So far today, Mark Machado, better known as Mister Cartoon, has dropped off three of his kids at school and customized a Chevrolet Camaro. Later, working until 9 p.m., he'll lay out the pattern for a lucky client who joins top celebs and ballplayers in receiving one of his Escher-like tattoos. "We stretch when other people go home," he says. Right now, though, he welcomes us to a commercial pillbox near the west end of L.A.'s Sixth Street Viaduct, the seat of his creative empire, to talk about his art, culture, and car-care products.
On 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."
On the Mister Softee truck: "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. I did murals on it, but no clear-coating to protect it. Some beat-up rims, no motor. He ended up passing away, and his wife sold it. 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."
On why General Motors dominates 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."
On his new line of car-care products, branded "Sanctiond:" "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."
On those who say this isn't art: "Usually, those same guys, they don't like rock 'n' roll."