M. (Michael) Wartella is an award-winning illustrator, cartoonist and animator who is based in New York City. While growing up in York, Pennsylvania he fell in love with MAD magazine and the works of Don Martin, Al Jaffee and Will Elder. As he got into his teens he found a copy of R. Crumb’s Head Comix and was introduced to the world of underground comix. He attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where he majored in studio art. While at UVA he created his comic strip Ackxhpaez.
Michael moved to New York after college and used a grant he received from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond to buy a computer and video equipment. In July of 1997 he launched his Ackxhpaez website which featured the cartoon short Dinky Dog “Rolling in the Money”. This animated gif which “was the first online animated feature that was widely-viewable on every web browser without requiring any special "plug-in" for viewing, was referred to by a 1998 New York Times article as "the Steamboat Willie of the internet".
He expanded on his Ackxhpaez comics, and they were syndicated and published in alternative weekly newspapers from 1998-2000. In 2004 Michael’s sequential art was included in DC Comics’ Bizarro World Anthology. He was also a contributor to the "all-new" series of Topps Wacky Packages trading cards from 2005 – 2007 and created similar product parody spoofs for Nickelodeon Magazine.
In 2006 Fantagraphics Books published his short story 'Visions of Rasputin' in the “Hotwire Comic & Capers” anthology. This anthology was nominated for both an Eisner and Harvey Award. His half-page editorial cartoons ‘Runnin’ Scared’, started being published in The Village Voice in 2007 and still appear in special issues. Some of the other magazines Michael has done artwork for include Vice, SPIN, Bazaar, Arthur and Interview.
He has drawn animated segments for MTV’s ‘Wonder Showzen’ and wrote for the first season of Adult Swim’s ‘Superjail!’ Since 2010 his animated cartoons have appeared weekly on Cartoon Network's MAD television series. Visit his Ackxhpaez website here where you can see much more of his work including Dinky Dog, Comix, Magazine artwork and many more videos for MAD.
What is your favorite pen to use?
Pentel Sign Pen (black, blue, purple, red and/or green) for paper, but I use a Wacom Cintiq for drawing digitally.
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I mostly use standard pencils with soft lead and soft white wood. I also have an "all-lead" pencil which I like a lot, it's the shape of a normal pencil but all lead, without any wood at all.
Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
99% of the time I use a computer.
If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Occasionally I use paints or colored china markers (grease pencils).
What type of paper do you use?
Newsprint for rough sketches, Arches (or similar) for important stuff.
What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
The same thing over and over.
Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Local stores here in NYC. I like walking the streets.
Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Yes, coffee and getting my mind into the right place.
Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Yes. Always rock and roll. I also have a special loop of ZZ Top's Eliminator for when I really need to crunch.
Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Yes. Mainly MAD Magazine.
What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Hmmm... Probably Zippy the Pinhead, Dick Tracy, or Nancy.
What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
"Al Jaffee's MAD Inventions". Yes, I still have it.
Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
School of Hard Knocks. I've mostly learned "on the job".
Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Blessing, for sure.
Did either of your parents draw?
Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
Yes, once when I was a kid.
Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Hmmm... Tough one. I'd say talent and passion are both equally important. But it is important to note that "success" requires neither.
Do you collect anything and if so what?
All kinds of stuff. Lots of printed matter: Magazines, newspapers, books. Plus Vinyl LPs, old board games, wooden indians, all kinds of stuff.
If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Are you a righty or lefty?
If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Rock & Roll. I'd dial in that sound and produce hit records.
In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
I basically work in Ken Kesey's abandoned school bus. It's parked in a hidden back alleyway in New York City.
Do you play any musical instruments?
Yes, but not as a master.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Define your goals. Write them down every ten years. Never give up. Keep trying. Believe in yourself. Practice mental magic. Tap into your inner child. Success always comes in a way and time least expected.
Who is your favorite artist?
Thanks again Michael!