In the Los Angeles episode of VICELAND’s series Needles and Pins, host and tattoo artist Grace Neutral dives headfirst into the world of Chicano tattoos, and it’s impossible to do that without coming across renowned artist Mister Cartoon.
Born Mark Machado, his art career began when he was only 12 years old, and in the decades since he has done everything from tagging walls to airbrushing cars, but it's his tattoos that made him Mister Cartoon.
Cartoon’s fine line black and grey style is so tied into Southern California and the roots of the Chicano culture that it's nearly impossible to replicate without the proper background. Yet the reason that Cartoon is so well known is that his work was never been limited to just within the tight-knit community that he called home, he is willing to share that artwork with people that have genuine interest in the style.
“If we tattooed [only] people who had earned it, we’d tattoo 10 people a year, maybe. If we were lucky,” Cartoon tells Viceland. “The guys who earned it, the real ones, they’ve already got it. A tattoo shop couldn’t even stay open if you looked for righteous people who earned it.”
Don’t mistake this for selling out, because Cartoon’s art has never changed throughout the years, only the audience has. The motifs that Cartoon works with aren’t any different than what so many other black and grey artists are doing, his brilliance is seen in the way they are put together.
“Sometimes the stuff is freehand, there’s no pattern drawn and you kinda just flow with it,” Cartoon explains. “And collage. That’s the old school style, to collage the shit. A girl’s eye has a teardrop, and that goes into a puddle, and the puddle drops down into an inkwell, and the inkwell goes into the city landscape and it goes into a housing project and blah blah blah, it’s all kind of melted and twisted, collaged together.”
The number of stories that are contained within one of Cartoon’s sleeves is seemingly endless. Each tattoo holds its own significance, and as they bleed into each other on a person’s back the stories become entwined, and in the end it is something to behold.
Learn more about Mister Cartoon and the many other talented artists defining and progressing the Chicano style in this episode of Needles and Pins. See more of Mister Cartoon here, and don’t forget to check out another master of the style referenced in Needles and Pins, Chuco Moreno, by clicking here.