Mark Bode - Wizards, Lizards & Broads


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Interview with artist Mark Bode about a series of exhibitions, his mural work and the cartoon concerts. Originally published on the Comics Journal blog.

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Mark Bode - Wizards, Lizards & Broads

  1. 1. Mark Bode: Wizards, Lizards and Broads - Interview by Kim MunsonOriginally posted in three parts on the Comics Journal blog, November 22nd, 2010 at Mark Bode stands in front of a mural he painted in San Francisco’s North Beach district, celebrating the Giants World Series win. Photo courtesy of Bode. Comics, mural and tattoo artist Mark Bode has been busy lately: doingmural work all over the SF Bay Area and developing a live-action Colbalt 60film with director Zack Snyder. At the time of this interview, he had justclosed his latest show, “Wizards, Lizards, and Broads” at the 1:AM Gallery inSan Francisco and was preparing to show his art, and his father’s (legendaryunderground cartoonist Vaughn Bode) at the Biennial Arts Le Havre inFrance.KIM MUNSON: It was great to see such a wide range of your work inthe 1:AM show, along with some pieces of your father’s. Do peoplecome that don’t know about your family history and get confusedabout your dad’s work, your work and work you did together?MARK BODE: Oh yeah, there’s three different groups of people thatencompass the Bode worlds, and it’s people who know my father, and hardlyknow me and my work, and then there’s people who know me, and hardlyknow my father, or there are people who are just into both.
  2. 2. MUNSON: if you could do the ideal exhibition of all this artwork,what would it look like?BODE: I haven’t done this many Museum gigs as I’d like. I’ve seen a lot ofurban art shows going on over in Europe and stuff, you have to tap that. I’vealways fantasized about having an erotic theme park of some kind, one foradults that could have casinos, brothels and all the fun stuff that adults like,but have everything erotic. Cheech Wizard’s tour of the Tunnel of Lovewould be really funny and have animatronic sex going on all the time(laughs). Ultimately, I’d like to see my work in that kind of environment.MUNSON: Sounds like it would be popular.BODE: Maybe not in this lifetime. A mural by Bode at the 1:AM Gallery. Photo by and ©2010 Kim Munson.MUNSON: Were you happy with the 1:AM show?BODE: It was fabulous. I didn’t really expect much from the gallery markethere in San Francisco. I talked to Frank Kozik, when I first got here aboutfive years ago, and I said, “so how are you doing out here?” And he said,“it’s a ghost town, why even bother? The art scene, it’s a ghost town.” Hewas really down on it and he was like, “The money’s in Japan. Screw this
  3. 3. place.”Hearing that from him was frightening. [Laughs.] He’s supposed to beone of the guys doing better here. But I’ve learned that he’s just bitter, andthere is a market here, but it’s very finicky. And if you keep your prices at adecent level, you’ll move stuff. The whole idea is to keep people talkingabout your work. If you hide away like a hermit, as many artists do, peoplejust stop talking about you. And that’s financial death to an artist.MUNSON: We were talking earlier about the Last Gasp AnniversaryShow. Is it weird to you to see underground comix up on the wall asa piece of art?BODE: No, I love that. I feel people aren’t as educated as they should be inthe comic-art field, and the alternative-comics people are getting morenotoriety and being featured at the conventions and stuff, and theunderground artists are being kind of swept under the rug. It’s alwaysrefreshing to see where I come from displayed and respected. That wholeera was so fresh and so exciting. I wish it would come back, but it’s one ofthose kind of things that just comes along once in a blue moon — arenaissance of comic art. ©1984 Barbara and Mark Bode.MUNSON: I’m sorry I missed the Cartoon Concert on the closingnight of the Wizards, Lizards & Broads show at the 1:AM Gallery. I’venever seen you do one, can you talk a little bit about that?BODE: Well, this is another concept of my father’s, In 1971, he hadinvented this pictography format. The pictography format was the panel withthe balloons separate, so that the balloons never invaded or cluttered up thepanels. That format was designed for the slideshow Bode’s Cartoon Concert,where my father would read the voices for his characters. Much like WinsorMcCay did with Gertie the Dinosaur, where he would stand behind thescreen, and did his first animations. McCay actually invented it. It was way
  4. 4. before my father. My dad started doing that on the road, and one of the lasttimes he did it was at the Louvre in Paris. He packed the ballroom there. Hehad arrived. I think he was the last artist to do a lecture like that at theLouvre, they stopped doing it after that. Anyway, he packed the ballroomthere and Moebius was there, a lot of the Who’s Who of the comics fieldwent to that show, and it changed their lives. Moebius said it changed himdramatically, to where he was going to be doing more graphic storytellingwithout the captions. It changed a lot of people and inspired them. Anywayhe’d done it at colleges mainly in comics conventions. I think the last one hedid was at the Phil Seuling convention in New York City in 1975 where he didthe Lizard of Oz painting.MUNSON: Do you do it very often yourself?BODE: I realize that my show was very shocking. When he did it, it wasdifferent. You could do an R-rated show, and it was funny, and it was edgy.But nowadays, you have to go to the next level. I’ve done a lot of stuff inCherry Pop Tart, and I put that stuff in there, and I did all the sound effects,and it’s very funny. But it’s shock stuff. And I’m kind of over that, I’ve kindof realized that it doesn’t really turn into money. It’s just momentarily kindof entertaining. So I stopped because I really need to take it digital if I’mgoing to keep going. And I need to do more material too, since I haven’tbeen doing underground comix for a while. I just do it once in awhile. Justpull it out of the bag. Just give it a run around the block. You know, it’s liketaking an old car out for a spin; it’s not something that I’m pursuing.But I can do the voices, he used to practice in front of me. I have exactly thesame vocal cords that he did genetically, so I can pretty much come up withthe same voices. You can see this stuff online, just type Bode’s CartoonConcert into YouTube, and you can see him doing it, and then the ComicConcert Two has me doing Cheech Wizard.It’s a fun show. Probably the biggest show I did was in Atlanta and I openedfor GWAR, you know?MUNSON: Yeah, yeah.BODE: Well, I was never so scared in my life, I went up in front of a fewthousand people and they’re all chanting “GWAR! GWAR! GWAR!” Andthere’s me, with a slide projector [laughs] and a remote. I was gonna die.And I opened with Burpie Pussy Fart, the thing I did for Cherry, whereBarbie and Cherry get it on, Barbie’s got a smoker’s voice, and she’s heavilysmoking and she’s vomiting constantly. But getting into this strip saved mylife, because it was so shock-value underground comix style, that it tamed
  5. 5. the crowd immediately and people started yelling, “Hey, you’re sick! He’ssick!” and pretty soon people are laughing. And whenever I got to myfather’s strips, I’d start losing the crowd. I could hear the murmuringstarting, and then more and more murmuring, and then I get to one of myshocking strips again, and I’d have them again, and they’d laugh. So I wasjust sweating through my father’s material and wishing that I had acomputer right there so I read the crowd and choose the pieces I needed.And that’s where it has to go if I’m going to continue. It has to go digital,where I can pick and choose the strips that I want to read. But at the end ofthe show, the lights flash over my head, and Techno Destructo is there withsteam shooting out of his suit and he’s like “Bode! You plagiarizedeveryone!” And he’s staring at me, and you know, there’s that need to run.We didn’t rehearse this, but I knew he was going to blood bag me and killme and drag me off stage. It’s all fun and games until you see the guy readyto kill you, and steam is shooting out of his suit! It was frightening, and myadrenaline was going, and he hit me over the head and he dragged me offthe stage, and the crowd went crazy and rushed the stage. That wasprobably the hardest Cartoon Concert I ever had to do, but GWAR said Isurvived better than almost any opening band they’d ever had. They said I’dactually tamed the crowd, and they were very impressed with that. So yeah,I just did it recently and I might do it in Australia next year, I’m supposed tobe doing a gallery show in Melbourne and in Sydney, and I’m going to do theslideshows as well. MUNSON: That must have been quite an experience. I was curious,since I’ve just seen your studio and how carefully you’ve archivedeverything, it must be strange for you that the spray art you’ve beendoing isn’t permanent. You did that great mural outside the 1:AMgallery, and I took pictures of it the last day of the show, and a fewdays later, someone is out there painting over it.BODE: It’s about the photographs. I’ve done a lot of murals. Now I’m juston fire with it. I’m actually so driven, probably more than anything else rightnow. I’m working on Cobalt 60, the next story for Cobalt 60, I’m up to page55 on that, I’m penciling. I’ve been working on it since the movie scriptstarted. While everything has been going, I figured I’d better get on it andmake more stories with Cobalt 60. But actually what’s dominating my stuffright now is the mural work around San Francisco. I’m working on a huge,huge mural, I’m going to start this weekend in West Oakland. It’s a recyclingplant called CASS, and it’s between 26th and 27th on Peralta in WestOakland. And it’s huge; it’s the size of a football field. It’s three stories high,and may be 200, 300 feet long. I’ll be using a cherry-picker and all that andhouse paint.
  6. 6. Photo courtesy of Mark Bode.And then I painted a church, I never thought I was going to do that. Thatstory was a painful one, because I was invited to do the main characters onthe side of a church that was on a very bad alley in the Mission at 14th andCaledonia. There were all these homeless people shooting up, and they wereusing it as a public bathroom, and I’m up there… I couldn’t sleep because Iwas like, “How am I going to not make fun of the main icon?” If I put acartoony face on him, people are going to think I’m mocking the church, so Icame up with the idea of taking a stencil of Jesus’ face, a classic… actually, Itook it from Rick Griffin’s book. I took the classic Jesus face ink drawing thathe did, copied the face and blew it up to about the size it was supposed tobe and cut it out of cardboard, so I had Jesus’ face in less than threeseconds (laughs). Instant Jesus! As I’m painting, there’s this lady saying,“Get the hell out of my alley! This is my alley. Get the fuck out of here!”And we’re like, “Lady we’re trying to do something good here,” and then,“Lady! Oh, no don’t take a piss there!” And we’d have to scramble down theladder and get our paint out of the way of the urine.It was horrible, and she was trying to score some crack from a guy that hasa window right there. And he’s like, “Get the hell away from my window,bitch.”
  7. 7. This is going on while we were painting, and I was painting faster and faster.And I was saying to myself, “Please just let me get through this.”The next day I was finishing, and I heard a woman talking in Spanish, and Ithought, “Oh no, I’m going to get panhandled.”But I looked over and she was on her knees praying and crying, and thenshe realized that we didn’t speak Spanish. She said, “I come down this alleyevery day, and there are such horrible things happening here and I pray thatHe’s come to make it better.” And I was starting to choke up myself, andthen I realized that I really didn’t have anything to do with this. There’ssomething else that’s happening here, and I’m just a tool to get this done.And it actually did clean the alley up. Nobody has tagged it. Lots ofphotographers come in there now to take pictures. So the riffraff had tomove to a darker alley, and we breathed some light into that area. Themurals, the power of art is amazing. You can wave the magic sword andmake things nice. From darkness and gloom, you can make nice things inthe city. So I got kind of addicted to it, the giving to the city thing. It’s avery rewarding and a lot of different ways. I try to keep myself busy doingmurals all year round, since the weather is decent here, you get the rainyseason in the Bay Area, but I’m pretty much busy all year round. ©2004 Mark Bode and the Bode Estate.
  8. 8. KIM MUNSON: Mark, You were just returned from the Biennale ofContemporary Art Le Havre (Oct. 1–31, 2010), a major exhibition inFrance that featured your work and your father’s. Can you talk aboutthat?MARK BODE: I was contacted by them because they wanted to display myfather’s work. I said, “I don’t send my father’s stuff anywhere, through themail or anything. I come with it. Also, I’ve been doing all this other stuff.”Then I sent them stuff and they said, “Well, we’d love to have you too.” So,we have a father-and-son show, and that’s how it got going. They’re makingthe cross between contemporary art and comics bringing the two together.MUNSON: I’m sure they’ll do a better job than a lot of the U.S.museums.BODE: You know, in France, they take their comics very seriously. Not likeover here, where you tell somebody you are a comics artist and they thinkyou’re a rodeo clown or a pie-pan twirler [laughs]. “Really? You make aliving at that?” You get used to it.MUNSON: Tell me about the show.BODE: Jean-Marc Thevenet (Commissioner General) and Linda Morren(Artistic Director) put together a show of illustrators and comic-bookstorytellers — people who tell stories with visuals. And it was spread outover all of the city of Le Havre. We were on the bus from Paris with all thepress. It was very stormy and rainy when we got there. We got a privateshowing the day before it officially opened. We went from event to event,getting a private tour by Jean-Marc and his wife. Because of the rain, it washard to fully absorb it all. But the production they did, was all over the townin maybe eight different locations at the same time.MUNSON: The various locations each featured work by differentartists-in-residence. Which were the ones that impressed you themost?BODE: One was in the water, the artist did all her little stories on the sails oflittle boats, the kind of little sailboats they rent to people when the weather’snice.And then we went to a place where a guy was doing his art — he made hisown little theater. You have to crouch down and walk into this little tinytheater and sit down on small chairs. They had a live piano player playing
  9. 9. with the artist’s drawings, which were animated on a computer. It told thislittle visual story. There were no words, it just kinda went from one theme toanother, as this woman played piano to it. So there we all were in this littletiny cramped theater in undersized chairs. You just felt very intimate withwhat you were watching.Left: Christophe Blanc, Je suis la fin ces haricots, serigraph, 62 x 40 cm, ©2009 Christophe Blanc. Right: Poster for Mark’s next show, Monterey Pop Art in January, 2011.MUNSON: Where was the main exhibition?BODE: the main show was actually in a big warehouse down by the piers,that was where most of the artists displayed their works. There was a littleanimated cartoon of this guy whose character is called “Super.”MUNSON: That was by Christophe Blanc; they used his character onthe show poster.BODE: His character is extremely funny. When I saw it animated, I realizedwhat he was doing. And it was basically a superhero that screws upeverything when he shows up. For example, there’s a couple fighting, and hesees it as this guy strangling this woman. And he’ll come to the rescue andpulverize the male and all of a sudden she looks at the bloody mess, and shegoes, “That’s my boyfriend!” And you see him get this look on his face like
  10. 10. “Eeeugh.” The humor of that character is really good. And there was 3-Dsculpture and some stuff like that.MUNSON: Your work and your father’s work was somewhere elsewasn’t it? You mentioned an exhibition in a mansion. What was thatlike?BODE: It’s a four-level mansion. The first floor was the art show. Thesecond floor was a restaurant, and the third and fourth floors are where theowner and co-producer lives. His name is Ari Sebag (President of theAssociation of the Biennale of Contemporary Art Le Havre and of thePartouche Short Film Award). He lives all over the place and owns 10casinos. He puts a million dollars into an exhibit every year in each townwhere he has a casino. So this is a guy who makes things happen. He’s very,very nice too. I really liked him a lot. Everybody was very pleasant. And towalk into this mansion and see the ocean, and see the art, and the people. Itwas a very, very beautiful place to have your art shown.The press was there. And I did a reading of one of my father’s strips. Whichthey all loved, and they clapped and everything. I was having some trouble,because I had to have an interpreter, but people were generally very excitedto hear our stuff.MUNSON: From my limited interpretation of the French pressmaterials it seems that they included your dad in the show as one ofthe underground comix artists that broke through the perceptionthat comics were for kids. Is that right?BODE: Yes. They had several events where they were talking about comics,and my father and I just kept coming up and kept coming up, and I couldn’treally tell what they were talking about. I’m going to have to polish up onmy French, to say the least. But it was a very big deal. The last time any ofthe Bode material was in Paris or in France was in the 1970s, late ’74 whenmy father did that Cartoon Concert…MUNSON: Right, the show at the Louvre where he did the CartoonConcert.BODE: Well, that resonated over all these years. And then Jean-Marc saidhe had big ideas in store for us and our work. We went to dinner and hesaid, “I want to do an exhibition in a major museum in Paris. And it’s time.Because your father is ground zero for all of the spray-can art that has comesince then. And before then, there was nothing but tags going on in NewYork City at the time your father was alive. Like Taki, and there may be a
  11. 11. couple others, that were just doing tags. But once your father died,” he said,he saw that “his bubble letters and his characters and all that inspired thelook of the first graffiti artists that ever did actual mural work with the can.”He said, “In France, we consider your father ground zero for spray-can art.Now it’s worldwide, and the idea that you have continued it — continuedyour father’s comics and also the spray can art — that aspect is veryimportant to the French people, and we want to do a major exhibition in amuseum, in late 2011.”And they’ll have a huge budget for installation, which I will design. You walkinto the environment of our strips and you walk through a column of BodeBroads built into the wall, that kind of thing.MUNSON: Wow, that’s great! I remember you were telling me aboutthat concept about having the Cheech Wizard Tunnel of Love? Maybeyou can talk them into that one.BODE: That was the theme park. Yeah, maybe my goals are a little low. Butyeah, the theme park’s next.I was aiming for “Oh maybe I can maybe get a gallery gig out of this,” youknow. But I did not expect the effort that I put into getting my father’soriginal art up, and putting my art up, and making a presence out there,would turn out with a major exhibition like this. MUNSON: You also worked with a group of French spray-can artists— Jace, Konu, Diksa Nefason and others — on a series of Bodetribute murals, didn’t you?BODE: During the weekend of October 1, we did a Bode tribute, which I’vedone in many, many different places at this point, where graffiti artists showup and they do their tribute to my father and the characters and this onewas the first French tribute to my father. About 15 artists showed up and wecovered about a 200-foot canvas that was laid outside of the main exhibitionhall. We did it outside, but it was blustery, raining on and off. We had anoverhang, so that made things a little bit better, but we did a hugeproduction. Anyway, I was planning on doing two or three differentcharacters, or two or three different sections of maybe 10×10 sections. Theweather was bad, so instead, I just did a French girl on a motorcycle, andthe motorcycle is all painted in the French flag with a little lizard riding onher butt.
  12. 12. One of the Bode tribute murals, painted outside the Le Havre Maritime Museum. Photo by Mark Bode.MUNSON: Similar to the design you used for the jigsaw puzzle thatjust came out?BODE: Yeah, exactly. So I did that one, and it was just so uncomfortableand wet, I wanted to just do the one piece and get to a dry place. Whereas ifit had been nice, I would have spent all day and all night and part of thenext day painting with everybody. Because there were some amazing piecesthat came out of it, and just some great talent that’s in France.