Since he relocated to Los Angeles to work on the MAD show, the first New York thing that MAD show animation director Mark Marek did his first time back was to pay a visit to McSorley’s bar. The second thing he did was sit down with members of the media for interview sessions at the New York Comic Con 2010 on Friday afternoon right before the MAD panel, so we got a chance to sit and talk with Mark about all things MAD above and beyond what we were already able to ask in our older interview with him and Kevin Shinick.
While Marek said he was always into animation from the 60’s and 70’s forward, it was only the rise of digital filmmaking in the 90’s that led him to doing animation himself. Before then, he focused largely on design, with many credits for album artwork, drawings for music videos, and his own independent comics. Marek described the difference between comics and animation work as “filmmaking as opposed to writing a novel.” In comics (and MAD magazine in particular), the pace of reading is set by the reader, who can also look around a page for the numerous hidden gags embedded within. the change in animation (and one feature that Marek likes about it) is how it’s “driven by immediate revelation;” you don’t necessarily stop a sketch or a TV show once it starts going. He also quite likes the great control that animation gives him over every step of the process.
Despite the anarchy on screen, Marek described the method to the MADness for each episode. While each episode begins with a photo-collage movie parody and ends with cel-animated caricature TV parody (both of which end with the set crumpling up in a visual nod to the classic MAD magazine fold-in page), Marek and the crew work to make sure that they mix things up in between for both subject matter and animation medium. In a recent show, there was too much cel animation, so Marek added in more photo collage or stop-motion. He also described a wall of artwork in Los Angeles offices that has work by artists they like, and if there’s a piece they like, they’ll contact the artist to try and get them into the show, within the timeframe and budget they have. In fact, the “animation festival in a show” approach is one thing Marek is rightly proud of.
Despite the up-to-the-minute pop culture parodies that the show traffics in, Marek doesn’t worry much about the show getting dated, noting that Saturday Night Live has been doing pretty OK in it’s many years on the air despite it’s focus on pop culture gags. Similarly, Marek doesn’t feel that the preponderance of irreverent humor in other TV shows makes the crew’s job harder, noting that “Irreverence is always going to be with us,” and that the better question is what kind of irreverence is MAD offering as opposed to its competition. Since the show is aiming for a 5-15 demographic, the kind of irreverence that MAD aims for has to be done within certain boundaries, but Marek added that they probably aim a bit higher than the audience is really ready for so the kids watching can “feel like they’re getting away with something” even if they’re not sure what it is exactly, just as Marek felt when he read the magazine as a child. The demographics also determine how edgy the show can get due to Standards and Practices restrictions and what the audience will be interested in. While he loves the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Marek doubts the show will ever get as deeply political as either if those two shows since there’s “a certain amount of politics that glazes kids’ eyes.” The only things he could think of that the network has said “no” to were due to those S&P restrictions, but Marek said he views those restrictions as more of a challenge than an obstacle, adding, “If you have no limitations at all, it becomes a little too easy.”
Other than nearly stepping on a rattlesnake on his front steps after moving to Los Angeles, Marek thinks that the biggest surprise he’s had since starting on MAD is getting phone calls and visits from the likes of Sergio Aragones for the show. He was also happily anticipating meeting legendary MAD magazine cartoonist Mort Drucker, who would be participating in the MAD panel later that day. Our chat with Marek wrapped with him saying, “If someone had told me years ago that I’d be helping to helm a version of MAD on TV and working with these guys, it would have blown my mind.”
Toonzone News would like to thank Mark Marek for taking the time to speak with us and Warner Bros. Animation’s Winson Seto for making it possible. MAD airs on Cartoon Network Monday nights at 8:30 PM (Eastern/Pacific). Check the official MAD page for full schedule details and videos.