Mister Cartoon is one of the most respected personalities in hip-hop for his contributions to the culture through art. Born Mark Machado, the legendary tattoo artist says he was actually a shy Mexican-American kid from East Los Angeles. But he knew he always loved the visual arts as a means of expression. And as a teenager in the 1980s, he sensed the urgency to share the struggles of his fellow Chicanos and Chicanas with the world.
Hip-hop spoke to him because of its universal message of fighting for the underdog. So Machado took the streets of L.A. and became a graffiti artist, tagging the city with his art — and so Mister Cartoon was born. He later moved into tattoo art, frequenting the famous Bob Robert’s Spotlight Tattoo shop in Hollywood and soon getting ink of his own.
Cartoon then went on to become one the most sought tattoo artists around. His long list of famous clients includes Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Travis Barker of Blink-182, Beyoncé, Method Man, Lewis Hamilton, and many more. But his talents opened other doors for him, to where organizations like Nike, the Los Angeles Clippers, and T-Mobile have reached to him for his services, too.
Last year, Mister Cartoon worked with Modelo Beer to celebrate Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) with specially designed Especial and Negra LTO cans. The partnership was so successful that the parties are joining forces again for the popular Mexican holiday, this time around for the launch of the “Raise One In Their Honor” campaign.
This year, people can pay their respects to their loved ones who passed on by creating digital ofrendas, or living altars, which they can share with friends. Patrons who are 21+ are also encouraged to participate in the Living Altar Contest, which ends Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 11:59 PM ET. They can submit their ofrendas for the chance to have their beloveds tattooed on them by Mister Cartoon himself.
Learn more about this unique opportunity by visiting http://raiseoneintheirhonor.com/. And read our interview below with Mister Cartoon to know how not to fear death, but celebrate life with some traditional Mexican food and Modelo instead.
CASSIUSLife: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So what have you been up to in the past few months, in general?
Mister Cartoon: This is a great time because we’re seeing a lot of the work Modelo Beer and I did a year ago starting to come out now. Every good project takes about a year to manifest, it seems. Even outside of Modelo, I’ve been working on paintings, my fine art, and I slide [in] a tattoo [job] here and there.
But now seeing all this [work I did with] Modelo come out, like The Day of the Dead is here, it’s coming. So you start to see the [displays and signage] busting out. I’m like, “There’s that work!”
But to actually see it in the hood, walk into a liquor store and see it all posted up, is pretty crazy. And Modelo’s promotion is the best.
CASSIUSLife: Now, when it comes to Modelo, it’s all about representing “the fighting spirit.” So when it comes to your journey of becoming Mister Cartoon, what about you represents that fighting spirit?
Mister Cartoon: The fighting spirit, I think, is all about the underdog. People might see me now and think, “Oh, man, this dude’s got it easy.” But this art form was not accepted the way it is today. So the fighting spirit comes back to believing in your art form, that we love it — and that’s good enough.
I’m just going to push forward on that: that we love it, we understand it, and then little by little, people start to see it. And they’ll embrace it if they get it, if it’s presented to them in the right way. Like, when the artwork is on a pro ball player, people ease up [and say], “Oh, this guy’s great. He’s not as scary.”
Ten, fifteen years ago, people were intimidated by us and how tattooed we were, right? Even [with] my Netflix documentary, LA Originals, we got turned down so many times. Like, at the ten-year point [of shopping it around], people saw the trailer and they were [still] like, “That’s cool, but I’m good.”
“You’re good?” [we’d ask]. “Like, I got Kobe [Bryant], I got Eminem and Dr. Dre. You’re good? You don’t want it?” People would pass on it, man. And it was frustrating to hear “No” so many times.
But then we would hear “Yes!” And Fat Joe calls you up and you’re like, “Man, if Joe gets it, then I think we’re on the right path. We’ve got to keep pushing.” And you just keep pushing. And It finally got picked up during the pandemic. Like [during] one of the craziest times, our documentary got picked up!
So that fighting spirit comes from believing in yourself. And that’s all you can control sometimes. You can’t control your element. People, places, or things are going to flow the way they’re going to go, and without asking permission from you. So it’s you being able to maneuver amongst that, bob and weave, and stay true to your culture.
CASSIUSLife: You’ve done artwork for tons of people, like Snoop Dogg, Kobe Bryant, and Travis Barker to name a few. So who would you say were some of the most G’d up persons you did work on?
Mister Cartoon: You know Treach from Naughty by Nature, for all your old school hip-hop heads? He’s really Treach. We worked on his back. No emotion and holding a conversation. He walked by himself to the shop. I was like, “Man, he walked here?” He’s a G, he could roll through anybody’s hood.
Kobe. Kobe could sit there with no emotion on his face…
And then you get a character like Fat Joe in the chair. He’s going to talk shit to you. “Cartoon, what’d I ever do to you, man?!” He’s the best. (smiles) I’m so fortunate. I’m already fans of these guys. And to be able to build with them, and choose something that they’re going to wear on them, is an honor.
And that’s why I think when I drew those hands [for the “Raise One In Their Honor” campaign]? To honor for the homies that are gone with the glasses? Salud!
CASSIUSLife: Now Modelo has something going on called the Living Altar Contest, and they’re tying that in with the ofrendas, right? Tell us more about that. (Note: Maria Anderson, former Press Secretary for Latino Media for the Smithsonian Institution explained it as follows: “The ofrenda is often the most recognized symbol of Día de los Muertos. This temporary altar is a way for families to honor their loved ones and provide them what they need on their journey.”)
Mister Cartoon: This is a way for people out there to be creative and honest about their loved ones that they’re celebrating, and to make that altar for them. You see them all over the hood, altars are a thing of culture. Like when people pass on, and we light a candle in their memory. We’re going to put some things that they were about. And it’s a way of keeping their name alive, keeping their spirit alive.
So now people can submit their ideas. We’re going to look at the most fire one. And [the winner] is going to come and sit in my chair, and we’re going to build amongst each other. We’re going to take one of those elements, and we’re going to tattoo it on their arm.
CASSIUSLife: You’ve also been working with Skillshare to spread your knowledge and skills with regard to tattoo culture, right? What’s that about?
Mister Cartoon: Yeah, I’ve been speaking [at places like] junior high schools, high schools, youth authorities, correctional facilities, etc. to balance out the fact that I get paid for doing art. I’m grateful for that, and I’ve always went [out] and gave it away. And for the last 20 years, I’ve been hit pretty solid, and I learned off of people like Danny Trejo and people like that in the community to give back. And it keeps you focused where you’re at.
With Skillshare, there was a way to do it because they are so polished and they’re so good at teaching and helping you be a teacher that I was able to do this course and get other people hooked on being an artist. [Whether] they’re just going to do a logo for their cousin’s football team, or a plumbing service, or they actually want to be an artist full time. I broke down my concepts and how I did it. I just share with them how I did it. And Skillshare is a low monthly rate, you know what I’m saying?
CASSIUSLife: As a Black American, and also for you as a Mexican American, there have been times where the cultures weren’t seen as cool, and then it gets into a space where it’s hip, right? And that’s tough because something that be considered cool can also have periods where it’s not seen cool.
But I also understand that, in Mexican culture, Halloween is not some commercial thing. It’s a celebration of those that have transitioned. And I believe this is the biggest push that a brand like Modelo has done in honor of Día de los Muertos.
So tell us a little bit about what that means for you, to team up with Modelo for their “Raise One In Their Honor” campaign.
Mister Cartoon: This goes back to our heritage from the Aztecs, from the pyramids. They were celebrating the afterlife. What could the afterlife look like, you know what I’m saying? And I think that’s people’s biggest fear: death.
Partying and celebrating on that day is taking something very old from Mexican heritage and bringing it to the United States. Modelo has the best way of doing it: through art, through music, through celebration — and through ice cold beer. So it’s like, “Let’s party. We’re all going to die. Let’s accept that and know that, hey, when they were alive, they had a sense of humor, our homie killed it here. He was a ladies man. He did this.” Let’s celebrate both parts about our loved one that died.
You can get really down if you start thinking about your loved ones that have died. So this balances it out. Just pour some out for them. Let’s cook. Let’s play music so that you don’t have to be scared of death. I told my kids, “Hey, don’t cry for me. When I’m done, I’ll be asleep. Like I’ll be right where I was before I was born. Don’t worry about me. Let’s party now. Remember these times. This is as good as it gets. We’re together as a family unit. We’re partying.”
So don’t get down to where we’re immobilized. Let’s bust out some tamales, get the pozole going, and some ice cold Modelo. We’ll be okay.