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ART: Mister Cartoon

Featured in Freestyle Volume 05 2008. Interview by Cristian Diaz. Photography by Estevan Oriol.

There is a single character that defines the heart and soul of street culture in L.A. and that’s Mark “Mister Cartoon” Machado. His life (which is soon to be released as a feature film), has gone from the Black Sunday’s of throwing up graff and gang banging on the ports of L.A. to being renowned as the world’s most wanted celebrity tattoo artist dispelling the Chicano ink on clientele that includes Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr Dre, Fat Joe, Justin Timberlake, B-Real, Xzibit, Travis Barker and Beyonce to name a few. Cartoon’s exposure and impatient waiting list has fueled the fan base fire for his expansion of side projects like the limited edition Sidekick cell phones, designer Nike sneakers, a graphic novel for Time Warner and his clothing label JokerBrand which was created with his Soul Assassin’s brother Estevan Oriol.

An artistic prodigy by the age of 12, it was then he knew his talents would be the big ticket to sell him to the world. From creating logos for customers at his dad’s small print shop, to defacing public property with intricate graffiti murals, to being asked by motor enthusiasts to air brush their precious rides, Cartoon’s fusion of Hip-Hop, Japanimation, Chicano Low Riding, Old English and Prison Art created a style that’s now become an industry standard.

But even with all the hard earned acclaim and success, Cartoon remains the same humble vato from the barrio, not selling out for the dope feria of beer and cigarette companies - “I don’t see the difference really in selling keys of methamphetamine or selling kegs of beer. It’s the same thing. Each one of them will have you punch your old lady in the face. Its still dope, so even though the moneys dope I gota pass on it” he explains. Instead providing a positive reinforcement back to the community by doing outreach talks to youth prisons and
high school kids on the importance of learning a trade and visualising your own success no matter what the industry.

So grab a cold chela, sit back and enjoy this exclusive insight into the world of a unique individual that can be at your aesthetical request with any custom piece, just get in line first and be really patient...

Toons, lets start off from the beginning and tell me who Mr. Cartoon was before he became Mr. Cartoon the brand?
Mister Cartoon was a gang member from the harbor area of Los Angeles, running around muraling low riders, airbrushing t-shirts at car shows, and trying to get laid.

Yes, yes all the essentials of life but what inspired you to become an artist? Or did you feel that you were always destined to be one?
I have been drawing since the age of 6, my mother and father always encouraged me to draw. I was teaching art class in my school by the age of 12 and turned professional at the age of 16 .My parent’s support was the inspiration.

You had a stable and loving Latino familia when growing up, how did they feel about your life on the streets and your graffiti?
My family was disgusted, they felt I was an embarrassment to my race, but they still loved me and encouraged me to do the best I could do.

So do you think having a Latino background is a massive influence on your work and lifestyle?
Yeah a big influence, all my drawings reflect my heritage and low rider culture.

Some people that are unfamiliar with your work seem to feel uncomfortable and negative about what is being portrayed? Why do you think that is?
Those type of people believe everything they see on TV and they always judge before they know the facts, they are also the minority not the majority.The majority however love it and embrace and recognise that this is a beautiful art form that came out of the poverty stricken violence on the hard streets of Los Angeles.

So did you incorporate your own life story in L.A. with the graphic novel 'The Lost Angel' that you created?
All the characters in the graphic novel are real people that I know. I have adapted real life stories and mixed the order of events to create a true to life novel.

How can Mr. Cartoon be different or stand out in a city of artists such as LA?
The first thing is originality; the next thing is consistency of quality over years. The goal is to do artwork that doesn’t need signing, people will know who did it by the quality, that’s when you know you’re original.

Speaking of originality, do you feel that other artists have in a sense "watered down" your style since your explosion on the LA scene?
Yes I feel too many people are copying my style, but that’s going to happen when something gets big, I can be bitter and angry about it or I can invent new styles.People biting my work forces me to take my work to the next level.

Tell me how you feel about the corporate explosion of tattooing with reality shows like Miami Ink?
I turned down reality shows years ago right at the beginning of the reality boom, but I think I can benefit from the explosion of reality shows. It often relaxes the corporate companies with huge cheques… you know what I mean, Its much easier for me to approach a fortune 500 company with not only being a tattoo artist but being a business man. Some old school tattoo artists hate the reality trend, but I feel I am forced to make it work for me...

You don't have an actual street tattoo shop, but you've been rumored to have a 2 year waiting list of clientele. Do you think your incredible demand is due to the exposure from tatting celebrity rappers?
The 2-year waiting list is a rumor. No tattoo artist has a 2-year waiting list!!! I do have a waiting list that’s for sure, but if you go get a tattoo and the artist does not have a waiting list watch out.

Some people wait along time for an appointment because they want originality, quality, and a custom built one of a kind tattoo. Other people are buying a brand. They want to get a tattoo where Eminem got Hailey’s portrait or where Fifty got his back piece whatever the reason is I love it.

How do you remain humble and grounded when you got a shitload of corporate companies lining up to kiss your ass for your signature?
I remain humble by working with troubled kids, having old school friends in my circle and focusing on my 4 children. Also by having a good woman in my corner who often reminds me not to believe the bullshit and not to be an arrogant dickhead.

You said a fuckin sick line that "selling beer is the same thing as selling dope!" can you elaborate on this?
I turn down a lot of alcohol campaigns. The alcohol and cigarette brands tried to hire me, but my main focus is helping kids so I can't distort or confuse the youth's perception.

Working with the community is something I hear you do a lot of but you also have other big side projects like the sidekick deal, how did that come along?
My friend Dj Ski bought the deal to the table, and it was a challenge selling 15,000 units, but with no promotion and the love of the streets we managed to do it before juicy couture sold their 15,000 units. They were the other organisation that did the limited edition version..

The streets never fail you, what other products have you put your name on? And what’s on the cards for the near future?
Jokerbrand clothing (me and Estevan’s line for 13years), 6 limited edition sneakers with Nike, 3 limited edition Vans, Stussy skateboards and bikes, Snoop Dogg's album cover, San Andreas – Grand Theft Auto and a graphic novel deal with Time Warner books. Plus a bunch of other top secret projects that we are working on right now that I can’t speak about, but that you will be seeing before the year ends…

Can’t wait for that, so have you always had a natural ability of selling a product as well as creating one?
I guess that’s half my talent. You could be the greatest artist in the world but if you can't talk to people or make them feel part of it then you will stay a starving artist for the rest of your life.

"If I can't reach something Estevan, who's taller than me, can reach it on the shelf". A lot of positive energy revolves around your partnership with Estevan and your overall "team" of people, how important is it to be on a positive team?
I get a lot of compliments on my success but I can not take all the credit. I have a really strong team starting with Estevan who is my right hand, there are also 5 other people at our studio who help build our image on a daily basis. They are on the grind 7 days a week.

What’s been the project that you are most proud of?
The projects I am most proud of are the collaborations that I did with Nike. The completion of my low rider ice cream truck was one of my proudest moments. It is now exhibited in the low rider automotive museum in Hollywood.

You're a well respected graffiti artist, clothing designer, tattoo artist and entrepreneur, but what would you like to be most known as?
Being known as the best father, son and husband I can be, yeah it may sound corny but it’s true.

Did you always believe in your work and your ability or were there times you would just say “FUCK THIS” and would want to throw in the towel so bad?
I always believed that my skill and art would go further than I ever imagined. I just thought it would happen sooner. It gets frustrating when you’re broke and full of ideas that you know would sell. We paid our dues for 20 years as we were poor, broke and lonely but now we are grown men and we must feed our families so we are grateful for everything that happens to us.

Gracias again Toons, I know you definitely have some last wise words for young artists that are up and coming?
Don’t try to start at the top, work your way up from the bottom. There are no short cuts for hard work. Be original and practice drawing every day. Do not rely on a computer, surround yourself with good people and help others along the way.

To find out more about Mister Cartoon, visit

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