Mister Cartoon’s Sanctiond Garage
WE’RE IN A NEW CULTURAL MOVEMENT IN WHICH IF YOU WANT TO THRIVE you’ve got to be a polymath—a Renaissance man, proficient in a number of areas. Mister Cartoon is street culture’s best multihyphenate: a tattooer-graffiti-artist-marketer-designer-car-products-maker. And the latest hyphen, from the Sanctiond line of car products, comes from his very first love.
“I was into cars before tattoos,” Cartoon says. “When I was a kid I used to go to car shows with my old man and got hooked.” But for a little guy of limited means, he felt cheated because his hobby was an expensive one. “My father told me that I just needed to become necessary,” Cartoon says. “I saw this old guy at a car show airbrushing a T-shirt and I thought that I could take that old guy out. It took me a couple of years to get good, but when I was 16 to 20 years old I was airbrushing people’s cars on T-shirts to make money. I also bartered to combat the expensiveness of cars. I would paint a mural in someone’s shop for audio equipment or airbrush someone’s trunk for a paint job on my car.”
He took the system of art for goods—and the goal of making himself “necessary”—to the tattoo shop when he got into ink. “I would go to Spotlight Tattoo and trade drawing patterns and flash for tattoos,” Cartoon says. “I could draw a dragon or some other shit quicker than the tattoo artists, and they needed new flash.” Then when he started tattooing, he turned the money he made into auto parts. “Some people may want to spend their money at Cracker Barrel, but I tattoo to get cars.”
When he got serious about making his own products to take out Turtle Wax, Cartoon thought of the design first. “Sanctiond has been on my mind for a lifetime, but I had a moment of clarity two years ago when I started drawing bottles— that’s when [starting the company] became a necessity,” he says. At the same time he was working on perfecting the packaging, he and his Sanctiond team were in the laboratory testing out different concoctions that would become part of the line (Cartoon’s favorite is the Brite-White wall-tire scrub). “The bottle speaks to the youth, and by that I mean anyone who listens to rap or rock music and has a tattoo and style,” he says. “It’s sort of the FUBU of street car care.”
Image is something that Cartoon has figured out. As one of the most well-respected tattoo artists and letterers, he’s the face of a culture corporate America wants a part of. Companies such as Nike, Toyota, and Jägermeister have all tapped him to make their products cooler. While some other artists might have just taken this type of work as it came in, Cartoon opened up SA Studios, a marketing and branding juggernaut FIBI (for influencers, by influencers, if you will) in a warehouse next to—but separate from—his shop, Skid Row Tattoo. Now there’s a third building that houses his automotive products agency. “When many successful people look out their windows, they can see the ocean,” Cartoon says. “All I see is a sea of cars—and I love it.”
To keep up his pricey vice he’s been conscious of blowing up without burning out. “We get phone calls every day to work with this product or that product, but we only take on what we think is good for our people,” Cartoon says. “I need to stay hard-core. I want to be locally respected but internationally known.” He thinks Sanctiond will be the project that transcends tattoo culture and makes it into your grandfather’s garage. One approach he hints at is treating car care like fashion. “Some car-care bottles stay the same for 20 years,” he says. “But what I’ve learned from the fashion industry is that you have to change up your style every year to stay relevant, to stay fresh.” He hopes products will jump off the shelves in more ways than one so he’ll be able to continue collecting cars—because he’s done collecting car tattoos. “I have a bunch of cars tattooed on me, but tattoos really hurt!” Cartoon says semi-seriously. “I have my ’58 and ’59 Chevys on me. And I have my Lifestyle Car Club plaque too. Next to your kids’ names the most important tattoo you can get is your plaque.”
For Cartoon, wrenching and tattooing are similar processes. “The painstakingly detailed buildup on a black-and-gray portrait feels like working on a car,” he says. “But a tattoo takes hours, whereas a car takes a year and looks like shit until it is absolutely completed. I think that in the end, though, in order to make the car look good you need to have good tattoos when you drive it. Tattoos are part of your car’s bodywork. When I’m just walking down the boulevard but have my sleeves out, I still feel like I’m low-riding.”