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Mona Marshall Talks Sex, Erotic Art, and New Web Comic

February 8, 2019

ATM: You annotated readings while an English major in college.

MM: Yes. I was greatly influenced by Existentialism. I was one of those naïve midwestern kids. I grew up without the benefit of a mother from the time I was 14, which is when she died. I felt different which is the artist kind of thing. I never got along with my older sister. My dad died when I was 21. I was alienated from the family. My sister and father dealt with bipolar issues, but no one back then knew what this was. I went to college thinking here was Enlightenment, especially studying literature. I was extremely disappointed. As most 18 years old’s who are serious, I felt very helpless. I have always been into history and liked reading about the French Resistance.

This was the heart of Existentialism in a way. Here you had a group of people fighting against an overwhelming obnoxious force trying to take their lives and their country. These people never gave up. At this time, I read a book by Albert Camus called the Plague. All the truth has been written, how to deal with each other, how to be caring. Yet we continue to make these horrific mistakes. As a very young and naïve person, I felt helpless. I read the Plague and in it, he talks about once you are aware of the absurdity of the world you have four choices. The first one is to commit suicide.

Some of us do this directly with drugs or alcohol. The second is to extrapolate yourself from the absurdity. You become a hermit, isolate, and begin to live off the grid. The third is to click off your awareness and become a part of the absurdity. The fourth is to find meaning in what you do, being responsible for yourself, and in doing so you make changes the world. This idea appealed to me and this was my salvation. I still thought I was going to be an English professor at this time. I realized how political it was and I stopped lying to myself about wanting to be an entertainer. A part of this decision I owe to my first husband. I said, “I should go out for a play this year.” He said, “Why don’t you get up off your ass and do it?” So, I thank him for this and my last name. I am a very creative and reflective person. I’ve loved performing from the time I was small. They said I could hum before I could talk, and I believed them.

I wrote and made up songs as a kid. I was a heavy set, wore glasses and never felt a part of anything except when I would sing, dance and write. Fast forward to coming out to LA wanting to be a serious actress. This was kind of a joke. I should have gone to New York. I was teaching at a private professional school for young actors. One of my 5th graders was taking a voiceover workshop with the late Daws Butler (voice of Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Cap’n Crunch. His mom kept nagging me to take his class. said “You should do this. You would be really good at it.” I did not know what voiceover was. I took her advice, walked into Daws Butler’s workshop, and was blown away! I thought “I can be anything doing this. I am not limited by age, sex, or ethnicity.” Woah this is heaven for an actor.

ATM: When you annotate you go through the piece of work to highlight what is important. This is usually done with a highlighter or pen. Do you agree that your show South Park highlighting the hypocrisy in America is like annotating a piece of literature?

MM: South Park says, “If you are not walking the way you talk, then you are a part of hypocrisy.” We can all be hypocrites partly because of ignorance and partly because we can be a stubborn jackass. Stop pointing the finger at someone else.” Annotation for me, I’m referring to an annotated edition of a Sherlock Holmes book I read many years ago. I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan. (There is a Robin William story that goes with this) is: let’s say you’re reading a line and you are not sure what it really means in context. An annotation gives you an historical and event time frame: this came at this time and this is when such and such happened. It is a reference to so and so. If you read a lot of early literature, especially the Romantics, the Greeks, Homer, etc., they used mythology so much. You might annotate which myth or character they are referencing and then get a better idea of how it relates to the reading. I guess you could say South Park annotates current events and society. Things happening today which will become history tomorrow.

ATM: It analyzes the world and society. The controversial things that happen.

MM: What they really do is point out hypocrisy, which we need. If we are going to be sitting there talking about how awful we are, then we better be looking at our part in it. We are only looking at it, instead of trying to make this better. We are a part of the problem and not the solution. In Adventures with Puss and Dick, I am trying to point out the problem and look at the possibilities of solutions. “If we cannot see someone else’s point of view, then we are missing the chance to relate and communicate.”

ATM: We all should see everyone’s point of view. Some of your characters change into each other’s bodies. They changed gender positions, which allowed them to see various systemic differences. We need this because sometimes if someone taps into reversal psychology or when something is done from a different perspective, then they see it differently.

MM: Absolutely. It does not necessarily mean you have to agree. If you understand a point of view, then you can begin to make a compromise. If you look around at the people on social media, then you see they can be very vitriolic. Most people are not interested in making a connection; we are more interested in getting across our point of view. This is not communication, this is soapboxing. Looking back at my years on South Park I realize that the show has been quite an influence in how I think. Going back to the story about finding comfort in Existentialism – the thing is our lives have meaning on a daily basis.

How we treat each other every day has meaning and repercussion of great consequence, and we may never know exactly how. It’s like throwing a pebble into the water: you see those ripples and the go on and on spreading outward. That one action reaches out in so many ways. Every time we treat someone poorly, this reflects on society as a whole. Every time we treat someone with kindness, or we are caring, this reflect on society too, and it makes a difference. They both have impact on the world around us.

I have been thinking about this and how our actions impact others, because that has so much to do with my animation project. The episode we’re using in the pitch is the last episode on the web comic: Stop! Enough!! Time’s Up!!! It’s timely given what’s come down in the last couple of years.  About two weeks before we were ready to record voices, I was working on the script. I suddenly realized that I needed to create a real antagonist. Then, like a bolt of lightning it hit me.

Inside every one of us, there is that fearful and nasty voice that gets to us sometimes when we are the most vulnerable and susceptible to listen and then there’s a real danger of doing what it wants! This is how the character Dreck (which means “shit” in Yiddish) was born. It is an amorphous character that comes out of whomever is in conflict and in a hoarse whisper tries to bring out our worst “Oh, go ahead you know you want to do this; it’ll make you feel so good! They deserve this because they’re in your way and you’re so much better!” This is a voice of fear and dread that we all have with in us.

ATM: This character sounds like the starting effects of depression.

MM: That’s exactly what Dreck can turn into despair and depression. If you listen only to that voice, then you are drawing only on your input. This tends to make our worlds smaller and smaller and it sets up a barrier to anything that is different. Dreck brings out the egotist and the bully. It wants us to believe we are the end all and be all. It tells us we are a king as we transform into a tyrant. This is our fear and insecurity at its worst. Playing this character was so intriguing. Acting as a villain was fun! Being a villain. . . not so much.

The voice of VenMar, is Dreck’s counterpoint and as such gives us a better reality check and acts as the voice of enlightening inspiration. While we all have access to the Dreck that is inside us, we also have access to that energy that gives us inspiration (VenMar). The challenge is that we sometimes have to ask for direction, shut up for two minutes, listen, for the guidance and then take action, even when fear tries to stand in our way.

Having Dreck as the antagonist, allows my main characters Puss and Dick, in their various characterizations and situations, to make mistakes when they are influenced by Dreck, but it’s Dreck who we love to hate. It was a good device, definitely an inspiration. I was smart enough to ask for guidance and wise enough to listen and take action when it came.

ATM: Because you are a certain gender you do not have to move through society with what is told to you about this gender. The social norms for genders are created at birth. You do not have to live by them.

MM: We all have male and female aspects. I have a marriage counselor on board. I want to make sure our storyline includes transgender and same sex couples, and that our stories are well informed about various types of relationships. Because the relationships will be inclusive to any and all types, the story lines are endless. We were talking about the project with two of our friends who are lesbians, gal pals, but not a couple. and they came up with a good story line. Two women living together having their period at the same time; the perfect setting for hilarious havoc. 

One of these women had read something in a magazine about a male who had breast cancer. After they had been treating him with estrogen, he found himself becoming more sensitive. His body awareness and reactions were suddenly much more dominated by his female aspect than his male. Before his treatments it was “Eh, I gained a few pounds.” After his treatment, he gets paranoid about weight gain and is hyper-aware of his body.

Because there are all kinds of interesting stories out there, expanding the scope of the project was a good idea. There are so many possibilities and more people can relate. This expansion came partly from a conversation I had with someone who is transgender. Looking at all kinds of relationships and how they impact all of us open our minds and hearts.  The time is right.

ATM: It is time to see projects like this in our society. They are a mirror of how society is and give a new kind of way of thinking.

MM: Exactly. It is time we start being inclusive, instead of exclusive. What is normal? Normal is whatever you are.

ATM: It is subjective.

MM: Absolutely. The more society can understand this the more harmony we will have. There is no normal. Hopefully there is acceptance and love.  That requires better communication, which is also the goal of my project.  The more we can understand each other, the better we all can live together.

ATM: We live in a society where you can always tell someone something, but until you experience it or see the reversal of it, this is when you get it or understand it. We get this new frame way of thinking.

MM. The conversation I had with the person who is transgender really made a difference in how I think. I’m grateful I was open-minded enough to listen (Dreck and VenMar-VenMar won and so did I) I had sent this person an audition for the voice of VenMar. After reading the audition lines, they basically said that they hoped I would not take this the wrong way, that some of the dialogue was insulting.  They were referring two one of VenMar’s lines where he is talking about the differences and inherent conflicts between men and women: “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Women have a vagina and men have a penis.” They said, “I am transgender, and this is offensive to me.” At first, I thought, “What?” This is actually from a song I wrote. At first, I felt defensive and then I thought If I add the word “Most” – “Most women have a vagina and most men have a penis”. This one little word opens a whole world of possibilities. I thanked them their input and hope to use them as a consultant once the show is on the air.

ATM: What are some traits that can be perceived or stereotyped as masculine tendencies?

MM: The qualities of aggression and competition seem to be more male. Women tend to be kinder and gentler. That doesn’t mean woman can be strong and men cannot be kind.  But women tend to nurture more; we have the bodies that produce babies within them.  Doesn’t mean men cannot bond with and be loving to their children.  If you want to get ahead in this world, then you also need to have that kind of strength that men seen to have naturally. My husband is a great example of having both strength and tenderness. He is definitely a guy, a straight guy. He also has a gentleness about him that is seen as a female aspect. He genuinely likes women. I do not mean just because he finds them physically attractive. He likes and respects them. He likes that women are not afraid to talk about things. I fell in love with him because partly because he was still friends with the two women he was in relationships with before me. There is a difference between liking women in a sexual way and liking them because you respect them and what they have to say. He doesn’t objectify them. This was one of the things I found attractive about him. A lot of men do not allow themselves to entertain that feminine aspect because to them it does not feel masculine enough, or they’re just afraid if it.

I think this is why a lot of straight guys get homophobic. Just because a guy is gay does not mean you have to fear him vice versa with women. Women are a little bit more open. We can display affection much more readily to other women than a guy can to a guy. This is not to say guys need to become more feminine.  Allowing that gentle side to come out means your confident enough to be comfortable with all of yourself.

ATM: What if we mixed the two? The softer and the aggressive side.

MM: It’s all about balance. Knowing when to be strong and when to be gentle; life-long lessons in living. Part of it is not fearing and acknowledging both aspects. From the time I was a little girl, I hated dresses. I like wearing pants because they are more comfortable for me. There are a lot of guys out there that find much more freedom walking around in a robe. I mean look at men from the middle east. Does this make them any less manly? No, this is what makes them more comfortable. I think each of us needs to spend more time finding balance within ourselves rather than trying to dictate what others should or should not do. I was and still am a bit of a tomboy.  As a kid my favorite toy was a dump truck.  I loved filling it up with dirt and dumping it out like I was building something.

ATM: Were you?

MM: Yes, a career creating little boy voices, like Izzy on Digimon.  Seriously, I just remembered being fascinated by making the truck move.  It held my attention much more than playing with dolls.  As an artist, I find the form of women beautiful.  Men, too. But there’s something about the earthiness of women that is intriguing. Most of my erotic drawings are about this balance of male and female and take the form of women within the penis. This concept of male and female enriching one another is the seed of creation that became the idea of Adventures Of Puss ‘N Dick-A Survivor’s Guide To Relationships.

I do narrations for ABC Mouse. There was a book we read a couple of sessions ago called Bear Bunny. It is a book about being okay with whoever you are on the inside even if you look different on the outside. It sounds a lot like being okay with being transgender, gay or just like doing things that people don’t expect, just because you look a certain way. It is so delightfully written. I bought the book. I read to kids at Descanso Gardens and this wonderful dinette called Base Camp every month. This has now become one of the books I read.

ATM: What is the artistic nature that flows through your erotic art?

MM: Something happened to me in 1991. I went to Cabo San Lucas and saw the solar eclipse. This was quite moving, but a couple of days afterward we went out on the rocks where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. I had a moment. It is hard to explain. It was a though I could feel the struggles of humanity. It was an epiphany, truly awesome and it left me inspired.  We human beings are struggling, trying to live a spiritual or meaningful life in a world that is very material. All people, throughout history have had to struggle to survive and it is that determination to be and become that makes the human experience so beautifully joyful and tragic. It is a celebration of the spirit. 

When I got home, I started doing a series of drawings called Women Emerging. I have them riding on dragons, in dragons and coming out of flowers, and rocks. This led me to drawing the erotica I mentioned.  It embodied the idea of yin yang was based also on my relationship with my husband.  A relationship based in love, friendship, mutual respect and sexual attraction. Once again, there’s this idea of balance and acceptance in relationships and how struggle can lead to resolution.

Most of my erotic art is of this nature. I will send you some photos of it. Shortly after this, I began drawing these wire dancers with a drafting pen called a rapidograph. The drawings started as squiggles and then became people and then became wire dancers. I was inspired while listening to some Latin music at a concert. Then I got hold of some actual wire and started rendering the dancers as wire sculptures. The essence of their movement represents the celebration of life. They can be either female or male and they are meant to be moved, by both artist and patron. If you go to my website into my store, then you can see I have done them as earrings and pendants.

I have also made them larger and as fairies, angels and as all kinds of animals and sold them.  Some people have bought them to put in their gardens.  I love thinking about the progression from the initial inspiring event to how they grew from drawings to sculptures and the essences of them being a celebration of life.  This is also the feeling I have about the relationship my husband and I have, where you work through the struggles and you each grow, both as individuals and as a couple. The original title for The Adventures of Puss and Dick-Survivor’s Guide to Relationship was Sal-Mo.

ATM: Sex is like a work of art. Your emotions are like a splash of paint that goes on a canvas. The two contenders are immersed in their art and if deep enough gets in the formation of origami. The deeper the splash the higher your chances are of making collages, portraits, and murals. Their expression is what makes them make different pieces of origami. So, everyone takes the form of Picasso, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, and others. But the art does not have to always make it to the canvas, not everyone wants to be a painter. Sometimes people want to draw stick figures and not portraits or collages.

MM: Both sex and art have room for all. They both have universal appeal. That’s so important. I was going to name my characters Sal and Mona. But those names did not have a universal meaning. Then, once again, the light of inspiration clicked on and I realized the name Dick is both a nickname for Richard and a can be a nickname for a penis. Puss can be a term of endearment for a female and is also the nickname for a vagina.  So, Puss and Dick became the names of my leading characters; they represent, in a playful way, every male and female.  With slight changes they can represent all ages, ethnicities and even time frames. I based her on Betty Boop. You know the cartoon character from the 30s. They had to be attractive, appealing to everyone.  Everyone had either a penis or a vagina, whether you’re gay, straight, or transgender. If you have both . . . well, that would make a very interesting episode.  

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