Gangster Doodles: ‘My brain is like a revolving door of different images and sounds’

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efore the internet use became what it is today, people didn’t have the luxury of scrolling down a page for visual stimulation. Before the 1940s, people went out to local bars and restaurants. If that wasn’t your shtick, places of worship doubled as a congressional town hall meeting for everyday people. And when you went to work, it was to work.

Fortunately, for people born in the 1980s and beyond, our options of cancelling boredom are plenty. The birth of pop stars as we know it is due to the inception of the television and its programming. Newspapers have its purpose, even today, but there’s nothing comparable to movement. You can read about a topic, but a visual can validate, or bring credibility, to a written story.

Without a doubt, pop culture influenced Gangster Doodles in the way that it has shaped us all. In the past (for nine years), Marlon ‘Gangster Doodles’ Sassy worked a regular job as an Office Manager for an undisclosed television production company, but we would not have known him as such if boredom didn’t strike. The saying goes: Idle time is the devil’s time, but I’d like to look at it as a window of opportunity to allow your mind to be free. What happens afterwards is more about the (weak or strong) discipline of the individual.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the famed illustrator about his transition, process, and musical interests. Because he loves his fans and people, he also included advice for anyone who is looking to follow and fulfil a dream.

Sassy’s latest book, ‘Gangster Doodles,’ is out now. It is a 300-page book of illustrations on the iconic sticky-note yellow that we’ve all grown to appreciate and love. Last month (July 21), Gangster Doodles had a book signing and exhibition in Tokyo, Japan at Marc Jacobs’ bookstore: Bookmarc. Anything can happen if you put your mind and passion to it. Shia LeBouf wrote the intro, and Jeff Jank wrote the foreword of the book.

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You’ve managed to remain consistent over the years: For the most part, the same hues, and drawing style. What does it take to do such a thing? Would you consider yourself a disciplined individual?

It’s been a long process to get to the point I’m at now with my style. The first year of drawing doodles was just trying to figure out and define the style I wanted to use, moving forward. I have hundreds of rejected doodles just sitting around. If you look at the trashed post-its, you can see the evolution of my style moving forward. I think I’m disciplined. For more than three years, I’ve drawn something every day. My goal is to spend at least three to four hours a day creating—regardless if I post on social media. Just the act of being creative and drawing helps keep the mind focused and sharp.

How do you know when it is time to illustrate your subjects?

Everything I draw comes from a place of interest. Whether it is musicians, actors, or pop culture references. My brain is like a revolving door of different images and sounds. Over the years, I’ve created a giant folder of references. Each day, I open it up and see what I want to draw. Other times, I listen to a new album or watch a dope movie to get inspired to draw.

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I’ve been following your work on Tumblr for a while now. I’m a huge fan, so it is a pleasure to interview you. How long have you been at it? Are you an art school graduate?

First off, thank you for following my Tumblr. That’s where it all started for me. It was a little bit over three years when I first started posting different images via my Tumblr page. I’ve been creating art, actively, for ten years—in different forms and styles. In a way, you could say I went to art school. After graduating high school, I moved from a small town to a large city to attend film school: Two years of just fucking around doing drugs and making cool shit.

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Were your doodles all made on the clock as a production assistant? If they were, it must be pretty impressive (and unimaginable) for Shia LaBeouf to write the intro for your book. How does it make you feel?

I was the Office Manager at a TV production company for nine years. I didn’t start drawing doodles until the eight-year mark. My doodles were anything but polished. They were crudely illustrated. Maybe 5-10 minutes per drawing. I had to look over my shoulder while I drew so I didn’t get busted. It wasn’t until I quit my job and started drawing full time that my style developed and progressed. Shia is a super cool guy. [I am] honoured he found the time to write the intro for the book.

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Recently, you had a book signing/exhibition at Marc Jacobs Bookstore ‘BookMarc’ in Tokyo, Japan.

The book signing/exhibition in Tokyo was incredible. It blew every expectation I had out of the water.

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I’m lucky to have worked with or have met some of the people you’ve doodled. Do you have any personal favourites? On average, about how long does it take you to make a simple doodle?

My favourite doodle I’ve created so far is probably the David Choe piece I posted a few days ago. I flew from Vancouver to Los Angeles to attend ‘The Choe Show’ over two weeks ago. After three hours of immersing myself in the show, I came out a better person. I was inspired and motivated to create even more work. On average, a new piece takes between four to six hours—from conception to posting online.

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I imagine that you like and listen to instrumental music a lot or music laced with abstract arrangements. Who are you listening to nowadays?

I listen to a lot of Jazz music: Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Thelonius Monk, Sun-Ra etc. I also listen to tons of contemporary stuff. At the moment Kendrick, Vince Staples, Knxwledge, Jonwayne & Tyler’s new album are all on constant repeat.

In the future, I can see more custom Gangster Doodle items like action figures or toys, more wrapping papers, and other merchandise. Also, you’ve worked with Stones Throw art director Jeff Jank for your book. It shows. I am a huge fan of the label. What are some of the key things you’ve learned from allowing Jank to direct you?

Working with Jeff Jank has been a dream. The man is a legend. He constantly inspires me with everything he does. It all seems effortless for him. One of the biggest takeaways from working with him is to keep it simple. Let things happen organically. But yeah Stones Throw is my favourite label by far, everything they put out is quality.

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People have tattooed your work onto stheir bodies. Is that normal to you yet?

Seeing people get my pictures tattooed will never be normal. Always surreal. People send images to me, and I just ask ‘Why?’ 150% honoured every time, though. That’s the ultimate sign of a fan.

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What advice can you share with anyone looking to follow their dreams?

Set goals for yourself and then, put in the hours to accomplish them. Plus, don’t be afraid to switch up your idea, or style, if something isn’t working out. For me, drawing doodles was an accident. It happened. I ran with it.


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