(For those new to these parts, these Email Interview were done initially for the Writers Guild of America website. I sent basically the same standard questions to members of the Guild, and they did all the heavy lifting.)
One note of clarification in this interview. When I identify the speaker as "ME," that's not me. It's Mark Evanier.
Edited by Robert J. Elisberg
[Subsequent to this interview, a new series of "Garfield" returned to the air, and once again Mr. Evanier is the head writer. He is the writer and co-creator with Sergio Aragones of the comic book, Groo the Wanderer. And each year at Comic-Con hosts more panels than might possibly exist. Also, recently his blog here, News from ME, was named by Time Magazine as the 17th best blog in the United States.]
>> Were there any movies, TV shows or books that first got you interested in writing?
ME: Comic books, cartoons, comic strips...then things like the Dr. Doolittle books and Dr. Seuss. I was literally determined to become a writer that early in life. Laurel and Hardy were an enormous influence on my creative impulse, such as it is, as were Mad Magazine, the Marx Brothers, Stan Freberg, Bugs Bunny and loads of comic books. After that, I read all the authors everyone reads in English Lit classes,
though I read them before I took those classes. But I decided I wanted to be a writer about halfway through "A Cat In The Hat."
>> When you write, how do you generally work? Are you a good procrastinator?
ME: Take a long walk, work all the problems out in your head, then race back to the computer (formerly the typewriter) and write it as quickly as you can, then fiddle with it afterwards. I write best at a time when the phone isn't ringing, which usually means late at night. The
invention of the laptop computer has made it possible for me, when deadlines press, to go hole up in a Las Vegas hotel room and write.
Music or a movie on the TV can act as a good "audio night light" while working on projects where I know where I'm going. For the real intense/uncharted territories, silence is usually required. And I don't procrastinate, so much as I put off writing something until I've mentally solved all the outstanding problems.
>> What sort of characters interest you? What sort of stories?
ME: If there's an over-all theme to my work, no one has noticed it yet, self-included. I do specialize at times in stories of people who think their way out of a dilemma. Beyond that, the only thing that most of my stories have in common is that each is about something that is tenuously
related to something I care about in "real life."
>> How do you work through parts of a script where you hit a roadblock in the story? Do you have any specific tricks to help, or just tough it out?
ME: Often, when you get stuck on page 19, you should go back and tear up page 18; it means you took a wrong turn somewhere. But most often, a roadblock means you've lost your way; that maybe you have deviated from (or unnecessarily complicated) your basic idea. In those cases, you try to take an emotional step back from the work to locate the spine of what you're writing. You may find that you've strayed, in which case you need to get back on the path. Or you may find that you've started writing a different story, in which case you have to decide on one and
go with it.
>> What is your best experience as a writer?
ME: I wrote eight years' worth of the "Garfield & Friends" cartoon show. After the first few episodes, I was left largely alone, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep it fresh, and to continually explore new levels of the characters. I also wrote certain comic books where I had not-dissimilar experiences...and I enjoy greatly, a series of columns I've been writing for years in various venues, none of which pays me a dime. Many of the things I do for TV are so collaborative in nature that it's a welcome change to write something that's done when it leaves me.
>> Was there any particular writer who acted as a sort of mentor to you? If so, what things did you learn?
ME: I apprenticed in the comic book business with a gentleman named Jack Kirby, considered by many to be the most imaginative artist-creator that the field has ever seen. Jack was a wonderful, modest man whose unbounded love of people permeated his work. He also had a work ethic that boggled the mind; he was incapable of giving less than 110% on any project, even when he knew his work would be mangled or, as too often happened, purloined. I learned from him to give every project your all, to be prolific, and to invest everything you do with a chunk of your heart. Would that I could always apply everything I learned from this man.
>> Why do you write?
ME: I write because I discovered early-on that I could; that, however skilled I was at it, I was even less competent at everything else. But really, at the risk of offending others who may be answering this question, I am suspicious of anyone who has too pat a reason for writing. "I feel like it" is a perfectly valid explanation...and maybe the
only valid one. Folks should accept that and not force us to make up complex rationales involving primal needs to tell tales, or childhood traumas leading to self-expression. We write because we are writers. (The money is also a valid reason, too...)