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Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson, storytellers by nature


Hi Mark and Esther! I am super excited that both of you are part of this special collaboration with 826LA. What was it about this benefit that you loved?

This was a fun project for us. a challenge to create some work that compliments the writing. We are happy with the results.

Is there anything you want to tell the students that you made the illustrations for?

I hope all the students who were involved in this project continue to be creative, to have their voices heard.

Of course the stories directed the images, but, how did you decide to use those images and what was the process?

Since the writing was literally “dreamlike”, the visual look to the work was important. Its a two sided thing. one one hand, since the writing is “loose” and freeform, the work can go into a more abstract route. On the other hand, you can’t just throw anything in there, you want to capture the writers style, his or her way of saying things. We would read the story over and over, pulling things that seemed interesting to illustrate, that capture the essence of the piece. Then arrange them into a eye pleasing illustration.

I love that, how you can look at something over and over and find new information, ideas, and details. I like hearing how you found the imagery to their stories. I know you were involved in some of the McSweeney’s publications. Can you tell us a bit more those projects?

Esther is currently working on a book for Mcsweeneys about her work and her relationship to her father, who built large scale “flying” saucers in the yard. It’s turning out to be a wonderful father/daughter story, their similarities, both being artists in their own way. The book will have a lot of Esther’s paintings, based on her memories on her childhood alongside her dads doodles and schematics of saucer designs. This book has been in the works for years. Hopefully it will be available in early 2009.

Esther was also in the “Dear New Girl” book that Mcsweeneys released.

We have also done some work for “The Believer”, a magazine they publish. And, we are both part of a new postcard set they are releasing.


You guys do so much! Books, zines, prints, art shows. Is there anything in particular that you really love? Do all the projects sort of melt into your art? Do you approach commercial projects in a different way that you approach making art?

We love it all! We love jumping around, we never get bored. And we love not really knowing whats coming down the road. Lately, it seems like books and gallery shows are really interesting to us. Everything does melt together. A show idea may become a book project, or a series of illustrations for a magazine. We have had zines become actual book projects on many occasions. “The Pain Tree” and “Bad Asses” for example. Esthers zine, “Unlovable” was picked up by BUST magazine years ago, running for years in there. Fantagraphics is releasing a huge 2 volume Unlovable book in January of 2009 and Esther has been working with a few people on turning Unlovable into a short live action/animated film.

What is Funchicken? Is it an exhibiiton of your work? Where did the name come from?

Funchicken is our online shop. We thought it would be fun to have a place to sell our zines, shirts, etc. We wanted something separate from our websites, a place to goof around and just have fun. Our other websites and are geared more towards gallery and illustration work. It all melts together, like we said, but we wanted to have a place that does feel different. The name came from a vending machine we saw one day in Brooklyn. We were walking down 7th Ave., near our old place in Park Slope. We had just bought a computer, this way back in 1996 or so. We needed an e-mail address and we wanted to share one for some reason, we didn’t really know that you could have several e-mail names at once. So we thought, “what about funchicken?” something silly, nonsensical, meaningless. We wanted a one word name that could grow with us, that we could make into whatever we wanted. A name people would easily remember.

That’s so cool, kind of like Poketo, it can be lots of different things and whatever we want.

You also teach at the Art Center College of Design. What do you teach there? How do you balance teaching and doing your own projects?

At the moment we teach “Illustration for Publishing”. In the past we have taught “Children’s Book Illustration”, and a few others. We usually only teach 1 or 2 days a week so its manageable. It’s actually inspiring and motivates us to work that much harder. When you are freelance like we are and there is no real structure, it’s nice to have a place you have to be at a few days a week. We have to prepare for classes, figure out what to say and show to students. It organizes our thoughts for us. “Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?” is a book we did with Houghton Mifflin and was actually helped along by teaching at Art Center. We always show students samples of our books, and the road we took to get there. With the zine book, we decided to work on a book project alongside the students, and by the end of the class, we had a book pitch ready to show.


You are closely involved in zine making, I always pick up all the latest zines you guys are doing at the Comic Con. You have actually written a book, “Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine”. Where does teaching and storytelling come from? Has it always been in you? Why is it important to you?

We were so inspired by zine artists when we moved to California from New York. All these people creating handmade gems of love. Storytelling has always been a huge part of our work. Esther has often said, “You know, I tell stories with my work, that’s just what I do, and I think I always will.” I think some of us just work that way. Like in music, there are songs, good songs with a cool beat or whatever, and then there are songs that are stories, that evoke an emotion, that have a beginning, a middle and an end. We have always been drawn to storytellers.

Tell us a bit about making a zine and your approach to making them. Do you have something in mind before you start creating? Is it more organic and spontaneous? So many of your zines go through different xerox process’ and pages often feel random, spontaneous, but, when looking at it whole, it’s complete. It’s almost like sharing bits and pieces of your work and life. Is this your intention? Do you think zines are the best way to get your work out to people?

Usually when we make a zine its quick and fast. We get an idea and we put it down on paper. Most of the time we have a theme or formula we use. For example, a zine about Chuck E Cheese, or friends I grew up with in Vegas. Esther’s zines tend to be more character driven, actual stories or events, mine tend to be more in the form of lists. Like a bunch of drawings of tv characters or a zine I did called “Things I Grew Up with in Vegas”, basically a collection of drawings of objects in my parents house. Zines are great way to promote your work and tell stories. But not every idea fits well into the zine format. Sometimes, ideas seem better suited for larger scale book projects, t-shirts, etc.


What projects do you guys have coming up? Anything you can talk about?

Esther: Book for Mcsweeneys in 2009, exhibition at Billy Shire Fine Arts in January 2009, Unlovable vol 1 released by Fantagraphics in January 2009, Unlovable short film sometime soon we hope, be on the lookout! Currently, Esther is part of a show at the Oakland Museum of California.

Mark: Show at Laluzdejesus Gallery in January 2009 and a few other projects in the works.

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