Cartoons on Pause…


By Shawn Robare

Though I spend most of my time here at Branded writing about all the vintage cartoons, merchandise and toys from the 80s, I’m not blind to the huge resurgence in popularity all these brands are experiencing these days.  There are a ton of great visionaries and artists that are breathing new life into the characters that I love with all sorts of cool new toys, stickers, art prints and even lunch boxes.  I love seeing how the kids who grew up loving this stuff, process it and repurpose it as adults.  Whether that comes in the form of new homage stories and brands, like my bud’s Jerzy Drozd and Mark Rudolph’s bitchin’ Switch Runners comic or 8-Bit Zombie’s rad line of clothing, stickers, toys and lunchboxes.

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Though I might grumble at times at the plethora of remake movies, or get a little cranky that the big companies can’t seem to figure out how to not piss off the fans that support them (*cough*MattyCollector*Cough*Hasbro*Cough*), I just have to keep reminding myself that there is some really kickass stuff being made by some awesome independent artists.  One of those artists just so happens to collaborate a lot with the 8-Bit Zombie brand, and in particular I fell in love with his work on the amazing lunchboxes pictured above.  Matthew Skiff has a style that is as much his own as it is a callback to all the 80s era cartoons and toy lines we all grew up with.  His immaculately clean line style belies a very expressive range of emotion and energy that equal parts exciting and frozen in time.  Sometimes I find it difficult to express my thoughts when it comes to art, but what I’m trying to get at is that his work is so clean and exact that his illustrations would look perfect on product packaging, yet at the same time there is a story going on in those lines that makes me feel as if his drawings are alive, as if they were animation that was paused and would spring back to life if you just pressed the play button on a remote.  Cartoons on pause.

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This leads me to the gist of this piece which is highlighting Skiff’s new one-man gallery show that opened recently at Gallery 1988 called “Best Friends”.  Skiff created a very rad illustration a few years ago that posed the question, what would it look like if He-Man and Skeletor were actually best friends.  That piece served as the basis for a whole series of new illustrations where Matthew took inspiration from a bunch of other 80s & 90s era cartoons.  I can’t even begin to get across just how much I love this theme and all of the awesome new pieces he created for this show.  In addition to Masters of the Universe, Skiff also dipped into the worlds of the Real Ghostbusters, DuckTales, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Gargoyles, Jem and the Holograms, the Toxic Avenger, Skeleton Warriors, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Here’s a handful of his new pieces…

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Probably my two favorite pieces in this collection are the above Sunbow cartoon character portraits featuring Jem & Pizzazz and Duke and Cobra Commander (featuring the fun variation of CC masks.) Part of this is because I love that company and those cartoons pretty much above all other 80s era cartoons, but there are also a lot of fun details in these.  Whether it’s Rio on the cover of the Tiger Beat magainze that Jerrica is holding or the very playful Cobra Cola and Joerittos chips in the Joe-themed illustrations.  Again, these drawings are so on-model that they could easily be used in officially promoting the brands, but they are also unmistakably Skiffs style.

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All of these and more are available as beautiful signed and number screen-prints on the Gallery 1988 website.  I’ll be honest, it’s going to be hard, like Sophie’s Choice hard, for me to pick just one of these for my office (I wish I could afford the wall-space for all of them, as well as had the bucks to snag them all.)  Head on over to the G-88 print shop and gallery and check out the rest of the pieces, and then if you get a second seek Matthew out, either at his site or on twitter.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

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