Here is a story about a creative director who wouldn't compromise on his design aesthetic. When it came time to design the tattoo that now covers his left arm Jason DeMarco, the vice president and creative director for Adult Swim, knew exactly what he wanted it to look like but he had no idea how to turn that into a reality.
“For years I had been thinking about a back piece or a sleeve and I had different things in mind,” DeMarco said. “I’ve always been a big fan of this particular artist from Mad, Sergio Aragones, he drew all of the little doodles in the margins of Mad, he’s that guy. He has this hyper-detailed, really doodley style and I just thought it would be so cool if there was a way to get a bunch of Sergio Aragones drawings and turn them into a collage and fill my arm with these little doodles.”
Despite his best efforts going through collections of Aragones’ work and trying to build them into a sleeve DeMarco was unable to find a way to make it work as a tattoo. Before completely abandoning the idea DeMarco turned to a friend of his, the vice president of creative design for Adult Swim Jacob Escobedo, to help him out.
“I talked to Jacob and told him what I was looking for and oddly enough he has a drawing style that is very similar to Aragones’,” DeMarco said. “It is very doodley and very detailed. He likes to draw little, intricate creatures and big landscapes with tons and tons of things. Jacob drew these two amazing drawings and I took them around to various tattoo shops.”
It is here that DeMarco hit a second bump in the road; none of the tattoo artists he spoke with would touch the work. They all said that the line work was too fine and that it would be near impossible to do without the tattoo looking horrible after a couple of years. After being sent on his way from a slew of tattoo shops DeMarco turned to his friend Shane Morton. Morton was one of the founders of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse and is known around Atlanta for doing movie makeup, tattoos and many other artistic projects.
“Morton does tattoos out of his home which just so happens to be three doors down from my house,” DeMarco said. “I showed the drawings to him and he said, ‘First off all you have a giant rectangle here while your arm is a cone, not a rectangle. What I’m going to have to do is take this and blow it up by 20% before I break it up and retrace this stuff. Then I’m going to have to put it back together in a way where we can begin putting it on your body.’”
The sleeve was a huge project to undertake but Morton felt up to the task. For three months DeMarco went over to Morton’s house to undergo three hour long tattoo sessions; after all of that work the sleeve that DeMarco had been seeing in his head was now inked onto his arm.
“People often say they have a one-of-a-kind piece of art on their body but I feel like I really do,” DeMarco said. “I never could have gotten something so amazing without two amazing artists putting in a lot of hard work into it. If either of them had fallen down on the job my tattoo could look really crappy but I was lucky to find two people who wanted to make it special. Even now when I go out I get comments on it all of the time.”
When selecting programs to air on the action-cartoon block Toonami DeMarco has to go through a process similar to the one it took to create his ink, he has to find artists who have perfected the ability to turn the fantastic into reality. As Toonami slides down to a new time slot on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. DeMarco has tapped Space Dandy, the new program from the director behind Cowboy Bepop, to be the centerpiece of the block.
“Space Dandy is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe who did Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, yeah, he’s a genius,” DeMarco said. “The show is being done by Studio Bones who have done Full Metal Alchemist and Soul Eater, which were very successful for us, among countless other shows. It’s about as strong as a team that you can have in the industry today.”
Details about the show are scarce right now, even DeMarco has only seen the first couple of episodes, but it appears as if Watanabe has created another noteworthy action-comedy.
“Space Dandy fits in really well with Adult Swim because it has some really weird ideas and weird aliens along with a very surrealistic look and feel to it,” DeMarco said. “I love it. It kind of reminds me of the kind of things I would have imagined as a kid after watching Star Wars and the bounty hunter cantina scene. I would do drawings and imagine a whole world of crazy, colorful aliens like that and this is basically that dream come to life. Hopefully people will connect with it, we’re all really excited about it.”
For 11 years Toonami was a fixture of late nights on Cartoon Network but its run came to an end when it was cancelled in 2009. In 2012 Adult Swim decided that as part of their yearly April Fool’s Day prank — the network famously introduced cult classic The Room to millions of confused viewers one year — that they would air a block of Toonami.
“It turned out that the fan response was massive,” DeMarco said. “It was so huge that after the stunt happened the network decided that maybe there was still passion out there for Toonami so they asked us if we would be able to bring it back in a limited capacity. We do Toonami in our spare time from our other jobs; it’s definitely a passion project. It took time to slowly get it to where it was but we’re pretty much full strength at this point.”
The passion for Toonami is likely driven by the one universal element that ties together all of the block’s programs – action.
“Internally our metric for what is right for Toonami is that there has to be action,” DeMarco said. “Before Toonami Adult Swim would show anime of all different kinds including lots of comedy cartoons and weird stuff like Paranoid Agent. Toonami has always been an action block but within the genre of action there’s a lot of room for different things. Action is the number one thing, if that fits it’ll work. We can have an action-comedy, we can have an action-drama, and we can have a really weird surrealistic show that has action. It feels broad even tough there is a focus on shows that move along at a good clip with a decent amount of action.”
In his many years working with Cartoon Network and Adult Swim DeMarco has put his heart and soul into his job but he is still hesitant to get a tattoo related to his profession.
“I feel like the second you (get a tattoo like that) it’s like putting your girlfriend’s name on you, you’re asking for trouble,” DeMarco said. “The second I put Master Shake on my body I’m going to lose my job. It feels like karma. I mean, I love T.O.M. (the animated host of Toonami) I made T.O.M. and he’ll always be close to my heart for sure. I just have that voice in the back of my head that says ‘Come on.’”
In addition to his sleeve DeMarco has a couple of other tattoos; some of them have meanings to him and some aren’t great but are accompanied by funny stories. While his tattoo of his daughter’s name holds a sentimental place for DeMarco his tattoo of the Ween logo brings up some different feelings.
“I was in college and I didn’t get the tattoo because I loved Ween but instead because a friend of mine was going to get a tattoo in Florida and he didn’t want to go alone,” DeMarco said with a laugh. “We were in Savannah, Georgia and he told me that if I went with he would pay for me to get a tattoo, he was basically dragging me along. I’m ashamed to say it but I took him up on the offer and the only thing I could think of on such short notices was Boognish on the cover of the God Ween Satan album. The downside is that whenever I run into a Ween fan they are like, ‘Yeah man! Crazy!’ They think I got it because I’m a huge Ween fan, which is a reasonable assumption, but I always have to tell them, ‘No, I just got it because I’m stupid.’”
While some of his early tattoos may have provided some amusing stories DeMarco definitely wants to recreate the experience he had with his sleeve when he gets inked in the future.
“I like tattoos that mean something to people but I also like tattoos that are just beautiful artwork,” DeMarco said. “Sometimes a tattoo does mean something, like when I got my daughter’s name, but a lot of the time it’s just beautiful artwork and that’s just as valid. As I’ve gotten older I’ve fallen more into the beautiful artwork camp. Whatever I do next is going to be something similar to my sleeve. Not necessarily in the way that the sleeve looks but more in the genesis of how that tattoo came about where basically it became a one-of-a-kind piece of art. If you’re going to put it on your body for the rest of your life it should be special.”