SDCC 2023 BLOGCast Interviews: Mark Kistler and Jason Brown for “The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler”

The BUZZ had the chance to attend its first ever Comic Con event in San Diego. Our crew spent 4 days seeing exhibits, offsites, took part in activations, attended panels, and conducted interviews. One such interview featured Mark Kistler and Jason Corgan Brown promoting, “The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler.” The team attended its pre-party last week, and here was what they had to say about this film:

NaVell J. Lee: Tell us a little bit about, “The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler.”   

Mark Kistler: It’s a bit weird for me to discuss a film that is about me . It’s been one wild ride! I receive tons of drawings, emails and social media posts from current day fans, but being contacted by Corgan Pictures was different. The director, Jason Corgan Brown, watched and drew with me on PBS in the ‘80s.  Now this guy  with amazing film credits wanted to discuss making a documentary about me. It was so humbling and flattering.  Wow!   I introduced him to some of the people who inspired me and have helped me to teach millions to draw in 3D. Jason spent many hours on the phone interviewing all these talented artists. It’s been a real journey.

NJL: What’s interesting is that the TV series, “The Secret City,” aired in 1986. How was the experience of seeing this film come together from the show? 

MK: It has been very rewarding to unearth these treasures from our collective childhood and spotlight them for a new generation. I’m excited that longtime fans will have a chance to revisit and explore the beloved characters, worlds, and lessons taught by Commander Mark.

Jason Corgan Brown: It was challenging to obtain archival materials from “The Secret City”, “Draw Squad”, and early “Imagination Station” programs. These were produced in a time when shooting behind-the-scenes or EPK content was not as common. Most of the motion picture content was shot on standard definition video tape, as opposed to 16mm film, so we were limited with being able to generate new scans from negatives. That being said, there is a certain charm and aesthetic that only these early forms of video capture can provide. We were able to come up with some interesting creative solutions and unearthed many historical gems that were slipping into obscurity or were on the brink of being lost forever.

MK: What a thrill it was to work with a filmmaker to tell my story. It’s a bit odd for me to recall nearly 40 years of successes and struggles. It’s like having my own personal time machine. There were bumps in the road, but here I am. “This experience of talking so personally about myself was very different for me. I was only 20 ( now over 55),  so green , when we created 65 half hours of “The Secret City” for public television. I was a sponge learning to draw and talk to and engage people through the camera . Up until then, most of my teaching was done in front of classrooms and live audiences . So I spoke to the studio crew and directly into the camera.

NJL: How long did it take to complete this project? 

JB: My studio, Corgan Pictures, began pre-production in May of 2022 and completed post production in May of 2023.

NJL: To have this premiere at this year’s Comic-Con International Film Festival, what was going through your minds when you heard this news? 

MK: I was hoping for Cannes , but really wanted to premiere at the original Comicon . After all , I grew up in San Diego and use to volunteer at Comicon in the ‘80s. I never  thought my personal story would be appealing to a broader audience.

JB: Right from the start, I felt that the San Diego Comic-Con would be the perfect launching platform for “The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler”, but there are always unknowns surrounding release schedule and programming goals. I couldn’t be happier with how the stars have aligned. The film is a great match for Comic-Con as Mark’s work has influenced so many Artists from the comic book, video game, and film industries. San Diego Comic-Con is the largest convention of its kind in the world, and we couldn’t be happier to team up for this one-of-a-kind premiere event.

NJL: Let’s talk about you, Mark. What fascinated you into getting into the world of drawing? 

MK: I loved drawing and creating little fantasy  worlds.  Even when I was 5-years-old. My mom let me draw everywhere and even created a little fort in our backyard where I could draw and create. I soaked up technique and styles from artists like Lee Ames, Bruce McIntyre, Chris Van Allsburg, Suzi Spafford  and so many others. I stood on their shoulders of wisdom and experience. I guess what makes me a little different is that I so believe in the infinite power of imagination and potential. Dream It! Draw It! Do It!  I share this mantra regularly while I teach, add in a little energy and craziness , and that’s been my personal style. So I share that enthusiasm in my books, art camps, classrooms, TV shows and now live streaming.  I really hope to produce a new and updated TV series. Jason is talking about making a Mark Kistler feature film. Anything is possible.

NJL: Jason, what intrigued you the most about wanting to join this project as director and producer? 

JB: Mark Kistler is a gifted art communicator who generates highly original, creative worlds in the process. His work’s unique design aesthetic captured the zeitgeist of an era and influenced so many successful Artists during their formative years. I watched The Secret City a lot as a kid and it contributed to a life-long interest that I’ve had in building my own creative worlds as a filmmaker. This is what inspired me to bring Mark Kistler’s story to the screen as a Director and Producer.

NJL: I remember watching Mark as a kid, and to this day, I wish I knew how to draw! Over the millions of fan letters you have received, is there one that stood out to you the most? 

MK: I can think of dozens. But every so often I hear from a parent of a disabled or autistic child saying how much “The Secret City,” “Imagination Station” or videos have entertained and helped them . These letters are so moving. I also receive letters from enthusiastic grandparents learning to draw for the first time. And yes, I have received mail from incarcerated fans who say drawing with me has helped in their rehabilitation . After all, you can draw anywhere. You only need a pencil and paper. 

NJL: Jason, this may be bringing out the nerd in me, but I must ask… what was it like to be involved in the “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” series? 

JB: The Lord of the Rings is a very rewarding franchise to be a part of. Everyone feels a great deal of responsibility to create something that will resonate with the fanbase, pay homage to the legendary worlds, yet offer something new and exciting. It can be challenging, but we bring together the world’s greatest designers to solve complex problems. It’s a bit like creating AND putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle in a submarine.

NJL: Being a part of these conventions, what excites you after all these years attending? 

MK: I love an audience, especially being around artists and people who share my love of fantasy and science fiction.  When I first presented, I knew this was my tribe. I especially like leading drawing sessions at Comic Cons. I grew up in San Diego. Being here with a different role, to preview our film “The Secret Cities of Mark Kistler” is especially flattering and sweet. I’m very appreciative to the Comic Con folks.

NJL: Mark, you have been teaching kids and adults alike how to draw. You also did this during a time before social media, YouTube, and other technological advancements existed. How easy/difficult was it to adapt to changes in art, and how it is presented? 

MK: It was a very natural and exciting transition harnessing the live streaming technology to reach millions more students, not only in the USA, but around the world. And the streaming is two-way. I regularly talk and teach to kids, parents and grandparents often in India, Japan, Russia, the Middle East, the UK, and the list goes on. I’ve had to learn lots of technology, but love simulcasting to Facebook, You-Tube, Instagram and Zoom LIVE. ( Every Tuesday night 6:30 Central, I invite all the members of my family to log in and draw along with me live. It’s a blast drawing from home in my artist, streaming studio. This technology also allows me to easily stream when I’m on the road teaching at art camps and schools.

NJL: Thank you, Mark Kistler and Jason Corgan Brown, for taking time out to speak with me today! I really appreciate the time. 

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