Felt Trips: “Not Nice Things” by Mark R. Jones

It never takes long for the interests of the average adolescent boy to gravitate towards the grotesque. A healthy childhood fascination with fossils, for example, can soon lead to a deeper curiosity about wider historical matters, and – before there’s time to make even the most cursory of calls to Social Services – the bedroom is festooned with drawings of medieval executioners, severed heads and the rotting remains of a 17th century corpse clambering from a graveyard portal to Hades.

At least that was the path taken by 11-year-old Northampton schoolboy Mark R. Jones between 1981 and 1982. Admittedly, Mark had already exhibited a distinct tendency towards the macabre in his early childhood, but it was during this period that his imagination really began to take flight. Or, indeed, to descend to the depths of fetid morbidity – take your pic. Thankfully, Mark kept all of his drawings in a battered sketchbook that, forty years on, survives intact; and he’s kindly agreed to talk us through the entire gruesome, blood-soaked contents.

Over to you, Mark…

“5th September 1981: ‘Dinosaurs’

One of my main interests when I was 11 years old was that of fossils and dinosaurs. I was already communicating via letter with Mr C.P. Palmer, a real-life palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum in London. He replied numerous times with detailed letters and even invited me and my cousin, Hayden, down to London to have a look behind the scenes.

Most weekends, I’d spend a day with Hayden. Along with his brother and sister, he lived with Auntie Sue, a 10-minute bus ride away in Weston Favell. At the same time, I was also annoying David Attenborough – who had not yet been knighted, that came in 1985. I got two replies from him before he stopped writing back, and he kept a fossil ammonite that I’d sent to him because I wanted him to date it. I had no inkling that he might not actually be bothered to package my fossil back up, take a trip to the post office and pay for it to be sent back!

Hayden and I had a ‘Club of Palaeontology’ that kept us busy at the weekends, and – when we weren’t off on bike rides, trying to paint Citadel Miniatures or going swimming – we were looking at fossils, reading books about fossils and dinosaurs, and writing about them and drawing them! A quick check on the internet confirms that the day I drew this, 5th September 1981, was a Saturday so it was probably done during a meeting of the aforementioned club at Auntie Sue’s house. I hadn’t yet worked out how to draw clouds properly…

3rd October 1981: ‘Murdered Monk’

I was rather interested in history when I was a kid. By 1981, I had a sizeable stamp and coin collection – though I was only bothered about collecting English stamps and coins. I managed to amass quite a few coins from the era of George III (1738 – 1820) from the Antique Fairs that my Dad took me to on Saturday afternoons. I used to sit in front of the fire in the living room, examining them while picking out the songs I liked on The Beatles’ White Album. The baroque style of the song ‘Piggies’ – which included strings and a harpsichord – seemed to fit with the era that the coins dated from. ‘Cry Baby Cry’ – with its references to ‘the King of Marigold’ and ‘the Queen was in the playroom’ –  also made me think of big manor houses and ladies with massive crinoline dresses and wigs. Whenever I hear those songs, and the White Album in general, I am immediately taken back to being 11 years old, laying down on the floor going through my coin box. I did a few drawings that reflected that era, this being one of them. I made it about a murder because I was fascinated by them… but also terrified.

9th February 1982: ‘A Gee-Or-Blog-Nin Monster’

I can’t remember much about where this came from – I think it was just straight out of my head, without me copying from anything. I know I’d got some posh new pens and wanted to do a drawing with them. This cyclops, who has had a piece of his torso ripped out and sewn back on, has just been stabbed in the back by an unseen assailant. Once I completed it, I wished I’d used a longer piece of paper to fit him all in. His feet were added last and I see he’s sporting a lovely necklace – I bet it was one that my Dad was wearing while I drew it. And I was rubbish at making up names for monsters!

1st March 1982: ‘Burnt at the Stake’

Here, I was trying to recreate the style of drawing that I’d seen in books from the late 1600s and early 1700s. I managed to sneak in the severed head of some unfortunate at the bottom right before deciding it was finished, and then I signed my name and wrote the date. I was obsessive about signing and dating everything I did – I was sure that one day I’d be famous and that these scraps would be worth thousands. That didn’t happen, but I’m glad I did date them – because if I hadn’t then I really wouldn’t have a clue when they were drawn.

27th March 1982: ‘Warzone’

I really have no idea what inspired me to draw this one. It was supposed to be a bombed-out village from the Second World War. Maybe I’d seen a film about it. And I can’t for the life of me remember how the brown stain got there. I think it might be coffee, probably Mellow Birds!

30th March 1982: ‘Grundlin’

Drawn using the blue pen from the same pack of new pens that I used to draw the ‘Gee-Or-Blog-Nin Monster’. Another creature straight from my imagination, consisting of nothing more than a giant head and some porky little hooved legs. And I see he’s wearing a scabbard that holds a knife. But how did he get it on? He has no arms. How can he even use the knife? He can’t. He has no arms! I didn’t think about that. In fact, I’ve only just realised what I’ve done, 38 years after the fact. Duh!

6th April 1982 – ‘Mr Deadly’

The main man in this drawing is planning on killing ‘Four Fingered Fred’… so named because I realised after I’d drawn him that I’d missed a finger off his hand. Mr Deadly is holding a knife in his right hand with his fingers in an impossible position. I hadn’t yet worked out how to draw fingers and hands, so they often looked anatomically incorrect. One of his hands has long fingernails and, on the other hand, they’re normal. Why? No idea. In fact, I have no idea at all what this is about. It’s all a bit ridiculous really.

11th April 1982: ‘Tongue Lick’

Another one inspired by an drawing I saw in a history book. This one was based on late 1700s or early 1800s illustrations. The man-eating crocodile beneath was added a few days later to fill up the space.

16th April 1982: ‘Great Fire of London’

More death and destruction, this time on a mass scale. I think I had just worked out – or a school mate had shown me – how to smudge pencil in order to get a decent-looking smoke effect, and I wanted to incorporate that into one of my drawings.

17th April 1982: ‘Brueghel Monster’

I’d just got a book from Northampton town centre library, full of the nightmarish paintings of Pieter Brueghel (1525-30 – 1569). I found them fascinating, and spent hours looking at all the details of his weird visions. I particularly liked this monster, and just copied it from one of his paintings. Thing is, I can’t remember where I copied it from. Can anyone help and find the source image for this? I don’t think I’ve seen it since 1982. I’ve tried, and drawn a blank so far.

20th May 1982: ‘Executioner’

More grossness – including two severed heads on spikes, a freshly decapitated corpse on the floor and someone who is observing all this carnage, knowing he’ll be next. Hence the tears running down his face! God himself is looking down from above, probably checking that these criminals are being given the punishment they deserve, and an imp on the left-hand side is revelling in the horror of it all.

I went through a period of trying to make my drawings look old by partially burning them! This drawing has had it edges set on fire, then been held in front of the family gas fire in order to brown the entire page. I had to be really careful doing this; too long in front of the heat and – as happened a couple of times – the whole page would ignite and my drawing would be lost. I timed this one just right! Oh, and I still couldn’t draw clouds.

29th May 1982: ‘The Graveyard’

For this effort I stole parts of the cover of the BBC Records & Tapes Vol 13: Sound Effects Death & Horror LP. The two shrouded skeletons on the right were a direct steal. The bulbous-headed fellow decapitating the man in the middle was also stolen, but on the record cover he was hammering a stake into a man who was tied down on a slab and had already had his right leg and arm amputated. I obviously thought that wasn’t gross enough, so upped the ante by depicting him carrying out a live beheading!

The girl behind the wall was also nicked – on the album cover she was a ghost in front of the mansion doorway, but I added a bloodied stake stuck in her head. Also stolen were the ‘HADES’ gravestone and the corpse clambering out, though I saw fit to add the years of his birth and death. I then fleshed out the rest of it myself.

30th May 1982: ‘Frankenstien’s Monster’

Clearly based on ‘Frankie Stein’, the strip that I was reading in
my weekly Whoopee! comic…

3rd June 1982: ‘Not Nice Things’

I can’t comment much on this, other than the ‘wet crisps’ bit – that was inspired by my younger sisters. Sometimes, when they got a packet of Walker’s crisps (a Thursday night treat, usually just after Top of the Pops), they would eat them with their mouths open. I could see the ‘wet crisps’ inside their mouths and it made me feel physically sick! Some of the legs in this drawing are in very dodgy, physically impossible positions too…

3rd June 1982: ‘Arrow in the Chest’

I think this started off as a picture of my sister Leanne, drawn from memory – she wasn’t sitting in front of me. Very quickly, I realised it looked nothing like her. It was more like a man, so – rather than screwing it up and throwing it away – I gave ‘him’ some gross warts and stuck the arrow in his chest to represent my frustration…

29th June 1982: ‘A Spotted Wash-A-Gong Monster’

Another drawing straight out of my head. I must have just got my first real ink pen – the sort you put cartridges in – and was using that to draw with. I was still crap at thinking up names for these creations! It has no relevance whatsoever to the drawing…

23rd August 1982: ‘Sweeny Todd’s Shop’

I read about the exploits of Sweeney Todd around this time and, again, tried to make this drawing look like something drawn in the olden days. In my imagination, his Barber Shop was dark and dirty, and he owned a mean black cat that loved it whenever he killed another victim. A sign on the wall informs a customer that a haircut will cost 1d, and a shave half that. Another sign is a ‘Calendar of Prisoners to be tried’. Why you’d need to know that while you were having a haircut I have no idea…

29th August 1982: ‘Mary Anning’

No grossness this time. Through my fossil fascination, I had read about Mary Anning. Born in 1799, she was an English fossil collector, dealer, and
palaeontologist who became known around the world for the finds she made beneath the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. This was my interpretation of one of her fossil hunts on the beach. The man is her brother Joseph, and the dog was called Tray…”

Thanks Mark! And within a few short years, Mark was employing his considerable artists talents as an acclaimed graphic designer employed by some of the biggest computer gaming companies of the 1980s – including the legendary Ocean Software

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.