2013 / 5月
Liu Yingfeng /photos courtesy of Chin Hung-hao /tr. by Geoff Hegarty and Sophia Chen
When the 2008 financial crisis hit Taiwan, news of layoffs and people being sent off on unpaid leave were reported across the media. Under these dismal circumstances, illustrator Mark Lee created a fictional character called Mark in his blog. He calls it: “I’m Mark: Complaints from the Workplace,” and it voices all sorts of typical gripes from office workers.
Lee’s comic character Mark has a wavy fringe, a face shaped like a bowl seen side-on, and eyes that appear as just two lines. And he is often portrayed with a helpless look and messy hair. In one strip from the series titled “Everyone Complains About,” Mark appears looking exhausted and unshaven. One day as he’s lifting a heavy parcel, he turns and complains to a colleague: “My life was black and white before I found this job.” His colleague enquires: “So what happened after you found it?” Mark replies miserably: “My life became blank!” This and similar exchanges brought a strong reaction from office workers: within a few days, Lee’s Facebook page had attracted more than 10,000 “likes,” and over a thousand “shares.”Mark the healer
At 37, Lee created Taiwan’s hottest office worker, and also gained a reputation as something of a “healer.” A graduate of the Fu-Hsin Trade and Arts School and the Department of Fine Arts at the Chinese Culture University, Lee was a typical advertising-industry employee. After four years of advertising, though, he realized that it wasn’t what he wanted to do forever, so in 2005 he quit his job to set up a design company with a friend.
Beginning in 2006, Lee had started to play with illustrations related to the workplace, and two years later, his fictional office character Mark appeared for the first time on his blog, launching a series of related illustrations. Lee had experience of a number of different roles in his own workplaces, from rookie, to supervisor, and then boss. So he understood deeply the scraps and hurts encountered by workers in an average office. Because he came from advertising, he had come into contact with a wide range of workplace situations amongst his clients: from the beverage to the automotive industries and beyond. So he was able to accumulate some unique insights into a wide variety of workplaces. Before every new creation, he recalls different episodes from his own working experiences. Springing from Lee’s meticulous observation, the character Mark seems to have become Lee’s archetype, the spokesperson for Taiwan’s workplaces everywhere.Transforming the mind
The website “I am Mark: Complaints from the Workplace” has attracted more than 40 million visits in just four years. Lee has extended the role of Mark to producing peripheral merchandise including mugs and T-shirts imprinted with Mark’s image, which have been well received by Internet fans. Because of the large amount of traffic it generates, the website also attracts advertising, and began turning a profit in its first year.
In order to market into workplaces, comic character Mark appears at 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so office workers never have to miss an episode. Lee replies to the 60–80 visitors’ comments daily, and he also keeps in touch with his Internet fans, listening to the voices of office workers as sources for new inspiration.
“What is healing?” Lee says that the character of Mark is presented in a half-mocking style, but the basic purpose of the comic is simply to allow office workers to have a bit of fun, to relax them a little, and to help them overcome the challenges of the office. “Let Mark scream at your boss for you and tell off your customers. And because of the realization that you aren’t alone in feeling frustrated at work, you’ll feel comforted and the hurt will dissipate,” says Lee.
The next time you feel stressed out at work, go to the website to let Mark speak up for you. Or try growing some cute mushrooms on you desk. As long as you have access to some diversion to clear and relax your mind, the frustrations of the office will vanish.