(and how Mark Parisi started to write books)
To do this story justice, we’ll let Mark Parisi, author, cartoonist and all-around-funny-guy tell the story in his own words. Anything else would just not be…Mark Parisi.
How did I end up writing books?
Marty Pants: How to Defeat a Wizard is the third book in the Marty Pants series. When Dave the Editor at HarperCollins sent me an email asking if I’d ever thought about writing a Wimpy Kid-style book, I told him that as a matter of fact I had. I’d never really wanted to write a typical chapter book for some reason. And I wasn’t compelled to do a graphic novel either. Maybe you can guess why.
But these middle-grade hybrid books looked like fun. Why, you might ask, would Dave the Editor look at my Off the Mark comics and think, “This guy could write a book?” GOOD QUESTION. After all, the ‘stories’ I write for Off the Mark are like this:
That’s about as short as stories can get.
But Dave the Editor thought I could do it, and I decided to give it a try. He asked me to write some chapters and send them along.
Suddenly, I was outside the world of panel cartoons. I needed to create characters and develop personalities. Draw the same characters over and over? That was the curse of strip cartoonists!
I did what I think a lot of writers do. I loosely (very, very loosely) based the main character on me: he’s an artist, wears glasses, doesn’t fit in, and is covered in cat hair.
But Marty is more confident and single-minded than I could ever be. And he keeps his room a little neater.
The other characters were mostly based on the exaggerated personality traits of people I’ve known. For instance, Marty’s friend Roongrat was inspired by a know-it-all kid. He would tell me all kinds of things with authority. I would assume them to be true, only to find out later he had no idea what he was talking about.
Parker is Marty’s amateur psychologist. She’s adventurous, supportive, protective, patient, understanding, confident, smart. In other words, a total fantasy on my part.
Marty’s cat Jerome was based on my childhood cat. He was cranky, but I probably got along with him the best.
This is the real Jerome watching TV.
“Peach Fuzz” is an amalgam of bullies I knew as a kid, and more often than not, they were failing miserably at growing a mustache.
McPhee, Marty’s teacher, is based on a teacher I had who I did not like. Boooo!
Erica is Marty’s brilliant and bratty older sister. I’ve have an older sibling, so I know how that goes. Erika is always changing the spelling of her name, which was inspired by my daughter, Jennifer. I mean, Jenn. No, Jen.
The mother is overprotective and always away on business. The dad is somewhat slow-witted, lenient, and talks too much about music. (This might actually be the character based on me).
And Simon. He’s just insipid.
Now it was time to send Dave the editor a few chapters. He gave me feedback.
This went on for a while.
And a while longer.
I originally was just trying to write a series of funny situations. Dave the Editor asked for more of a story arc. I don’t know about you, but when someone with authority tells me how to do my work, my knee-jerk reaction is to think, “But you’re THE MAN! You can tell me how to be creative!” But I was smart enough to resist my insecure instincts, and suck up his direction like a sponge. I also scoured the web for writing tips, asked friends like Dan Thompson who understands storytelling, and had family and friends give me feedback. I got a lot of great advice and insight. Finally, I did what seems so obvious, but no one suggested. I asked a kid who was in the target market to read it, Norm Feuti was gracious enough to offer up his son. He came back with rave reviews and that was the feedback I appreciated the most.
The whole writing process took me about two years because there was a lot of learning, starting, stopping and hair pulling. (That’s why my hair is noticeably thinner than when I started.)
Dave the Editor told me he’d try to push it through the three stages at HarperCollins: publisher; editorial board, and acquisitions. I wasn’t sure of the odds.
Then I heard back. “Congratulations! You have a three-book deal!” It was exhilarating! I was going to be an author! And terrifying. Three books? No one told me that. I have to do this again? And this time in only 8 months? I was panicky. I also had to keep up with Off the Mark.
When I finished, no one was more surprised than me.
Having the characters already in place certainly helped. Also, I had a template to work with, albeit, a convoluted one.
Each book would have:
- A note that would pique Marty’s interest.
- A plot with two possible interpretations of what happened: a logical explanation, and a supernatural one.
- A jerk or two who get their comeuppance
- A twist
- Marty coming out on top, convinced he just saved the world. Maybe he did, just not the way he thinks.
- Oh, and an ample amount of bathroom humor.
The whole process convinced me to buy a Wacom Cintiq. Colleagues had been on me to get one, but I resisted. Once I started doing the Marty books, I made the leap. The books are over 250 pages with at least one drawing per page. The scanning and cleaning up was a time suck. It saves so much time to just draw it right on the screen. Some of these drawing are ink and paper, some are Cintiq. You probably can’t tell the difference and that’s the point.
The importance of promotion
You may have noticed I shamelessly promote the books on social media and I’ve done some touring at schools, bookstores, libraries, and cons. The best are the schools. And not just because the kids are thrilled to get out of class. The kids are enthusiastic, responsive, and ask great questions.
Q: “Why is the word MINI in Marty’s hair?”
A: “So I could remember how to draw his hair.”
(I know that’s lame, so in book 3 I’ve come up with a better reason)
Q: “Will you make Marty Pants into a movie?”
A: “As soon as I hear from Spielberg.”
Q: “How old are you?”
A: “Somewhere between 35 and 85.”
Q: “How did you get here?”
A: “I drove.”
Seriously, though, the students ask really good questions. Especially if they’ve already read the book. And the energy is wonderful. At two different schools, I turned around to take a selfie with the crowd, and the kids stormed the stage. Now, that’s energy you can feed off of! Most times students will order books through the school before the appearance, so when I arrive there’s a pile waiting to be signed.
My contract is for one more book, which should be out this fall. If these are the only three books I ever write, it’s three more books than I ever thought I would. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder on, or have been prouder of anything I’ve done in my life. Except my daughter. She’s now a CPA, but used to lend me a hand once a year in my creations.
I’ve found one of my problems with writing books is I’m never done. There are always sentences, drawings, chapters that I feel I can improve. The only time I stop making changes is when I’m told, “Mark! It’s too late! The book is already in the stores!”
Learn more about Mark Parisi and Marty Pants
When Mark was born on a New England evening in 1961, the attending physician supposedly mentioned seeing doodles on the uterus wall, but this remains unconfirmed.
After many odd jobs and a graphic design degree from Salem State College, Mark felt he had two marketable skills: cartooning and grocery bagging. He decided to choose cartooning, even though it didn’t pay as well. With influences ranging from Charles Schulz, MAD Magazine and, more obviously, Gary Larson, he started self-syndicating his Off the Mark comic panel in 1987. And, strangely enough, his wife encouraged him.
Off the Mark won the National Cartoonists Society award for Best Newspaper Comic Panel in 2008 and again 2011, and has been nominated four times total. His work has also been nominated for Best Humor Book by The Independent Book Publishers Association.
Mark’s cartoons can also be found on greeting cards, T-shirts, mugs and more, calendars, magazines, newsletters, books, and some other weird stuff. Clients have included: Del Monte, the US Military (anti-binge drinking campaign), Billboard Magazine, Glamour Magazine, The National Enquirer, Recycled Paper Greetings, Dixie Chicks and Chicken Soup for the Soul.