About Mark Badger (from his website):
Mark Badger’s art combines political activism and comic books and the web into one. He drew comics for Marvel and DC working on such prominent characters as Spiderman, Batman, the X-Men and even Greenberg the Vampire Marvel Comics only Jewish vampire. The super heroes were often confronted by unusual issues such as jazz and racism, gentrification, sweat shops, and unions along with confronting the more usual threats of giant robots, dastardly villains and monsters.
Mark worked as a volunteer with The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, (CISPES). Over time, he chaired the New Jersey chapter, president of the steering committee for The Bay Area, fundraising , demonstration organizer, banner painter and large dinner planning.
His work with non-profits includes drawing comics for The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Washington States Legal Aid (a book on pesticide prevention). As one of the first comic artists working digitally he became the lead production artist for Marvel Comics partnership with AOL producing some of the first online comics.
He spent over five years as volunteer and paid organizer for the Graphic Artists Guild, tripling its size and creating a political force which changed tax law for artists in California. He has developed websites with his wife Martha Breen for the California Federation of Teachers and The Alexander Foundation for women’s health among others.
He currently teaches Programming, comic books and web development at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has found that teaching combines both storytelling for education and motivating large groups of people just like political organizing. He works with a diverse international group of students. His students have won The New Media award from Siggraph the most prestigious computer arts show in the country the last three years. His students continually evaluate him as one of the best teachers in the department.
He continues to draw entertainment comics published by BOOM! Studios, a story for the ACLU, and is working on a graphic novel on Nonviolent Communication with Dian Killian of Brooklyn Nonviolent Communication. He lives in Oakland Ca. with his wife and his son a budding comics artist.
Text © 2015 Mark Badger
Eric Hoffman for Comics Bulletin: Tell us a little bit about your background. Prior to working in the comic book industry, you attended art school correct?
Mark Badger: I left Cleveland for New York for Parsons School of Design, because I wanted to draw comics. I went right into the Illustration program along with Peter De Seve among others. They had us do a ton of life drawing, four classes a week, and gave us some basic art and design and color classes. The basics were taught by painters who showed in Soho and around New York. I went to art school thinking Barry Smith and the Pre-Raphaelites were the culmination of Western Civilization. I was pretty much into Rackham, Frazetta, Simonson and Chaykin, the Studio guys and not much anyone else.
These painters cracked my thick skull open, and started pouring in modern art, a much wider range of art experiences than I had had. Parsons built the foundation of who I am as an artist. They took all those basics of adolescent comics and laid all of history from Tiepolo and Rembrandt to Degas, Matisse, Picasso and Joseph Albers for influences. They taught how to think about artists as a way to grow, and taught me that form, shape, line, color is just as important as subject matter. I’m doing a daily Kirby exercise now, drawing a page of the Fourth World, more or less every day. This is to think about Jack in a serious artistic way and put his work into my nervous system.
Hoffman: Will you tell us about what sort of comic book work you did while in the Parsons Fine Arts program?
Badger: Well. I transferred from illustration to fine arts in my second year because I wanted to be a “real” artist. All of the interesting teachers seemed to be gallery painters; they just had this vibrant energy that challenged you and it hard not to be seduced by it.
My girlfriend and I spent our time wandering around galleries and looking at art every weekend, illustration just didn’t have the buzz that gallery art did. I saw one exhibit of Donald Judd who had made a series of fifty boxes of plywood all the same size, inside of them the space was divided up in a variety of ways some sequentially and some just in relationship. This was minimalism of artists taking a sequence of shapes and just processing them. But it seemed like comics to me.
So part of what they were pushing students to find is something you related to and were interested in that you could extend your work into. So what really happened is I started to make sculpture of assembled wood and small paintings out of torn bits of paper. I took X-Men 93 and made it into collages, and an early Miller Daredevil issue too. Art school makes you do dumb things in relationship to money, that’s the point of art school.
Russian Constructivism was sort of rediscovered with a huge show at the Guggenheim, this is the work that was done around the Russian Revolution and after up to Stalin taking over. It’s the foundation of modern graphic design and the use of type today and I started doing figure drawing based on some of the ideas of Popova, and then doing abstractions that were in panels. The pencil drawing abstract comics that were in the anthology from Fantagraphics are a sample of them. At first they were just analyzing the way comics pages worked and then I began generating my own sort of flow from panel to panel. Obviously these were some of the first Abstract Comics.
Hoffman: Is there any artist – cartoonist, painter or otherwise – you consider to be a particular influence on your style?
Badger: Well I’m fairly obsessed with Jack Kirby. I just finished about three thousand words of essay for the catalog of a show the Charles Hatfield is putting together. It’s formal art school blather about why Jack is so great. I mean, I don’t think there’re many artists that I could do a daily study of and still feel excited about after three years.
I’ve gone through a period of being obsessed with Degas as the first real artist, I think it’s because there’s a beautiful drawing of a prone woman with the breast slightly flattening out. I was twelve years old, in the pre-internet days, when naked people weren’t a click away and it was real in the way playboy pinups weren’t. And the Cleveland Museum had a number of his pastels and bronzes that were so lifelike without being photographic.
I’m starting another engagement with Matisse, he also is someone who looked and looked at the human form and then creating these profoundly alive shapes that had their own life. I think I like work that knows what the world is but makes painting that feel alive on its own. I like art that feels alive not caught in its own stasis.
Hoffman: Was there a particular work in comics that made you want to work in the field?
Badger: I was and am a slavering Walter Simonson fanboy. Manhunter, his one “Batman” story, and Dr. Fate as a kid I know probably panel by panel. Walter’s work now is still fresh and amazing. I thought Monark Skystalker by Chaykin was this epic graphic, badly drawn, masterpiece, it’s almost the best thing he ever did. But it really comes down to “Conan” # 24, “The Song of Red Sonja,” and “Red Nails” by Barry Smith. I didn’t understand how much he owes to Kirby at that point and was just in love with all the rendering as only an adolescent can be in love.
All the noodling that is so much what kids love in drawing and the big black shadows in “Red Nails.” They owe so much to Kirby’s shadows but I couldn’t understand that then. And then there’s two panels in “Avengers” #98 or #99.
Their sitting around talking about something and Cap’s head spins and the motion lines carry over from panel one and into panel two as cap says “Good lord.” He’s looking off into space so you can’t see what he’s reacting to. And then you have to turn the page. Seeing panel one, the abstract arc into a panel two, followed by a page turn, struck me as an experience I wanted to recreate. I don’t even remember what was on the next page. But it was the reading experience of those two panels together that was so exciting.
Hoffman: In your expansive interview with Michel Fiffé, you make an interesting distinction between an artist who works in comic book format as opposed to a “pure cartoonist who has stories to tell in comics.” You identify yourself with the former, describing yourself as an “artist who really likes telling stories.” Yet later in the interview you state that you “tend not to have stories to tell” and instead prefer to focus on “structural stuff” of storytelling. Can you clarify this position? Are you distinguishing between verbal and visual means of storytelling?
Badger: I was trying to get at the difference between people who are illustrators, who make single pictures. George Pratt is an illustrator, Bill Sienkiewicz is an illustrator; their main drive is to make single pictures. Illustrators don’t create a sequence of drawing in relation to each other as their main way of making meaning. I look at the standard good drawing guys – Curt Swan, John Buscema, Hal Foster, Al Williamson – as illustrators.
Most of the fancy work you see at Marvel/DC is just illustration, how many buttons and zippers and wrinkles can you put on the muscles to make it look realistic. Partially I think the drive of “writer” dominance has destroyed any space for visual storytelling and negatively impacted contributions within the medium by mainstream artists.
Writers will tell you to draw what is in their heads. But the writers can’t draw and so how can they have images in their heads? They don’t think in images, it’s not their craft. What is in their heads are thoughts that they put into words. Imagine if someone said “I’m writing the great American novel with all the words in my head, but I can’t spell.” We’d think they were nuts, but these days they teach writing graphic novels in writing departments without any visuals involved. A full script comic book writer is a “novelist who can’t spell.”
Jack Kirby obviously is different; he tells the story with the pictures. Anyone working by themselves is a cartoonist. Working Marvel-style is a different experience than working from a full script. Alex Toth is a storyteller who cared about comics and not just drawing a picture; he’s a cartoonist. I think people who work Marvel style create a different quality of comics totally. Marvel style lets you participate in the creation of the comic in a way full script doesn’t.
Mike Mignola – even when he didn’t know exactly what he was doing when we started – still thought of it as, here’s a cool pic of Superman in the story, here’s Wolverine going back to the Savage Land for the lighter, and how they worked as stories. He had these stories sort of brimming throughout his head. Then with “Hellboy” it’s exploded into this universe of stories, for all he obsesses over his covers. He’s probably the perfect model of a comics guy.
I really don’t have those kinds of characters and stories running through my head. When I build something up it’s out of a desire to say or do something, when I co-plot I’m the annoying leftist one saying, “Why don’t we have a political organizer in this thing.” I don’t want to draw “The Shadow”; I want an excuse to do people organizing or explain capitalism. That or playing with visual ideas with a grid as a set of panels is more interesting to me than playing with what Batman has in his utility belt.
I love the format of comics. I really would be happy just doing abstract comics; that’s what I mean by the structural stuff. All the layout and design that goes into creating a sequence of pages, I find that the most satisfying part of what I do and the way things should be. I just am not obsessed with the characters and what they are doing.
I think the challenge of my adulthood is how all this pieces into one thing. It’s the challenge I’m facing with what to do after Shakespeare.
Hoffman: While working in the comics industry, did you view yourself as an outsider? Were you, for example, associating with those working in the medium prior to starting work for Marvel?
Badger: I was in APA 5, that spawned in an earlier time Frank Miller and then after it Dark Horse Comics. So I met Randy Stradley and Chris Warner through that. Like most nerd artists I didn’t really figure out how to socialize until my thirties. It really took getting involved in political work, before I realized what you have to do to build a social network.
I’m still lousy at it, although I can cover up and act decent in public. I’m friends with a union organizer for HERE who’s a comics geek, I’m probably the only non-member union geek. At that time, comics was a smaller field and I had a different set of interests, so yeah, I always kind of felt like an outsider.
I think I qualified as an outsider, just by my interest in fine arts and political activism, they weren’t accepted topics for discussion. No one else wanted to go to El Salvador and meet real revolutionaries with me, that’s for sure. At that time most people didn’t even know that the Museum of Modern Art existed let alone was across the street from DC Comics.
Hoffman: What was your sense of Marvel comics at the time you were working for them? This would have been during the Shooter era, primarily. Did you sense, for example, an abundance of creative freedom? Or was it more dictatorial? Had Marvel already developed a corporate sensibility at that time? You seem to indicate, again in your Fiffé interview that – at least with graphic novels – there was some freedom there, a willingness to experiment.
Badger: Shooter is really interesting, I steadfastly maintain that his basic $1.25 lecture is the greatest foundation for storytelling ever. You should link to it and every young artist and probably old, should re-read it a couple of times every year. It started with him trying to bring some structure to the thought of doing comics. Unfortunately he turned that thought into this hard lines and rules in doing comics that cut out all of the interesting room for play. But he only really cared about the Marvel characters and then the New Universe.
When you did something like “Greenberg” no one cared at all about it, it was just go do whatever you like. But no, I don’t think comics had any sense of corporate space that it does now, then it was pretty much seat-of-our-pants screwing around.
I think one thing is clear: I had a mainstream career because there was a space in comics. When I started, brick and mortar comics shops were just taking off, “Raw”, “Maus” had happened and the mainstream was opening up with “Dark Knight” and “Watchmen”. Marvel had Epic and DC created Piranha Press sort of as a response to Image. Then with the success of Image we saw any openness collapse, formulas reasserted, and over the last twenty years it certainly sounds like editors are now crazier than ever in their close-mindedness and pursuit of the next big thing.