Mystery Mark

Mystery Mark is a cartoon exorcism. The story of a man who wants a new face and a new life. Clay, a man being stalked by the star of his favorite childhood television show, desperately wants to surgically alter his terrified facial expression, believing that a physical fix will help him deal with his emotional problems. All he wants is to escape his anxiety and settle into a normal life, but there’s a voice in his head who has different plans…


In 2013, I cornered Theo at his table at the Made Fair and told him that if he went into his studio, found 10 or 15 old drawings that he liked but that didn’t have a home, I’ll build a story out of whatever he gave me. He seemed keen on the idea and said he’d see what he could dig up. Meanwhile, Viscosity and I were busy trying to figure out how to develop an expanded version of our previous year’s show, Thisillusionment. Our ambitions turned out to be too big to pull off in just one year, but we still wanted a production for 2014. Our designer Scott Morris was getting fired up about masks and puppetry, which seemed to have huge crossover potential with Theo’s work. I thought maybe we could assassinate a couple birds with just one rock.

A few months later Scott and I met up with Theo at Charlie B’s in Missoula. Theo had already made up his mind to work with us, but instead of using old drawings, he wanted to start from scratch–make this a true collaboration. None of us had the first clue what our story would be about. All we knew at the time was that Theo would create illustrations, I would write a narrative around them, and then Scott would build its world in three dimensions.

Theo brought the first drawings with him that day at the bar. He handed each of us a manilla envelope with a “?” written on the outside. “It’s a mystery mark,” I said. With that flippant remark our title was born, before anyone had the first clue what it would mean.

Over the next several weeks Theo and I bounced ideas back and forth with words and images until characters and their stories started crawling into the light. The process was subconscious and weirdly organic. Theo kept drawing pages as I worked our concepts into a small novel and a script. As Scott started to dream up inventive stage, mask, and puppet designs, director Rebecca Schaffer and dramaturge Kate Morris dove into conceptual development, and a first phase installation started coming together.


The installation: A looping theatrical installation incorporated the main characters and themes from the story–with actors, masks, and puppets–and featured an original score by long-time Missoula band, “Cash For Junkers.” Kickstarter funding supported printing costs, along with design, build, rehearsal space rental and other production costs including set pieces, costumes, masks, puppets, and props.

The Mystery Mark Installation opened during the Missoula Fringe Festival in August, 2014. Since then it has taken shape as a short film by Kier Atherton and an excerpt from the book (the Midlife Dragon) was turned into an animation by Hugh Bickley.

Book one is available through Theo’s Etsy page.