Interview – Mark Bodé

Here’s a story: the first time I saw a Bodé Lizard, it changed the way I viewed comics and characters forever. It was the 80s, and the streets of Perth seemed littered with them. From blackbooks at Cinema City to the underpasses at Whitfords, all the way to the tanks at Gosnells, there were Lizards everywhere. Big ones, small ones, lady ones, fat ones, crazy ones, all alongside an iconic, hat covered Wizard.

I became familiar with Vaughn Bodés work from a very early age, I’d loved it so much that I collected ever single Bode book from a comic store in Northbridge (who miraculously overlooked my age at the time) which held, at that age a slightly risqué, “Shit I hope mum doesn’t see this”  feeling. I purchased copies of the collections of Deadbone, Junkwaffel, Cheech Wizard and Erotica (which Deadbone had morphed into).

I also specifically remember the first time I saw the work of Mark Bodé. I was an avid fan of the early Eastman and Lairds Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I remember reading an issue featuring some of his work in a cross over/collaboration. From there it catapulted me right into it … I started reading Cobalt 60 and my love for both artists work was sealed. Nowadays, Mark Bodés aerosol art is now also seen all over the world, and he can just as effortlessly create on a wall, as he can in a sketchbook – indeed, painting up a Bode character seems to be a right of passage for most young Graff artists, even to this day.

I even tried my hand at painting one, once, and still to this day many artists, including myself, are inspired and thankful for the work of both Bodés; Vaughn Bodé created the epically detailed and feverous style and worlds, and Mark Bodé has refined it and taken it all to new, enthralling places.

This gifted artist has been intertwined with his father’s fantastical world since birth, and the lines of division between their paired imaginative saga is somewhat blurred. That said, however, though Marks art stands as a testament and ongoing exploration of many facets of his fathers work, it is, at the same time, uniquely his own.

cobalt thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

I caught up with Mark Bode for an interview last Friday evening, before his Melbourne show. When I arrived in the late afternoon, he was painting up the roller door at House of Bricks, receiving some friendly support from an old friend,  Tad (a nicer and more down to earth Oaklandian we haven’t met, just saying). Halfway done, I just parked myself in the gutter, beer in hand, watching him do his thing. “You need to be anywhere?” Mark asked from up on the ladder. “Nope man, take your time.” Seriously, I didn’t have to be anywhere – it’s not every day you get to see one of your favourite, most formative comic book artists spray painting a massive hot chick up on the wall – I had all the time in the world.

Afterwards, we retired for a beer to at the local, and I had a chance to hear his story – but Mark Bode is a man of many stories. They all had me frothing, both as a comic book nerd, and as a lover of aerosol art. He is passionate, considered, and just as driven with his art as his father was – and he is also unequivocally in sync both creatively, and imaginatively with the worlds that both he and his mentoring father dreamed within. Continuing on the legacy of Cheech and the Lizards, expanding worlds created, yet unexplored and, most importantly, creating new ones, Mark Bode is, quite frankly, one hell of an artist.

395733 10150565785689065 693119064 8916299 407528116 n thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

I guess the first question always is, how did you first get into drawing, and how did you find yourself continuing on from the work of your father?

Well, I started very young. My earliest memories are of sitting in my dad’s lap, and him guiding my hands, colouring in these strips. So I was as young as three or four when he started encouraging me.

As I understood more, he would show me comics and read me the strips – Cheech wizard or whatever he was working on. He would read me the strips and tell me that he’d just hung out with Cheech, and this is what he saw when he did. So we’d make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we’d go to an old sewer hole by the apartments and he’d say: “That’s Cheech Wizard’s laboratory,” and he tell me that he’d gone in there many times with Cheech and hung out. So, we’d sit there and wait for Cheech to turn up. We’d knock on the door [sewer grate] and my father would say: “He’s very busy, he’s a busy wizard! He’s busy ballin’ birds, and doing tricks, and creating things!”. I believed him, as you do when you’re five. His “reality” became my reality, and I’d imagine Cheech coming and hanging out with as, and that kind of formed my earliest memories and encouraged my imagination – to imagine in his style, as he was showing me the strips.

cheechcover thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

So, little by little, to keep me out of his hair, he would give me a quarter to do a strip, and I’d sit there at – oh, five or six years old – doing strips. The more strips I did, the more quarters I got. If I did four, I’d have a dollar. I think he was keeping me out of his hair so he could work, but it was encouraging me the whole way.

By the time I was around twelve, when my father passed away, I had already given up a good amount of my childhood to draw. I was pretty developed for my age – my dad called me the youngest underground cartoonist in America – and, I was doing, you know, perverted comics …

Proper comics!

Yeah, really adult humour …

junkwaffel 05 i 1972 bode bc thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Well, you grew up on that stuff …

It was normal. I never looked at “above ground” comics, like Superman or Spiderman. I never looked at those – they didn’t fuck or take shit or eat. When you grow up seeing characters behave in the way my fathers did, it just seemed like everything else was boring.  He gave me big stacks of comics when I was young and he’d say: “Read these, but don’t show your friends!”

So that’s how I started, and after he died I got real serious about it. I cut off my friends that were my age and just started hanging out with adult comic artists and my father’s friends. In that way, I gave up my childhood for it – but by the time I was fifteen I was making money out of it.

I started by colouring my father’s strips for Heavy Metal magazine, then a few years later I was inking and colouring his unfinished works. By the time I was twenty I was doing new strips …

Obviously there was a lot of his material there that you could work from?

Oh man, my father was probably one of the most driven artists and creators in the comics field. except maybe Jack Kirby, the king of comics – that guy created at a feverish pace, like my father … but my father was even more insane. He would create a universe, then he would name all the planets and stars …

junkwaffel 01 a 1971 bode cv thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

He was world building …

He’d describe every planet and star, and then he’d go into the terrain and geography of the planet. Then he’d populate the planets with cities and towns, and then, then he’d do the characters! A lot of the time he would build models as well, of the geography – in relief. You could take a magnifying glass to it and you’d know exactly where his characters were twenty minutes into the conversation they were having, then you’d know what they were looking at, exactly where they were …

That’s pretty meticulous …

He was crazy like that, but it’s also why his stuff is so timeless. It has its own universe and time and place, and it doesn’t get any more complex and more developed than that.

Yet for as complex as it was, you built on it.

Well, yeah. There’re certain ones that needed it, certain worlds that he started and just had too many things on his plate and couldn’t finish them, or moved on to other things.

BigAppleConMarkBodeCobalt60Nov2007 thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Cobalt 60 was like that.

Yeah, Cobalt 60 was that, exactly. He created a whole cast of characters that had never appeared in any of the strips that he did. So when I was about 18, Larry Todd, my father’s good friend; apprentice; and collaborator, he kind of took over as my mentor and he said: “Colbalt 60 is what you should be working on, you should make that your next project, because this has the most potential I believe out of your father’s material, except maybe Cheech Wizard …”

But all of that work, other than the Cobalt 60 material, was pre-explored territory, wasn’t it?

Yeah. So we went on and did it, and now 20 years later, it’s been optioned for a live action movie – with Zack Snyder – he did Watchmen

cover thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

That’s on my list of questions, actually – what has been happening with the movie?

Well, it was optioned for the movie, but Universal didn’t want to continue the option of extending it. So it’s going to get flicked over to Warner Brothers, because Zack is doing all his movies with Warner now, and it got put on the backburner. I mean, Zack’s directing Superman, then he might do 300 “the sequel” because it was a big money maker … Cobalt is an art film and an art project, live action with CGI.

Zack’s conversation with me was that ever since film school, back in college, he’d been following Cobalt 60 in Epic Illustrated, and vowed that he would do it as a movie if he ever made it as a big director. He said it’s a passion, and it’s something he wants to happen.

mbodec60p6 thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

I think as a director, he is actually someone who can pull it off as well.

Yeah. You know I was hanging out with Frank Miller at San Diego Comic Con, we were at an awards ceremony/ I asked him about how it was to work with Zack. I was like, “Who is this guy?” and he said: “Mark, you’re with an angel. He’s not going to destroy your property, and he’s creator friendly, and it’s so rare. He never loses it on set, no matter how bad things go. So you’re with very, very good people and don’t worry one bit.” – hearing that from Frank was great, as Frank hates Hollywood.

Well, you’ve had issues with that kind of thing, intellectual property, it’s a large issue … but painting those characters is kind of a right of passage for graffiti artists. I read a few things about misappropriation, and I was wondering if it was something that you are really aware of and that you keep an eye on – I mean, you don’t want people taking the piss.

For a long time, I felt kind of like a guard dog chained to a tombstone. It was miserable, because so many people were biting my father’s material. And here I was guarding it, and trying to keep it from becoming public domain. So many people ripping it off and making money – skateboards, t-shirts, and no coming to the family to get permission and give us a piece of the pie – which is rightfully ours.

…and which you deserve!

.. and, also, the reason this stuff is out there is because I’m doing new things and watching over my father’s career. His career has ended now, but I’m watching over the material and protecting it. I felt like a guard dog that’s been poked with a stick. But you know … one Father’s Day … about ten years ago, a good friend of my fathers said he had something for me that he wanted to send me. He didn’t tell me what it was – but on Father’s day, of all days, this video came in the mail.  I stuck it in, and it was my father being interviewed and talking about his work, in Toronto at a convention. It was maybe a year before he died. And he talked about how people are going to imitate him, and that he doesn’t care, because if they want to imitate people they can work for Marvel or DC and imitate each other forever – that they’ll never be on my level or take from him to such a degree that it was going to harm me.

So I don’t worry about that. Right way, after I saw that, I felt those chains fall away. It meant a lot to hear that. He even said something like: “My son has got all the motivation and drive to make it in the arts, and I have no doubts that he is going to do great things” – and I mean, at the time, I was ten years old, and I heard it I was in my thirties. To have that … approval? … it meant a lot, and it’s still very emotional for me.

Yeah, so, it was good …

My father’s whole drive was to create his own property – that was his biggest thing, as no one was doing it in the 60s or early 70s. If a publisher published your material they owned it in most cases, and my father would turn around and say “keep your money”, and then would turn around to somebody else who would agree [with him] that “I own everything”.

IMG 7423Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Is that something you have had to keep up with?

Well, it changed the field, and these days its a given. You almost don’t need to do it anymore, but back when my father was around he was pioneering that. So a lot of graffiti artists have to realise that it is a property, and it is owned, and I am maintaining it, and protecting it – I don’t use my well earned money to go after bad things, and most of the time I’ll contact somebody who is … borrowing the material heavily …

.. and say, “Ahh, hey!!”

Yeah! “I’m watching you, and, ahhhh – you should stop!” [laughs].  I’m a little guy, but you never know when I might sneak up behind you!

IMG 7443Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

So, after you went through and did a lot of the early inking, you moved onto Cobalt 60 – and you did a fair bit of that, but what’s happening with it now? Are you still working on it?

Oh yeah, I have a whole new Cobalt 60 saga, that I wrote this time … Larry Todd wrote it before. But I’m old enough now that I can write my own stories. When I was 20 … well, a lot of 20 year olds don’t have the life experience to write a complex, entertaining story. I have enough under my belt now, that I felt comfortable writing it, and I’ve run it by a few other writers, and they thought it was great. I’m up to page 56 in the pencilling, but I’ve taken a long time to do it. It’s because of the movie that I started doing it, because then there’ll be a bit more material.

Just moving back for a second, how the hell did you get involved with Eastman and Laird on TMNT?

Kevin [Eastman] was a big fan of my dads, and he came up to my table at San Diego, I think it was ’85 or ’86 … I think TMNT started in 84, and then it snowballing into mainstream around ’86 and it became a huge phenomenon …

TMNT18pg7500X800 thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

I think it was a great comic, and then the movies came out …

I think it was the cartoons and the TV that really pushed it over the top … but you know, Kevin came to my table and said: “I’m a big fan, and we should work on a strip together.” At the time, I’d come out with my first comic, Miami Mice, which was just riding on the black and white funny animal boom that had happened because of Kevin and Peter [Laird]. So I rode on that without even knowing them, and Miami Mice became a best black and white seller itself. It sold 185 000 copies in the period of a year, and that was my first comic. It was disillusioning to have a hit right off the bat, and you just feel like …

What now?

… what now! I stopped doing Miami Mice after I collaborated with Kevin and Dave Sim, who did Cerebus [Cerebus the Aardvark]. We jammed on the last issue of Miami Mice, and then I killed it, because I just didn’t want to do that. It was suppose to be a one shot, and I did four issues and I was like, this is taking over my life. I’m underneath my drawing board with a BB gun and there’s mice running around in my basement … and it was just taking over my mind. So it was time to end it. It was still selling well, and I went on to something that didn’t sell at all – but there you go.

8335691 1 thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

At that time, Kevin invited me to join his team of artists and do some issues together, and that was issue #18. And I thought, let’s put Bruce Lee and the turtles together, how fun would that be? And he agreed, and we had fun … It was the best paying comic I’ve ever been involved with – the perks were amazing, limos everywhere, we were like rockstars. We even rented a tour bus that the Rolling Stones had rented a weekend before, to go to a convention- real rockstar stuff, and I was just glad to be a part of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way, with those guys it was great fun.

So we did issue 18, 32, and I did a special Bode issue called Times Pipeline that was a full colour comic book, where the turtles go to a Bode planet, where they morph into Lizards … I worked on that one myself, me and Larry Todd worked on it – Kevin didn’t ink that one. So that’s how the Turtle connection happened – we worked together for about seven years.

124506 20120203095544 large thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

IDW have started a new one now, I think they wrapped it and went their separate ways, and now have a new one out …

Well, they sold the property. Kevin wanted out, he was sick of turtles, so he sold his part to Peter; then Peter sold it to Viacom …

… and now IDW bought it, and they’re back.

Yeah, it had ran its course, but it still has life, Ninja Turtles continue! But, you see the earliest issues of Turtles, especially on the first issue, you can see the weight of the characters, the feet and the hands and the snouts – it was all kind of inspired by my father and Frank Miller, together – a perfect mesh.

I can see that, especially in the weight of the feet …

Kevin was always good to me, he was acknowledging it all by employing me and giving me lots of work, and supporting me for many years – we’re still great friends.

IMG 7441Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Well, comics aren’t the only thing you do … I mean, fuck. Comics, toys, tattooing, designed shoes …

Well, its all part of making a living as an artist …

You have to broaden out …

You really do, to pay the bills, because if you just throw yourself into one thing, there’s too much famine and not enough feast. I’ve been really lucky to almost feel like I have a guardian angel, my father, looking over me saying “this is next, go this way, don’t do that any more”, and I have a kind of sixth sense about what to do next, you know. Now I’m at a point where I realise that comics are so time consuming that there’s no way you can make a living off them unless you are at the very top of the heap. But what comics are, are a vehicle for licensing, and that’s where the money is! So if you can do a comic book, and it spurs toys, and then the toys pay money – then you can take a drawing you did, and it only took a couple of hours to draw, and make $10,000 – that is where the money is!

IMG 7428Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

I’m not saying that happens every day, but if you can think that way, and use your art to get those gigs, and use it as a vehicle … well, licensing is where it’s at. And promoting yourself. If people aren’t talking about you, you’re not making money – your constantly online …

Oh man, I know that feeling.

“Hey this is what I did today!” – I’m facebook crazy …

… and that’s something really common these days – the use of social media – has it changed the way you put your work out?

Absolutely, I’m in Australia now because of facebook. I kept posting things, and what I’m doing next, and this is my next art show, and you know …

IMG 7438Custom thumb1 Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

It really has changed everything.

.. yeah, then I met Alexander Mitchell, who runs Backwoods Gallery [and is also involved with House Of Bricks], and he just started chatting to me, saying “You should do a show in Australia”, and this was two years ago. We started talking. We’d never met each other, but he was saying “this is what you should do, there’s a lot of people out here that love you, and that love your work and your fathers work”. Eventually it just happened, it fell together, and he had the money to make it happen and fly me out …

430537 10150547140759065 693119064 8866701 1770454289 n thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

How did all the days and the prep for the show?

Oh, it’s been great, I got to paint with some of the earliest graffiti writers in the area – they’re a great bunch of guys.

You do a hell of a lot of aerosol painting these days, don’t you?

Oh yeah, that’s my favourite thing to do now. I mean, you know, I’m saying licensing is where it is at, but that’s not my love – my love is painting in the street …

422986 2740794601523 1307174219 32317788 851076308 n thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

(Image by Mark Bode. Photo by MelbouneOldSchooler – check out the mad timelapse!)

Well, you’ve been doing it for a while …

.. but you know what, I really sucked at it! I really sucked at it till six or seven years ago [laughs].

I was a late bloomer into the spray can medium, I spent too much time in comics and not enough time with the graffiti artists that were my friends. And when I did paint, I felt like I was painting with a club. I didn’t feel like my line work … it was dodgy and too thick, and I couldn’t control it, but it was because I didn’t paint enough. As soon as I moved back from Massachusetts …

IMG 7440Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

When I moved back to San Fran from Massachusetts, I almost immediately started painting, on a daily basis. Then, all of a sudden the low pressure Alien cans came out, and all of a sudden it clicked. I could do exactly what I was doing on paper on the wall, and I trained myself to be a human projector – I could see some landmarks on the wall and know exactly how to blow that image up. And now … it’s just one of my favourite things. I think, well, it makes sense! I mean so many people have been imitating it … it used to annoy me, “I should be able to do it like that”, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have my chops. I spent a lot of time on other things, like tattooing as well. Spray can just didn’t look like a profitable direction for me to go into …

IMG 7411Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

That’s changing now as well …

Yeah, now it is, and you know, taking on a wall or a canvas, I can do a painting in a matter of a few hours, and make some good money. Now my life is moving again, going more towards spray can culture and embracing that and the people who love the characters.

There’s nothing better than painting. I do all these things, work, write … but at the end of the day its like “alright, where the fuck are we going to paint this weekend!” Things are changing, and Melbourne is an amazing city for all of that … what do you think of the city so far?

Oh, within the first day I could imagine myself with a studio here, so that tells you everything right there! San Francisco is expensive but you can make more money there too, so it balances. New York, I was used to that, and those two places are the most expensive places to live, so I’ve always been afraid to go to a more economical venue or area and then never be able to crawl back out of it … I have artist friends that have found that, and they’ve never been able to leave, as it’s too expensive. So I’m afraid to leave into a situation where I can make more money but out in the booneys. There’s a few places I’d like to have studios. Berlin is one, Melbourne is one, I haven’t seen Sydney yet …

423032 10150567443039065 693119064 8919418 334370918 n thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Well, that’s for the rest of the trip, and that’s coming up. What are you going to do after this whole tour?

Well, I have a couple of shows lined up. I’ve got a show in San Fran that I’m going to do with a guy called Metal Man Ed. He built life sized subway cars for Tuff City Tattoo … and he replicated a life sized train, and he can make them out of metal. He’s also a really good graffiti artist, and he wants to do a show with me. So, we’re going to make 3D Bode metal sculptures, and maybe some of them will be interactive … you walk by them, and maybe Cheech heckles you …

IMG 7424Custom thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Ha! You’d know the voices pretty well, too!

Yeah, that’s part of the Cartoon Concert, my father did the slideshow when I was a child, and I have the way they talk and the way he wanted them to talk … Yeah, next big show will be at 1am gallery in San Fran, then I have another Bode show in Amsterdam in July. They’re going to fly me out and put me up.

Any place that wants to do that, well, they can get in touch with me, and put me up, and I’ll do it!!

426042 10150670579171535 352966956534 11535981 1308847521 n thumb Interview Mark Bodé in street art genres graffiti genres comics genres artist interviews

Check out our full gallery of images from Marks opening at House Of Bricks. Various images herein sourced from both our own images, Mark Bodes website and the Richmond photo is by MelbourneOldSchooler (which is one bad ass blog!).

All images on this page are © Vaughn Bodé & Mark Bodé.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Post

Post By

For the past ten years, Fletcher Andersen (Facter) has cut his teeth writing for a variety of street press and music magazines. Drawing on his years of writing experience, and as an artist himself, Facter founded Invurt with the aim of promoting artistic events, and the established and emerging Australasian urban, street, illustrative, underground and low brow artists that partake in them. Follow him on Instagram @facter, or go like his facebook page, and check out his website, Irikanji.