The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod                   Susanna@thecartoonists.ca

 

Mark Pett, Cartoonist, Author and Illustrator

May 30, 2012

 

Versatility and imagination are two of the many hallmarks of a good cartoonist, the ability to create drawings that exude character and humour is another. The creator of "Mr. Lowe," "Lucky Cow," and now children's book author and illustrator, Mark Pett embodies these fine artistic traits and many more.

 

In strokes of brilliance, Mark Pett touched the hearts and giggle-nerves of avid comics readers. Everyone went to school and had teachers and classmates. Nearly everyone has been a customer of a fast-food restaurant, and a whole lot of people have worked at them, too. Both are gold mines of gags and hilarity, both draw in readers from all walks of life.

Submitting his first cartoon to the Salt Lake Tribune when he was nine years old, Mark Pett suffered the bane of cartoonists and writers early in life - rejection. (The newspaper said his work was denied because they only used syndicated comics, according to Mark Pett's biography on his website.) The young Pett did not give up, instead drawing in class, caricaturing teachers and entertaining classmates.

 

Attending University of Pennsylvania, Pett graduated with a Philosophy degree. Accepting an assignment teaching English overseas, the young man lived in the city of Prague in the Czech Republic for a one year term in 1992. His drawing pen was never far from his hand, and Pett created editorial cartoons poking fun at the foreign government.

With a year of teaching experience under his belt, Pett returned to the United States. He found another classroom job with Teach for America, this time instructing a sixth-grade class in Mississippi.

Sixth-graders were a new challenge, and Pett rose to the occasion. By his second year, he had learned the methods of keeping classroom control and keeping his students interested in their subject work.

The wisdom Pett gained as a teacher brought inspiration for a cartoon. "Mr. Lowe" debuted under the Creators Syndicate in 2000. The theme was "a novice teacher overwhelmed by his students," said Pett. Syndication ended in 2001, and a collection of "Mr. Lowe" comics was published by Cottonwood Press in 2002.

'Lucky Cow" Collection by Mark Pett
© Mark Pett
The Stars of "Lucky Cow" by Mark Pett

Completing two years with the Mississippi public school, Pett turned his attention to freelance cartooning in Utah. His editorial cartoons published in Utah newspapers Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, Pett was able to make his living as a cartoonist in 1996. Recognized for his excellent work, Mark Pett received Utah's "Most Outstanding Editorial Cartoonist" award in 1998 from Utah's Society of Professional Journalists.

Fresh cartoon ideas brewed in Pett's mind. Based on the operations and the workers at a fast-food restaurant, Pett devised another comic strip titled "Lucky Cow." Making its debut on April 21, 2003 under the Universal Press Syndicate, "Lucky Cow" quickly gained a following for Pett's sense of humour, satire and characters.

The stars of the strip covered all the bases, from the franchise manager to flaky teenage workers, the responsible cashier who was also a vegetarian, to quirky older employees. Deciding the strip had run its course, Pett closed the doors on "Lucky Cow" on February 2, 2008 to move onto other creative endeavours.

© Mark Pett

Few cartoonists can claim the honour of being part of the Guinness Book of World Records, and fewer still for the largest strip in the world. Mark Pett's comic strip received that honour in the summer of 2003, only a few months after the debut of "Lucky Cow."

Enlisting students in an art program to help, the 135 Mississippi Delta art students at Gentry High School in Indianola, Mississippi selected the particular "Lucky Cow" strip, made it into a bite-size grid, and painted the artwork onto over 1,500 poster-board sheets. Laid out in specific order in the school parking lot, the finished "Lucky Cow" comic measured an amazingly huge 135 feet wide by 47 feet, 9 and one half inches high. The observers from Guinness Book of World Records issued their stamp of approval. (Since then, several other comics have made similar records.)

Enjoying teaching, Mark Pett visits schools and events to encourage kids in art and cartooning. "Whenever I taught cartooning to children, I was struck by how many kids became frustrated that they couldn't draw perfectly the first time. I began focusing on the sketch process and teaching the importance of making mistakes in your drawing process," said Pett in an interview with Alan Gardner of The Daily Cartoonist on August 1, 2011. The kids' frustrations tickled Pett's imagination and lead to inspiration for a book: "The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes."

Collaborating with colleague and friend, Pett and Gary Rubenstein wrote about a girl who always did things right, until things started to go wrong and mistakes were made.

The two creators used the names of their daughters in the story, and Pett's daughter Millie gave the manuscript a critical eye. "Millie's the perfect test audience," Pett told Gardner. "She gets highly involved in the books that she reads, often acting out her favorite parts of the book, and quickly lets you know when she's bored."

Pett created the artwork for "The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes," his talent for characters shining through. "I loved doing this book... I'm comfortable telling stories using words and pictures in tandem. In a way, picture books are like extra long Sunday comic strips," Pett noted in the Gardner interview. The new author/illustrator also mentioned how difficult it is to get a children's book published - "it's a tough and crowded industry to crack."

New Book by Mark Pett and Gary Rubenstein, 2011
© Mark Pett and Gary Rubenstein

"The Gril Who Never Made Mistakes" was published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in January 2012 and is available in bookstores and online. Mark Pett has written and illustrated another book, coming out in 2013, titled "The Boy and the Airplane."

Married to Tiffany Tidwell Pett, Mark and his family live in Mississippi. The Petts are the parents of two daughters. Tiffany Tidwell Pett is Director of Design for Teach for America.

Captivating plot lines and themes, lively character personalities that draw readers' sympathies, and artwork that is skilled and adorable at the same time, Mark Pett has made his mark in cartooning and in children's books. I'll be looking forward to his future projects, wherever his pen may lead him.

Read more about the cartoonist at Mark Pett's site. And, "Lucky Cow" is still available in reruns on GoComics - have a look and a smile!

Illustrator and Cartoonist Mark Pett

© Susanna McLeod 2012
TheCartoonists.ca