The World's Best Artist©: Getting weird with Mitch O'Connell


Can you guess which of the 290 pages of Mitch Connell's jampacked new, puffy-covered-like-cheap-tablecloth art anthology he is most proud of? It is not the vaguely seedy Hanna Barbera art, commissions all for Warner Brothers that were never utilized commercially. It's not the illustrations for porno mags, the public works benches in Chicago, several Newsweek covers, untold numbers of event flyers, or his late-1980s pop art aerial views of reclining women hoisting hot dogs.

It's the crazy shit he drew after he discovered his wife had been chronically cheating on him. You thought the rest of it was wacky!

But hoist a copy of Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist -- you should, it's awesome -- and there's no telling where you'll get lost amid the artist's decades of work. The book is a (puffy-covered) homage to an insane career of drawing and illustration, accomplished by a man (PS, not this guy) who has managed to raise a family on his skills while steadfastly pushing the bounds of good taste. The Chicago-based artist is coming to the Bay Area tonight (Thu/21, Berkeley) and tomorrow (Fri/22, San Francisco) for book tour dates. If you like insane, and talent, and professionally insane talent, you'll most likely be there. 

We email-interviewed him, to talk.

SFBG: You did a few series of drawings for Warner Bros., how on earth did that come about? What was your highest hope for that collaboration?

 Mitch O'Connell: After doing this drawing thing forever, it would be hard NOT to accumulate a long list of clients. If I hadn't, I'd be writing this from my cardboard box estate situated on the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue.

I've done little bits and pieces for Warner Brothers over the years, working with art directors who must have just seen my art here and there, but the "Hanna Barbera" series was the most fun and involving. I think I pushed a few of the paintings into PG-13 territory, but they encouraged me to be irreverent. Which might not have been a good thing. Once they got the finished art and started pondering how it might look on a kid's lunchbox it seems they rethought their initial enthusiasm and put the job on the shelf. Where it's still collecting dust. But I still like 'em!

Your next lunchbox

SFBG: You're favorite and/or most disturbing tattoo you've done?

MO: ALL the tattoos I actually tattooed into peoples flesh were disturbing. Mostly because the clients kept on squirming, screaming, and bleeding. How the hell am I supposed to get any work done with those type of folks?! Actually, now I'm just sticking with simply designing the tattoos, and leaving the actual permanent engraving to the professional tattooists. It was much too nerve-wracking trying to get the art right the first time. As for my best ones, I'm working on my fourth set off flash [ink newbs: "flash" refers to the 11"x14" sheets of sample ink that hang in tattoo parlors] now, and I like how it's turning out the best of all. But I'm biased. Tattoo shops, start clearing some room on the walls!

SFBG: How long did your "covering up the naughty bits" gig for Fox Magazine last?

MO: The Fox mascot will hopefully be on the cover blocking out nipples and vaginas as long as there's a Fox magazine. I did the painting a dozen years ago, it's all up to them where/when/how often it appears. The more the merrier!

SFBG: Besides its puffy cover (please explain that feature) what are you most proud about with this book?

MO: The graphic design work of my pal Joseph Allen Black (yes, that would be He took my rough placement of where I wanted everything and made it look stunning. Think of me as the guy who delivers the 4000-pound block of marble to Michelangelo. As for the puffy glittery cover, a) I loved the look, and b) wanted my book to stand out from the millions of others. At least I'll have a better chance of folks actually picking it up out of curiosity. Then, considering what's inside, the better chance of them putting it back.

I kid! They'll LOVE it!

SFBG: Advice for aspiring freelance illustrators?

MO: Try to be more creative, distinctive, easy to work with, and talented than anyone else. Sadly, you'll never be able to be the best, because I've already copyrighted it.

SFBG: We must know: What does makes you the World's Best Artist?

MO: One reason was that no matter who reviews it, they have to use the title [of the book]. That way if the opinion is "Mitch O'Connell the World's Best Artist sucks!" I can turn that into "'The world's best artist!,' raves the New York Times!"

Also, if you keep on repeating something, at some point folks might start falling for it. Think "weapons of mass destruction," "trickle down economics," and "guaranteed to add inches to your penis!". And I'm STILL waiting for my money back!

Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist book tour

Thu/21, 7-9pm, free

Pegasus Books

2349 Shattuck, Berk.


Fri/22, 7-9pm, free

Mission Comics and Art

3520 20th St., SF