November 19, 2015 5 min read
We've teamed up with American artist and long-time friend, Robert Armstrong, on a fall-ready Mickey Rat Capsule Collection consisting of t-shirts, long-sleeves, a raglan and a knit sweater. Original works of art have been given the Altru touch making them distinctly fun, sarcastic and wearable. Continue below to see more images of the collection and read an exclusive interview with the artist.
If you were to think of your art / design hero, what part of their creative process inspires you?
If I were to list all the names of my art /design heroes it would include hundreds.What I’ve learned from them all is the importance of self discipline to establish good work habits and to constantly refine drawing and painting skills with every new project. I’m still learning as I go and will continue to develop my abilities as long as I’m alive. I’ve also learned from my heroes to find inspiration in everyday life.
How did you come up with the concept for Mickey Rat?
Mickey Rat came about after I found an old drawing of Mickey Mouse from the early 1930s while I was in Sweden in 1968. I made a copy of the drawing and started to doctor it by adding a big, ugly nose with warts, sharp teeth combined with a mischievi- ous grin. I was also silk screening T-shirts at the time when I got back to the U.S. and used this image to make up someT-shirts for some friends.This also inspired meto create some stories for underground comics using the character in 1970.
Did this ever lead to issues with the BIG D?
I’ve been asked many times if I’ve ever been threatened with legal action from theDisney corporation in regards to Mickey Rat, and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a word from them.
So did you coin the phrase “Couch Potato”?
I had a hand in coining the phrase Couch Potato. My old friend Tom Lacino was thefirst to combine these two words to describe an old roommate of mine back in the early ‘70s during a casual phone conversation. I immediately thought it was funny and profound and seized the opportunity to create an organization of my small circle or friends using the name. I designed buttons and T-shirts for this select group. Years later I opened the membership to the public by placing an ad in the back of one of my Mickey Rat comic books. This garnered a huge amount of attention and soon I was publishinga Couch Potato newsletter, theTuber’sVoice. At this same time I also secured a federaltrademark for the term. So, I like to say that I was the one who initially popularized the term which goes along with coining it.
We understand that you are also quite musically inclined and have created movie scores for feature films and recording artists.What was that like?
Besides woking as a cartoonist, illustrator and painter I’ve also been weekend musicianplaying in various groups since I was a teenager. I play a variety of acoustic fretted string instruments plus the accordion. I still perform with the Cheap Suit Serenaders and tour with Sourdough Slim. I also play the musical saw which I learned to play while I was in Denmark in the 1960s. I’ve written and performed on some musical scores for someanimated films my friends created back in the ‘70s. My best known effort was playing solo musical saw for the opening and closing theme music for the Milos Forman film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1974. The score was written by Jack Nietsche who Iworked with on the recording.This was a big thrill for me because I had read the book by Ken Kesey a few years before and loved it, so having a hand in recording the theme music was an honor.
How did your childhood influence your decision to pursue illustration?
I excelled at drawing when I was a youngster and somehow knew even when I was inelementary school that I would one day become some sort of artist even though the adults in my life tried to dissuade me with warnings to not become a starving artist. I also pursued a life of playing music at an early age, so I took a double vow of poverty, but I’ve never regretted it.
What changes in the illustration industry have you seen in the last 10-15 years? What are some recent trends?
I should confess that I am a technophobe and an anachronist and don’t keep up with current technologies. I still make art the old fashion way without the aid of a computer. This has put me at a disadvantage in keeping up with the changes and trends in publishing and illustration, but more than that I’ve seen a steady decline in the amount of hand done illustration work offered in most publications and also online.Take a look at any magazine published before the 1960s and you’ll find wonderful illustration work and hand lettering to accompany articles and advertising on practically every page. Obviously those days are long gone and today I see the role of illustration shrinking.
Can you describe your creative process?
My creative process includes making a number of thumbnail sketches with pencil. I thenrefine what I deem worthy in my rough ideas and work them into a detailed workingdrawing which later becomes a finished drawing or painting. I often use a copy machineto help me edit my composition and scale up my work to a larger size.
Do you have a favorite medium?
I used to do most of my work in pen and ink and then add color using watercolor and gouache. Now, I prefer to go directly to paint and not depend on a black line.Typically I under paint with acrylic and finish with oil on either canvas or board. However, I still getout the pen and ink for smaller jobs.
What are the three most important qualities an illustrator must have in order to succeed? What would you tell young illustrators trying to break into the business?
The three most important qualities an illustrator must have should include:
1) Self discipline:You gotta keep yourself motivated and get the work done on time.
2) A willingness to evolve: It’s important to try new approaches to develop your style andskills while taking inspiration from great illustrators and artists from the past.
3) Being adaptable: Although I don’t personally follow this advise, it’s important to keepup with new trends, approaches and technologies with an ever changing market.
What are three words that describe your work?
Three words that might come up to describe my work might include: cartoony, playful,and anachronistic.