Interview with tattoo
artist Mister Cartoon
6/2/04 - LatinRapper.com exclusive interview by Dante
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.
LatinRapper.com: What was it that initially got you doing
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
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
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
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
You mentioned doing CD covers, who else have you done
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.
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,
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
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
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
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