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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 04/28/2004
We're Off to See the Lizard!

Mark Bode on The Lizard of Oz

After languishing as an unfulfilled twinkle in its departed creator's minds eye for about three decades, Mark Bode has revived and reimagined a work that seemed destined to never actually exist. And what makes it all the sweeter is the fact that it was truly a labor of love. Bode -- who is the son of the justly-revered fallen hero of the 1970s Underground Comix movement, Vaughn Bode, and a highly acclaimed artist, toy and clothes designer and tattooist in his own right -- spent the better part of the new millennium working on completing The Lizard of Oz. Now Fantagraphics is about to release it upon an unsuspecting world.

Who said you can't go home again?

Lizard of Oz

Bill Baker: For the uninitiated, and to remind those who might now be fuzzy on the details, what is The Lizard of Oz project and what are its origins?

Mark Bode: The Lizard of Oz was the last project Vaughn was planning before his death in 1975. He did a cover illustration for the book, and the original art was sold to benefit Dan O'Neil and the Air Pirates, who were then being sued by Disney for drawing dirty pics of Mickey and Minnie. Now, 28 years after my dad's death, I have turned the story into a 60 page full color graphic novel, with my father's last drawing as the cover.

BB: Since this is inspired by Baum's work, and done in a cartoony style, does that mean that it's suitable for all ages?

MB: No, it's a heavy "R" rating. There is Belinda, the Good Felatio Fairy, and the Wicked Bitch, The Lizard Scarecrow is stuffed with hemp, and wait 'til ya see the Whores of a Different Color!

Need I continue? [General laughter]

BB: Nope, I think we've all got a pretty good idea of your take.

Well, aside from that final piece Vaughn left behind, what other documents, sketches, rough layouts and such did you have to work with as guide when completing the graphic novel?

MB: Not much. I used a few old sketches when I needed crowd scenes, but other than that, I rarely looked at anything as I went. I wanted to make sure this all came from inside me so that it would have my own personal touch to it.

BB: How'd you go about creating the book? Did you write out a full script, just follow a loose plot, or did you use more of a stream of consciousness approach where you just sat down, started drawing and saw what developed?

MB: I watched the movie several times, taking notes on what parts I had interest in making fun of. Then I visualized certain key scenes in sketch format while not looking at the movie, so the Bode flair would start to take over. Then I thumbnailed the whole book with my own dialogue, which took several months. Then I penciled each page twice, and then inked it and colored and lettered it. The whole process took 350 hours over a 4 year period.

Lizard of Oz

BB: I know that, given a cursory glance, your and Vaughn's styles are incredibly similar. I was wondering, though, if you tried to more closely mimic his style -- whether in the actual drawing or the storytelling and design aspects of the page -- consciously or not?

MB: Before I knew what was reality here on this planet, my father, when I was 4 or 5 years old, led me to believe his characters were real. He said Cheech lived up the hill by the Projects near where we lived in Syracuse, NY. And we used to visit his laboratory, which was an old sewer hole cover. But Cheech never came out. I said, "Dad, why doesn't he come out?" He replied, "He is busy balling broads or doin' important wizard stuff, son." Thus, as my imagination and drawing abilities developed, I found it easy to draw and live in that world he created. No effort, what so ever. Although I have many other styles at my disposal, I am most happy when I'm in his, or our, style ...

BB: Do you see this as a true collaboration between you and your dad, or is there perhaps more of one or the other of you imbuing the book?

MB: I feel him on my shoulder sometimes, whispering thought patterns into my head as I draw and write. We work together always; he is immortal and his legendary status helps me get things and fame. I, being mortal, make him and myself larger and carry the stories further into other generations of readers and collectors. So, yes, we do work together and we stay in touch spiritually.

BB: I can only imagine how it felt to finally see this work to fruition and publication. Do you see it as a capstone of sorts to Vaughn's career, or might you view it from a very different viewpoint?

MB: I would like to see the book do well so I can continue to revive aspects of my father's works. I want to get back to my own art for a while, and then return to other Cheech stories. It's won't cap until I die, or decide not to draw Vaughn's stuff. That's the way I see it ...

BB: Well, how about what this means to you, professionally, in terms of your own career? Is it perhaps a milestone, or just another chapter?

MB: I am in my 40s now, and am poised to do my best work in the next 20 years of my career, so I'm psyched! The Lizard of Oz is done, and I can continue into my 40s with a free spirit and an arsenal of techniques that I've perfected for myself. Yes, I'm going into another part of my life where I'm a "Big Honcho Artist". I never went away in the last 25 years, and I've paid my dues in the arts.

In other words, I'm ready for the perks of bein' and old fart. [General laughter]

BB: How about you personally; what does this mean to you? Is this a momentous occasion, or is it something a little less dramatic than that?

MB: At first, it was pure joy to finish that book. Four years was a long time to work on one book, so I was thrilled when I colored the last page. Then I felt a sadness that my friends were gone again ... I didn't want them to return to the grave where they had been for so many years. I keep them alive when I work, so when I finish a huge project with them it's rather traumatic ... if you could bring back an old family member or friend from the grave, wouldn't you? That's how I feel when I'm in those places with dad's worlds. Those characters are my oldest friends, and I'm keeping dad alive, too.

BB: What's next for you? Will we be seeing more graphic narrative work from you in the future, or will you be concentrating on design clothes, toys and tattooing?

MB: I have been wanting to do a Bode Forest Fairy book, inspired by Brian Froud's books. I want to do a book that is pure and sweet and comes from a warm place in my heart. A place that you wouldn't see Cheech, but you would see a lot of forest nymphs and toadstools and mossy places that drip in the pond ... It's only a thought at this moment, I do have a few paintings already done for that book.

About the other stuff: I will always license and attempt to harness other mediums like graffiti, and tattooing, etching, painting and licensing, as that is the key to not being a starving artist. I found a way and it works for me.

BB: That brings up an important question: What do you get from working in all these different mediums, personally and professionally ... and do you get something from, say, designing the toys that's different from doing the clothes, the cartooning or tattooing?

MB: Tattooing has taught me extreme confidence of line. I draw with little or no mistakes. It's taught me to mimic other styles, and it's brought my abilities to new levels because of the difficulty of the medium. Imagine a rubber canvas that screams and cries ... then try to paint a straight line on it!

When you got tattooing down, the other art work is simple, really.

BB: What do you hope readers get from The Lizard of Oz, specifically, and from your work, generally?

MB: I hope they can go and visit my friends and play and laugh like I did on that journey. My cheeks hurt from smiling when I was workin' on that book. If it get smiles and laughs, and happens to cheer people up, I've done my job.

BB: Anything you'd like to add?

MB: Cheech says he needs more money and he wants you to buy his stuff whenever you see it. And he wants you ta know Cheech and the gang endorse,,, and

Bode Oz Color


Head on over to any of those great sites Mark just mentioned to glom onto some of his and his legendary dad's wonderfully fun [and often delightfully dirty] comics, toys based on their work, and more info on both of these fine artists' lives and work.

Or, better yet, why not head on to everybody's sweet home, Chicago, to help Mark celebrate the release of The Lizard of Oz in style, and just like they did back in the day with Vaughn ... with a slide show and spoken word performance! A Cartoon Concert and Lizard of Oz Book Release party will be held on June 26th, 2004, at 2701 West Division Street, Chicago, IL. 60622. Be there by 9 pm if you want to catch the slide show performance. Mark that date down and don't be late!

Oh, and remember kids, always do what Cheech says!

<< 04/21/2004 | 04/28/2004 | 05/05/2004 >>

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