If you’ve been to any of California’s largest and most well known music gatherings (think FYF, Coachella, almost any Goldenvoice event in the last few years), you’ve undoubtedly seen Luke McGarry’s art. He’s all over billboards in Los Angeles, newspapers in Orange County and has an impressive list of pop culture mashups incredibly suitable for framing or posting on just about any social media platform. Beyond simple design and parody work though, his clients include Visa, Vans, The NHL, Universal, Epitaph and the list doesn’t stop there.
We at The MAT Mag chatted with the incredibly well versed artist himself to find out more about his extraordinary career and style.
The MAT Magazine: Tell us about yourself!
Luke McGarry: I’m a cartoonist and illustrator from Manchester, England now based in Los Angeles. I’m also one half of the band Pop Noir, with my twin brother Joe.
TMM: How, when and why did you end up in L.A.?
LM: My parents originally moved us out to California when I was 18 months old then we’d yo-yo back and forth a lot. I finally settled here for high school at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana so i’ve officially been here for 12 years or so now. I had a really odd Mancunian-Californian accent for a while but i’m not exotic anymore. I kept saying i’d move back to the UK, but I’ve finally accepted that the weather’s too nice in Los Angeles.
TMM: You’ve worked with some of our favorite festivals, bands and organizations around. Who have you liked working with the most?
LM: FYF and Festival Supreme are definitely my favorites! They’re both great to work with and i’ve been working with FYF in some form or another since I was in high school. I’ve been doing the posters for Festival Supreme since they started 4 years ago so it’s more like working with old friends. Friends who yell at you about deadlines!
TMM: Which poster are you most proud of?
LM: Without a doubt, it’s the very rare first edition of the Festival Supreme 2013 poster that was basically a giant penis disguised as a roller coaster. Only a handful got printed before we got a cease and desist letter from the City of Santa Monica. I have the latter framed next to my desk.
*this poster was VERY hard to find online*
TMM: How many posters or pieces in total have you done for FYF? What are some of the highlights you’ve got for sale this year at the event?
LM: Too many to count! I was doing posters for their shows while I was in high school and I think I started doing stuff for the actual festival in 2006. It wasn’t just flyers though because I’ve done shirts, hats, beach towels, water bottles and lots more. This year I think there are pins and i’ve designed this stupid sweatshirt of a penguin wearing a hat and carrying a purse that I’m really excited about. Nothing says “Summer in L.A.” like a sweatshirt with a penguin on it!
TMM: Many people know you as the FYF artist. Is that where you got your big break?
LM: I’d say so, yeah. FYF allowed me to establish my reputation in L.A. and across the country to some extent as a “cool” legitimate illustrator and designer. I was lucky because loads of kids do cheap posters for their friends free and local fests, how many of those festivals run for more than 10 years and end up at the Los Angeles Coliseum? Festival Supreme has also been big for me because everybody and their grandma knows who Jack Black is so the exposure and bragging rights are great. I’m able to show off my caricature and cartoon work on the posters and it’s opened up doors for me in the comedy and animation world with actual showbiz people. Haha.
TMM: How would you describe your style?
TMM: Which year of FYF was your favorite?
LM: For me it gets better and better each year. Last year’s last minute addition of Kanye might be hard to beat though, he was brilliant.
TMM: Major artist influences?
LM: I grew up with the complete collections of Asterix and Tintin comics around the house so Albert Uderzo and Hergé are both huge for me, especially Hergé’s use of linge claire which is the same line-width throughout an entire illustration. I also love Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman and Arnold Roth. When I started out, I got a lot of comparisons to R. Crumb, but I think my style is a lot simpler now and very much my own.
TMM: We love all your pop culture posters. One of our favorites was the Seinfeld Sgt. Peppers mashup because you packed so many characters in there! What is your favorite Seinfeld episode and what do you think of Curb Your Enthusiasm?
LM: Of course I love Curb as well, but Seinfeld was basically four Larry Davids hanging out. My favorite Seinfeld episode is #84, The Fire (and I had to look it up, i’m not obsessed). Kramer is describing how he commandeered a bus while fighting off a mugger… it’s gold, Jerry!
TMM: We saw your Sonic Youth/Arthur shirt which we love. What do you think of all the Arthur memes right now? Any favorites?
LM: I didn’t realize Arthur memes were a thing until after I’d printed the shirts. Maybe they were happening and I wasn’t aware or maybe I tapped into the cultural zeitgeist at just the right time, haha. I was really trying to satirize the 90s cartoon character as beloved punk/indie band trend which you see a lot with The Simpsons. I just picked what I imagined was the least cool cartoon from my childhood and now i’ve become everything i’m making fun of! I do really like “Arthur, this isn’t weed” though.
TMM: Who are your dream clients or bands to work with?
LM: I have an Instagram profile, @jcrewlookbook, where I just draw on the latest season’s J. Crew catalogue. One day I’d love for that to be official. It’ll never happen. I’d also quite like to design a label for a beer, or a pair of shoes. Pretty attainable goals probably, but nobody has asked yet. Finally, i’d love to do something for my favorite band, New Order, but my dad designed one of Joy Division’s covers, so that’s close enough!
TMM: Since you deal with a lot of creative licensing, do you have any interesting stories about angry copyright breaches or people who were flattered and things ended well? Do you get many cease and desists because you’re so high profile now?
LM: Other than Santa Monica asking me to cease and desist drawing dicks on their pier, I haven’t really gotten in much trouble yet. My argument is that all of my work is parody, so i’ll keep my fingers crossed that that continues to hold up.
TMM: What advice would you give to artists in the music industry/pop culture scene just starting out?
LM: If you’re going to copy someone’s style, copy a dead guy.
TMM: We see your billboards all over L.A.! What are your favorite locations or the most random spots you’ve seen your work?
LM: A Guy got a tattoo of Jack and Kyle from my Festival Supreme poster so a stranger on the internet’s forearm is the best place i’ve seen my work so far! Other than that, I never see the billboards! Can someone send me a photo!?
TMM: Do you prefer work with organizations or individual bands/projects or do you prefer to focus on your own work mostly? How should people interested in commissioning work contact you?
LM: I just like picking projects that interest me, be it self-generated stuff like the comic i’m working on now, or animations for companies like IFC or VISA, or patches for my friend’s band. I basically enjoy any project as long as the client is polite in their emails. Haha. I can be reached through my website, lukemcgarry.com.
TMM: What’s up next in terms of big festival designs? Solo projects? Exhibits or big conventions?
LM: As I talk to you, i’m actually packing for a flight to Denver to do live drawing on a show at the High Plains Comedy Festival. After that, it’s FYF Fest and Festival Supreme. This October, i’ll be appearing at NY Comic Con, Stan Lee’s Kamikaze here in L.A., and i’m a featured speaker at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in the U.K.. As I said, i’m working on a comic at the moment and i’ve just signed with Universal Uclick (Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield) to launch an online comic strip later this year. There’s a bunch of other stuff that I don’t want to jinx so I won’t mention!
Make sure to check out FYF this weekend and any upcoming Goldenvoice shows to see more of Luke’s work! For more, you can check his website at lukemcgarry.com which has great pieces from his portfolio, posters for sale and links to his hilariously relevant social media.
Words by Phillip Gutgesell, Photos Provided by Luke McGarry and Phillip Gutgesell