NKED: Where were you born?
CARTOON: I was born in downtown L.A., but I grew up in the harbor area down by the docks. I'm grateful because not many people who grow up there get into this business. If you grow up in San Pedro, the two biggest things you can be are a dope dealer or a longshoreman.
What were you like as a teenager?
I was trying to find out where I fit in. I knew I was an artist, but I wanted to roll with the in-crowd. The artist part of me made me a leader and creative. The other part of me wanted to fit in and wanted to hang around with the knuckleheads and tough guys. It brought me a lot of madness in my life. As I got older, I started to realize that seeing my friends go to prison and get murdered wasn't my future. A lot of those guys were harder than me, and they were getting killed or serving long sentences. I had my artwork to fall back on, and my friends didn't. And you can't just say, Time out—I don't want to play no more. Let's forget that beef.
How did you turn it around?
I came to the decision that I loved lowrider cars and I wanted to be around that scene. It was a similar scene, since most of those guys are retired gang members. When I was at car shows, I was around all those tattoos. Black and gray clowns, Old English writing on the neck, rockers on the stomach. This was in the '80s, and everyone I knew was sleeved out. Southern California has always been like that. Nobody had color tattoos.