Finnish artist Marko Nakari talks about Frank Zappa, Henry Miller, Jango Edwards, and underground comics

"I would recommend young people to listen as much as possible to older people, and learn about how they lived and what they had experienced. It seems like nobody is really interested in “old stories”, like I was once. Times change, people change. Not for the good, I think."

Marko Nakari: Tropic of Uncle Zappa

Marko Nakari was born in 1968 in Jämsänkoski, Finland. Shortly after (when he was about 5 1/2 years old, his parents moved to Germany. He went to school there, and got a degree in 1985 at the art school in Recklinghausen. He got drafted to the military in Finland, and served there for about 8 months. Moved back to Germany, where he taught squash, badminton and volleyball, and worked as a life guard. He also sew wooden toys and drew for magazines, published his first own t-shirts and designed logos. He sent his first cartoons to the German Playboy, when he was about 16, but they wouldn´t take them, ´cause they wouldn´t fit into their program.

His four portraits of his favorite musician Frank Zappa were published globally as posters and postcards, when he was about 19 years old. In 1990 he moved to Italy, where he played and taught squash professionally. He even had two TV appearances there. He also drew pictures for the "Squash Magazine International". After four years of living in Italy he went back to live in Germany for two more years, but returned finally to his country of birth, Finland where he had his own squash school, and he even got invited to the training camp of the Finnish national squash team. He has done CD cover artwork, t-shirts and cartoons in newspapers, and still draws for the Finnish Squash Magazine.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started the comic artistic and cultural researches and experiments?

When I was about twelve years old, I discovered my first underground-comic (U-Comix) in Recklinghausen, Germany. I remember it so clearly, ´cause I bursted out in laughter so much and loud, that all the people around me started looking at me. It was Marcel Gotlib´s and Edika´s material, that influenced me right from the first day.

From that day I wanted to make other people laugh, like those great artists made me laugh. In that moment I was the happiest person on earth. It was a huge step from Sergio Aragones to the fascinating world of French cartoonists Edika, Gotlib, Franquin and others. My deceast uncle Olli (who studied at an art school in England in the mid 60´s, and became the head graphic of the Finnish TV later) told me, that it was “THE LINE”, that was important. In all those years I kept thinking about the words of my idol, mentor and uncle Olli. I tried to find “the line”, but when I saw Carl Barks´ way of drawing, and how the line “lived”, I finally understood what the whole thing with the line was about. Barks was outstanding! When I went to the Netherlands, an older woman showed me a book called “The Secret of the gnomes” (by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet). I was absolutely amazed by the love for details and the excellent skills of Rien. He is still my huge idol, and I still collect books of his artwork.

What experiences have triggered your ideas most? How would you characterize the philosophy of your artwork?

The list of inspirations and other artists is enormously long, but in the end, I was only searching for the line of the artist. A great influence was my mentor in art school Willi Nitzbon. I remember watching him drawing a gothic church with chalk and a few LINES at a chalk board. From far I almost got blown away from the chair – it was absolutely amazing! It was similar to that video, that I saw of a guy named Denny Dent where he´s making a painting of Jimi Hendrix, while Jimi was performing... I guess, that some people simply have that over-sensitiveness to create incredible, outstanding stuff. My mentor Nitzbon told the whole class once, that Leonardo da Vinci didn´t have talent (!). Like the most pupils of the art school class I found it rather “stupid” to hear something like that from a great master like Da Vinci. But when he explained, how Da Vinci simply had the financial chance to continue with his art (material was expensive in those days), he continued when others couldn´t. (What resulted to his superiority at the end.) I also went to see exhibitions of Pablo Picasso and Da Vinci, and when thinking of their artwork, I think sometimes, that those weren´t human beings. They were mind-blowing divine creatures of art!

I think, that when you draw comics and cartoons, and you are surrounded by people who think in a ”cartoonish” way, you start sharing a totally different world, and some so-called bridges are created from one mind to another. I have also made drawings as a kid with my gifted cousins and friends or other cartoonists, and it worked in that case, too. For an instant you are completely lost in a secret world of cartoons, everything is beautiful and crazy... Then sadly, you return into the normal world. The philosophy of my artwork is to make other people laugh. Let´s take Jango Edwards as an example – he is living his life as a clown. He succeeds, when he makes people laugh, and is therefore happy himself. I saw him live when I was living in Milano once, and for two hours I forgot who I was. I woke up the next day, and couldn´t open my eyes, because I had laughed so much, and lost so many tears (of laughter)... I mean, that as a cartoonist money is not the most important issue. When you see it in the eyes, when somebody laughs from the deepest corner of his heart, you have made it. The sensation and the kick out of it, that the creating artist gets, is incomparable and priceless!

What has been the relationship between music & literature in your life and art? How does affect your inspiration?

Already in my young age I discovered the amazing satiric Ephraim Kishon, later Kerouac, Philippe Dijan and then my absolutely favorite Henry Miller. I have to admit, that I am totally bewitched by Miller! I have about 80 books of him (in four different languages). The mixture of literature, music and art (in form of cartoons) is a huge melting pot of moods, lights and colors. (Some of them are even beautifully grey.) When we think of a ”true” artist, who travels to an island far way, where he is surrounded by a certain smell, a specific light and maybe even sounds of nature – and the muse kisses him, and he gets the inspiration, and starts painting, making scribbles and sketches or whatever... A musician enters a certain studio which might be built inside of a historic castle... A certain light can get you into a mood, where you can tickle out some ideas and really good performances out of yourself. I generally put on a Zappa record, and let the pencil flow. There is this one specific table in our summer cottage of the family, the “Pöllimökki” in Jämsänkoski, middle-Finland. From there you can see the lake, and the light that comes inside the room out of four windows creates a stage to make “wonders happen”. I only have to sit down at that table, and I can draw for ages, without lack of inspiration. It´s the happiness and the warmth of the surrounding, that helps. Maybe it even “forces” you to be creative. When I don´t draw cartoons, I sit down and play the electric guitar. Being creative always beats watching TV and becoming comfortably numb (to quote Roger Waters of Pink Floyd).

Being a person that has always dealt with sports I would like to say a few words about James E. Loehr. In his books he is speaking about visualization and seeing yourself as positive as possible. He speaks about creating moods to see yourself performing. In a slight way there are similarities to drawing and making music. Of course there are some exceptions. There are people, who can do something extraordinary and creative, when they are having a “down” period, and they are not happy or feeling positive. But there are also exceptions in sports – McEnroe was one out of a hundred, who used his negative power, and turned it into something positive.

"Already in my young age I discovered the amazing satiric Ephraim Kishon, later Kerouac, Philippe Dijan and then my absolutely favorite Henry Miller. I have to admit, that I am totally bewitched by Miller! I have about 80 books of him (in four different languages)."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of underground comix of the 60s with the new generation of artists?

What comes to the legacy of the underground of the 60´s and the new generation of artists – It is not a new generation, that has a huge impact on things, people and their opinions. I am not sure, that the new generation is really interested in making changes at all. It´s a roller coaster from the 60´s, that has gone through the decades, had gotten more and more speed, and finally lifted off into the cyber space...

What can I say? Most of the Charlie Hebdo´s cartoonists are from the sixties, and some bad people wanted them to be silenced. But there ARE people, that buy the magazine! I think, that there´s a too much information in the internet (of which lots of it is nonsense), and the new generation is not quite ready to stand behind their own opinion and believes.

What do you learn about yourself from the art of comix and what does underground comix mean to you?

The whole process of being an artist in ANY form is a journey into the mind as a human being. To give an example: inevitably you are confronted with decisions, whether publish some drawing (from the moral or ethical standpoint), or in which way you want to inflict an idea or opinion on the viewer. Sometimes you want to put some weight on a topic, but you find out, that your very own point of view has changed or that you even have assured an issue. You learn about yourself. The artist must divide his personality into several persons: the real self and the artistic self. I think, that when you get a compromise of the two selves, you... Live a happier live (at least in my case as a cartoonist).  Making funny drawings cheers me up, too.

Underground comics meant for me once to draw topics and draw issues, that you dealt with in your life, but hadn´t had the chance to talk about it. Let´s take for example fairy-tales: in the middle-ages author´s had serious matters that they wanted to write about: "riding red hood", when analyzed, was a young woman with her menstruation, and the wolf a man etc. They just hadn´t the possibility to address a matter or a subject to the crowd. Expression of speech is important, and illustration, whether it´s satire (in words) or pictures, cartoons, theater or music, is a way to express yourself. Underground for example doesn´t necessarily have to do with pornographic issues. Violence, porn etc. can be put in "safer costumes", but when you look at them closer, you discover a deeper cause. It´s always about discovering new things, even if it a standpoint of somebody else. I liked the pornographic issue, when I was younger, and not having dealt with it physically, drawing "adult comics" or cartoons helped me dealing with it. Everybody can see, what has become of that twisted mind of an infantile weirdo as a child - I just had the chance to enjoy the last phases of my puberty (joke)...

"I hate censorship! But sometimes you have to ask yourself, what price you are willing to pay for exposing you racial, political or socio-cultural points of view. The one and only censorship is happening when you ask yourself, what you really want to publish, and with what issue you first need to deal with yourself." (Artwork by Marko Nakari / Baum Pub) 

What are your hopes and fears for the future of comic? What do you miss most nowadays from the comix of past?

I don´t think, that comics and cartoons will ever be the same as they were once, decades ago. Youngsters prefer to take a video game in their hands, instead of reading a cartoon. Videogames and consume destroys skills and creativity of children. Then their behavior changes as human beings. Instead of being curious in life, and experiment and discover new grounds and shores, the screens take over, and they lock themselves up in their own shells of the cyber world. As paper (magazines, newspaper, books) dies, fantasy and cartoon worlds continue to exist only on screens. I can´t remember, when it was the last time, that I saw a child reading a comic book in the bus or metro...

What is the impact of comic art and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I hate censorship! But sometimes you have to ask yourself, what price you are willing to pay for exposing you racial, political or socio-cultural points of view. The one and only censorship is happening when you ask yourself, what you really want to publish, and with what issue you first need to deal with yourself! Not addressing a certain issue to the crowd doesn´t mean you are a coward. Or that you haven´t got an opinion at all. Maybe sometimes you have to have further discussions between the "real self" and the "artistic self". Maybe some points are not clear or talked over for good. For yourself.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

What would I like to change in the world or in the people? My ideas are too utopian, and I don´t want to make myself ridiculous. I would recommend young people to listen as much as possible to older people, and learn about how they lived and what they had experienced. It seems like nobody is really interested in “old stories”, like I was once. Times change, people change. Not for the good, I think.

"The whole process of being an artist in ANY form is a journey into the mind as a human being. To give an example: inevitably you are confronted with decisions, whether publish some drawing (from the moral or ethical standpoint), or in which way you want to inflict an idea or opinion on the viewer." (Artwork by Marko Nakari / Frank Zappa)

What has made you laugh from Freak Brothers stories? What touched (emotionally) you from Frank Zappa music?

I can´t really say, what made me laugh about the Freak Brothers the most. It was their “cool” way to behave, to speak. I found it amusing back then, how Gilbert Shelton drew the impressions on their faces, and how all the characters looked.

Frank Zappa! My favorite man, my favorite issue! Many things have been said about him, but I can only say, that there was none better! Since I was twelve I have listened to his music, and I get kicks out of things even nowadays. I remember having read about Keneally saying in an interview once, that he kept on discovering always new stuff, years after years... Just recently I listened to a track of Roxy & Elsewhere, and I suddenly heard a little, humoristic nuance of something, that I hadn´t heard before. I found it brilliant, and I was emotionally hit by it. After listening to an album, that I got when I was 13...!

Where would you really wanna go via a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

If I could travel back in time, I would like a) like to see how my grandfather was like when he was about 12 years old. Then b) like to see how my father was like when he was 12 years old. And then c) I would travel with the Mothers of Invention and watch as many Zappa concerts as possible (and get any album signed by him). And d) have a cup of coffee and a chat with Henry Miller in some bar or café in Paris.

How you would spend a day in Baum Pub with Jack Kerouac? What would you say to Jango Edwards? What would you like to ask Frank Zappa?

I would rather spend a day with Miller in a café in Paris, than with Kerouac in the “Baum”.

I have heard stories about Jango Edwards, so I would “let him do the talking”, and laugh my arse off...

What comes to Zappa I would ask him, if he considered the idea of ME making an artcover sleeve for him. Like Hipgnosis and Roger Dean did for Yes, Pink Floyd and others. Or Ralph Steadman did for Hunter S. Thompson. 

Marko Nakari - Official website

Artwork by Marko Nakari / Jango Edwards & Frank Zappa

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