As many an Abbott and Costello film, Bewitched, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Addams Family, The Munsters, and other movies and TV series have shown, there’s a fine line between horror and humor. Finding the line isn’t always easy, though. One cartoonist who’s managed to find the vein of humor in horror, however, is Mark Parisi, whose one-panel horror cartoon series, Off the Mark, does a fair job of tickling the funny bone. He started the series in 1987. Distributed by United Media, it now appears in 100 newspapers and has been featured on greeting cards, T-shirts, and other products.
One panel shows a line of socks, some of which are singles and others of which are paired, waiting in line for their turns to climb a stepladder; walk the horizontal, open door to a clothes dryer; and enter the dark interior of the machine’s drum. A large sign, framed by electric bulbs, announces the attraction as the “Spin of Terror,” and warns that “Many go in . . . few come out!” The socks, equipped with eyes and mouths, look calm enough at the end of the line, but, as they approach the dryer, their expressions become increasingly anxious and frightened. One sock who has managed to “come out” of the “Spin of Terror” is a cigar-chomping ghost, through whom the laundry room’s blue-gray carpet is visible.
Another of Parisi’s ‘toons shows an assortment of personified cakes, seated, as it were, in a theater, some with unlit candles atop their uppermost layers. All of them express fear or revulsion as, on the big screen, a bikini-clad model jumps out of a large cake, thereby destroying it. The cartoon’s caption provides the context: “Cake Horror Movies.”
In a third ‘toon, labeled “The original HMO horror story,” Parisi takes on Humpty Dumpty. Showing the gigantic egg to have had a “bad fall,” indeed, the king’s horses and men are trying to put their patient “back together again,” with dismal results. Poor Humpty, who’s quite a mess, complains, “These guys don’t know what they’re doing! A specialist, I need to see a specialist!”
Parisi’s cartoons bear a passing resemblance to those of Greg Larson (The Far Side), but the art is cleaner, sharper, simpler, and colored in soft pastels that enhance, without detracting from, the pictures. Several depend upon anthropomorphism, their humor derived from imagining how things might look from the point of view of a group of personified socks, cakes, or a broken egg. Others depend for their humor upon famous people or characters associated with the horror genre. One such ‘toon shows a young boy, clad in blue pajamas with yellow polka-dots, wearing a pair of thick-lens eyeglasses. Seated upon the floor, before a decorated Christmas tree, he eyes the contents of his stocking, which he‘s shaken out, onto the floor. “Toys and candy?” The boy thinks. “I was expecting a severed foot.” The caption makes the drawing funny: “One in a long list of disappointing Christmas stockings for Stephen King.” The last-minute revelation of the character’s identity serves as a sort of punch line to the joke that’s set up by the drawing and the text in the thought balloon. Another cartoon also depends for its effect upon well-known characters. It shows Frankenstein’s monster driving a car. Next to him, a human driver, having gotten the monster’s attention, jabs his index finger toward the roof of his car to indicate that the monster has left his severed hand atop the roof of his automobile. Neither text nor caption is necessary to convey this cartoon’s humor.
Parisi also relies upon puns and wordplay to produce his cartoons’ humor. In one toon, a lawyer, cross examining a vampire seated in the witness chair, demands of him, “So, you claim he was already undead when you got there?” In another cartoon, Frankenstein’s monster is reclining upon a psychoanalyst’s couch. The analyst says, “You know what? You’ve got a screw loose,” referring to one of the electrodes implanted in the monster’s neck, which, indeed, has come loose. The caption, which is perhaps unnecessary, reads, “What really set him off.”
Horror movies either allow a lull, so to speak, between the storms of death and destruction which are their dramatic mainstays or they include periodic moments of comic relief. Parisi’s cartoons provide the humor, after a fashion, but the horror is purely imaginary. Nevertheless, they are diverting, if only mildly, in a thoroughly wholesome, rather than gruesome, way, and effect a roll of the eyes and a stifled groan, at least, if not an occasional titter. That’s horror enough for the comics pages of a family newspaper.
These and others of Parisi’s toons can be reviewed at his website, Off the Mark.