Inspiration from Mr. Cartoon comes down to a simple message and his determined character

“When you think you’re done, stretch farther.”

It’s no shock to see Mr. Cartoon popping up in Modelo beer commercials, but the inspiring message is consistent with what he told me on a summer day in 2013. Automobile Magazine had sent me to his studio near the west end of L.A.’s Sixth Street Viaduct to get the philosophy behind his tattoo and street art.

Already that morning, he had dropped off three of his kids at school and then done some customizing work on a Camaro. Now he had to deal with a reporter who also wanted him to pose for a few photos. Later, he would lay out a pattern for a lucky client joining top celebs and ballplayers in receiving one of his Escher-like tattoos, working until 9 p.m.

“We stretch when other people go home,” he said.

About his name:

All of us had nicknames. They used to call me Toon, ’cause I would draw all the time and my personality was that of a cartoon character. Now there’s a Cartoon from every neighborhood in L.A. We would put Mister or Doctor or Señor in front of our name to act older.

Softee truck history:

It was at the Pomona Swap Meet. One of my friends, Big Nacho, saw it there and bought it on the spot. An International milk truck–the biggest eyesore you ever saw. But my buddy had the vision, man. He ended up passing away, and his wife sold it. I did murals on it, but no clearcoating to protect it. Some beat-up rims, no motor. It disappeared for six years. About 2003, I start hearing rumors that some guy’s got it in El Monte in a trailer park. Sure enough, man, 2004, I found it in that trailer park. Lifted up the car cover, and all the murals were still there. I go, “I’ll take it!” I got it for four grand.

GM’s dominance in Lowrider culture:

Design. Taste and design. Through the ’50s and ’60s, Chevrolet dominated the world. Fords, they just don’t have soul in them–they got country music. You want soul, you gotta go to a Chevy. They probably weren’t doing enough coke back then at Ford.

The ostensible reason for my visit was the new line of car-care products, branded “Sanctiond,” that Mr. Cartoon and Snoop Dogg were promoting together.

It’s been approved by the street. I walked into an AutoZone, and I was like, “There’s no rock or rap influence in this store. They need some heartbeat in here.” We’re the first line to bring actual street culture into an automotive product.

So what did he have for those who dismiss his work with the tattoo gun and the airbrush, saying it’s not art.

“Usually, those same guys, they don’t like rock-and-roll music.”

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