Mark Ilkov started drawing a couple of cartoon characters in the 10th grade as a means to avoid actually doing math in Math class. The high school he attended had a specialized art program, so drawing already consumed a lot of his time. While he was mostly doodling things he thought were funny, the characters he was most fond of were two guys he named Calvin and Levi. The Sideburn Guys.
Years later, he started a blog called Mark’s Beefs where he would anonymously complain about pop culture, girls, and also throw in his two cents about movies. It was mostly another outlet to produce things he thought were funny when he wasn’t listening to Howard Stern or staring at the wall.
Around the same time his friends, like Mark Borchardt — the man best known as the subject of the 1999 documentary American Movie — all started making movies. Ilkov found himself in a predicament: His friends were making movies that rocked — and he wasn’t. But he knew that his strength was not in filmmaking. It was exactly the same thing that kept him going in high school — drawing.
So, Ilkov began to create. He threw in Calvin and Levi, added the humor of his Mark’s Beefs rants and, voilà! He had a huge story for a gigantic comic book. But he actually never started on it. He was inspired, though, and decided to start small. Something he knew he could actually finish.
And that is when four panel, black and white The Sideburn Guys online comic strips were born. Anytime he thought of something funny he’d whip up a strip and it’d only take an hour. Before long, he was on a roll and had 71 strips up. Sure, he felt some were better than others (“Hey, even Spielberg has a few stinkers. I’m looking at you, TERMINAL!”) but he had finally done what his friends had done — created something he was proud of.
Ilkov’s friend, Russell Challenger, put together The Viewpoint Film Challenge — a festival that lets filmmakers submit films as long as they use a provided script and they are give one month to complete them. When they are all screened together, each filmmaker’s unique take on the script is shown. While Ilkov thought it was a great idea, he was upset that he couldn’t participate, as it was a medium he excelled in. That’s when Challenger suggested that Ilkov do an animated version of the film and use The Sideburn Guys. “Genius!” was his response.
For the three Viewpoint Film Challenges he did three Sideburn Guys animations. Ilkov enjoyed making his drawings move but it was missing the one thing he loved about his guys. The provided scripts lacked their dry, crass sense of humor. (Note that Calvin and Levi’s humor is not safe for work, so please watch the shorts in the proper viewing environment!) This pushed Ilkov to write his own script and make The Sideburn Guys Episode 1: “ELECTRO!”. He made it just for fun, for his friends to see, and most of all, for himself.
After Episode 1 was completed, he started coming up with tons of ideas. Episode 2: “IN DA CLUB”, which just debuted earlier this month, came from his hatred of going to dance clubs. His old friends loved going and Ilkov would join them often. “I don’t recall ever enjoying myself once. The girls were all stuck up and the guys were all d-bags.”
He hopes to follow up Episode 2 in the future with a return to the club as he felt it gave only an inkling of what annoys him about the scene, even if he did enjoy the music of Ace of Base.
“IN DA CLUB” (NSFW)
The process of making the Sideburn Guys episodes starts with drawing everything in Adobe Photoshop on his Wacom tablet. He then animates everything in Adobe After Effects and edits it all in Adobe Premiere. Why those programs? “Because that’s what I have on my computer. I’m sure there better programs to do it all in, but I don’t have them.”
The coolest part about Mark Ilkov’s work is that he does it all. “ELECTRO!” and “IN DA CLUB” were all done, from start to finish, by Ilkov and cost $0. With “IN DA CLUB”, his friend Russ did supply some additional voices and got him into a recording booth, but that’s it. The rest is Ilkov alone. What is also amazing is his dedication. Each short took a year to complete — but that’s not to say they are each a year’s worth of work.
“I made them in my spare time, when I got home from work. Sometimes I’d work on it for a couple of hours a month, sometimes I’d work on it for two weeks straight. I got married during “ELECTRO!” and my son was born while I was making “IN DA CLUB”. I guess my point is that with everything going on, I still found time to make my cartoons.”
That’s right, kids. NO EXCUSES. If you have a passion and drive, do it. Nothing can hold you back!
So, what’s next for Mark Ilkov and The Sideburn Guys? In January, he plans on starting on Episode 3: “DOG DAZE”. Perhaps a year from now, we can catch up with him again.
Mark’s Twitter: @thesideburnguys