Mark Jonathan is Making Barbie a Drag Queen

Lakecia Hammond,

Mark Jonathan is a young graphic designer who has taken his love of the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race to interesting creative heights. He is reimagining the iconic Barbie doll to pay tribute to RuPaul’s contestants – and it’s sickening. One “RuCreate” glam session takes a few days and the result takes the idea of Queen Be to a whole new level.

A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 14th issue of ODDA Magazine.

You’re a young, talented graphic designer. Tell us about your first RuCreation and how did it come about?

First off, thank you! (*flips imaginary long hair) haha! Well, I had just started doll-repainting about a year and a half ago, and I was watching older seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and thought it would be so fun to create a doll that embodied the personas some of the queens have developed on the show. So much time, creativity, talent, and artistry goes in to their craft and all of it is so inspirational to me. My thought of who to try first, of course, went straight to Trixie Mattel. She has always stated that her look was inspired by Barbie and her life in plastic aesthetic. From there, I bought my first Barbie doll and vintage Barbie nightgown, then repainted the hell out of her mug, hemmed the night gown, styled the hair, and like that my first RuPaint was created.

As time progresses, big companies are making more of an effort to diversify their products – particularly dolls. How important is it for your dolls to be on the shelves for kids and adults alike?

Let’s be honest, the way the world is right now, it will take years of mental progression before something like mind would be presented on shelves alongside mainstream fashion dolls. As much as I would love to assume there is that much acceptance in the country, it’s not there yet. But, in my ideal situation, they would be right alongside the rest of them. It would be important to have the representation of drag dolls, such as mine, available to kids and adults because it opens the minds and acceptance of the art to the world.

The art of drag has been around for centuries but it’s always seen as taboo and I think that introducing these dolls brings them into the light and brings understanding of what drag is and the art behind it. As RuPaul’s Drag Race has little by little made it into more mainstream showings, with it’s new home of VH1, you start to see the acceptance and love that people of all ages have for the art and all the admiration they have for the queens. They should be celebrated and to me the best way how is through a collectible doll. And let’s be honest, Barbies are a bit basic right now and need that extra spice. (winks)

Valentina Promo Look ©Mark Jonathan

On a scale of 1 to infinity, how much of a RuPaul super fan are you? Why?

To infinity and beyond! I have always loved drag queens and even as a young boy, seeing RuPaul’s music videos on TV and not really knowing what was going on, I just knew I was intrigued and loved the visuals of her. So, when the show launched, I was immediately sucked in. It was everything I could ever want in a show. It was like taking Top Model, Project Runway, America’s Got Talent, and rolled it all into one show. It literally brought drag into your home without having to find a show in town. On top of that, it had various types of gay men from all walks of life and ethnicities in one place sharing their art and what they loved which made it relatable to me. Plus, I’m a sucker for the workroom shady banter and drama, lol.

You’ve gotten so much publicity for your work, but you had help. Can you tell us about your sidekick?

Well I wouldn’t call her my sidekick, but one of my biggest inspirations, my mother. Ever since I was a child, my mom has made my Halloween costumes for me. She is a beyond-talented woman who works as a production pattern maker. As an adult she has even made me a few drag outfits for myself. She has always been such a huge support and fan of my craft and work, so when I had the idea to create more RuPaints, why wouldn’t I keep it in the family and ask for her help and skills for the clothing of the dolls. I don’t know how to sew myself yet, so turning to her was definitely my first go to. When I asked her if she would help, she was all for it. I hunt for fabrics that resemble the queens’ outfits, in doll scale, and then she created the outfits. After she is done, I embellish all the details and trims myself, along with creating the jewelry. I am definitely lucky to have such an amazing woman as a mom.

Trixie Mattel ©Mark Jonathan

You’ve done everything from makeup, to styling. Tell us about the most elaborate Barbie makeover to date.

I would have to say the most elaborate Barbie makeover I had done so far has to be my Violet Chachki in her Hello Kitty-inspired look. There was so much detail in this look, from the hair, makeup, and outfit, to the big mod inspired head piece. For her head piece, I had to figure out how to emulate it in doll scale, which is usually the hardest part for all of them, but solved that with utilizing pipe cleaners and pink fur trim. Her hair was something new for me as it had an ombre of grey lavender to pink, so once I had rerooted her hair, plug by plug, I then dip dyed the ends in pink dye and then curled and styled it. Creating her tiny hair bows was pretty hard as well; I mean, if I had tiny kid hands, that would be a different story lol. Her makeup was pretty hard to emulate as well. It was very mod inspired and had a bunch of think eye line work which was nerve-racking to paint on such a tiny surface. Finally stoning and finding a solution for the Hello Kitty elements was a mind struggle in itself. I finally resolved that by using puffy Hello Kitty stickers in place of where she had them on her garment. I mean explaining all of this right now got me exhausted again haha.

You have a brother; does he have any inclination to follow your path or help out with your creations?

My younger brother, even though we both have artistic talents, this is sort not his thing. He is more of a skateboard/street art kind of guy. We are a bit of polar opposites but he has been very supportive of the attention my work has been getting. I mean I don’t think he really cares or has the patience to paint on tiny dolls any how haha.

What do your Barbies have as opposed to what’s been selling since the 50s?

They have C.U.N.T. to be blunt. Oooh that rhymed haha. Obviously, they are serving uniqueness, charisma, nerve and talent. Aside from a drastic change in body shape since the 50’s, I think my RuPaints bring a sense of glamour, artistry, and culture that has yet to be displayed in this medium, in a mainstream way. Just as barbie celebrates women and style of various ages, my dolls celebrate the LGBTQ community and the talents and beauty we have always shared with the world. These talents of hair, design, performance, makeup, and art have plenty of times been behind the scenes or used in straight mainstream culture, but not credited to the community and this was my way of showcasing them through the creativity of drag.

What kind of feedback have you been getting from some of the queens on RuPaul?

OMFG! The response has been incredible. One of the biggest peak points for me was when Naomi Smalls reposted my RuPaint of her. That moment is really what I attribute to my work getting more and more publicity. Even freakin’ RuPaul herself had twitted the article Paper Magazine had written on my work. Obviously, I died in that moment haha. Ever since then, I have gotten follows from quite a few Drag Race alumni and even a few messages from them complimenting my work. Some of them have even reposted more of my dolls. It has been such an incredible experience to hear from the queens that inspire me.

Who is your favorite artist in whatever form and how have they influenced your work?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite artist, but have always been inspired by pop art, cartoons, and super-stylized illustrations. Thanks to Instagram I have been able to see the art of so many talent independent artist.

One artist I’m currently obsessed with is Juno Birch (@junobirch). She is a UK-based artist who draws incredibly creative stylized characters, in amazingly beautiful colors. All her art has some sort of humor and sexuality to it, which I love, plus her color palette choices are always beautiful. When I look to other artist, I get more inspired to do my own work and practice my own art. I see them creating beautiful work and it makes me want to do the same with mine. It’s very motivational.

You were XOXO Barbie last Halloween, give us some inside on where you found a giant pink Barbie phone and brush and did your mother help out with the final look?

I sure the hell was haha. I freakin’ love Halloween, it is literally my favorite holiday and the one I will take days off from work, just to celebrate. With the success of my barbie repaints, I thought I was fitting for me to dress up as Barbie herself. I mean, obviously a very tan version of her, but Barbie none the less haha. I chose to be the 1959 Swimsuit Vintage Barbie. I knew I wanted to play on the scale of her accessories and over all just wanted t o have fun. My mom, of course, helped me with the swimsuit, which we came to figure out wasn’t as simple to make as we thought. Getting those stripes to go in just the right angles and me being a bit of a perfectionist, really was a struggle. But between my mom and I, I knew we could figure it out and we did. As for the pink phone, it was an oversized pink cellphone cover, so it was not only cute, but functional as well haha. The brush I made myself out of craft foam. I had such a rad time dressing up as her, like literally picture 1959’s Barbie lip syncing to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow haha. It was like my little gay boy dreams finally coming true haha.

Naomi Smalls ©Mark Jonathan

You seem to be a big fan of Disney, who is your favorite Disney princess and why?

Ugh, how could you not be a fan of Disney! Haha. I grew up in Southern California, so my family often took trips to Disneyland on a regular basis. Growing up, I loved Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but I have always been a sucker for a Disney princess. I’ve always found strength in beauty and humor and the Disney princesses were always that to me. My favorite Disney princess has always been Princess Jasmine. One, because she was one of the first brown girls and made her relatable to myself, and two, she is just so damn pretty and stood up for herself. I love when characters have a perfect combination of beauty, independence, and humor. I mean, not only was she hilarious when she was playing crazy in the street market, she was also clever and used her smarts to trick Afar when she was slave Jasmine. Plus, you can’t deny how good she rocked a bandeau top and harem pant haha.

How many dolls would you guesstimate you have and will they all get the Mark Jonathan makeover?

Oh god… this is where I cringe a bit, lol. If I were to guess, I would say I have around 200. AHHH! I know, I know… It’s a lot but I just love all the art and creativity that goes behind all of them, to the final product. And I know that probably makes it sound like I have a crazy apartment, but the ones displayed in my apartment are done tastefully haha and the rest are displayed in a closet. As for giving them make overs, I have quite a few that I want to repaint myself, but a lot of them I enjoy as is. I feel like part of me is making up for all the time I didn’t get dolls when I was a kid, lol.


Lakecia Hammond is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her subject matter has ranged from current events to high fashion. She has interviewed people like Olivier Pescheux and Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2. Her ideal workspace includes loud music and a cup of coffee.

the writer

Lakecia Hammond

Lakecia Hammond is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her subject matter has ranged from current events to high fashion. She has interviewed people like Olivier Pescheux and Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2. Her ideal workspace includes loud music and a cup of coffee.

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