Mark Greene’s cartoons aren’t just for kids. His brand of political satire forces viewers to examine their role in American consumer culture. The series of Stinky Toons follow Stinky, an average office worker, shopping at the all-in-one Big Mart, surfing the Internet, and taking viewers on a cubicle safari that turns corporate America into an anthropological study. Greene’s work caught the attention of the animators who founded Climate Cartoons, a nonprofit company that produces cartoons about global warming, and he was asked to write a 90-second cartoon. Big Fun with Global Warming, a Stinky Toon that blends environmental activism with slapstick, appealed to the Sierra Club, which licensed the short for use on its website along with a second, Stinky Gets Gas. In November, Greene won an Emmy Award for Big Fun with Global Warming, which was named Best National Public Service Announcement for Broadband Media.
Originally from Texas, Mark Greene settled in the Hudson Valley to start a family with his wife, Sharron Bower, after five years in New York City. In 1994, while still living in Texas, he founded Pecos Design, a company that creates product packaging and logos, textbook covers, web design, flash animation, and other marketing material. Recently, Greene started a production spin-off, Pecos Pictures, for shorts like the live-action mockumentary The Rejected Katherine Harris Campaign Video, which won both the People’s Choice and Jury Prize by the Huffington Post Contagious Festival and starred Greene’s wife Bower as the Floridian politician. If he’s not producing comedic political commentary, Greene is reading his favorite comic book, Hellboy, and taking his two-year-old son Gus to the park.
What influences you as an animator/filmmaker?
I read a lot of comic books. As a kid, I was obsessed with comics. The logical next step would have been to draw comic strips of my characters—which I did some of as a hobby—but what really struck me as interesting was the idea of animation. So when the technology came into existence, in the late-’90s when Flash really began to happen, I started to draw little cartoons. I like making cartoons more than drawing comic strips because I’m able to do the voice work, there’s timing issues, sound, editing, and all those things come together—it’s a little bit more like performing.
The character Stinky, in Big Fun with Global Warming and Stinky Gets Gas, is a skeptic and brash about it. How did he develop?
He’s Bugs Bunny warmed over. There was a time in America when cartoons were high art and were shown before every major movie release. That humor is extremely adult. The characterizations that Mel Blanc did and the music by Carl Stalling in those cartoons were so beautifully done, so wry and funny. Funny to kids, funny to adults, and funny on so many different levels. Stinky comes directly from, literally, years of watching those cartoons. He’s every man. He’s the self-denying American consumer. There’s a real truth to him. Nobody can say they aren’t him.
Stinky Toons and the Katherine Harris mockumentary both target very different sociopolitical issues. How do you choose your material?
It’s partially a visceral response to what I see as something that has not been covered adequately or honestly by the mass media. It comes out of a sense of anger but if you want to talk politics with people, an angry diatribe is not effective. That’s why comedy works. Comedy allows you to say things that people otherwise would be resistant to hear. People marched against the nuclear industry for 30 years just as angry as they could be about some of the implications of nuclear power and didn’t get very far. Homer Simpson looks down and sees a three-eyed goldfish looking out of a cooling pond. “The Simpsons” have done more damage to the nuclear industry than any amount of protests ever did.
Why take aim at Katherine Harris?
I know my audience. I know why people are pissed off. People are angry at gas pumps so doing a cartoon where Stinky harasses gas pumps was pretty simple to do. All you have to do is think for a minute, what is there a boiling anger or resentment about? And Katherine Harris represents a lightning rod of resentment for a lot of people. The election in 2000 that got George Bush elected, most people think Florida was won or lost based on a recount of hanging chads but that’s simply not the case. Katherine Harris threw 50,000 legal African-Americans off the voter rolls prior to the elections. When George Bush won by less than 500 votes you can see that the outcome clearly would have been different had she not done what she did. The argument can be made that she has undermined our Constitution and put in place a government that has done irreparable damage internationally and to the Constitution here.
The films produced by Pecos Pictures have an undeniable political current. Is this coincidental, or does Pecos Pictures have a particular mission statement?
Yes, I care about politics. Politics is an overriding passion for me. Creatively, it goes back to this war for the hearts and minds of Americans. If I can convince, on the Internet, 500 people to change their opinion on something, it’s well worth my effort. If I can convince 700,000 people to think about something in a little bit different way, that’s well worth the effort. I don’t think there’s a day that I don’t feel sick to my stomach about the Bush administration. Frankly, their flank is exposed and I think they have failed so miserably that it’s time to kick the crap out of them—hard. The way I do that is with comedy and political videos. So, yes, I have an agenda.
What opportunities does the Internet afford animators/filmmakers, particularly those who make shorts?
People like me, we get to make animations and short videos and put it out there at relatively low cost to us, to compete with media that [Rupert] Murdoch puts out at a very high cost to him. And if you make a video that matters to people, it will spread like wildfire. Viral video is like wildfire; you can’t keep a lid on it once it goes. Senator George Allen from Virginia opened his mouth one too many times, made the “macaca” comment, and the Internet lit up. It cost him his job. A guy with a video camera took down a sitting US senator. I think that’s magic. And that’s the potential of video on the Internet. And the game is wide open. Room for everybody. Come on in.
Big Fun with Global Warming and other videos by Mark Greene can be viewed at www.stinkytoons.com.