Mark Tatulli: Humor from the Dark Side that Lives in Me

A comics interview article by: Karyn Pinter

Thirteen years ago an energetic little girl made her grand debut in from of thousands. Eight years later an odd, but loveable little boy followed in her footsteps and brought along with him a host of robots, spiders, and even a huggable squid. Now at this year's San Diego Comic Con, special guest Mark Tatulli, writer of Heart of the City and Lio took time from his very first SDCC to talk with Karyn Pinter about where these two vastly different children came from and where they are headed in the future.



Karyn Pinter: I'm talking with Mark Tatulli, writer of Lio and Heart of the City.

Mark Tatulli: Yes.

Pinter: So, where did Lio come from? I think that's the first question I've got to ask.

Tatulli: Lio came from – well, actually I had lost my day job in 2005 and I had to come up something to replace that income so I had been playing around with the idea with do a comic strip that had no words for a long time and I just never had the time to do it. It was in my head and suddenly I had the time to do it so I sat down and created it and I wanted to do something that was dark because my other stripHeart of the City is you know, very family friendly type of strip. So I wanted something darker and that talked to the other side of my personality and that's where Lio came from. Just that dark side that lives in me.

Pinter: That little dark side inside of everyone.

Tatulli: Yes.

Pinter: Going back to a comic without words. It's amazing how you get the whole story across. Lio is what? Usually three or four panels long and you tell the whole story and there's very rarely a continuation story.

Tatulli: Right. Again, I wanted to do something that was different that you weren't seeing in the comics pages and I always liked comics that – they call that a pantomime strip, and they haven't been around – I guess Henry was the last pantomime strip that was popular but they fell out of favor in the sixties. I thought it was time to bring that back because I always like that, I thought they were neat to look at when I was a kid. All the other strips seem to be very wordy like Pogo and aimed at adults. So I wanted something easier to understand and even if the kids didn't get the joke, they could see a lot of drawing.

Pinter: Maybe you could summarize Lio and Heart of the City for people who haven't read it before.

Tatulli: Okay, well Heart of the City is a script-driven strip that's about a little girl, a tenacious little girl, who lives in Center City, Philadelphia with her single mother and her Italian American nanny, Mrs. Angelini, and antics ensue. She [the little girl named Heart] is very much into the theater and performing and she wants to be a big star someday. I guess that's part of me in there too. Then Lio is kind of like the polar opposite of that. There is no dialog, it's all about this dark little boy who lives nonchalantly in the world of monsters and mummies and giant robots and anything I can think of that's spooky or weird it find its way into Lio. That's what it is, it's basically and outlet of that side of me. 

Pinter: Sometime you had mentioned that Cybil the cat was based on your cat. Are there other similarities that reflect from your life into your comics?

Tatulli: God yeah, let's see, well most of the things that Lio encounters are things that I was afraid of. Like I grew up in Cold War era so nuclear weapons and nuclear bombs and the threat of nuclear war was always in the background, so you'll see a lot of nuclear explosions in Lio. But he lives with it in a happy way, he loves nuclear weapons, sets them off and always experimenting, so those kinds of things found their way into my strip. It's just a kind of way of dealing with my fears of my childhood. 

Pinter: You said in Heart of the City, the girl is raised by her single mom and Lio has a single father. Where does that spring from?

Tatulli: I'll tell you, for me personally, it keeps the relationship between the child and the parent more on the same level instead of parents against the child. They're forced to be together and relate to each other on a personal level rather than parent and kid. Also maybe it goes back to every Disney film when I was growing up had single parents in it. It kind of like a dynamic that I'm used to and it seems to work.

Pinter: I haven't even thought about that come thinking back to it. There are no families, usually from devastation of course.

Tatulli: Yeah, they usually start out with a single parent and that parent dies too and then Bambi or Simba are left to find their way. 

Pinter: I guess it's part of the whole Hero's Journey. Separation is the first step.

Tatulli: Yes, exactly, exactly. 

Pinter: How did you get hooked up with UClick Comics?

Tatulli: That's the syndicate. What they do is, Universal/UClick is a syndicate and they take your strips and sell it to the newspapers. So I don't go directly to newspapers myself, I just do the drawings and I send them to the syndicate and they edit it, make sure everything's good, tell me what works and what doesn't work and they take the strips and turn around and sell them to newspapers. That's why I'm in newspapers all over the world. 

Pinter: You're here as a special guest at Comic Con, is this your first convention?

Tatulli: No, I've been to the New York City Comic Con, but this is my first time here at San Diego. I've been to comic cons in Philly, I'm an East Coaster so I'm generally in that area, but this is the first time I've been asked to be a speaker here so I'm pretty excited about that. Seeing this whole world it's quite uhh..

Pinter: It's big isn't it?

Tatulli: Yeah.

Pinter: I think that's the only way to really describe it.

Pinter: Lio has a couple of books out now, two volumes?

Tatulli: Yes, well let's see, one, two, three… there's going to be five, I have another book coming out at the end of the summer beginning of the fall, I think it's October and then I have another book coming out next spring. So it'll be six.

Pinter: So six Lio books, how many Heart of the Citys?

Tatulli: Just one. 

Pinter: Working on anything special? 

Tatulli: Yeah, we're working on getting a movie produced now.

Pinter: Oh really?

Tatulli: Yeah, Lio has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox and now we're just in that development hell.

Pinter: Did you ever think it would get that far?

Tatulli: Um, yeah, we've been talking about it since 2007 and it's been bouncing around Hollywood since then. It's just a long process, finding a good fit. They don't want me writing it because you know, I'm an inexperienced writer even though I've written the strip now for 6 years, but that means I don't know anything about movies apparently. But that's the nature of the beast. So we're looking for writers and once we get it written we'll go from there. 

Pinter: Is it going to have dialog?

Tatulli: Yes. The mistake that some people make is that Lio can't talk, but nobody talks in Lio. It's almost as if you're looking at a silent movie. Even though you don't hear the sound people are obviously talking. The characters are talk to one another you just don't hear it. I think that dialog in a Lio strip would encumber it but to take it to the next level - which would be film – it would definitely open the world up a little bit, so it'll definitely have dialog in there. He may not say a lot.

Pinter: I didn't even know that was going to happen.

Tatulli: Well, you know, it's still in the talking phase. Once it hits production there'll be more stories.

Pinter: Anything you want to say to new fans out there that will get them interested? 

Tatulli: Just to read them and buy the books and discover the world. I think it's a lot of fun and I enjoy the heck out of doing it, and I hope they will too. 

Pinter: It's in the paper every day.

Tatulli: And on the internet.

Pinter: Yeah, I have it sent right to my email every morning because I don't have a paper.

Tatulli: There you go.

Pinter: In the world of technology.

Tatulli: Yeah, that's the problem; most people don't have a paper anymore.

Pinter: Well, it was a pleasure talking to you.

Tatulli: Nice to meet you too and good luck.


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