Cartoons aren’t art. He’s heard it many times, but he’s never let the preconceived notions of others determine how he defines himself and his work. In his mind, Chris Marshall is an artist.
“When I was a kid and had chicken pox, I used to lay on the floor with socks on my hands and draw Sesame Street and X-Men cartoons,” said Marshall, who graduated from Washburn in 2009 with a B.A. in mass media. “My parents always told me they were great drawings, even though they were probably terrible. So I think that’s probably what motivated me to keep drawing, even beyond the age when most people decide to grow up and stop making cartoons.”
But Marshall didn’t stop. He made more, hundreds more.
Today, Marshall is the owner of TheMarshallArtist.com, a website displaying many of his cartoons and graphic illustrations—most of which are sports-related and contain his unique and often blunt sense of humor. The site, which launched Aug. 17, 2011, is just one of many websites launched recently that are owned and operated by Washburn graduates. With an already loyal fan base of Washburn students and alums, he now looks to expand his following worldwide.
But behind every great website is an even better story.
His First Fans
“As soon as Chris could hold a crayon, he started drawing,” said Alice Marshall, proud mother. “We drew with him and read when he would do his breathing treatments for asthma. Drawing on his own started when he was about 18 months old. We just let him draw away and put the drawings up on the refrigerator, stove, and anything that a magnet would stick to.”
Chris Marshall’s drawing ability developed as a toddler, continuing to grow as he went through schooling. When he started preschool, his teachers would talk to his parents about his talent. As he moved into elementary school, the praise continued for his work. Many teachers noticed the doodles he’d draw in his notes and books.
“Growing up, a lot of my teachers appreciated the cartoons I’d draw in the margins of papers and books,” said Chris Marshall. “They kind of encouraged me as long as I got good grades and pretended I was paying attention. My mom is also an elementary school teacher, and she’s saved all the cartoons I’ve had published in a scrapbook. She watches more sports than most people I know, so I think she gets the humor in it.”
Others began to take notice of his talents, as well. One year, Crayola put out an ad asking for designs for T-shirts. His family submitted some of Chris’ drawings, and they soon received T-shirts with his drawings on them. In 2000, the Kansas City Wizards MLS team had a drawing contest. Chris entered one of his drawings into the contest, which then won him and his family a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the MLS Championship. They got to tour the White House, the Capitol Building and, to top it all off, the Wizards won the championship.
“His cartoons are pretty amazing,” said Eric Smith, fraternity brother and co-worker at the Topeka Capital-Journal. “I enjoy the sports ones especially. Those and the ones about inside jokes in daily life. The things he can do with Microsoft Paint and whatever he uses on the Mac are inexplicably awesome. His cartoons are going to make him famous someday.”
However, not everyone was a fan of his art.
“One of his primary grade teachers actually told him he was holding his pencil wrong when he wrote or drew, but we just kind of ignored that,” said Alice Marshall. “We wanted to support the teachers, so we just kind of overlooked the pencil holding thing.”
As he continued through the educational system, the criticism of his art became more and more prevalent.
“I had a lot of high school and college art teachers tell me cartoons aren’t real art,” said Chris Marshall. “It doesn’t really bother me. If the stick houses outside the Mulvane Art Museum are considered art, then I don’t really want to make art anyway. My goal was never to make pictures that would be in a museum or something. I just enjoy drawing pictures that hopefully make people laugh. It’s like the dad in Step Brothers said, ‘Never lose your dinosaur.’ Drawing is something I’ve always liked to do and I want to keep doing it as long as I can.”
The College Years
“When I first met Marshall, I thought he was a little shy and reserved,” said Smith. “It didn’t take long for him to open up and be the jokester that I know today.”
After graduating from Washburn Rural High School, Chris Marshall enrolled at Washburn University and became a member of the Delta Chi fraternity. It was at Washburn where his cartoons began to gain notoriety. He applied at The Reviewin May 2006 as a writer, but despite his award-winning writing, it was his cartoons that drew the attention of The Review’s readership. Each week, “Marshall Arts” was published in the sports section, and soon his cartoons drew praise even from collegiate judges.
“When I was on The Review, we were named the best college newspaper for four-year colleges in Kansas,” said Marshall, who earned third place and honorable mention awards for sports writing from the Kansas Association of Collegiate Press. “That same year, I think I won first, second and honorable mention for best cartoons. That was pretty exciting for the paper and for me.”
Outside of The Reviewand his fraternity obligations, Marshall also worked for the Campus Activities Board and often made posters for the Washburn Student Government Association. While in college, he also interned and eventually got a part-time job as a sports clerk for theTopeka Capital-Journal. His drawings eventually made their way to the TCJ, as well, though after a few controversial cartoons he was asked not to draw any more.
“My favorite cartoon is probably one I drew for the Capital-Journalduring the 2008 Olympics,” he said. “It was a picture of Michael Phelps swimming, and it said his motivation to win races was his father, Fred. Then I drew Fred Phelps running alongside the pool with a sign that said ‘God Hates Silver.’ I got a lot of angry letters for it, saying things like ‘Michael Phelps is never coming to Topeka now,’ as if he would ever come here in the first place. But I thought it was a good way to relate the biggest athlete in the world at the time to things that were happening locally.”
Back to the Present
Currently, Chris Marshall is a full-time employee of the Topeka Capital-Journal. He has been allowed to draw an occasional cartoon, though editorial supervision is required. His website is about ready to celebrate its first month of existence, and he already had more than 40 Facebook followers on his fan page, www.facebook.com/themarshallartist.
“I love his cartoons,” said Alice Marshall. “He comes up with some ideas that amaze me. I also like his writing that connects to the cartoons. It’s great to see the fun he has with sports, cartoons, and writing.”
Along the way, he has made memories and friends while illustrating his unique perspective on life through art and writing.
“Marshall has inspired me to laugh… a lot,” said Smith. “He is one of the funniest people I know. Also, I guess you could say he has inspired me to love sports more. We both enjoy going to pretty much any sporting event, and without Marshall, I would not have attended KU bowl games, Sporting KC games or the College World Series.”
Now, he looks to prove those who questioned his art wrong, and to take his talents to South Beach… and the rest of the world, via the internet.
“After leaving Washburn, I didn’t really have a place to put the cartoons where people could see them,” said Chris Marshall. “The website is just a way for me to keep drawing sports cartoons and give people an easy way to see them. Hopefully someone will eventually give me a chance to draw them again, where they can be published and more people can see them, but for now it’s been fun just throwing them all online whenever I draw something.
“I’ve tried to draw a new one every couple of days since I started the website last month. I thought it would be more difficult to come up with stuff regularly, but there’s always guys like Kobe [Bryant] and [Ron] Artest out there to do stupid stuff and make it easier for me.”