Monday, June 27, 2011

Bill Selby and Original Decals by Monté

My friend Bill Selby above is a smart, talented multi-hyphenate: illustrator, genius Photoshop retoucher, graphic designer, and writer of screenplays, a forthcoming novel, and an artist's biography, "Monté: King of Atom-Age Monster Decals," which was published earlier this year by the legendary San Francisco publisher Last Gasp Press.

The beautiful design and layout is by Selby himself, and at $14.95 for a full-color art book it's something of a bargain, complete with a set of vintage Original Decals by Monté.

In an afterword, Selby writes, "I bought the first of many Monté decals in 1960 when I was ten -- it was the gloriously repulsive "SHALL WE DANCE?" hunchback that sported a purple suit coat, purple shoes, black tie, and copper pants."

Selby writes at the beginning of the book:

"In the late '50s...Originals by Monté decals tossed a cherry bomb into the toilet of conformity. As Americans traveled, every terminus and tourist trap sold inexpensive promotional decals that could be plastered on cars, windows, campers, and bikes. If the road had a destination, the destination had a decal...Monté satisfied an itch kids had never been able to scratch. Ignored or disdained by grownups, Originals by Monté water slide decals were a way for crewcut American boys to give the finger before they even knew what giving the finger was."

Above all, the book is an archaeological dig about an outsider artist who has never been given his due outside of a small group of commercial art insiders, even though his Los Angeles hot rod art became some of the most influential post-World War II imagery in the world.

As Selby explains, "When I first wondered 'Who is Monté?' decades ago, I had no idea I'd be the person uncovering and sharing this story. [It started with] my casual obsession of buying Monté decals on eBay, posting a web site showcasing his work [click here], appealing for information, and finally Monté's son finding my Monté tribute site" which led to the creation of this biography.

Donald Ricardo "Monté" Monteverde was born in 1926 in Los Angeles, joined the Navy in World War Two, and then returned home to L.A. where he became a UPS driver during the day while creating commercial art and pinstriping vehicles on the side. An interesting detail from the book:

"In 1948, at the age of 22, Monté was invited to Walt Disney Studios for an interview. After showing his portfolio he was seated at one of many "in-between" cell animation stations. Incredibly fast and precise, Monté was immediately offered a contract. But being an assembly line drone didn't appeal to Monté's independent nature. He worked half a day and left."

The most controversial assertions in the book are about the provenance of the legendary Ed "Big Daddy" Roth Rat Fink illustration above. According to the official Roth website:

"The most popular Ed "Big Daddy" Roth monster was Rat Fink. Rat Fink started as a drawing that Ed had put on his refrigerator. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was a genius at designing cars, but it was Rat Fink that brought him fame. By 1963, teenagers across America were buying Rat Fink model kits and mass-produced Rat Fink T-shirts by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth."

According to the legendary psychedelic artist Stanley Mouse on his website, he was the originator of Rat Fink:

"During that period, Big Daddy Ed Roth, hero and self-promoting genius of the monster rod cartooning movement, dropped by Mouse’s airbrush booth at a major hotrod show. He admired Mouse’s work, then threw down the gauntlet by offering to show him how to make $300 in a few hours...Naturally, Stanley Mouse was drawing mouse monsters with their wheels, so Big Daddy dubbed Mouse “Rat Fink.” Then he took Mouse’s catalogues back to his own studio in California, where he had his artists copy many of Mouse’s original themes and figures. Thus, the Rat Fink was born."

Selby's book posits a more complex set of influences and robberies. Monté was the originator of the style, Stanley Mouse picked up his influence as a Detroit teenager, Ed Roth "refined" it and probably hired Monté to actually create the art that had been originated by one of his unwitting disciples. Roth ended up rich marketing Rat Fink products, Mouse went on to his moment in the sun during 1960s San Francisco, and Monté continued driving UPS trucks while drinking and smoking too much, dying in 1993 at the age of 67.

Stanley Mouse is quoted on the Last Gasp website:

“All these years I've wondered about Rat Fink's origin. I knew Roth couldn't have done it. I'd worked beside him at car shows and knew it had someone else's hand. Sorry, big daddy fans. I'm a huge fan of Roth too -- Big Daddy played a giant part in my life -- but now that I can put it all together, I see it was the hand of Monté screaming out in the Rat Fink. Bravo Monté!”

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