A Bode dedication wall in Melbourne
If you ask any graffiti writer about ‘Bode characters’ there’s a good chance that they have some in their sketchbooks. Vaughn Bode was a famous American cartoonist who passed away in 1975, aged only 33. His most famous character, Cheech Wizard, wore a large yellow hat with red and black stars that covered everything but his feet. Cheech Wizard was always on the lookout for parties, women and beer. The popularity of Bode’s work around the late 1970s may explain why his characters were so commonly painted by early graffiti writers on New York subway trains. As photographs of New York subway graffiti became popular around the World in the early 1980s, more and more graffiti writers got to know Bode’s work, helping to make his characters a perennial staple in graffiti culture.
Vaughn’s son Mark Bode is an accomplished artist in his own right but has never shied away from referencing his father’s work. A fine arts major, a tattooist, and with a list of graphic novels and comics under his belt, Mark is also known for his graffiti. We catch up with Mark in time for his Amsterdam show at the Articks Gallery.
Check out this slideshow of Mark Bode’s art…
Bode on Bode
My earliest memories of my Dad were sitting on his lap as he guided my hand coloring in areas of his comic strips (like the Masked Lizard, which was the first strip printed with the Bode Lizards in it in 1965). I might have been around 2; I was not old enough to hold a pen. I stuck a pencil in my forehead and started crying (I still have the lead mark just above my eye like a tattoo).
My father was a very funny and goofy guy; he never took himself too seriously. He was also always trying to get me laid - he said it would be my favorite thing when I got older! We often talked when he took a bath in the morning. I would sit by the tub and we would trade stories and talk about god and what we’re doing on the Earth.
Vaughn Bode with his son Mark, circa 1973.
My father was also very depressed and had to go to a psychiatrist for many years. It stemmed from his abusive child hood. My grandfather was a drunk and beat his kids badly. Maybe that’s why Vaughn was so lost into his own Worlds and why he became the genius he was. He never showed that side of himself, except to maybe my mother. He always had a happy face on for his friends and fans.
I learned to imagine in my father’s style as he taught me his Worlds were real and that he was merely drawing what he saw on his adventures. I believed him as any young child would, and as a result I started imagining Cheech and the gang as real, walking around with us on a daily basis. I never saw them personally but I truly believed my father was hanging out with them: they were just hard to connect with and my father was lucky to cross paths with them more than I did.
I relate to my father’s characters like family. It’s hard to explain other than I feel I’m amongst family when I work with those characters. I often smiling for hours when I’m doing a strip and my cheeks hurt when I finish. It’s kind of like getting into trouble with old school mates. When I work on my own material I’m often much more brooding.
Early on I would do my own versions of his ideas in a crude childlike way. Children have a free way of thinking so I gave my father many of his ideas when I was quite young. For instance Frankenturd and the vampire, and Werelizards were my ideas. Hat yoga and even using women as boats were inspired by my crude ideas.
My dad taught me to draw tits when I was 7 years old. He said “Son, if you draw tits like this you will always make money.” I still draw the girls as he taught me; we have different ways of drawing them but the flavor and voluptuousness is a family tradition.
”Son, if you draw tits like this you will always make money.”
My father couldn’t stay married because of his fetishes. It drove my mother Barbara crazy. He would often dress up and look prettier than she did, which didn’t turn her on. He wallowed in his own androgyny; it’s just the way he was. He was a beautiful person – it’s just that my mom wanted a man and not a closet queen. They broke up still madly in love after 9 years of marriage.
Many of the strips in the Erotica books were his real fantasies. It reads like a sort of diary to his real-life escapades. He even had a tendency towards necrophilia (you may remember the Cheech strip where the apprentice gets dressed up as Cheech and digs up a corpse of a deceased town whore). He never acted on it but all these things were in his head. He was always showing me sexual type stuff, trying to open my mind so I wouldn’t be shut down like he was as a child.
He gave me a paperback called “Girl in Your Pocket A to Z” with pictures of all the parts of girls and explanations about what made them tick. I was 9 at the time and he encouraged me to masturbate to it. I did eventually and thought I was going to die the first time I came! My dad was thrilled I had finally discovered my life force and drive.
By the time I was 12 I had a very skilled hand with art and my father was ready to start to use me as an assistant. We would become a father and son team but it was too late. He died at that time in my life and we never got to work on an official project until a few years after his death when I colored his strip ‘Zooks’ for Heavy Metal magazine (I was 15). He couldn’t have been a more loving father: we were best friends.
Part two of this interview to be published shortly. This interview coincides with a forthcoming Mark Bode solo exhibition at the ArTicks Gallery in Amsterdam in July. Check out the link and flyer below: