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Salt Lake native riding a 'Lucky Cow' into syndication

Published: Friday, May 30 2003 7:17 a.m. MDT

Mark Pett, whose new comic strip, "Lucky Cow," recently joined the Deseret News comics pages, is a native of Salt Lake City, where he grew up "on the Avenues."

The strip takes place in a fast-food restaurant, a large chain patterned after McDonald's. Yet Pett does not consider it to be "a fast-foot strip. It's really about people and relationships and includes a small cast of continuing characters."

Pett said he actually went to work for a month at a fast-food chain-restaurant, to get some background before he began the strip. "I wanted to understand fast food," he said during a telephone interview from his home in Indianola, Miss. "I took a lot of notes while I was there. There are so many different kinds of people who interact with each other in a fast-food place. It's naturally integrated."

A cartoonist since he was a child, Pett submitted his first strip to the Salt Lake Tribune when he was 9. It was rejected.

During his childhood, he was influenced by Mad Magazine, and he especially admires Bill Watterson, the cartoonist who drew "Calvin and Hobbes" before retiring.

After attending Salt Lake City schools, Pett went to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in philosophy, although he was unsure what he would do with such a degree. He was "a meandering soul."

Following graduation, he traveled to Czechoslovakia, where he drew cartoons for a weekly newspaper for about a year. Then he moved back to the United States and accepted a job teaching sixth grade in a rural school district in Mississippi. It was there that he met his wife-to-be, Tiffany Tidwell, a French teacher from Kansas.

They lived in Cambridge, Mass., for two years, while his wife completed graduate school at Harvard — then they returned to Utah, where Pett did some editorial cartoons for the Deseret News on an alternating basis with Jonathan Brown. (Brown still does editorial cartoons for the Deseret News.)

"I left Utah to do a comic strip," said Pett, "be-

cause I never felt like editorial cartooning was in me. When you do political cartoons, you have to feel some real anger — and I didn't feel that. You have to be willing to hyperbolize to make a point. I always felt I wasn't telling the whole story, because issues are very complicated, and they generally don't boil down well to one picture. Maybe I wasn't very good."

His first comic strip focused on "Mr. Lowe," a teacher, and it was accepted for syndication but was not as successful as he would have liked. So he created what he thinks is a better one in "Lucky Cow."

"Becoming a syndicated cartoonist is extremely competitive," said Pett. "The syndicates get thousands of submissions every a year, and they only take maybe two.

"I had the teacher comic strip, so I was on the radar screen already. I submitted a month's worth of strips for 'Lucky Cow,' and then I signed a development deal that lasted six months, then it went into syndication. Everyone was happy with the concept, so, after a year, I pulled the plug on the first strip."

His second experience with syndication, with Universal Syndicate, has been a much happier one so far. His strip now appears in 50 newspapers around the country and is likely to keep growing. "I'm very pleased with the launch. I'm happy to be in the Deseret News, because I was always thought it had the best comic section in town."

Now 32, Pett plans to continue cartooning for a long time. He has signed a 15-year contract with the syndicate. And he likes the fact that he can live anywhere and do it. He said he is also grateful to his parents, Marge and Art Pett, who are still Utah residents, and who "never encouraged me to get a real job."


E-MAIL: dennis@desnews.com

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