By REYHAN HARMANCI
Published: July 1, 2010
Mark Bode knew as a toddler that he wanted to be an artist and work
with his famous father, Vaughn Bode, the San Francisco underground
comics creator. But after his father died in 1975, when Mark was 12,
he devoted himself to a different kind of collaboration: polishing
his father's legacy.
Vaughn Bode created a world in his comics that Mark has fleshed out,
making oil and spray paint paintings from his father's cartoon panels
and unfinished sketches. The younger Mr. Bode perfected his father's
signature pieces: the ever-slouching Cheech Wizard, the
science-fiction-inflected planet full of lizards, the cartoonishly
lewd "Bode broads."
As Mark Bode, 47, who is based in Daly City said, "I am mortal and he
is immortal, and the two of us work well together."
Vaughn Bode wasn't as well known as Robert Crumb, his peer in the
underground comics movement of the late '60s and early '70s, but he
has become a hugely influential person in late-20th-century visual
culture. When the first generation of graffiti artists, like Dondi,
Zephyr and Mare 139, saw his images in "low art" publications like
Heavy Metal magazine, they found his rounded lines and wisecracking
characters perfect fodder for copying on walls and subway cars.
Estria, a street artist from Oakland, finds Vaughn Bode's technical
characteristics the simple, clear lines to be key to his
popularity. Graffiti "is an arts movement built on letter forms,"
Estria said. "We can't do 'Starry Night.' "
Henry Chalfant, author of the seminal 1984 graffiti book "Subway
Art," said teenage artists identified with Mr. Bode's impish
characters, so "painting them on the trains was a little like putting
up a surrogate of the self."
Adult animation also owes a debt to his prescient mix of grown-up
themes and childlike renderings.
"When you look at something like 'Ren and Stimpy,' you can see Mr.
Bode," said James O'Barr, creator of "The Crow" comic series and
film. "Even if it's third generation, there's a genealogy that goes
back to him."
After his death, Vaughn Bode might well have become a footnote if not
for the work of his son.
"Mark can do his dad's work perfectly, but he has the advantage of 35
years of looking into the future to incorporate all kinds of other
story lines," said Ron Turner, owner of Last Gasp, a San Francisco
underground comic press.
Aided by Larry Todd, the artist, Mark Bode finished "Cobalt 60,"
which was optioned as a live-action film by Universal Studios to be
directed by Zack Snyder, the "300" director, as well as a 2004 book
called "The Lizard of Oz," which was published by Fantagraphics. A
line of Bode Puma sneakers, designed by Mark, made its debut in 2007.
Currently, the San Francisco gallery 1:AM is hosting a Bode show with
new work from Mark and previously unseen pieces from Vaughn called
"Wizards, Lizards and Broads" to celebrate this unusual family dynamic.
Vaughn Bode was born in 1941 in Utica, N.Y., and spent most of his
life upstate. He received his big break at 27 when Trina Robbins, a
fellow pioneering underground comic artist, pulled his work out of
the slush pile at the alternative newspaper East Village Other in 1968.
"I was working there at the time," Ms. Robbins said, "and Vaughn Bode
had sent lots and lots of submissions, and they were just sitting in
the back room, getting coffee stains. And it was just gorgeous work."
Ms. Robbins persuaded him to move to New York City to push his work
in person. He relocated to the West Coast in 1973 with Ms. Robbins,
Spain Rodriguez and a cadre of other underground comic artists.
As his career continued to build, Mr. Bode also experimented. He grew
long curly hair, took to wearing women's clothing, enjoyed having sex
with both men and women, painted his nails and tried out Eastern
religions. His marriage to Barbara Falcon, Mark's mother, ended in
1972. He was a frequent contributor to magazines like National
Lampoon, published books with Fantagraphics, which is based in
Seattle, and toured nationally with his live performance, the
According to his son, Mr. Bode had a death wish. Mark said he found
his father's body after he had tried to "see God" through autoerotic
After his father's death, Mark Bode began to pick up where Vaughn
Bode had left off. He got his first professional job when he was 15,
coloring an unfinished panel of his father's for Heavy Metal magazine.
"If you could keep someone you loved alive, who wouldn't?" he said in
a recent interview.
Mark Bode has also broken ground. After first seeing his father's
images on a subway car in Manhattan in 1982, he immersed himself in
spray-paint culture, and he is now a well-regarded muralist as well
as a tattoo artist. He worked with the creators of Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles in western Massachusetts for the better part of a
decade, but five years ago he returned to the Bay Area with his wife,
Molly, and their daughter, Zara.
In Mark Bode's estimation, his father's death halted their family
business only temporarily. "It took me 20 years to catch up," he
said, "but I did."