Imagine someone graduating from Collegiate School and going to college. Imagine them pursuing their goals and beginning a career. Imagine them excelling at the professional level and capturing the attention of fans around the world. Who are you picturing? Perhaps an athlete who may or may not be wearing blue and neon green, maybe working somewhere in the northwest United States?
While many of us would be picturing that guy, the description provided above would be equally fitting for Jonathan Marks (’02). Marks, who attended Collegiate School from seventh grade through his senior year, has been turning heads for his work as a comic book artist for such publishing companies as Aspen and Marvel Comics.
Fans of comic books may recognize his work in the Aspen-published Shrugged and Soulfire, as well as Marvel books such as Wolverine, Dark Tower: The Drawing of Three – The Lady of Shadows, and Secret Wars Journal. His organic style is instantly recognizable, incorporating loose ink washes and fine line work.
The path to his style and to his career in comics took several turns and detours for Marks. In his youth, Marks formed an interest in comics, drawn especially to the characters of Wolverine and the X-Men, Daredevil, and Thor. As he got older, Marks says, “I would buy some comics just because of the art – or even just the cover. Some were great comics to read (The Maxx, Hellboy, Cages), and some were not so great (no finger pointing here), but they still looked cool, so I didn’t care.” Although he had a passion for art, Marks opted to not study it in college but instead attended the University of Queensland, a research-based school in Australia.
Marks continued to create art on his own time, eventually showing his work in galleries in both Europe and the U.S. His artistic talents brought him work on story-boards for films, landed him a job as a designer for a clothing boutique, and led him to apprentice with a tattoo artist for a year. Marks found himself constantly drawn back to comic books throughout his time spent on different careers. “Comic books, and telling stories visually, was always where I came back to artistically. I think that a one-track-mindedness can absolutely help with pursuing a creative career, but the experiences you have – both artistic experiences as well as any life experiences – from trying different things will always hugely influence your art anyway, so I don’t regret the meandering path I took to get here.”
Once he had made his decision to pursue a career as a comic book artist, Marks dedicated his time to breaking into the business, no small feat for any creator. Writer Devin K. Grayson described the industry as a “military compound” in that “Every time someone finds a way to break in, they run over to fortify the gap.” Marks relentlessly attacked the compound, constantly illustrating short stories that he would write and mail to publishers. He would save up his money to attend comic conventions and meet artists and editors, building connections and receiving critiques on his artwork. “As long as they were pointing out different things to work on every time, I knew I was improving”, Marks says of the conversations he had with the people he would regularly seek out at conventions.
Eventually, the hard work paid off. Marks landed a job drawing for Aspen Comics, a publishing company based in Santa Monica, California. After working on their books Shrugged and Soulfire, Marks quickly caught the attention of Marvel Comics, possibly the most well-known comic book publishing company in the world. His style fit perfectly for his favorite character—Wolverine—and he has had the opportunity to work on several stories centered around the popular mutant. His work has been well-received, with critics praising that he “has a gorgeous painting-like quality that works perfectly for the somber faces of the characters.”
So what’s next for Jonathan Marks? “For the time being, I’m very happy to be where I am,” he says. “I love working on these characters with whom I have such a history as a fan.” Looking to the future, he acknowledges that while there are some characters he would be interested in drawing (Moon Knight, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, among others), he is equally interested in working on projects with writers that he admires such as Neil Gaiman, Rick Remender, and Ed Brubaker, and eventually exploring the possibility of creator-owned books. “We are all storytellers in this job,” Marks says, “and being in a position to tell my own stories exactly as I see them is a daunting but exciting aspect of my future in this industry.”
Cover image: Marvel Comics