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Josh Wagner and Theo Ellsworth’s new book is as much about the pictures as the words.

“Mystery Mark” is the recently finished collaborative effort written by Wagner and illustrated by Ellsworth, a visual artist and comic creator who lives in Missoula.

“Josh came to me with the idea of writing a book based on some of my drawings,” he said.

Ellsworth got to work on original pieces, putting out several drawings before Wagner even started thinking of a plot. Wagner is best known as the writer of “Smashing Laptops” and the graphic novel “Fiction Clemens.”

Wagner said the storyline of the book came to him after seeing the first four drawings Ellsworth produced after the project got off the ground this past winter. He calls it the story of a guy who’s being stalked by his childhood television hero.

“The main character’s face is frozen into an expression of terror, and the solution he comes up with is to get facial expression reconstruction surgery. He thinks by changing his facial expression, he can change how he feels,” Wagner said.

To help fund “Mystery Mark,” Ellsworth and Wagner turned to the online crowdfunding site Kickstarter, raising more than $5,000 from interested fans.

In addition to the book, “Mystery Mark” is also being developed into a theatrical show by Viscosity Theatre, a company Wagner

co-founded. The show is largely under the control of fellow Viscosity founders Scott Morris and Rebecca Schaffer. Local band Cash for Junkers created a live score for the performance.

While the performance being presented at Missoula’s Fringe Festival is a scaled-back version of the full “Mystery Mark” story, Wagner said the hope is to develop it into a play that will be able to go on tour.

If the idea really becomes popular, the founders envision an entire festival devoted to the “Mystery Mark” world, where fans can use the aesthetic to create their own original productions.

“People could come build their own masks, create their own stories around them, then come to the festival and perform them,” Ellsworth said.

The book will launch at the installation, which is part of the ZooTown Fringe Festival (see related story). Wagner said they are printing about 250 copies of the book that will be available for sale at the show.

“Any copies left over will go up on Theo’s Etsy site, or if we run out we’ll probably do another run,” he said.

After that, the plan is to try to find a publisher. Ellsworth and Wagner refer to “Mystery Mark” as a “Book 1,” and Wagner said he’s hoping they will be able to make it into a trilogy, or more.

“It’s a tentative plan. Let’s call it a hope,” he said.

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