With the release of his new book “Short & Skinny” we had the chance to interview Mark Tatulli, a man who is very talented with a pen in his hand. He first came to our attention via his brilliantly dark comic strip Liō but with a career which includes being part of Emmy award-winning production design teams (on 3 occasions), more awesome comic strips (including Heart of the City) and graphic novels (Desmond Pucket) to boot Joni wanted to learn more about how he got into the game, what it might be like to turn his comics into live-action and if he’d ever been to Manchester…
Joni: Did you study art at college? What was your big break?
Mark Tatulli: Always been a cartoonist. Always wanted to be a cartoonist. Was a cartoonist for all my school papers, never went to college. I produced a daily comic strip for my local newspaper (to replace the retiring Bloom County) and this is how I learned the discipline of producing every day. My real big break came when I was internationally syndicated in 1998 by Universal Press Syndicate.
J: It sounds like nothing was going to stop you then and it was a matter of momentum? Good quality shines through but was it a daunting prospect replacing Bloom County?
MT: Haha, I was in my 20s when my strip got Bloom County’s spot, so I was too young to truly be panicky about being compared to that comic genius. My strip was very different, about a middle grade school teacher. I was just excited about being in print.
J: We fell in love with Liō very quickly as each individual frame is brilliant and of course – the laughs! Who would you say are your comedy heroes?
MT: Comic heroes… so many… Breathed, Watterson, Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, Disney cartoons for sure were a major influence. Bugs Bunny and Fractured Fairy Tales, Rocky and Bullwinkle… all brought me to this spot.
J: Classic stuff. We especially love the cameos that appear throughout Liō, clearly a tribute rather than anything sinister, but there is a strong flavour of Halloween in there – is it your favourite holiday?
MT: I love Halloween! And I love decorating the house with all kinds of monster-goodness, but lately I’ve been dialling back becasue the trick-o-treaters have been avoiding the “scary house”.
J: Haha! Are you a gamer?
MT: I was more of a gamer back in the day… I actually beta tested Doom on an SGI system in the early 90s but I’m so busy cartooning and writing now, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to mastering these current complicated games.
J: Yes we tend to feature more retro gaming on here, the scale of things these days is a little off putting when there is so little time! Can we ask more about what is occupying your time right now?
MT: I’m working on my two daily and Sunday comics Liō and Heart of the City. Plus I have two children’s picture books out, Daydreaming and They Came.
J: All along with your new graphic novel memoir Short & Skinny?
MT: Yes, it’s about my life in the summer of 1977 (when STAR WARS came out). And I’m currently writing/drawing another graphic novel that comes out fall of 2019. So that really takes up all of my time these days, although I have been known to play Dark Forces, the first game from LucasArts available on Steam.
J: How did you rate the recent Star Wars movies?
MT: Ok… better than the first three. Definitely a step up, more a reflection of modern storytelling methods, which is good. I definitely like that JJ and Rian got back to more practical effects, aliens, spaceships, and backdrops. The overuse of CG greenscreen backgrounds and characters in the first three makes them qualify more as animated movies than live action, I think.
J: What do you mean you didn’t like Jar Jar Binks?! No, but that’s interesting coming from an illustrator and totally agree, the expanse of the originals has definitely returned. I have loved the cast too, it will be interesting to see how it all concludes in Episode IX plus what the decision will be now with the spin-offs.
MT: I loved the multicultural cast of Rogue One. Fantastic!
JJ Abrams really knows how to direct the camera and actors for action. He really understands how special effects enhance a story not lead it. I just hope the new story and characters are good, which is the backbone of the SW franchise.
I think it’s hard to say that the prequels are live action movies, beyond its stars being real. I think they are more of a hybrid. Maybe a “Live-e-mation” movie?
J: You should register that as a trademark. Have you considered how Liō might translate into animation?
MT: A tricky question, because I think it would be very different from the newspaper edition… more long form storytelling than one-offs. The characters would speak for the most part, though I could see doing some episodes with no dialogue. It would be an interesting challenge taking Liō to that next level because I’m so used to writing it for the current format.
J: This is exciting – surely worth experimenting with? It’s been done before, what did you make of Peanuts, Garfield, Dilbert’s TV adventures?
MT: The gold standard is the Charlie Brown TV specials. Taking the newspaper comic and enhancing it for another medium. Perfect voice talent, music, direction, and story. Taking it to that next level while retainging its heart. The original Garfield Halloween special was very close to the strip, though there were jarring moments in that special that were very different. Never saw any Dilbert. Never was my cup of tea, strip or animation.
J: Ooh interesting, we’re fans of Dilbert here! Okay so before we go, is there anything out there you feel deserves more exposure? Apart from your own awesome work, of course…
MT: I don’t really follow a lot of stuff because I’m primarily focused on doing my own work, but gocomics is launching a lot of quirky, I-can-relate-to-that kind of comics on their website that are from young cartoonists. And they are really clever with friendly modern art styles that I really like.
J: Ok and we ask most people this and it’s about our home city – Manchester! Have you heard of it? Have you ever been? This is not a test!
MT: Yes, certainly have heard of Manchester, though, unfortunately never been.
J: One final thing – were you really short and skinny as a kid?
MT: Hahaha, oh yes! Still short, just not so skinny now.
Short & Skinny is out now, available at all good retailers!