High Marks: An Interview with Isabel Marks

Isabel Marks is the mastermind behind Namir Deiter, a daily webcomic that focuses on the lives of a band of young animals through high school and beyond. Marks has updated Namir Deiter for six years running. Comixpedia caught up to Marks at her locker after classes.

Six years of doing this…most webcomics are exceptional if they last six months. What’s the secret of your ability to stick to it?

I’m not really sure if it’s a secret or just falling into a routine, actually. Trying to keep the mindset of "I’m doing the comic for myself, not for other people" helps- if you don’t enjoy what you do, it’ll just drag you down. There are a couple of story elements and story arcs (such as the "Speed Tipper" dream sequence) that I did purely for my own amusement. While I do consider my comics to be a job of sorts, I try to keep it fun- otherwise I’ll become a cubical worker on the verge of a nervous breakdown.


In what ways do you relate to the different characters in your strip? You have a varied cast; Tipper seems to be your main character, but who’s your favorite?

Truth be told, I have no favorites. They are all equal in my mind, with the exception of Mallory. She’s a character I enjoy seeing in pain… maybe because she reminds me of myself more than I’d care to admit. I’m not even sure why I decided that Tipper should be the main character… it’s like they all drew straws and she got stuck with the job.


Tell us more about yourself. I know you’re married to Terrence Marks, another webcomics creator. Namir Deiter is your labor of love, but do you and your husband offer advice and criticism on each others’ works, or do you keep your works rigidly separated? Is there anyone else you look to for help with proofing or advice?

Well, before my attempts to make web comics a full-time job, I was a teacher’s assistant. I left the job because it led to an unhealthy level of stress. In my free time, I play video games and watch TV. Sometimes I get moody… and there really isn’t much more to me.

Both Terrence and myself run ideas and scripts off of each other, to make sure ideas make sense. Usually over food. If one of us doesn’t like something, we let it be known. With Namir Deiter, I mostly just run ideas and final scripts by him. With our other comics, we have more discussions about things (especially with You Say it First, the comic we co-write). I find that talking my ideas out helps me to get going when I’m stuck.

For pre-production, Terrence and myself are the only proof-readers. However once the comics go on-line, my friend Patricia Jaderborg gives them a once-over to make sure they are alright.


You have a very clean cartooning style with excellent coloring. Who are your artistic influences?

I have quite a few… when I was younger, I would copy Disney and Looney Tunes characters from books and comics. I remember drawing from these Uncle Scrooge books I used to have when I was a kid. Eventually, I started reading manga and was greatly influenced by Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 and, later on, some of her other series. I know I have others… unfortunately I can’t recall them at the moment. Almost anything I see influences me in some way, sometimes in small, minute ways… mostly small minute ways these days, actually. As for coloring… my main influence is my experience with life works.


Who are your storytelling/writing influences?

My husband, Terrence… he’s definitely influenced me. Back when we were still dating, he gave me a big list of rules for writing (admittedly, he did not follow most himself), and I took them to heart.

My other big influence is Bill Holbrook. You can’t color another person’s comic and not learn a thing or two from them. Bill has a very direct and clean form of writing. He cuts the fat and tells you exactly what you need to know in a week’s time (something that I am still trying to learn).


What do you like and dislike, about doing this as a webcomic?

The one thing I like about webcomics is that I get my stories out to as many people as possible- far more than I would have if I never put my work on-line and kept them in my sketchbooks. I love hearing how people enjoy reading the comic, especially those college students whose main source of entertainment is webcomics.

However, my positives are also my negatives… there are days I’d rather not have the comic on-line, due to some of the less civil readers out there wouldn’t call them fans, personally…). I try never to give advice or criticism unless asked. I’d prefer if people did the same with me. Unfortunately some don’t. The other problem is web comics don’t pay like other sorts of publishing… something people like myself have to find ways around.


I’m fascinated by the way families work in your comic. On one hand, a lot of your characters seem to have broken or dysfunctional homes; on another, the comic revolves around two families – the Namirs and the Deiters – with very close ties. Could you explain a little bit about your concept of family and where that originates?

I’m not to sure about how to answer this… to me, a family is only as good as the people that make it up. Just because someone is a father or a mother doesn’t mean they are going to know the right things to do or say to be good to their children. Just because someone is related by blood doesn’t mean they have to love you. Blood doesn’t make a family, love makes a family.

I suppose the dysfunctional side of the comic comes from my own bitterness as a child dealing with my own family and the other people in my life. Namir Deiter is not an autobiographical comic. If my family was as bad as Tipper’s, I’d be an even bigger wreck by now. But elements from my life do seep into the comic.

The Dorpes are actually more of what I see as the "perfect family", they have their quirks, but for the most part, despite the selfishness, they have the best intentions. But the characters with the best families don’t have their families show up within the comic much at all – there’s not much for me to write about.


On your FAQ page, you’ve posted a special request that your fans not ask you for personal advice. Do you think that the nature of Namir Deiter necessarily draws more of a crowd in search of "life advice"?

Truth be told, I never got people asking for personal advice. Just advice related to comics (ranging from drawing to coloring to posting them on-line). I’m a horrible teacher and not very good at explaining things (which was why I used to be a teacher’s assistant ><). I feel bad when I don’t give the person enough information, so I try to avoid the situation all together. There are too many more qualified people out there who do give good out advice, to have me give out my half-baked hash.


Also on your FAQ page, you make a point of letting people know that Namir Deiter is yours – not some brainchild that partly belongs to your husband. Do you believe that people find you less credible as a creator or have less respect for your comic because you’re a woman?

I never really thought of it that way… I always figured that people assumed Terrence wrote everything because he has always been "the writer" while I was mostly ‘his artist’. Sometimes I do get offended when people automatically assume that Terrence does all the writing. I always took it personally, not as an attack on my gender.

Gender roles and stereotyping is a bit fuzzy over the Internet. Sometimes I’ll get e-mails or comments that refer to me as a male, but it’s never phased me too much- after all I have such an androgynous name. But, in all seriousness, I give plenty of other reasons for people to question myself and the comic (just look at first three or so years).


Do you have other projects in mind? Will you keep this up for another six years?

Well, besides my other on-line comics (You Say it First and Spare Parts)… yes, I have quite a few in mind. One of them has been sitting on the shelf patiently for six years… a few have been sitting for eight. But one day I will get them done. More likely than not, they won’t be on-line though. As for keeping ND up for another six years… I don’t think I can, not because I don’t want to, but because in another six years the characters are going to grow and move into so many different directions that the comic probably won’t have many of the original characters left. It wouldn’t be the same Namir Deiter. Even as it is now, the comic isn’t the same Namir Deiter to me that it was a few years ago. After this year, there will be no more of the high school elements that the comic originally had.

Terrence Marks