Interview with Mark Bode. Dive in the wonderful Bode's world and let's talk about his father and his influence on the graffiti movement.
Interview of Mark Bode.
"These places are real Mark, and when you read my comics, we can go there". Vaughan Bode to his son Mark.
I'm in my zipcar driving over the bridge to meet Bode and finally check out a massive series of murals he's been hooking up in an industrial part of Oakland. His 60's Caddy is parked outside the local chicken and waffle joint. Several nearby blocks in the industrial district are surrounded by huge Bode murals. We sit down for plates of waffles, smothered in succulent fried chicken:
How much of your work is original and how much is family characters that you bring back?
I like to bring back old characters like old friends. I bring them back from the dead. It's way I keep my Dad's ideas alive.
Your Dad helped pioneer an underground era when the comic art form turned more adult...more serious, but also funnier...
In 1963 my dad self published one of the first underground comics in America called Das Kampf there were only 100 copies printed, a mint copy of Das Kampf sells for 5 Gs in todays market . The Zap crew of artists , Crumb, and other peers were also coming, emerging from the era of sexual revolution and the Woodstock generation. Later Vaughn was known for his sexual social satire work in nudy mags and National lampoon Like Deadbode Erotica and Cheech Wizard.
At the same time he created a deeper dimension for comic protagonists. The cute Disney type character was faced with betrayal, death, taxes, more than the iconic work, to me was his influence and the underground attitude it represented, why did graffiti writers gravitate towards these psychologically realistic characters and adopt them?
Bode characters are easy to draw, and the spirit behind what they represented at the time, a certain realness, a deep intellectual nature, the ability to show other worldlyness and experience life as metaphors for adult platforms showing that comics were not just kid stuff. .. the ability of comics to be complex and non commercial, that's what my Dad helped to give. He gave up a lot of opportunities and big deal offers in order to retain rights and control of the characters and their meaning and their integrity.
What was the inspiration for this magical yet very real world of underground "reality" comics?
My Dad faced a pretty harsh upbringing, my grandad was a drunken poet who would drink and beat the kids, beat the wife. The kids ran wild in the streets and stole; constantly in and out of juvy. My Dad created fictional universes to escape the real world. He created universes, he named the planets and the rivers and mountains, , cities, towns then he would inhabit his world with characters . Cheech is real Cheech wizard wears the hat, he is so close to the creator, in fact he is the creator and no one can see the light from the creator. That why the characters go blind when he takes his hat off.. My Dad used imagination to transcend the harshnesses of his past, he cranked out universes and named them, the strip was just an extension, a small window into his universe. The characters were always the last thing he drew. He would say to me "these places are real Mark, and when you read my comics, we can go there"
So this shockingly lifelike Simpsons or South Park type humor might have attracted writers as well since it was new at the time?
Definetely, Dondi sought me out in 1985, my mother in law had a bodega on State and 3rd in Brooklyn and he was always popping in to meet me. Dondi and I drew together and he would ask lots of questions about my Dad. Dondi, Mare, Kel, Seen and those early graffiti artists cemented the Bode character into the movement.
How did you meet Henry Chalfant ?
I was doing a signing at Sohozat, maybe for cobalt 60 and lots of graf heads showed up and Henry Chalfant did too...Mare 139 and a handful of other writers came to the signing. We all hit it off. Shy had died a few years before that and he was a big Bode character fan. Henry's studio was around the corner so we all went there afterward and that's where we all met for the first time and connected.
Did you ever think the movement would go this far to influence culture and counter culture?
No one did... When my Dad died in 1975, graff was in its infancy, maybe Taki was doin his first tags too early for my father to take notice of the movement . It's amazing to me that its blossomed. I still don't consider myself a writer, but a spraycan artist.... yes.
Did your Dad support your love of art?
From a young age teachers were repremanding me for daydreaming. He would tell them that he would talk to me about it but behind closed doors he woud say "So that's where you get all of those ideas?, keep it up, Son!". I might have gotten low grades in school but my Dad's encouragement is where I got all of my ideas...
About the Author:
Dan Plasma is a graffiti artist and magazine writer, please visit his official site.