Munk One: The So What! Interview
Contemporary illustrator, fine artist, political cartoonist, and owner of Invisible Industries, Munk One is an artistic force of nature. Steffan Chirazi learns how that came to be.
Everyone loves a story of graft, grit, determination, and drive propelling deep talent to a successful place. It is fair to say that the Southern California-based Munk One embodies every element of that very tale. His is one of paying both dues and attention to every experience and element in which he engages, and of showing the courage of his convictions to push ahead and ask for opportunities to grow and expand. “Humble,” “hard-working,” and “gifted” are adjectives which spring to mind, and in talking with Munk One, you find someone who is absolutely connected with the common person. Not only does he show this in conversation, I checked out his webstore, Invisible Industries, to find a wide range of items priced very fairly; he puts his money where his spirit is, if you know what I mean. If that wasn’t enough, let’s also throw in that Munk One was the official editorial illustrator for Juxtapoz Magazine, and that he has racked up an impressive amount of gallery shows over the years. And from posters for Pearl Jam, Metallica, 311, and The Pixies, to collaborations with cool counterculture clothing labels such as Upper Playground, whether you know it or not, you’ve definitely seen Munk One’s work. Let’s get to know the man a little better, shall we?
THE EARLIEST MENTOR
“My dad was the one who taught me the basics, like shading and drawing. He had been into drawing a little bit when he was in high school, but once he left high school, he went to the Marines. It was more just a hobby, but he enjoyed teaching me. We weren’t really going to any museums or anything like that when I was little. He showed me some books by Frank Frazetta and that type of artwork. The only thing [of his] that I ever saw was in a high school pamphlet of creative type work, and I remember seeing like one of his drawings in there, just a human figure, but it was ‘pointillized.’ It was all little dots. I was very lucky to always have support from my parents, and it is something I am eternally grateful for because it is not always the case that people have such support and interest at home.”
“What really got my attention [in High School] was graffiti. Around that time there were graffiti crews, everyone was in a graffiti crew, and at my school, there were magazines and stickers circulating. A few stickers really stood out to me as being really cool, and they were just straight out graffiti characters, graffiti writing, that sort of thing. And that’s all I knew about art at the time really, outside of that one Frank Frazetta book. My dad is from Northern Mexico, and my mom was born in Southern Mexico – the Yucatán Peninsula – and these graffiti characters were just different in the way that they were being presented. It was almost like you were taking cartoons and mixing them in with the graffiti, as well as that graffiti style being mixed in more with Mexican culture on this side of the West Coast.”
SURVIVING A TYPICAL FECKLESS TEENAGE YOUTH
“From 12 to 16, I was just messing around. I didn’t have any direction, really. I think people wanted to give me direction, but I wasn’t listening at that time. I did drawings that would get me into trouble, and it wasn’t something that I knew what to do with outside getting the attention of my friends and peers. I think my family saw what I could do, so they really encouraged it. When I was younger, a family member would take me to their work, which was a place called the T-Shirt Clinic in the San Gabriel Valley, where they did iron-on t-shirts. They had the artwork you could choose all over the walls, and I’d walk around looking at it all. Some of them were illustrations, some of them were straight up photos, and looking back, at the time that was my gallery.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF MISS TAYLOR
“In High School, I had a teacher that saw what I could do, saw me really doing nothing with it, saw me just getting in trouble, and so she took an interest in my work. This was Miss Taylor. She was a great art teacher who took an interest in my work and had me create a portfolio. She knew I didn’t carry any backpacks, folders, or anything because I was just messing around, so she said, ‘I’ll hold your portfolio in class. You just keep adding to it.’ That was really cool for me because I got to see my work build, get better, and have something to show later on. A lot of times, as a kid, you throw it away and never have anything to show somebody who might hire you. It was also cool to see her put up my artwork. Where I thought it was just a crap drawing, she actually put it up and everyone could see it. I was, like, okay, I guess I could do something with this. So thank you, Miss. Taylor, for sure. She passed away unfortunately but yeah, it all stems from that portfolio, because I made sure that I kept on improving that. I kept on showing that to potential clients, and eventually that became digital, which became my website, which became my online portfolio.”
GIANT STEPS TO BECOMING A CAREER ARTIST
“My uncle took me to his work. He showed me the artists at a clothing company, Giant, that was owned by Warner Brothers and they did a lot of band merchandise. Back then it was Metallica, it was all sorts of different bands and things like that. I saw that work and I thought that was the coolest job you could get. Before that I was thinking maybe comic books, maybe illustrating magazines, but when I saw t-shirts with Pushead designs and that kind of material, I wanted to do that.“I managed to get a job there and was in the separations department. I was surrounded by artwork there, but I was just making sure everything printed correctly. And I just got hungry, because every day I would see these artists creating amazing work in the art department, sending it over to the separations, and you see it getting ready to print, everyone’s excited. So I badly wanted to get into the art department.
“Music’s always been a big part of my life. At that age I think it was Slipknot, Tool, I think I really liked the Limp Bizkit before they blew up, Korn, Deftones, all those. And the company was putting out that kind of work. It was also a transition at that time from a lot of the work being done by hand to it becoming more digital. I would show the art directors my artwork, I took some college classes at Pasadena City College, and I just kept improving my portfolio. I’d ask questions of the separators and the different artists there as far as what was needed to get into this kinda job? What did I need to do? I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I was friends with someone who showed art to the different bands, and they grabbed one of my sketchbooks. They had seen me draw a Limp Bizkit thing, and it went to a t-shirt. That was one step closer to actually being an artist there. But it took a long time. They would give me little projects, like inking. They also did Warner Brothers, so they had Looney Tunes cartoons, they also had Disney stuff, they had DC, and so I didn’t really get to work on band stuff for a long time. I was drawing cartoons, black lining little characters, and I kept on asking before eventually I went to the art director. His name was Louie Chavez, and he said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you on.’”
APPROACHING THE WORK
“Usually I’ll start out with a really rough sketch, pencil on 8½ by 11 paper. I usually have a little sketch pad, I’ll start off there, do a few different concepts and see which one I like. I have to really like it because I’m not going to waste time fleshing it out 100%. They’re mostly really, really rough sketches. I also want to make sure that the client likes it as well before I move forward, so I’ll usually do that, scan that in, send it over and see just what the vibe is. If it’s approved, then I’ll blow it up and start inking it to a little bit smaller than to size. It doesn’t need to be exactly 18” by 24”, but around there. I ink that by hand, using pretty thick paper and a light table, just inking everything with pens, sometimes brushes with uneven edges, which is more expressionist, loose, and has a human feel to it. I think for me, personally, it’s important to have that human touch to it. I’ve had access to computers for such a long time, and it’s not until recently where they’re actually looking more natural. For a long time it just looked way too digital for me. I would say that that’s why I stayed with the hand drawing for such a long time, but now it’s just a preference, I enjoy having something on paper to look at afterwards. After that, I scan the hand drawing in and color it within Photoshop.”
THESE DAYS, MUNK’S MOM IS ALSO AN ARTIST
“My mom’s a police dispatcher, she’s been a police dispatcher for many years now. After my daughter was born, so I guess mid-2000, she just started drawing. And she wanted to create art on the side, something that was creative, fun, and a hobby. It’s still a hobby but man, she’s gotten good. She’s really, really good now. She does a lot of people, portraits, that sort of thing, and she’s taking classes now. I grew up this whole time thinking my dad’s the one that taught me some things, and then all of a sudden, my mom is just amazing. She has her own Instagram, we made a little website for her, she also likes making pieces for Etsy and all that kind of thing. My dad’s never gotten back into it, he’s just continued to be supportive, especially for my mom. Whatever she needs, whether it’s a new iPad or more paints or whatever, she’s got it.”
WHAT IS THIS LATEST METALLICA POSTER ABOUT? YOUR CALL!
“I’ve really enjoyed the latest album, and so it is influenced by ‘Halo on Fire.’ It’s an interpretation of that one song, but at the same time it is just creating a cool piece of art, and anyone can see what they want to see. A lot of times people ask me what something means, or to explain it to them, and I really don’t. I stay away from that because I like hearing what other people’s interpretations are.”
Munk One expresses himself in many ways, whether it be through apparel, fine art, or posters, yet he will always have a soft spot for prints such as the one you will doubtless order this week.
“It’s collectible, it involves music, and it involves people – the collectors. There’s really a lot of enthusiasm, and with certain bands, the fans are insane as far as how much they care about these prints…”
He smiles warmly.
“…it’s really cool to be part of that.”