If you like something.

If you appreciate it.

If it makes you smile.

If it makes you laugh.

If it encourages you.

If it moves you?

Then you should share it with the world.

That’s what Marc Wagner and Les Cotton do. As two creative artists living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, they believe in the power of celebrating simple, good and meaningful artwork. Never mind their own great talents when they put pen to paper — they’ll always be drawing — but what matters most to them is that they are encouraging others along the way.

It matters that we are making, too.

Skullmore Vol. 1 cover SKULLMORE_vol2cover Skullmore Vol. 3 cover

What is Skullmore?

Marc and Les make Skullmore, a periodic publication that highlights “all things rad.” This includes drawings, illustrations, poetry, short stories, interviews with bands or art. It’s a free zine they put together by themselves then pass out around Sioux Falls, leaving on the counters of local businesses and hoping it ends up on coffee tables, in backpacks, in hearts.

“We like anything creative,” Marc says, “and Skullmore promotes the things that we think are exciting and good.”

Content is generated solely through email submissions, but Marc and Les reach out asking for work as well. It’s a collaborative effort to get in anything they feel is important.

Anything to encourage creating.

“The one thing I hope it does is inspire people to make their own stuff,” Marc says.

Just like they do.

Marc and Les have been drawing for years.

“My dad would get me comics from Hy-Vee, and I would learn to draw by practicing and copying what was in there,” Marc says. “I still have a Scooby Doo comic I had opened and closed so many times, the binding gave out, so in my little 7-year-old brain, I put 10 staples along the spine to fix the binding.” He pauses. “Which was too many. One would’ve made sense …”

Les learned how to draw through cartoons on TV.

“I’d record ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ on VHS and I’d pause it, then draw it.”

They haven’t lost that desire to create. Today, it’s more palpable than ever.

“We all have our passions,” Les says. “But ours is a lifestyle,” Marc adds. “There’s no off button, man. It’s engrained in our personality. I think I dream in cartoons.”

We all have our passions. But ours is a lifestyle.

They both agree they can’t go a day without drawing.

“If I don’t make something, I’m going to be worthless,” Marc says.

Les was drawing on his coffee cup as we spoke. I don’t even think he realized it.

“We have a compulsion to make things,” says Marc, “but what makes Skullmore awesome is that it has nothing to do with us. It’s beyond us.”

They put together Skullmore because it feeds their own energy to create — and it makes them happy to do so — but it’s for you.

And that’s a win-win to me.

How does Skullmore work?

Skullmore only began last year, but Marc has been making zines for almost five years now.

“I collect my drawings, run them off at Kinkos, fold them, staple them and then give them away,” he says. “I’ll take stuff out of my sketch book or loose drawings, because I just want to share them!”

Artwork by Marc Wagner.

“He’s even got a cool briefcase,” Les says.

“Yeah. I got a briefcase.” He’s bashful, but he makes me smile.

He also had a zine in college, called All My Friends Are Nice, that featured his drawings and poetry from others.

“That was the proto-Skullmore,” Marc says, “then I decided I wanted to try it again.”

For Skullmore, Marc and Les got a big group together, a fancy meeting in Marc’s basement and all, thinking it could be a grand collaborative effort.

“Super Love” artwork by Les Cotton. Main photo at top of story is courtesy of Melanie Cotton.

“But there were too many cooks,” Marc says.

“So many cooks.”

Everyone had the mentality of it being “something they would get to eventually,” but Marc and Les were wanting to start Skullmore now, and so they did it on their own.

And it’s working.

“Marc is the editor and schmoozer, and I am the art director,” Les says. Local artist Amy Jarding helps with editing copy, and they print from a UPS store in Sioux Falls.

They just completed their third volume, and you can find it in stores on May 10. They start by leaving it at the places who sponsor them, including Total Drag, Zandbroz and Urban Archaeology, but ideally, it’s passed out to the masses.

Sponsors and ad sales are their only means of funding, but all those costs go directly to printing the magazine. “So however much we raise per issue, that’s how many issues we print,” Marc says.

They do have a website, but you won’t find the latest issue there. That’s not the point.

“Volume 3 will exist as copies on a newsstand, and that’s where you have to find it,” Marc says. “It’s not on the Internet. Take a stroll!”

Skullmore as a print product means a lot to them.

“Having a tangible thing allows for discovery,” Marc says. “ The idea of opening something up to a random page and seeing something fresh and new has always been very exciting to me. That doesn’t really exist digitally. When you get to flip through pages, you have this bigger connection with it — just holding something in your hand, the feel of it, the smell of it, the feeling of the paper …”

He trails off. But he’s smiling.

How did Les and Marc meet?

Marc and Les both have full-time jobs, at Dakota Lettering and Lawrence & Schiller, respectively. But art is what they go home to.

“I call myself a cartoonist, because I think it’s fun,” Marc says. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously, because I don’t like to take myself too seriously.”

Marc Wagner (left) and Les Cotton are the creators of Skullmore in Sioux Falls.
Marc Wagner (left) and Les Cotton are the creators of Skullmore in Sioux Falls. Photo by Melanie Cotton

They both went to school at South Dakota State University in Brookings. It’s where they met. A friend of Les’ encouraged them to get together.

“So we sat down, we drew together, and we just started hanging out,” Les remembers. “And now we talk every day! We have standing taco meetings every Tuesday.”

They also are great encouragement for one another’s personal work.

“We throw our drawings back to one another, and it feeds each other’s fire,” Les says. “Dude!” He’s giving an example. “I can’t go to sleep until I make something like that now!”

“Totally,” Marc agrees. “That’s the basis of our relationship, is that we’re just trying to out-do each other. In a friendly competition.”

But it’s collaboration that matters most, and the more they work together, the more others will want to draw, paint, write, make, create.

“Sometimes, just getting published — even if it’s in a magazine that two guys make in a basement — is still enough to motivate somebody to keep doing it.”

Who influences you?

Maybe it’s because they work so closely together, or maybe it’s just fate, but Les and Marc’s work is very similar. Crazy similar.

“My mom can’t tell it apart!” Marc says.

But that was never intentional. “We just have the same aesthetic when it comes to our image making,” Les says.

And similar influences help. Les looks up to artist Mike Perry, New York illustrator John Contino and graphic designer Aaron Draplin. But they both have quite the affinity for artist Kate Bingaman-Burt.

“The whole reason I make zines is because I met Kate at a design conference once,” Marc says. “She’s my idol. Super kind, nice, positive. As soon as I got back from that conference, I made my first zine.”

Marc looks up to not only her work and work ethic, but how she treats others.

“She’s an incredibly kind person. She’s grounded and super cool, and meeting her was a changing point for me. She’s how I hope I carry myself.”

It helps to have someone like that in life, doesn’t it? Someone who not only inspires you, but also encourages you to be your best self?

Marc and Les are those people to me. They are so selfless in their gentle advocacy of art, and to them, life is simple: Do what makes you happy, be kind to others and encourage art.

And I hope that inspires you, too.

Angela Tewalt, OTA 

Artwork by Les Cotton.