Thursday, December 20, 2012

An interview with a graffiti artist

If you're like me, then you probably have noticed the cartoon cat graffiti that has been popping up all over town this fall. I've been pretty intrigued by it. Most of the cartoons have been pretty small and could could go unnoticed to the unobservant. I also like the way cartooning on 3D surfaces allows the artist to escape from the tyranny of the panel and the page. See, for example, the cartoon on the Church St. Structure.

It turns out that the artist behind the cartoon cat graffiti is an acquaintance of an acquaintance. So through an elaborate series of clandestine letter drops we arranged a meeting. During our conversation, we covered a wide range of topics from the ethics of graffiti (trying not to be too much of a dick.), the differences between cats and dogs in comics and gender stereotypes as they relate to cat ownership. I'm intentionally leaving out many personal details about the artist to protect their identity.

BCB: So, who are some your biggest influences?

[REDACTED]: I really like Bill Waterson and the guy that does Bone [ED: Jeff Smith] I can't remember his name right now, but I really like how much he's able to do with so such simple characters. I also like Krazy Kat. In terms of street artist though, I'd have to say Space Invader. I like that he was able to get his name out there just by putting up something simple over and over.

BCB: How did you get started drawing your cartoon cat graffiti?

I make cartoons and comic books. I love cartoons but I hate the constraints of comic books and newspapers. I started drawing the cat to play around with the use of space. I try to make [the street comics] interact with the area where I draw them. I'm really happy with the way the one by Angelo's turned out. [ED: the cartoon by Angelo's features the cat, who is hungry, running to eat some pancakes.]

BCB: Sorry I have to ask this, but people want to know if you're a cat person.

[REDACTED]: I hate that. I feel like women are always running the risk of being labeled a cat lady. You can be crotchety old man and own a cat and you're just a grumpy old guy with a cat. But if you are an old lady and happen to own a cat, then you're automatically a cat lady. I like to say I'm both a cat and dog person, but nobody believes you when you say that.

BCB: Well, do you own a cat?

[REDACTED]:I have owned a cat and I have owned a dog... I'm worried that I'm going to be labeled a cat lady when you publish this.

BCB: I'll make sure I don't call you "the cartoon cat lady" when I write this up. I'll tell people you're not a cat lady. OK?


BCB: Why did you decide to draw a cartoon cat?

[REDACTED]: Cats are really expressive. There are a lot of comics about cats: Garfield, Heathcliff, Hobbes, Tom...

BCB: ...Scratchy from the Simpsons.

[REDACTED]: Yeah. The list goes on. For dogs you have Snoopy and Marmaduke.

BCB: Why are there so many more cat cartoons than dog cartoons?

[REDACTED]: Cats are more expressive. If you leave a cat in a room, you can imagine it doing something. That's basically what Jim Davis did with Garfield. He just left the cat alone and imagined what it was doing. Dogs are more dependent on others. Even Snoopy needed his Sopwith Camel and the Red Barron to have an adventure. Also cats' tails are much more expressive. Dogs tails are just up or down.

BCB: How do you decide where to put your graffiti up? I've noticed that a lot of you work hasn't been as destructive as some of the taggers in town for example. Is that intentional?

[REDACTED]: I think that graffiti is a form of art that doesn't need to be completely destructive to be effective. So I tag some things with paint, but I try not to be obnoxious about it. If I'm not using actual paint I'm using window paint or sharpies. I don't tag the front of local businesses. I've tagged some bathrooms, but only where there is already lots of graffiti.

BCB: I really like your use of bricks as panels.

[REDACTED]: Yeah. I'm really happy how that's turned out. It's great cause the city is filled with all these little panels. I've also done some bigger things with glass paint on windows. But those usually get taken down pretty quickly. I did one on the walkway over Glenn during the last home game that said "Go Blue." and I think they left it up for a while because people liked it.

BCB: Do you worry about getting caught?

[REDACTED]: Yeah. I try to be careful. But I worry.

BCB: Do you think people will see your other comics and be able to ID you based on the style of the artwork?

[REDACTED]: Not really. Only like a thimblefull of people have seen my comics, so I don't really worry about that. I think that if someone saw my sketchbook they might get suspicious. But I don't think a cop is going to come over here and just look at it.

BCB: Can we look forward to more of your artwork in the future?

[REDACTED]: Yes. I wont say where or when, but I've got some big plans.

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