Q&A with Chris Marks

A photo of Chris is superimposed on a white background. On the left is a strip of brown and orange rugged textures and a thumbnail of The Suburban Review #19 cover. The photograph is a selfie with Chris looking up at the camera. Chris is wearing a grey cap and t-shirt with a denim shirt over it. A sideswept fringe swoops across Chris’s oversized black-rimmed glasses.

CHRIS MARKS is a Filipino freelance animator who ate four slices of expired ham yesterday and discourages people from doing the same. The toastie wasn’t even worth it.

Our Art + Comics Editor, David Mahler, spoke to Chris about their comic, ‘Anime Cave’, in #19: Echo.

David: Chris Marks, thank you so much for joining me for this ‘casual conversation’, as we in the industry call them. I won’t be keeping you all night; I’ve got a few potions to finish whipping up in Skyrim, so…

Chris: No prob David. Potions aren’t gonna whip themselves.

First things first, a big congratulations on ‘Anime Cave’! The whole team’s so excited to publish such a crisp and heartfelt comic.

It’s all thanks to you constantly badgering me to submit at every zine fair lol.

I’m a big fan of your work – your style hits my sweet spot, I grew up on manga like Keroro Gunso/Sergeant Frog before finding the alternative comics Mecca that was Tumblr circa early 2010s, and your style definitely harks to both.

Wow, what a coincidence. I’ve got seven Keroro Gunso Tokyopop volumes on my shelf. 

Can we talk influences real quick? A lot of your work has a nice soft line which suits your more…I want to say more plump characters? In a good way! As in I want to hug ‘em!

You could say my style’s a bastardisation of Mine Yoshizaki’s. I was mostly into the way he draws the characters’ eyes – the vertical, cat-like pupils. They looked very distinguishable from other anime characters. The other thing I liked about Mine was his humourous deconstruction of science fiction tropes. Every chapter Keroro would come up with a new, bizarre scheme to dominate the world such as creating an army of animal people. His plans would always be foiled in the end but you’d cheer for him anyway since he’s so charming. Please hug my characters. They are all sad and in need of physical affection.

Judging by ‘Anime Cave’, you may have something in common with the Sergeant, a penchant for model collecting. Can I ask, do you really have much of a collection, is the cave of legends true?

My collection is pitiable to the likes of the Sergeant. I only started collecting figures recently with some disposable income. My main excuse is they make good references for poses, but honestly I just think they look cute. One of my zine friends got me started after she bought a Hatsune Miku Nendoroid from a second hand store in Japan and now it’s hard to stop.

Ooh fun, there’s a great SOPHIE-produced track feat. Hatsune Miku….I only found out about Vocaloids about a year ago, it’s still a bit hard to believe an anthropomorphised computer program can perform sold out stadium shows across Japan, hey.

Yeah. She’s literally a goddess to some people.

It’s a shame, it really does feel there’s still a wider stigma against these otaku interests – mostly from those with minor knowledge or understanding of them – and in particular against adults owning toys…as you touch on in the comic, a lot of people see them as dolls, feminine objects. Which…is an inherently bad thing to some people? But then if you collect cars, well, then you’re a man-child of course, and that’s also to be pitied. Although mind you, it really does feel like Peter Pan syndrome is the flavour these days.

I used to feel that way too, but ever since my career involved producing that same nerdy content, I feel it’s hard not to surround yourself with those immature relics.  Everyone’s a nerd nowadays anyway. That stigma has kinda vanished. They sell superhero shirts at Target.

True, there’s pretty much a Marvel and DC apparel section in every Big W these days. I don’t know about you, but it feels like even among these ‘nerdy’ scenes there are different camps and, like, soft judgement. I’d hazard a guess that a Vocaloid fan wouldn’t feel much solidarity with a macho superhero fan. I’m not sure many of the guys wearing Superman shirts at the gym would be down for a Hatsune Miku show? But then again, that’s me, someone who’s always hated being pigeonholed, labelled, making assumptions about a hypothetical someone who’s wearing a dang Superman t-shirt…they could have their very own anime cave back home, with their Vocaloid models displayed next to their Gundams.

I think that juxtaposition is attractive in a person or character. The tough, masculine brute harbouring a secret, effeminate hobby. I remember enjoying a short comic you posted on your Instagram about a warehouse worker who liked to dance. He was twirling around like a ballerina while wearing a jumpsuit and surrounded by steel machinery. This was literally me when I worked at Australia Post, lol. I wish Hatsune Miku would tour down here. I mean, what’s her schedule like? She’s a virtual character – she can be anywhere at any time, right? She needs to come to Australia and liberate the people from shame.

Totally! Help us accept ourselves! It’s funny, it’s a fact we judge others because we feel we’re being judged. We all do, constantly, insecurity is part of being human. We forget the words we fear they’re going to shout came from our own imagination, right?

If you live on social media like I do, the gatekeeping is enhanced ten-fold, especially in fandoms. It’s easier than confronting each other in our real-life meat bodies, since you can just sit behind a computer screen. At some point you internalise it and it can prevent you from discovering new interests. The internet should be more inclusive with its inherent potential to connect people.

Forums and chans used to be such havens, and sites like Tumblr, of course. Even Deviantart back in the day had a thriving, diverse, and most importantly, supportive community. These days we’re left with the giants, the sites with the biggest advertising budgets. It’s not about searching to find your niche anymore on a dedicated platform, it’s all algorithms creating streams of content to thumb-flick through with the minimum amount of exertion. And with that desire to reach the widest audience comes homogenisation.

Yeah, I miss Deviantart, since you could actually view a persons’ entire gallery without needing to dig through a timeline. The website also actively encouraged artists to make detailed and meaningful works with the Daily Deviation feature. It had a staggering amount of porn on the front page tho. It still does, lol… My favourite game is seeing how far you can scroll down on that site until you see something questionable.

It’s become a bit of a Rule 34 magnet…

Yeah, it’s a weird lil’ corner of the internet. Many artists started out on Deviantart, usually in small, innocent roleplay groups then ended up launching a full-time creative career. As websites get more traction, they become useful tools to spread progressive messages, but on the downside, hate groups are also able to fester, even more so, sometimes, depending on how much revenue they gain. I was on the right-wing side of an anime fandom at some point in high school, which goes to show how easy it is to be influenced.

Oh, for sure – young, impressionable, literally searching (the internet) for friends who ‘get you’. It makes you wonder what it would’ve been like growing up in Japan in the late ‘80’s, early ‘90’s. I mean high school kids had mobile phones that could access the net, access forums, post sex work ads. Hideaki Anno explored this phenomenon perfectly in 1998’s Love & Pop. Oh, Shunji Iwai’s 2001 All About Lily Chou Chou might be a better example what with the intense cyber bullying and the framing device of an anonymous internet forum dedicated to the titular singer.

I really want to keep rambling about how ‘80s/’90s cyber punk/’dark net’ anime like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, and Perfect Blue reflected a digitally connected and socially deteriorating pre-2000s Japanese society; influencing movies like The Matrix, the west’s first mainstream exposure to things like hacking, internet groups, online aliases et cetera; getting all the young kids interested in chat rooms and virtual lives a good decade after their Japanese peers, which might have something to do with the fairly recent and Japan-specific hikikomori and herbivore men phenomena; the dramatic decline in the Japanese birth rate, and what all this means for internet-dependant societies in the years ahead…but hey, we should probably talk about that comic of yours we’re here to promote.

I was somewhat of a hikikomori after graduating uni, spending most of the year unemployed and lurking around chat rooms. It happens to a lot of people, not only the Japanese, as they are suddenly flung out into society, expected to find full time work, a partner and a house. Physical interactions like job interviews or dates are risky compared to the safe, inconsequential internet, so why bother going outside? I’m not necessarily saying “phone bad”, tho. Those sci-fi anime you referenced reflect how technology and this societal stress can collide. They all have psychological horror themes that feel unnervingly realistic and could possibly occur in the near future, particularly Lain in which a girl’s classmate commits suicide and haunts her through the computer. You can argue every post you make online is the ghost of your past self and will still exist even when you die. I’m getting spooked thinking about this, let’s change the topic.

Jumping back to anime bros, I love the two dudes on page 2 – ‘sup, bro!’ It’s such a great panel, their silhouettes and speech capture their character type perfectly, the kind of guys who’d wear an Iron Man shirt to pump reps at the gym (Tony Stark, not the far more logical competitive marathon), work hard for their intimidating arms, but will genuinely smile and give you the time of day when they pass by in the warehouse. Just to go ahead and generalise sweepingly again, pretty much all my straight male friends from high school fit this type to a T. Scrawny back in year 10, too busy playing CoD during lunchtime, reading high fantasy books, trading Pokemon cards to learn the latest hip hop slang and, I dunno, sex positions. But lo and behold, the moment they got into uni and met people fresh – didn’t have the baggage of their history, their boyish reputations, and that high school need to genericize oneself – they immediately started talking like Kanye and jacking up their vanity muscles, a fair few years behind all the ‘kewl kids’ who were already performing like that in high school. It’s like they finally started working on imitating that confidence, but still held onto their foundation of outsider/observer. They began working hard for confidence, and now they look damn fine AND they’re the nicest dudes, probably more so because they got to the party a bit late.

One of the anime bros had a souped-up sports car parked in front of the warehouse which I thought was pretty cool.

Fun!

Those guys you described existed in my high school, too, which may have been due to its segregated nature. When the school started giving out laptops, they liked playing shooting games during every religion class while the teacher wasn’t looking. I lost contact with them after graduating. Unfortunately, I was a scrawny artist so being manly was out of the question.

Were you much of a scribbler in school or did that come later?

I made self-insert Sonic the Hedgehog fan comics between assignments. We all have to start somewhere lol. It naturally led me to taking an animation degree where 50% of the students were queer and 100% were unapologetically rabid nerds skulking around Tumblr all day. A majority of us were going against our parents’ wishes by taking an animation course in the first place, so there wasn’t any room for shame lol. We drew Garfield murals on the class whiteboards. If you want a crash course in self-discovery, become an art student. (Or not, you actually don’t need a degree to be an artist, but it is good for making like-minded friends.)

Supportive networks are so important, hey. Jumping to the end of your comic, no spoilers, you touch on a bit of gender play, which honestly is a pretty big trope in manga and anime with a long history stretching right back to onnagata performers in kabuki theatre – gender switching, gender ambiguity, androgyny pop up constantly. We’re talking Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, Ranma ½, Ouran High School Host Club, a bunch of androgynous villains (unfortunately) in ‘90s macho anime like Ninja Scroll come to mind, and more recently the leads in Makoto Shinkai’s record-breaking Your Name.

When I was eight, I stumbled upon my first ever manga at a library – it was about a man who is transformed into a woman by an angel. I guess I was corrupted at an early age lol. I love gender benders even if most of them are steaming garbage. Ouran is great tho. Many anime villains tend to be androgynous since they challenge the binary status quo which is why I prefer rooting for them. (Also, because they’re fabulous.)

The concept’s something that has fascinated people for a long time, and still does. What gender means, what the differences are, how each feels.

I listen to a bajillion podcasts about the topic – it never gets old. I took an opportunity to present feminine in the last page of the comic to compensate for the fact that I can’t necessarily go out in a dress right now. Being trapped inside makes you regret the things you procrastinated on before this year. (It was going to be the next party – I swear!) 

It’s funny people have a problem with gender fluidity when everyone has at one point imagined themselves as a different gender.

Drawing myself allows total control over my image, whereas there is only so much makeup can cover. With comics, you can’t infer anything from speech bubbles either, without voice pitch. I may have exaggerated my appearance a bit, but isn’t that the function of social media, too? Rendering a more realistic portrait would be self-deprecating to me anyway. I read in an essay somewhere, anime characters are purposefully designed agender so they could be projected onto by anyone and flexibly shipped with other characters.

Ah, very interesting.

Haruhi from Ouran seems to be able to slip into either gender roles and be comfortable which I thought was progressive at the time. She’s an idol to me, as well as all the figures I collect, in more ways than one.

Anyway, here’s a drawing of me getting drunk on a Saturday.

Fashion zine ASAP please! That’s interesting, what you mention about projecting, it reminds me of being a kid and taking on different character’s identities, like fully transforming in your imagination into someone else. There’s a pure freedom, and definitely a therapeutic catharsis, in taking a little break from the real you.

I’ve been on the production for a few toy-line cartoons which were as binary as most cartoons from the ‘90s.

Toy-line cartoon as in, like, classic He-Man or Transformers-style where the ‘stories’ are basically 20 minute commercials?

Yeah, basically. One of them involved monsters who would fight each other using magic powers. Their caste system seemed to be built on who was the strongest of the clan, no room for talking it out. It was weird because the fighting also seemed to be a form of love and procreation? While the cartoon did appear hyper masculine on the surface, the animators liked to ship the two ‘dude bro’ main characters. And you couldn’t really deny there was chemistry there.

Oh fun, that’s cool they could get away with sneaking a bit of that in.

Oh no, it wasn’t canon. The animators have to make our own headcanons most of the time. The cartoon was kinda propagating a generation of boys to use violence to solve their problems. I doubt the writers were really thinking about audience reactions and just copied the tropes from shonen anime. Is the violence instinctual to male people or is it just a trend in the media? I dunno? I just make the monsters move.

What I find really interesting, and this is coming from someone who was allowed to wear dresses as kid, never felt pressure from the family to be a ‘boy’ boy, is that these days my complex isn’t so much about nurturing a hidden effeminacy but rather a lack of ‘grown-up-ness’. A lot of people see toys as dolls, some of the older boys might call you a sissy if they catch you playing with toys after a certain age, some dads look at the thin boy drawing fabric patterns instead of playing in mud and they’ll tell them that what they’re doing is ‘wrong’, etc. Everyone’s come across this perceived association with toys, childish things, and femininity. But when I play with toys, I don’t feel girly, I feel like a kid, which brings its own weird sense of shame. And I bring this up because it took me a long, long time to openly admit that I’ve started playing with LEGO again. Not collecting, playing, because that’s what you do with toys. It’s like, either way, we all need to find something to feel guilty about.

Your parents sound rad, David. I remember you casually mentioned you wore dresses at the zine fair and I was a bit jealous. I’m childish because my job requires me to be so – if you’re unable to think like a child, then your cartoon will probably feel very shallow and cynical. I definitely agree with your femininity angle. Not sure why this is a thing? It could be that toys are associated with creativity and we know how artists and actors are usually perceived… Maybe men should just get over their insecurities? Maybe we should all just be like your parents lol.

Shout out to accepting parents everywhere. And yes, men should get over their insecurities, but we should probably address why they’re there and solve this mystery once and for all, just casually. Is it a chicken and egg situation? Are the macho cartoons raising boys to act and think in a certain hyperactive, boisterous way which prizes aggressive action over empathy? Or do those cartoons trigger and activate a specific biological spot that’s already there – either in XY-types or in humans generally? Something tells me men generally have feelings and can be insecure, so I’m leaning to the former. Is the answer to eliminate all these capital-driven productions that exist purely to raise adrenaline levels in children, forming a relatively controlled pattern of chemical release which associates committee-constructed characters with a natural high? Indoctrinating kids into believing they genuinely need coloured pieces of plastic or their lives may end?

Please don’t listen to David. Continue making crappy toys so I can continue getting work. Or don’t, so I can work on some original properties lol.

Ha!

It’s easy to sell things with cartoon characters since they are ascribed an infallible, apolitical personality and are very appealing to watch compared to live action. When cartoons sell gender roles to kids, most parents will approve because it reflects what they were taught when they were younger, and they are part of the same generation as the cartoon writers etc. ad infinitum. (This is why it’s important to diversify your creative teams, just saying.) Cartoons are slowly getting better tho and kids are getting smarter which will show in the ratings of the smart shows. ;^)

That’s so true. And I really can’t speak on capitalism – as much as I denounce the glaring flaws I happily take advantage of its conveniences. It really comes out when I’m gaming, I’ve been playing Skyrim for a week straight now – while I’ve only visited three towns and fought a single boss, I’ve racked up over $90,000 from mining, smithing, potion making…it’s a joke, and it happens every time I start a new RPG, I spend a day blissing out riding around the sights and sites and then get sucked into the grind.

I haven’t played Skyrim, but I heard it’s really addictive. The robust character customisation is pretty amazing. The design of a person’s avatar can really tell you a lot about them. You could play as an Adonis, a mutant, or maybe even a furry depending on how you see yourself or how you want the world to see you. What does your character look like btw?

I’m an ochre-skinned wood elf with flowing silver hair. Name’s Prisoner because of my habit of mashing the x button (and missing the one opportunity to choose your name). It’s pretty incredible how the game lets you completely customise your character’s appearance, right down to nose-arch shape, cheek-bone-shadow height, and that’s not to mention the ten different races each with a spectrum of skin and hair colours to choose from…it was honestly a bit overwhelming and being so keen to get dragon-slaying, I regret rushing the process a bit. I’m really, really looking forward to inevitably signing up for Elder Scrolls Online, creating a character that feels ‘me’ and starting the adventure again – maybe make some new friends along the way.

Prisoner sounds like a stud muffin. I’m a Dungeons and Dragons addict which is set in a similar fantasy world. I play as a short, smart-mouthed gnome who allows me to get away with slinging insults at other characters as a form of stress relief. Ever since we’ve been locked down, I’ve been fascinated with virtual reality technology and the concept of transhumanism. It’s currently possible to simulate the sensation of human touch with full body haptic suits. You can be intimate with someone not even in the same room as you. Wherever our weak, vulnerable bodies fail, whether it’s due to long distances or an infectious disease, computers have aided us, and they are only getting more convenient. I’m picturing a future where our minds can be uploaded to the internet, leaving our flesh prisons behind.

This used to be such a scary thought, like a taboo concept. But goddamn if it doesn’t sound like some kind of paradise these days. 

I mean, we’re half-way there already. As a person who isn’t particularly fond of their actual body, I think this is an appealing idea. It could also eradicate a few of those prejudices we talked about before. Just let me possess a hot anime avatar pls. Maybe with demon horns.

You may end up needing to spend a bit of that disposable income on your hot new horns, microtransactions aren’t going nowhere. Oh, speaking of transactions (greatest segue) any books we can plug, or new projects in the pipeline?

I’m currently working on a short comic called ‘Cramped’ about an aimless retail worker haunted by a scary clown. You can see a few pages and doodles on my social media. It’ll probably be released at the next convention or zine fair… whenever that is…

Festival of the Photocopier 2077. This has been a treat Chris, thanks for joining me for such an interesting ramble! Did you have any final thoughts before we escape to our respective realities?

Everyone should also read ‘Blood, Salt, and Fishguts’ by Vince Ruston in this same issue. It talks about gender roles in a nostalgic lens. Thanks for the chat David. Time to join the data stream.

Chris can be found at:

twitter.com/Creasemarks

instagram.com/creasemarks

Creasemarks.tumblr.com

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About David Mahler 10 Articles
DAVID MAHLER is a comic artist and filmmaker and Comics + Art Editor for The Suburban Review. Their first comic book ‘Deep Park’ was published in 2013 and their most recent, ‘The Secret Ingredient’ was hand-risograph printed and released during a residency at Tree Paper Comics in 2018. Their work has been published in The Lifted Brow, Cordite Poetry Review, Entropy, Voiceworks and more. They are interested in comics which utilise form to support a story. Additional graphic design at TSR is thanks to David.