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Interview with tattoo artist Mister Cartoon
6/2/04 - exclusive interview by Dante


Mister Cartoon picture

If you don't know his name, you almost certainly have seen his work. Mister Cartoon has a massive rep as a gifted tattoo artist and muralist. Flip through most issues of XXL, The Source or Vibe and you have already seen this Mexican-American's ink on any number of platinum artists.


If you own any of the last five Cypress Hill CDs, you've already seen his illustration skills. From skulls to lowriders to religious symbols, this Los Angeles harbor area native excels in original pieces with expert shading, and much more. What was it that initially got you doing tattoos?

I just been drawing my whole life. And tattooing was something I grew into, I had to wait for the doors to open up for me to learn the professional way. I was doing it homemade style on the homies, but I knew that there was a difference and that I had a choice, to do it with professional machines.

You started in your own shop or someone else's?

Nah, in a kitchen. I eventually worked out of my own pad, and eventually got into a professional shop. I ended up at Spotlight tattoo in Hollywood, which is an internationally known traditional tattoo place, been around for 20 years.

So how long you been tattooing?

10 years. I been a professional artist for over 20 years. Lets put it this way, the majority of people outside of Southern California know me for tattoos, but the people in L.A. knew me since I was 16, doing lowrider murals. I was the youngest illustrator for Hustler magazine. I was already doing interviews and being known before I picked up a tattoo machine. I came to tattoo in my mid 20's.

Hustler magazine, how did that come about?

I did a mural on Larry Flynt's limo. Through my t-shirts from clothing companies, they hired me on the strength of my t-shirt graphics. They probably hadn't hired an illustrator in 15 years, just keeping the older artists and keep reusing them.


For me to have Larry Flynt's limo done and doing murals... I had never been to art school, so it was a miracle working for a magazine like. It was never any Chicanos working at a place like that. The older guys were real talented, don't get it f*cked up, but no kind of lowrider street kid had worked for them before.

I'm surprised to have not heard about you working for Hustler, though.

In the industry, the whole thing is about tattoos. Unless you're in the professional industry, you would have never known, unless you were into lowriders. But tattoos reach everybody, because someone can somehow relate. If I walk into a nightclub, I can find only a handful of people that want an album cover, but can find at least 20 people who want tattoos.

I had already done album covers for NWA, Eazy E, Kid Frost. So 22 years old, I was already walking into Tower Records and seeing my work. I thought I had made it back then, yet only a small circle of people know who I was. But where I'm at right now, I'm just getting started, but its getting started on world mass appeal.

Who are some of the music artists that you've done tattoo work for?

Missy Elliot, Kanye West, Mobb Deep, Justin Timberlake, 50 cent, Eminem, Cypress Hill, Big Boi from Outkast, David Banner... (breathes out deep and pauses) It's a miracle that I got to tattoo my favorite rappers. I'm like that kid, you know what I mean, that kid that's a fan of hip hop and won a call from a radio station.


That's how I feel every time. I don't get up there and start asking for autographs, yet I found a long time ago that they are regular people like me and you. Same insecurities, shyness, bad days, girl problems, all the same sh*t we go through. Not much that changes other than a bank account, and hopefully your mind opens up after traveling.

You mentioned doing CD covers, who else have you done artwork for?

Well I started doing Cypress Hill covers. That's why I tattoo who I do today, doing Cypress Hill. I founded a clothing company called Joker Brand, Cypress Hill opened the doors album cover wise. I just did the Clipse logo, I just did the Shady Records logo. We just did Blink 182, we did a lot of like Spanish groups, European groups, Japanese groups.


What happened for me... I connected with my partner in business, his name is Estevan "Scandalous" Oriol, and he was road managing Cypress Hill and House of Pain. Before I hooked up with him, my name was familiar with the lowriding circle. My claim to fame, my big break was Hustler magazine. I already did the Kid Frost, Penthouse Players, MC Ren cover, but all that was preparation to meet my partner.


So by then, I had the sh*t behind me. That's really what I needed because, being an artist, you can be lazy, lag on projects; people put up with it because you can't go down the block and get it somewhere else. Artists usually know how to get over using their artwork. Use those things to get want you want in life. Girls, money, fame.

Even as far as the East coast, a good number of people know who Mister Cartoon is, what was it that you think really put you on the map?

I think when it got to when I did Eminem's big tattoos. Kinda got it to the point where I didn't need a portfolio. I just start listing some names. After Eminem it was 50 cent's back. It's hard to beat that. I think Eminem was the one who put it to the masses, and Meth and Redman didn't hurt [either].

What distinguishes your work from other artists?

I think what makes me different and original is that I draw each and every customer a custom original tattoo, I don't do anything twice. There are no patterns in the shop, as far as walking up and picking number 9. If I ever put up that stuff, its only to make it look like a tattoo shop. Even if you want something already done, I'll change it up.


I specialize in black and grey, I don't use any colors. One bottle of black and some water, that's it. I don't go out of my style, that's me, that's what I do. I wouldn't do nothing on anyone that I wouldn't wear. Personally I respect color tattoos, but I wouldn't put any on me. That's because of how I grew up, that's our style.

You mean going back to the jailhouse style of tattooing?

It goes back to not so much jailhouse, but the streets of L.A.. Every one of my friends has black and grey tattoos. L.A. affects the rest of the world. Like New York hip hop affects the rest of the world, our [L.A.] clothes, cars, culture affect other people.

So do you listen to hip hop ?

Yeah. [Also] I listen to a lot of classic soul, oldies: Dynamic Superiors, The Whatnots. But it matters on what car I'm driving.

What's the difference?

In an Impala, I only play old school jams. In the 6 series Beemer on 22s, you're gonna hear 50 Cent, G-Unit, Petey Pablo and sh*t.

Who are some of the Latin hip hop artists you listen to?

Cypress Hill I also play in my lowriders. Beatnuts, Fat Joe.

If you had the opportunity to tattoo any person that you haven't before, not necessarily a music artist, who would it be and why?

I have to say J-Lo, and I don't think I need to say why.

You seem to be working on a lot more than just tattoos, what else are you involved with?

Well, I'm building a 1963 candy tangerine ice cream truck, with the plasma screen in it, 20 speakers, 10 TVs. It has about two years of my mural work on it, that's gonna be a big car I'm gonna premier. I'm designing my own shoes right now, with Nike. I have a limited edition skateboard, Stussy.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Well, 10 years from now, I see myself and my partner Scandalous being the number one employer of street artists, directing and producing TV commercials, movies and videos, and having a couple different clothing lines. And basically having a high-end VIP tattoo studio, only doing back pieces and body suits. No arm bands or single tattoos, strictly back pieces and up.

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