As a child of the 1980’s, I took full advantage of summer vacation as a time when I could catch up on kids shows I normally wasn’t able to watch during the school year. While the most popular shows like Sesame Street and Square One TV aired after school, there were many more shows that were hidden on PBS affiliates throughout the day that were just as good, if not, better than the more mainstream shows in the after school time slots. Ugh, I sound like I was a total hipster as a child…
Anyway, one of those shows was a half-hour program about 3 dimensional drawing called The Secret City. The show was hosted by Commander Mark, real name Mark Kistler, an enthusiastic artist who simply wanted to teach drawing to as many kids as he could. The show utilized an outer space motif, which made the show kind of seem like a cool science fiction program. Kistler even mentioned during the intro of each show that it was a place of fun, fantasy, and adventure.
Each episode contained three main segments. In the first segment, Commander Mark would create a simple image, usually with pencil and paper, energetically explaining one of his seven magic words of drawing. Once the drawing was complete, he would be visited by one of three supporting characters, Zebtron the robot, Metaman the guy who looked like a Mario brother, and Cindy the high-pitched dragon, whose sudden screeches still make me jump out of my seat.
The second segment usually featured guest artists who taught different styles of artwork including sculptures, drawings of optical illusions, paintings, scale models, and so on and so forth. He also did “club day” where kids would come in and show their work, and it was treated sort of like an open art forum.
Most shows ended with Commander Mark adding on to his secret city mural, a large drawing which he would sketch out first in pencil, and then ink in with sharpie later. As the series continued, he would add more and more to the 12 foot mural. It was an outstanding array of techniques and looked very cool.
What made this show work was the fact that it was a how-to show which was super easy to join along with. Unlike Bob Ross’ the Joy of Painting which required a $150 art kit, all the Secret City required to get creative was a pencil and paper, tools that all youngsters had easy, affordable access to.
Mark Kistler is still highly active in teaching drawing to kids, via the web, books, school assemblies, and summer art camps. He is still just as enthusiastic as he was in the 80’s, and that’s awesome.