YOU don’t have to look further than Eminem, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Method Man or Nas to recognize the work of tattoo artist Mister Cartoon. From his appointment-only studio in downtown Los Angeles, Mister Cartoon not only inks the skin of the young and sometimes famous, but also drafts murals (including the black-and-white creation at left), creates album covers and logos and helps define the look for companies including Nike and Scion. Mister Cartoon’s art is, naturally, inspired by the streets -- the 38-year-old artist grew up in San Pedro -- and aims to tell the story of L.A.
How long have you been drawing?
Professionally for 20 years. When I was 16, I painted a mural for the cover of Car and Driver and Hot Rod magazines. Then I worked for Hustler magazine as an illustrator. I started doing tattoos at 24, so I was already working as a professional artist before that.
What is the major difference between paint to the wall and ink to the skin?
Skin is the ultimate canvas; there is no other canvas that’s as nonforgiving.
Your mural in downtown L.A.'s Arts District incorporates a lot of elements, including cars and women, and then that powerful “LA” painted through the whole piece. What was the concept behind it?
The owner of that building said, “Look, they already write on my walls. Go ahead and make it beautiful.” And we’re always looking for big walls to be able to do something. I did that with an artist named T Loko. We wanted to do something that represented the West Coast, so that graffiti artists who came from N.Y. could look at it and say, “Oh, that’s L.A.” That piece is all done with spray-paint cans. We didn’t sketch it or use tape or project an image up there. We just went for it, and that’s what came out of my head.
You’ve done some interesting collaborations with everyone from fashion to electronics companies. What’s on the horizon?
There is the line of Nike Air Force 1 and Cortez sneakers, which I did three years ago. That line is very limited. You can’t get them anymore except on EBay.
I just did the new Vans shoe, designed for the upcoming Simpsons movie, and there’re two other shoes I’m working on for Vans.
Last year I designed a limited edition Sidekick [for T-Mobile], which sold out. For Scion, I customized two xB bodies by candy painting and upholstering them. They are one-off cars. I actually painted the first xB ever made.
Also, we are opening up a shoe boutique here in downtown L.A.; it will be open for the holidays. We’ll sell coffee-table books and carry products from different clothing collaborations and more art driven pieces.
It’s a way for the public to have access to SA Studios [the company he has with photographer and director, Estevan Oriol], as well as Estevan Oriol’s work.
And I am also writing a book. It’s a graphic novel called “The Lost Angel,” with Time Warner. I wrote and illustrated it. It will be out at the end of summer.
That’s an impressive list. And I hear rumors about you doing a movie?
I have a three-picture deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. The first is about my life story, as a teenager through early 20s. It’s a feature film and we’re almost finished with the script.
When you were tagging and doing graffiti in your younger years, would you have imagined you had the makings of a major movie deal?
No. If I made all the right choices and played it safe back then, what would they make the movie about? “Now in theaters, ‘Safe Guy’! He made all the right choices.”