Arts and Culture

On Thursday, sculptor John Marks will drive from Indianapolis to Louisville towing two giant dragons, large enough for people to ride. The dragons are composed of nearly a thousand pounds of silicon, latex and foam, and they aren’t Marks’ first large-scale sculptures: some people have cried in front of his previous works; others have proposed in front of them. For the second year in a row, Marks’ huge creations will be on display at GalaxyCon Louisville, which kicks off Friday. 

Marks said he has found artistic success, but it might not have happened if not for a failed costume, a $3,500 loan and the decision to quit a more than decade-long career.

Marks, 51, earned an art degree from the University of Missouri, and left Missouri at the age of 25 for a special effects school in Florida. But the industry disappointed him. It was competitive, stressful and didn’t have much job security, which prompted Marks to leave. Decades later, he was working as a lifestyle coach and a personal trainer.

Sculptor John Marks with his sculptures of How to Train Your Dragon's "Toothless" and "Light Fury"John Marks

Sculptor John Marks with his sculptures of How to Train Your Dragon’s “Toothless” and “Light Fury”

“My day was the same place, everyday, all day long, and [I] had gotten kind of burnt out,” Marks said. 

He continued using his skills to make small art projects, and saw an opportunity in making a large rendition of the comic-book superhero “The Hulk”.

“I ended up making the Hulk, about [a] seven-foot creature,” he said. “Originally it was going to be a costume and then I realized I overshot it.”

It was a gamble; Marks took out $3,500 in loans to build the figure, fill it with foam and sculpt it. But when he debuted the green giant at the 2012 Indiana Comic-Con, attendees loved it. And Marks made a lot of money. 

“I found my niche then,” Marks said. “[I] did better over a weekend than I did over three months of my regular job, so I quit my job two weeks later.”

Actor Verne Troyer poses in front of John Marks "Hulk" sculptureJohn Marks

Actor Verne Troyer poses in front of John Marks “Hulk” sculpture

Marks has traveled to conventions across the country since then, building around 40 sculptures from commissioned work, fans’ ideas and his own ideas. Some are eventually put into storage, giving Marks a chance to add variety and to tour with his other work. One such project was “The Iron Giant”, a hulking $7,000 robot figure he brought to Louisville’s first GalaxyCon last year.

Sculptor John Marks with his sculpture of "The Iron Giant"John Marks

Sculptor John Marks with his sculpture of “The Iron Giant”

Marks estimates the dragons, modeled after creatures from the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies, cost around $7,500 in materials and took more than 1,500 hours to build. He wouldn’t say how much profit the sculptures earn him, but said the money he gets from people paying to take pictures with his sculptures more than cover the cost of materials. Marks said reactions to his work motivate him, and fans support keeps him going.

“You have other people that walk around the corner and you see their faces light up, and mouth drops, and they get truly emotional. You can’t beat that,” Marks said, adding that the convention and his sculptures give attendees a chance to escape reality. “There’s something very freeing about the con[vention] … it’s a release to let your hair down and just be somebody else for a little bit.”

Louisville Tourism expects GalaxyCon, which starts November 22 and ends November 24, will attract 25,000 people and make an economic impact of around $738,000. Marks said pictures with his sculptures start at $5 and go up to $20 for a picture on top of the dragon. 

The dragons will go into storage at the end of the year. Marks said they will likely be replaced with two sculpted creatures from the cartoon “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.