Painter, illustrator and author Mark Todd was first inspired to become a visual artist by the comic books and adventure movies that captured his imagination as a child. These realms of fantasy still populate his art, a body of work in which superheroes and villains are altered but still archetypal. In pieces that blend images, words, and iconography—and that are both vividly action-packed and cleanly minimal—classic Silver Age comic book covers are the subjects of Todd’s forthcoming show “Juggernaut: New Comic Paintings and Collage Works on Paper.”
Every work is proportioned to have the precise aspect ratio of a comic book, which measures 6 3/4” x 10 1/4”. With this nod to authentic scale, Todd grounds the pieces in pop culture tradition before using them to transform the comic cover format. Some small drawings are exactly that size, while larger paintings—executed with cel vinyl, acrylic, and spray paint—range up to a diptych measuring 91” x 61.5”. Collages and mixed-media pieces, incorporating found papers, miscellaneous remnants, xeroxes, and other sundry elements, vary in size and texture.
The only other “Juggernaut” constant is that Todd starts each piece from the top left-hand corner. “Looking at a comic book,” he says, “the price, the issue number, the publisher, that sort of information is all up there, leading into the title. I find it’s a safe place to start, to get that in, and know it’s there to reference. Then I feel comfortable distorting it, throwing things in, leaving others out—sometimes even turning the piece upside down and going from there.”
Everything else is a departure point, spinning off the actual comics to create the deconstructions and re-imaginings that are Todd’s signature. Familiar yet new, they build on the ongoing adventures of world-famous comics including The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spiderman.
Color plays a prominent role, sometimes echoing the tones of a classic cover, other times opposing them to distance the piece from the original source material. Often, Todd uses color as an anchor, covering the entire panel with one distinct hue, then letting his expressive lines define its surface. He prefers a limited palette within each single work, but throughout the collection effects veer from dusty and muted—desaturated, aged-looking colors that make the image sit back on the plane—to hot neons that leap off the wall. Todd embraces these contradictory instincts in the same spirit that he appreciates the warring forces of good and evil in the comics that drive his vision.
Words and sentences are slipped into all the pieces. Text and typeface elements alternately comment on, reinforce, and/or change the comic depicted. “They come as free association,” he says. “Very often they just pop into my head while I’m working.” In some cases, text replaces an image that appeared on the original cover, as in the case of the word “soldier” in “Hulk”.
Though rooted in his early love of comic books, Todd’s "Juggernaut" pieces are fresh and full of wiry energy—restless reinventions rather than nostalgic reveries.
Mark Todd graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA in 1993. He then moved to New York City, working with clients including MTV, Coca-Cola, Sony Music, The New Yorker magazine and The MTA. In 2003, returned to southern California with his wife and fellow artist, Esther Pearl Watson and their daughter Lili, an avid artist herself. Mark also co-teaches with Esther at Art Center College of Design, and their book “Whatcha Mean, What’s A Zine” (Houghton Mifflin), a primer on creating zines and mini-comics, was released in 2006. Todd’s latest book, “Bad Asses” (Blue Q)—104 pages of exactly that—was published in 2007. His work is regularly featured in prominent group shows; his most recent solo exhibition was at DOMY Houston in June of 2009.
"Juggernaut" opens January 16, 2010 at Billy Shire Fine Arts, and runs through February 6th.
Several of Mark Todd's books, zines and prints will be available for purchase