolding story arc. It's been a learning experience and I sucked up all the advice I could get, but I think writing humor for 30 years must have helped.
GC: You've worked traditionally for most of your career, but recently went digital. How has that changed how you work and do you like the results?
MP: Now I can't draw when the power goes out. I think the results vary depending on what I'm drawing. I have trouble with lettering, of all things. I really need to get my act together and make a font already. Working digitally speeds things up all round, especially for the book. There are might be 500 drawings per book, and I can just draw them directly onto the computer and completely skip the time-consuming scanning step. I would never admit it in writing, but it also helps me take shortcuts, such as revising characters over and over instead of drawing them all from scratch.
GC: Your new book is 256ish pages and you created it while maintaining a daily publishing schedule. Can you give me a rough breakdown of your workflow/schedule through the process of creating the book and doing daily comics?
MP: I can only describe it as lots of scrambling. I'm not one of those prolific cartoonists who are 8 months ahead. I basically work a month ahead so there was a lot of jumping back and forth between the book and the cartoons. I might spend 4 days on the book, 3 days on the cartoons, split the next 5 days between both, then 2 days on the cartoons. You get the idea.
GC: Off the Mark doesn't have recurring characters per se, but your new book has a core cast. Have you snuck any Easter eggs from Marty Pants in Off the Mark or vice versa that fans should look for?
MP: The OTM cartoon for May 2, (the release of the book) has what can be called a Marty Pants Easter egg. I put Easter eggs in Marty Pants, but not specifically about Off the Mark, I don't think. Why didn't I do that? it seems so obvious now. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll be sure to do that in a future book.
GC: Marty Pants has #1 in its very title. Is it safe to assume there's a #2 on the way?
MP: Good sleuthing! The #1 isn't supposed to be part of the actual title, but I do see it referenced that way. "Do Not Open!" is the first Marty Pants book in a series of three. I'm hoping they sell well enough that HarperCollins will want to do more. The second book is already done and I'm excited about how it came out. I'm finishing up the third now. Writing these books is a challenge and I'm enjoying it, except for the soul-sucking turmoil part. I guess that's an acquired taste.