News & Events
Following a Wiz to a Far-Out OZ

Published: May 31, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO — When Vaughn Bode, the maverick cartoonist and graffiti guru, died in 1975 at 33, he left behind a son and some of the most original and influential cartoon art done in the 1960's and 70's.

Original Vaughn Bode Artwork
Vaughn Bode

Mark Bode, son of Vaughn Bode, maverick cartoonist of the 60's and 70's, is completing "The Lizard of Oz," for which his father produced only this cover illustration.

Mark Bode (pronounced BO-dee), also a cartoonist, recently completed his father's interrupted work "The Lizard of Oz," a raunchy departure on the "Wizard of Oz" that features the older Bode's premier creation, Cheech Wizard. Fantagraphics Books of Seattle will publish the book next month.

Wearing a colorful comics T-shirt, Mr. Bode, standing on a beach outside San Francisco, peered over his Ray-Bans toward the California coast, near Point Reyes, and spoke about his father and the forthcoming book. "That's about where we dropped Dad's ashes from the Cessna," he recalled with a laugh. "I ripped the bag open at exactly 2:22 p.m., just like he wanted." But when 12-year-old Mark looked down, he saw a big yacht passing below, filled with half-naked women sunbathing on the deck. "I figured it was Vaughn's last joke."

Now 41, Mark Bode has kept the Bode dynasty up and running for 29 years. "When he died, I knew I was going to have to take over because I didn't want the worlds to die with him," he added, pulling his foot from the salty Pacific. Mr. Bode decided to start the "Oz" project in 2000, with a $1,000 commitment from Fantagraphics and a concept cover illustration by his father. "It's the last thing my father planned," said Mr. Bode, who wrote the story.

When the elder Bode reinterpreted the legendary story theme, he added several twists to Dorothy's tornadic dream, which he related to his son. Judy Garland's juvenile character becomes Poppy, a not-so-nice, beer-drinking, thieving, 4-year-old orphan thief. She romps with Cheech (the Wizard); a hemp-stuffed scarecrow; a mangy, homosexual lion; and a tin man obsessed with an oil drum.

"I never thought I'd revive Cheech Wizard because he was too personal to my father," Mr. Bode said. The 70's creature, seen frontally, is a flaccid yellow hat with cartoony red legs and questionable underquarters. "Cheech was my father's alter ego," he added, "a bad-mouth hat with no respect for anyone, completely the opposite of Vaughn, who was charismatic but shy." At first, the son said, he felt intimidated reviving his father's best-known character. The Cheech strip was enormously popular when it ran in National Lampoon magazine in the early 1970's.

Although Vaughn Bode is now glamorized as one of the titans of underground comics, his beginnings were anything but auspicious. He began drawing as a way to help escape a miserable childhood, mostly spent in the streets of Syracuse, where he developed a penchant for stealing food, vandalizing, and wearing women's clothing.

Moving to Manhattan in 1969, he joined the underground paper The East Village Other, where he met Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez and other cartoonist luminaries. He was editor of the first two issues of Gothic Blimp Works, the East Village Other's comic tabloid insert that he named himself. By 1972 he had also become a performance artist, staging his multimedia "Cartoon Concert" at comics and sci-fi conventions. A year later he published the autobiographical strip "Schizophrenia," describing himself as "autosexual, heterosexual, homosexual, masosexual, sadosexual, transsexual, unisexual, omnisexual."

Kim Thompson, vice president of Fantagraphics, said, "We told Mark, `When you complete it, we'll publish it.' " Over the course of 15 years, he added, the company has published 15 volumes of Vaughn Bode's work, and the books have been very popular among graffiti and tattoo artists. "It's a natural," Mr. Thompson said, "because of the bright colors and the big, lush round shapes."

Fantagraphics can still sell new Cheech Wizard material 30 years after the cartoonist's death, which indicates that his vision remains intact, Mr. Thompson said. He added: "Vaughn's work was very charming. There's a flower-child quality to it. There's a real affection for this material that we believe will carry over to the work of the son."

Vaughn Bode's characters have had a seminal influence, and it was often a rite of passage for graffiti artists to do a Bode character, making the artist an unwitting guru of urban street culture as his characters were picked up and recreated into images the early New York graffiti artists that were put on walls and train and subway cars. "My father never even heard of graffiti," Mr. Bode said, shaking his head.

Ivor Miller, a cultural historian at DePaul University in Chicago who examined the history of New York graffiti culture in his book "Aerosol Kingdom," said if there was anything that codified the world of graffiti movement or characters used, it was Vaughn Bode's work. "Vaughn created his own worlds, and I think lots of the writers respect that because they're doing that too," Mr. Miller said.

As a boy, the younger Bode felt that power directly. Born in Utica, N.Y., in 1963, Mark was raised on a cartoon diet. At 3 he began drawing, at his father's side, nubile nymphs, bright green lizards and menacing mutants. He remembers helping his father fill in the voluptuous signature "Bode Broads." "He'd put a marker in my hand," Mr. Bode said, "and say, `Color this area,' and make sure I didn't go crazy going outside the lines. "We'd always race up this hill by our house, knock on a manhole cover and yell for Cheech. I asked him why he never came out, and he'd say, `Well, he's" chasing women "and doing tricks.' He was brainwashing me into seeing his world, so the characters I started coming up with were heavily influenced by him.

"Right before he died he told me: `We'll always be Bode and son. Share my style, but don't get too close.' I couldn't wait to work with him."

Mark Bode was 9 when his father and mother, Barbara Falcon, divorced in 1972. Her roller-coaster relationship, as she described it, with Vaughn Bode began dissolving as he went from crew cut to cascading curls, increasingly exploring his sexual identity and predilection for feminine clothing. "We had so much love between us still, but I was not happy with his transvestitism," Ms. Falcon said. In 1973 her former husband, who was now coming out as a crossdresser and bisexual, had moved to San Francisco.

He also left "The Lizard of Oz." By completing his father's unfinished work, Mr. Bode has come full circle in a 29-year artistic and personal journey. On July 18, 1975, 12-year-old Mark was visiting his dad in San Francisco for the summer. Mr. Bode recalled his father's words on that day: "Mark, I've seen God four times, and I'm going to see him again soon. That's No. 1 to me, and you're No. 2." Then his father, dressed in a saintly gown, went into his bedroom and closed the door.

"I didn't really grasp what he was talking about," Mr. Bode said quietly, "but I told him, `Dad, you look beautiful.' I never saw him alive again." Mr. Bode said his father accidentally strangled himself during autoerotic asphyxiation, something he had done on four occasions. The last time, Mr. Bode added, "some necklaces got entangled in the strap."

"Vaughn was still one of the most creative forces I've ever met," Mr. Bode said. "To this day I've never had a religion. But my father represents a sanctuary, waiting for me."

Mark's BioArtworkTattoosMuralsLinks
News & EventsMoviesLicensingStore

Copyright ©MARK BODE' All Rights Reserved Disclaimer
About Us | Contact Us | Feedback