Give Marlo Meekins six seconds and she'll make you laugh. Give her another and she'll do it again, for you, for your friends and for her nearly four hundred thousand followers on Vine, the Twitter-owned video-sharing app that emerged in January of this year. She'll seduce you with her long legs, cleavage and luscious red hair but then fall off her balcony, collapse into a pile of cardboard tubes, snarl, spew blood, brandish a knife and reveal child-molester facial hair.
All this for free. Unlike YouTube, which has made millionaires out of manipulative pet owners by monetizing views and showing ads before videos, Vine has yet to establish a system for its growing set of stars to profit off of their bursts of creativity. After all, viewers would never put up with thirty-second commercials before six-second videos. But Meekins, 32, a former animation professor who was named Caricaturist of the Year by the International Society of Caricature Artists in 2009, is determined to make it work.
So three months ago, she and her husband packed up their house in “the middle of fucking nowhere in Canada” and moved out to Los Angeles.
But unlike all of the striving performers who have made the pilgrimage to Hollywood in the past century looking to leverage their talent and good looks, Meekins already gets recognized on the street all the time; in the 21st century, fame comes well before fortune. Meekins has been featured on CNN and in The New York Times, and since moving here she's made videos with Vine stars like Brittany Furlan (2.5 million followers), Rudy Mancuso (1.6 million) and KingBach (2.1 million), as well as with early adopting old-media stars like Adam Goldberg and New Girl's Lamorne Morris. The one thing she misses about Canada?
This was the number one video on Vine for two days.
The best shot Vine stars like Meekins have at making money within the medium is pairing with brands like Doritos and Trident, who are reportedly willing to pay between $1,000 and $10,000 for videos featuring their products. Earlier this summer, Vine star Jerome Jarre (2 million followers) teamed up with social marketing guru and angel investor Gary Vaynerchuk to start GrapeStory, a talent agency that connects Viners with sponsors. As one of the first thirty or so stars signed on, Meekins has already made a video for Virgin Mobile.
Most successful Vines rely on scaring or creeping out strangers and filming their reactions, but Meekins' history as a cartoonist gives her a much wider range of visual gags. She storyboards all of her Vines in three panels, and makes prodigious use of costumes, props and fake blood. Like Chris Farley but hot, Meekins is also partial to pratfalls, which she defines as “when you just fall into shit.”
Resourceful and shameless, she's not afraid to put one of her three dogs on her head and dance around. In one recent video, Andy Dick critiques her homemade fake blood, saying it looks like Jell-O. (It's usually food coloring, water and maple syrup, but in the video with Dick it's cherry M&Ms.) Calling her hair a “free prop,” Meekins likes to satirize famous redheads, including Jessica Rabbit, Wilma Flintstone and Anne of Green Gables.
She always sleeps next to a mechanical pencil (“so there's always a point and I can erase”), a sketchbook (“for the super important stuff”) and loose-leaf paper on a clipboard (“so I can throw it out”). After being voted Class Clown at Moore College of Art & Design, Meekins attended RISD and worked at Spumco, the animation studio started by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. Her frenetic comics, usually done in warm tones with pops of green, do resemble the grotesque cuteness of the envelope-pushing 90s show; like Uglydolls, her characters are often adorable in their exaggerated weirdness.
Meekins' cartoon musings, tutorials and pep talks have been making the rounds on Tumblr for years, but Vine has made her a certified celebrity. She still loves to draw, and some of her most successful videos involve stop-motion animation, but Meekins is happy that Vine gave her the opportunity to come out from behind the sketchpad.
“I don't want to hide anymore,” she says. “I like showing off.”
It was while working for Spumco, in 2005, that Meekins was first exposed to the perky, self-promoting clusterfuck that Los Angeles can be, so the culture shock hasn't been as bad this time around. Back then, she rented a room from some trust-fund kids in Tarzana who only wore bathing suits and declared as soon as she arrived that they would all soon be best friends (“I had to go to the bathroom and cry because it was so weird and scary and they kept touching me,” she says). Then she settled in Burbank for a little less than two years. (“Awful. Nobody lives in Burbank. Why would they?”)
Now, as she sets up house in Glendale and comes to understand that there is more than one vegan restaurant on the east side, her solid artistic background and her past experiences with model/actor/comedian/musicians have left her better prepared than most web stars to take advantage of her newfound stardom.
Yes, she's been in conversation with Cartoon Network about developing a show, and a few months ago she sketched some characters for Disney, but she's keeping her expectations realistic.
“I don't want to talk too much about stuff that's going to happen,” she says, sipping on her soy latte. “Because maybe it's not.”
Amanda Lewis on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter:
Follow Public Spectacle on Facebook