Monday, July 6, 2009

20 Questions with Mark Buford

As a lover of all things monstrous and macabre, I’m a big fan of Mark Buford’s comic strip SCARY GARY.

SCARY GARY chronicles the adventures of Gary, a suburbanized vampire, and his demonic sidekick, Leopold. One of my favorite characters, of course, is Travis, the severed head in a jar.

Mark’s strip is consistently funny, wonderfully drawn and terrifically twisted.

You can read SCARY GARY in finer newspapers and online daily at GoComics.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

Yes and yes. Like a lot of cartoonists, the day I was introduced to PEANUTS, I picked up a pen and haven't put it down since. Beyond that, I guess I'm fortunate to have artistic ability (and inclination) as part of my genetic make-up (my Mom and sister are both very talented artists).

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

In the early 90's, the late Jay Kennedy bought one of my single panels for his NEW BREED feature.

3. Newspapers haven’t run many horror-themed comics. Now, along with SCARY GARY, there’s LIO. Describe the process you went through to get SCARY GARY syndicated.

After I had the idea in mind, I went about the business of putting together about six weeks of dailies to submit to the syndicates. That part of the submission process always takes the longest for me, as I'm working with brand new characters. After I submitted to all the major syndicates I waited. One day about three months (and three rejection notes) later, Creators called. With past submissions I was used to being subjected to a development period before a final decision was made.

With SCARY GARY, however, Creator's was prepared to launch the strip as it was, offering to overnight a contract to me the day they called. I felt very fortunate (and flattered) that they had such faith in the material. About six months later the strip was officially launched.

4. Tell us a little bit about MEATLOAF NIGHT.

Ah, yes. MEATLOAF NIGHT was my first syndicated strip. It was about a bunch of kids and their pets growing up in the suburbs. Handled by United Media, the strip ran from 1997 to 2000. It was a great learning experience for me with regard to gag writing, character development and how the syndication business works in general. Ultimately, the subject matter wasn't quite right for me (I feel much more at home with acerbic, hateful monsters than with cute kids and animals), but working with U.M. was a great experience.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

Years ago I submitted a strip called LOUNGE LIZARDS, about a couple of cheesy, sleazy lounge singers. It didn't fly with any of the syndicates, but I really liked it.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

I think web comics have huge potential, at least with regard to the material. There's just so much more one can do with it. One of my favorite web comics is THE PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP. I don't think it would fly in newspapers, but it's perfect for the web. I guess there are several debate points concerning web vs. print comics. I hope I got within range of one of them with my response.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other mediums. SCARY GARY features a vampire, his demonic sidekick, and a disembodied head in the jar. Have you had any trouble with newspaper editors or readers objecting to the “dark” humor?

Fortunately, and surprisingly, no. I've had no issues with anything that could be regarded as too harsh or horrifying with any of our markets.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

GILL (Norm Feuti), THE PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP (Nicholas Gurewitch), DILBERT, LIO and IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU (Tony Murphy).

9. Who’s scarier, the Mother-in-Law of Frankenstein or the Teenage Daughter of Frankenstein?

Mother-in-Law. Frankenstein would have to constantly listen to her say, "You're not good enough for my undead child."

10. How do you develop ideas?

Which comes first, words or pictures? Always the words first. Cartooning is more satisfying to me if I'm able to find the funny through words rather that site gags.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

All the time. That fear is like a snarling, feral dog just outside the door of my brain. I guess it'll finally claw its way in one day.

12. Who do you want to play Leopold in the SCARY GARY live-action film?

I've never thought about SCARY GARY as a live-action film, but for an animated version, I think John C. McGinley would be perfect for Leopold. He was so wonderfully vicious and sarcastic on Scrubs.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

Hands on at first, then laissez-faire when the cartoonist and the strip are firing on all cylinders. Luckily, Creator's (my syndicate) feels the same way, so we've worked well together.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question).

My favorite TV show is 30 Rock. One of my favorite books is The Education of Little Tree by Asa Earl Carter (under the pseudonym Forrest Carter). I don't really have a favorite song, but I like Beck a lot. And I like Yo La Tengo.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

On 400 series Strathmore Bristol Board I use a mechanical pencil, a crow quill (dip ink) pen and Staedtler Mars Pigment liners for nits and nats. Then Adobe PhotoShop for zipatone patterns, lettering and coloring.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

Getting paid for doing something I'm passionate about.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

I got to meet Charles Schulz at a Reubens convention years ago. That was amazing. I also hoisted a couple of beers with Scott Adams at the same convention. Scott's work is the reason SCARY GARY is a three-panel strip. For me, his gag writing ability (and structure) is unparalleled.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Never give up. Be humble enough to realize that if you're just starting out, you've got a lot to learn. Don't take rejection personally. With each rejection note (I have a drawer full of them), figure out the things that may be wrong with your material and don't do those things any more.

19. How important are awards?

Since I never won one, not very. I'm sure my answer will change if I'm ever nominated for one.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

As I'm writing these responses, I'm wearing my underclothes. I just finished eating some organic hemp waffles topped with fresh berries, and there's a big blackberry stain on my undershirt. I'm slightly distressed that the stain will not completely come out. Oh, also, I have a gigantic crush on Laura Linney.


Anonymous said...

I love scary gary and hemp waffles!

Anonymous said...

My favourite strip...never fails to amuse. Thanks, Mark

(just a coincidence that my name is Gary)

Anonymous said...

how did travis' head end up in a jar??