Mark Buford, Creator of "Scary Gary"

September 30, 2010

Cold, staring eyes mesmerize their victim's attention as sharp teeth nuzzle into the necks of the surprised captive. The warm blood eases the vampire's hunger pangs and desire for life.. . But after a while, a vampire gets older and wants to quit working. That's where Mark Buford steps in. The creator of "Scary Gary" gives fans an inside view on the life of a 700-year-old retired vampire and his evil but very funny friends.

Cartoonist Mark Buford

Mark Buford made his way to a career as a cartoonist by an unusual path - he first earned a degree in psychology. Graduating from the University of West Georgia, he then returned to school to study graphic art. The move seems odd, but Mark had been an artistic child, doodling cartoons as early as age 10. But since his sketches were made during class, "early recognition came in the form of corporal punishment," Mark mentioned on his biography on the Creators Syndicate site. Lucky for fans, he was not put off by the negative vibes. Members of his family were also creative. His mom is artisti and his sister writes a humour column in her Wisconsin hometown.

Creating single-panel cartoons while working as a graphic artist, Mark found a modicum of success in alternative newspapers and magazines. Jay Kennedy, late editor of King Features Syndicate, purchased one of Mark's cartoons in the early part of the 1990s, Mark told Scott Nickel in "20 Questions with Mark Buford," July 6, 2009. Mark also noted his first comic syndication was with United Features from 1997 to 2000. The strip was entitled, Meatloaf, "about a bunch of kids and their pets growing up in the suburbs... 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)", said Mark. Sounds like a lot more fun, too.

Mark Buford's "Scary Gary" Comic Strip

In a Podcast interview with John C. Snider of SciFiDimensions, Mark discussed his latest cartooning success, Scary Gary. The strip was inspired "from older television shows like 'The Munsters', 'The Addams Family' and even 'Bewitched,'" said Mark, "which all sort of touched on the monsters in the suburbs sort of fame." He was a fan of horror comics, especially those by Charles Adams, the original creator of "The Addams Family." Devising Gary, a calm, 700-year-old vampire who wanted to retire from the blood-sucking business and move to the suburbs, Mark included the evil sidekick Leopold, and added a few interesting lesser characters, like the talking-head-in-the-jar, Travis. The vampire has lost his interest in living the vampiric life, but Leopold retains his natural streak of violent ideas and troublemaking, causing fear and panic in their new town. It all makes for great humour and laughs.

Mark Buford's "Scary Gary" Sunday Strip

Refining the comic strip over a year or so, Mark prepared about 100 gags and chose about a third to send off to syndicates in a submission package. Sending Scary Gary off to all of the major American sydicates in December 2006, it wasn't long before Mark had responses - including rejections. But there was also good news: Creators Syndicate editors loved the monster themed comic. They telephoned Mark in February, a mere three months after his submission arrived and sent him a contract by courier after the call. No development contract was needed. Mark went directly from submitter to syndicated cartoonist. Scary Gary debuted in approximately 20 newspapers on June 16, 2008 with markets including the Chicago Tribune and the Denver Post.

Staying one month ahead on dailies and eight weeks ahead on Sundays, Mark writes the gags for his comic strip every day. To Mark, the writing is the most important part of cartooning. He "can stare at a notebook for an hour and get either nothing or sixteen gags," Mark told Snider. Mark draws a week of dailies on Bristol Board at a time, plus a Sunday, and uses a quill or dipping pen and ink to outline. The art of Scary Gary is then scanned into his computer for touching up with Photoshop, and he also letters on the computer. One daily comic strip may take approximately an hour from start to finish, a Sunday strip may take two to three hours.

A feat of imagination, Scary Gary is a good laugh, produced by a cartoonist with a streak of delightful devilishness and a big heart, all in one. Good luck, Mark Buford, and may Scary Gary have a long life in the funny pages.

Visit Scary Gary on Creators Syndicate, but watch out for that monster Leopold lurking about!

Comic strips and Mark Buford photo are copyright Creators Syndicate and Mark Buford.

© Susanna McLeod 2010