Sunday, August 9, 2009

20 Questions with Mark Parisi

“Mark Parisi is an outstanding creative actor with unlimited talent and abilities.”
—Arts & Entertainment, Miami Herald

Wait! Wrong Mark Parisi.

Mark Parisi is the wonderfully twisted cartoonist behind the syndicated panel OFF THE MARK.

Mark’s work can be found on greeting cards, T-shirts, mugs, calendars, magazines, books, newsletters and scrawled on the bathroom wall of a McDonald’s on Route 66.

Go to Mark’s website for the full scoop and be sure to read OFF THE MARK in your local paper or online.

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

Yes and yes. It seemed like the best, most fun job. My mother tells me I was drawing early.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

While attending college in Salem, MA, a guy in the area contacted me to help him create a parody of The Salem Evening News. He called it Not the Salem Evening News. My main responsibility was to make off-color versions of all the cartoons on the comics page. What a dream job. The parody paper looked great but was expensive to produce. Therefore it was overpriced and didn't sell well. But it was fun!

3. Describe the process you went through to get OFF THE MARK syndicated.

My wife, Lynn, and I started self-syndicating OFF THE MARK in 1987. Basically, we sent cartoon packages to weekly papers and followed up with a phone call. After getting a client list, I sent samples to syndicates and the feature was eventually signed to Creators. That immediately pushed me from weekly to daily, plus I needed to get over a month ahead. It was a tough adjustment and maybe the quality was initially diluted. Then, just when I was in a groove, I was dropped. Ouch.

My wife and I then redoubled our efforts and built up the client list again. In 2002, we started chatting with Amy Lago (then at United Media) at a Reubens weekend and it turned out she was looking for a single-panel comic. In a few months we worked out a contract and I've been there ever since.

4. What’s your favorite subject to cartoon about? Least favorite?

Favorite would probably be pets. Least favorite would be Bulgarian trapeze repairmen.

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

Here's a cartoon. See if you can guess what the problem was.

Answer: I was asked to remove the cigarette.

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

Off to the left where I won't get hurt.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or is it a welcome challenge?

At first I found it limiting, but now I find it a fun challenge. You'd be amazed at the filthy stuff you can slip in if it's done with a little finesse.

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

My five favorite cartoonists are: Jim Meddick, Sergio Aragones, Gary Larson, Charles Schulz, Gary Trudeau, Paul Gilligan, Richard Thompson. Did I mention I'm lousy with numbers?

9. Who would win a hot dog eating contest, Hagar the Horrible or Cathy?

This sounds like a set up. I have to go with Hagar.

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

Words, almost always. Or at least situations. I write and draw things in my sketchbook all the time, good ideas and bad. The hope is I can eventually massage the bad ideas into good ones.

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

Every day. Right now, for example.

12. What’s more important, talent or perseverance?

Tough question. A talented person might submit their work once and be lucky enough to hit it big immediately. Perseverance can be key, but is the most determined person going to make it if they have no talent? For the most part, one's no good without the other.

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

I like an editor that gives me a lot of freedom but will pull my ass out of the fire if I'm about to make a dumb mistake. Luckily, I've had those types of editors.

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

Yikes. Well, I enjoy books by Douglas Adams, David Sedaris, Dave Barry. I'm trying to catch up on the classics. I just finished and enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye and Oliver Twist. And, yes, I got into all the Harry Potter books.

A few TV shows I've enjoyed include Seinfeld, All in the Family, Soap, The Office, The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, 30 Rock.

Music, (or rather musicians) I enjoy: The Beatles, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Pixies, CAKE, The Breeders, The Replacements, Spoon ... I could go on and on.

Films: Pulp Fiction, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Taxi Driver, Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Jaws, Slap Shot, Life of Brian.

Of course, this could all change tomorrow.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Rotring Rapidograph pens, Micron markers, 2H pencils, kneaded erasers, Bristol board and Photoshop.

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

Being able to do something rewarding and not having to deal with all the things that come with a real job, like commuting, office politics, and working on someone else's schedule.

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

I've met so many, it's hard to keep track. In most cases, it's been at the NCS Reuben weekends. Charles Schulz even invited my wife and I to visit. I wish I had more substantial conversations with him, but I was a bit intimidated. Also got to meet Sergio, Trudeau, Meddick, Jaffee, Adams and many more.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Do it because you love it and hope it works out. If it doesn't, at least you were doing something you love. And write what you know. And stay away from single panels.

19. How important are awards?

I'm answering this question shortly after winning the "Best in Newspaper Panels" plaque from the NCS, my first cartooning award, so I'd have to say they are the most important thing ever invented ever.

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

I'm taller than George Clooney.


Dan Reynolds said...

Mark does nice work. I always appreciate his take on life.
Keep up the great stuff, Mark!

Robert Gidley said...

Thanks for the 20 Q's with Parisi! He's one of my favorite cartoonists and it was nice to get some more background on him--especially the self-syndication stuff. That seems more and more the route to success these days (such as Keith Knight and Chad Carpenter).

Benita said...

Good interview, Mark. You certainly deserve the best panel award!