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Mark Monlux is an award winning freelance illustrator and cartoonist. A northwest native, he has called Tacoma home for the last 16 years. After graduating with a B.A. in Graphic Art from Central Washington University in 1985 Mark entered the freelance market initially as a broad-spectrum designer. But, as more and more clients requested is drawings, he focused solely on being an illustrator. Working mainly in the fields of advertising and published his just a few names from his long history of clientele includes Microsoft, Carnation, Workman Publishing, Eating Well Magazine, Kimberly Clark, Hewlett Packard, Alaska Airlines, Reynolds and Reynolds, Toronto Dominion, Coldwell Banker, March of Dimes, Washington Mutual, and a host of agency design groups.
Recently, the Tacoma Sun sat down at the computer and asked him a few questions.
[Sun] First off, a geek question: your stuff looks too good to be purely digital. How do you do it?
[Monlux] Currently, I start with pencil sketches. Those are faxed for approval. I then do pen and ink. The pen and ink is scanned in at a high resolution, colored in Photoshop and then provided to the client as a for placement file. For a number of years I constructed my illustration in Illustrator as vector drawings. I still do that, but only when the demands of the project call for it.
[Sun] Did you ever imagine that you could make a career out of cartooning?
[Monlux] I knew very early on in life (age 4) that I was going to become what was then termed a “commercial artist”. I could always draw, but it wasn’t until after a few years as a freelance designer that I made the decision to do strictly illustration. And it was a number of years after that before I decided to focus in on the cartoon style which I find I love to do the most.
[Sun] Who were your inspirations?
[Monlux] Graham Wilson was a huge influence on me.
[Sun] How has the web impacted the quality and quantity of your work?
[Monlux] The web had a huge affect on the illustration market. Most of it negative. With royalty free and free clip art available at the click of a button the amount of work has gone down hill drastically from the time when I first entered the market.
[Sun] Any advice for any aspiring Illustrator Extraordinaires out there?
[Monlux] Be aware of the true value your art has in the marketplace. While it’s true that demand for illustration lowered, that does not mean the value of it has lowered. The key these days is to target and connect with clients who are looking for dynamic images that are tailored to them, and not just the random schlock you find on the web that everyone else and their grandmother is using.
[Sun] As an Illustrator Extraordinaire, I’m sure you could live and work anywhere. What brought you to Tacoma and what keeps you here?
[Monlux] I moved here some 17 years ago when my wife and I decided to buy a house. The prices in Seattle were starting their first surge then. We wanted an older house with a large yard. Our search spiraled out until we found the perfect Victorian here in Tacoma. I’d just shifted my business structure to where I was doing everything by fax, modem and courier. I got myself an 800 number and sent that to clients. I never bothered to tell anyone that I was moving and lost none of my clients when I did. In fact, the process opened my thinking and I started to take on national clients, and then international clients. We are very happy with our move. I live in the Fern Hill District which has a very Mayberry feel to it. An alley runs behind my house and it is the artery of the neighborhood. Everyone visits everyone else in the garages and porches and I know all my neighbors very well.
[Sun] The ability to hold a pen or pencil with a critical eye or witty thought seems to be a fading art form. What is your hope for the future of illustrating?
[Monlux] That people will once again become demanding in what is offered up to them. If you look back at the advertising that occurred in the 60’s and 70’s
folks were very critical of what was set before them. Currently our culture is being very open to anything that appears, whenever it appear. This acceptance of the random was brought about by the internet. Folks learned how to surf, and it’s fun to do, just not very productive. Now folks are learning how to use search features to be a bit more efficient. As response the internet is building features which use your past searches to create ‘intuitive’ recommendations. I belive that as the internet grows in this direction, the average joe will once again become more discriminating about what they want offered up to them. The artist who foresee this trend, and design their presence on the web to be tuned to this trend will have a distinct advantage.
[Sun] Is it just me, or do the comics in today’s daily papers really suck?
[Monlux] With the internet the amount of web comics have shot through the roof. Many web comics do not have to be as tame or conventional as syndicated comics that fill the newspaper. Because they tap into a different revenue stream they’re not required to edit down into something that is widely palatable.
I look forward each day to opening up my email and my blog reader to read all the strips I’ve subscribed. I agree, there is a lot of bad comics out there. But, only because there are more comics. I keep hunting down and adding the ones I think are the cream. I also like to find cartoonists who are trying new and different things. Watching them improve with each strip is just as entertaining for me as the amusement of the strip itself. I’m developing a couple web comics myself, “The Comic Critic” which is a movie review in cartoon form, and “The Return of Stickman”. Both of my cartoons are anti mainstream. In The Comic Critic I use no consistent characters, this breaks the silent rule of having five core identifiable characters in a strip. In The Return of Stickman, all the characters are stick figures and sometimes the only difference between them is their names. Oh, and stickman is usually stuck in a cubical behind a desk. It’s my way of poking fun at strips that constantly use no background and just have a shelf or above the waist shot of their characters. When I see a strip like that I add it to my blog reader list.
[Sun] It seems like the best cartoonists are either slightly crazed or get burned out (Robert Crumb, Gary Larson, Berkeley Breathed, Garry Trudeau). How do you keep from going crazy or getting burned out?[Monlux] For a number of years I wouldn’t draw except during business hours. I wanted to be paid for every line I drew. But, the I decided to try something for a year. I bought a bunch of sketchbooks, of all sizes, and I put one in every room of the house, one in the car, and even a small one for my pocket for when I went out. I then drew in them constantly. I wanted to see if the faucet really would run dry, which was a big fear of mine. I did not place any limits on what I drew. I told myself not to care about the quality, or the ideas, just to let it stream out. To my joy and surprise the faucet never ran dry. Instead it flowed even stronger. Ideas, concepts, and gratification came faster and grew better. Sure I still drew a turd every now and then. But, it didn’t strike me negatively like it did before. Now don’t get me wrong, I still like and demand to get paid for the value of my work. If during my doodling I come up with something that I can license, that great. Certainly my client’s have taken note of how much more productive and resourceful I’ve become.
[Sun] Do you ever get “illustrators block”? What do you do to break through?
[Monlux] Drawing more and keeping the flow open is a long term solution. But, there are days when I get totally blocked. When that happens I try to get out of my head. Usually a walk will do it. If not I will read a short story or book and temporarily spend my time crawling into someone else’s head. By the time I get back to my own, the furniture looks like it’s been moved around.
[Sun] Can we expect to see you at a Frost Park Chalk Off sometime?
[Monlux] Yes. I keep planning on going but life interferes. Either I’m flying in or out of town, having the car die on me, have a crushing deadline, or like this Friday, I’m picking up my nephew to attend the Emerald City Comiccon. But, I do plan on making it one of these days. And I will dominate and lay low my competition.
[Sun] What is a question you’ve always wanted to be asked?
[Monlux] Would you like to draw an illustrated history of zombies in the cinema? Yeah, I’d really like to do that. In fact, I think I will start working on my first draft.
[Sun] GREAT! We look forward to seeing it. Thanks for taking time out to chat with us!
If you would like to see more of Mark’s work, check out his website and blog at: www.markmonlux.com