Meet illustrator Mark Moreno’s alter ego, Mark 80 

Like the superheroes he grew up idolizing, illustrator Mark Moreno knows the value of a good alter ego. He works as an artist under the name Mark Sarmel. On Saturday, he'll debut another alias at a show at the Rust Belt Market: Mark 80.

Why the different alter egos? "If you searched my name, there's a ton of Mark Morenos," he says. "It's a very common name — there's even other illustrators that have that name. I needed something that wasn't so confusing, or so I thought."

Moreno says the "Sarmel" moniker is a combination of his sisters' names, Sarah and Melissa. As for Mark 80? "I'm an '80s kid," he says. "I grew up in the '80s on animé and comic books."

The different names let Moreno freely create work in different styles. "I tend to experiment a lot, and then I'll do a body of work that's so different than what I'm doing, which kind of leads me to develop a new persona," he says. "It's kind of fun to operate as a sort of different self for a little bit."

With Mark 80, Moreno says his work is "bright and bold and playful. The other work I do under Mark Sarmel is moodier, and sometimes the tones are more muted," he says. Bright yellow and magenta are the basis of his palette as Mark 80, and he takes inspiration from fashion photography, geometric shapes, and comic books.

By day, Moreno works in advertising. He went to College for Creative Studies for illustration and graphic design. Lately he's served as an adjunct professor at the College for Creative Studies.

Moreno explains that his work as Mark 80 is all digital — a method that he says he would not encourage his students to do, preferring to emphasize developing a strong concept before creating a strong image. As Mark 80, though, Moreno says he likes to "wander." He uses a Wacom tablet to draw, and pulls inspiration from image files he saves on his computer.

"I have these giant folders of fashion photography, architecture, abstract shapes, and things like that," he says. "I'll just drop a bunch onto my digital canvas and start. I'll find a main image — typically a fashion-based image that appeals to me ­— and I'll go from there. It's kind of a bad process because I wander around a bit, but then I settle in on something after sketching and experimenting and cropping things out."

He says the digital medium allows him to use bolder colors and create cleaner linework. There are drawbacks to the digital approach, though. "I feel like the digital print mode isn't really accepted as of yet," he says when it comes time to exhibit his work in galleries. "It's not given the same sort of reverence as even a silkscreen print or a photograph. It just doesn't seem quite as good as that stuff, or as real in a way."

For his upcoming show at the Rust Belt Market, Moreno says he'll be making some paintings as well. "What I'm doing is I'm going to have larger-scale pieces that I'm hand-cutting out of wood and spray painting," he says. "I do like that aspect of having something physical, something that I made that wasn't just printed."

Moreno says he's happy to have a show at the Rust Belt. "I've known (owners) Tiffany and Chris Best since they opened it up," he says. Moreno even designed the Rust Belt Market logo, which Chris built.

Born in San Antonio and raised in Houston, Moreno moved to Detroit in 2001 (for a girl). He later went to undergrad at CCS, and wound up sticking around in Detroit long after his relationship ended.

"CPop was here, which I remember reading about in magazines," he says. "In college I'd go over to CPop and just hang out, and talk to Rick Manore when he was running it, and Tom Thewes. I would love to be around that sort of lowbrow art that they were associated with. I loved all that stuff. I loved the art scene, and the music scene, and the bar scene. I lived in Hamtramck for a short while, and there's so many great bars and cool music venues that I fell in love with. That's what kept me here."

Wayward Geometry opens from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Rust Belt Market; 22801 Woodward Ave, Ferndale; rustbeltmarket.com. More of Mark Moreno's work as Mark 80 can be seen at themark80.tumblr.com.

More by Lee DeVito

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