Growing up amidst the cultural kitsch of Las Vegas had a lasting impact on Mark Todd’s work. Like many kids in the 1970s, he loved comic books, but unlike many fans, he took their inspiration to heart and has ended up creating his own characters and stories.
Coming to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena without much of an idea of what exactly to study, he was drawn to illustration as a focus. A focus that clicked, as he graduated with honors and has gone on to produce award-winning illustrations for a range of publications including Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Spin, Outside, GQ, and Texas Monthly, as well as stellar clients such as Wieden + Kennedy, Euro RSCG, Coca-Cola, Fuse TV, MTV, and Spot Design.
Mark lives in the small town of Sierra Madre, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains with his artist wife, Esther Pearl Watson, their 12-year-old daughter Lili, and their “lovely” French bulldog, Mr. Pickles. “They filmed the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers here!” he relates. “It has no stoplights and only one Starbucks but it’s minutes from downtown Pasadena and twenty minutes to downtown LA.”
He believes in fostering creativity, through his classes at Art Center, and through various publishing ventures, often in the form of collaborations with his wife. In his quest to inspire others to express their love of their favorite things from bands to subcultures, he and Esther produced Whatcha’ Mean, What’s a Zine? The Art Of Making Zines And Mini-Comics (published by Graphia). The artistic couple avidly collect disparate materials for inspiration that become elements in their artwork and they encourage, in myriad ways, a return to a DIY, hand-made ethos.
Mark’s work has a chaotic vibe, it is almost childlike in its proliferation of elements and often crudely drawn figures, but there is an underlying sophistication and wicked sense of humor. A recent illustration for Entertainment Weekly, showing an aged Justin Bieber was both hilarious and subversive. His voice is authentic and his interpretation of cultural icons is sly and affecting. He has compiled, and illustrated—again with Esther—teen poetry, tellingly titled The Pain Tree & Other Teenage Angst-Ridden Poetry (published by Houghton Mifflin). (I wish that book had been around when I was writing what my mother termed “depressing” poems!)
His enthusiasm and collaborative spirit have contributed to ICON, the Illustration Conference, and his generous nature makes him an excellent teacher, who clearly inspires his students to greatness.