SPARKcon 2013
Thursday, Sept. 12–Sunday, Sept. 15

Man v. Liver launch party
Friday 6–9 p.m.
The Mahler Fine Art

Cocktails, music, a custom-made bar, Man v. Liver paintings by Friedrich, books for sale and signing

It’s not often that jokes exchanged at a bar lead to any kind of creative enterprise, but that’s exactly what happened for Paul Friedrich and Neil Hinson, the creators of a series of cartoons featuring alcohol-themed witticisms.

The cartoon has garnered a substantial online following since it began in 2011so much that a book consisting of more than 100 drawings of “Man” (and, now also, “Woman”) and their alcoholic musings will be released online and in stores by Andrews McMeel/ Universal on Sept. 24.

The release party, part of the comedySPARK component of SPARKcon 2013, takes place this Friday, Sept. 13.

Each new image in the Man v. Liver series is a collaborative effort; Hinson writes the borderline-philosophical, alcohol-related utterances of the comic’s antiheroic protagonists, and Friedrich, a cartoonist known for a distinctive style made famous by his Onion Head Monster creations, does the digital drawings.

The project started one day in March of 2011, as Hinson and Friedrich shared drinks outside Raleigh Times.

“A lot of the time, Hinson will say something that’s rude or funny, and I started writing them down on a cocktail napkin,” Friedrich says. “I made a quick little drawing of a man [and] the waitress came over and was like, ‘That’s hilarious, can I have it?’

“We were jokingly like, ‘Yeah … for a round of beer,’ and she said, ‘OK.’”

That first drawing depicts a man looking rather anxious and reads, “I’m bored, which makes my liver shudder.”

Thus was the creation of Man v. Liver.

The following summer, Friedrich flew to Comic-Con International in San Diego, intending to sell some of his other work. At the last minute, the pair decided to self-publish a collection of Man v. Liver in order to sell a few copies at the convention.

And people bought them. At first, they sold for $10.

“I’ve never seen this before: People were cutting across the aisle, like ‘What is that?’ just on the title alone,” Friedrich says.

“They would pick it up and put it in their bag and then say, ‘How much?’”

Friedrich then sold them for $15, then $20, and by the time Hinson arrived at the convention a couple of days later with extra copies, the books were going for $30 until they finally sold out.

When Friedrich and Hinson returned to North Carolina, they had an email waiting for them from memBrain, the brand management and licensing company that now represents them and their work.

“I think that was our first lesson in how long these things take,” Friedrich says of the roughly five months it took to agree upon a deal with the company. Now, they have plans to produce not only the book but also T-shirts, calendars and other novelty items.

Hinson and Friedrich had only one missed opportunity in what has otherwise been a catapulting experience: a neglected email from Johnny Depp’s production company regarding interest in the books, seen by Hinson and Friedrich a few months too late.

Otherwise, the team has hit few, if any, roadblocks. They limit themselves to a maximum of five minutes spent on each piece, and they think this decision to avoid overthinking helps keep each joke organic and fresh.

“We can’t haggle over the content for more than five minutes,” says Hinson, whose other interests include his firm OddFellows Advertising. “I’ll give it to him. He’ll cut out about six of the words, because in other business stuff I get paid by the word, so I think expansively.”

When he describes the drinking culture of the cartoon protagonists’ world, Friedrich says, “It’s more of the after-5, before-11 kind of thing, you know, the bar you go to after work.”

Hinson and Friedrich say they have not encountered serious criticism of their irreverent approach to heavy drinking, but even those who are initially skeptical begin to understand the humor in the main character’s altered perception.

“We’ve found that people either have a drinking story or they know a drinking story,” Friedrich says. “And there’s something there that relates to something that they’ve been through.”

What’s clear in talking to the two creators of Man v. Liver is that they know they’ve tapped into something clever with room to grow, and they’re having a great time doing it.

“I thought forI guess I’d known [Friedrich] for a few years before thatthat he just never listened to me and that he was just doodling,” Hinson says, thinking back to that first collaborative sketch on a Raleigh Times cocktail napkin.

“But it turns out, he was.”

This article appeared in print wih the headline “Drinks, then sparks.”