skulls afire : little wild running rodent

Going back into the backwoods and unmarked trails of pop culture. Why should a dufus like Andy Warhol get so much press and attention?….

Art Chantry (

One of the great familiar and utterly unknown pop culture designers of the last half century went by the name of “Monte”. remember ‘Monte’? No. Few people do. But, we’ve all seen his decals being sold in comic books, monster mags, hot rod magazines and in every bicycle shop in America back in the 1960′s. He was ubiquitous.

I had Monte decals on my bike when I was a kid. It was an old beater with an uncool brand name, so I stuck one over the embossed metal plaque on the front steering column. The caption read of the decal read, “MINE!”. Possession is 9/10ths of the law (or so i heard). It peeled off after about a month or so.

Don ‘Monte’ Monteverde was a classic post-war vet guy who drifted into the southern California nouveau ‘teenage’ bachelor lifestyle, there’s photos of him shirtless wearing a straw hat in a surfer cabana on a beach dancing for the camera, toasting with a foofoo drink in his hand. Classic stuff.

AC: i knew it wasn't kirby's work. it's just that he claims he invented them all and so does stan. so, i figger it as a joke. a weird joke. the truth is, von dutch and monte invented everything first. and me. and you invented one or two things, too. that about covers everything. click on image for more...

He was a pinstriper and a hot rodder. He hung out with the underground lifestyle folks. He even did the official ‘colors’ (logo) for the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle club. he also designed the logo/label for ‘Valvoline’ oil. He got around.

Eventually he hooked up with the legendary ‘Impko’ decal company (which started out in the postcard business decades earlier) and was hired to do design a bunch of decals to sell to the “kids” market – a new concept in cheezy marketing just hitting it’s stride at that point. Impko had made a solid reputation for itself as a manufacturer of pennants – those little team and other souvenir pennants (you know, those little triangular flags you wave at baseball games?)

---For five decades, mystery surrounded the identity of Monté, the reclusive master of cartoon monster decals. Now, the remarkable and poignant story of Don "Monté" Monteverde -- from his early roots pinstriping cars and motorcycles in Los Angeles to his eventual rise and fall as America's decal king -- is revealed, including the revelation that Monté, not Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, was the hand behind the creation of the iconic Rat Fink. Often imitated but never surpassed, by 1964 Monté had turned his back on pop culture, eventually reinventing himself as a consummate stained glass craftsman.--- Read More:

In addition, the ‘souvenir’ pennants they made for sale at places like Yellowstone Park and the Washington monument (selling to the new postwar ‘see America first culture fad) became such big biz that they branched into location decals as well. soon, Impko was also selling novelty joke ‘plaques’ and buttons and bumper stickers and jobbing out water-transfer decal printing to walk-in customers. When the

arted selling their own stock designs, it exploded. It was a huge pop business that mushroomed for them.

All those little water transfer decals you see stuck on the side of Winnebagos for ‘mystery caves’ and ‘deadwood city’, etc.? Almost all of those were created by Impko company. Monte did stock drawings for them (i assume) and was asked to make souvenir decals the kids would buy. Big money in floating in those teenage pockets.

AC:When I was decorating my first bicycle, I took the 'MINE!' Monté decal that I'd ordered from Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and stuck it right on top of the bike's Tuffy logo. Monté helped me stake out my personal turf. All these years later, I still find myself appropriating Monté, sometimes much too directly. But, when you encounter mad genius you just have to get out of the way and let their freak flags fly. Read More:

The timing was perfect. It was done just as the monster/surfer/hotrod/teenage pop culture craze was taking off in America. They sold literally millions of the things.

This ‘flaming skull ‘ I reproduce here is one of his most famous images. He did scores (maybe hundreds) of similar goofy/scary things that have been reproduced so many times by so many people that we’ve lost the fact that they were all from the hand of one demented soul: Monte. He was one of the early master of the form we now consider ‘skate’ or whatever. He was almost as important as Von Dutch in his reach.

Artist/author/historian Bill Selby has just released a book (on last gasp) all about Monte and his career/life. I suggest you get it and see for yourself what I’m talking about. Monte was as famous in his day as , well, Ed Roth. Which sort of brings up a little problem. Monte sold ‘rat fink’ decals in his collection he did for Impko. In fact, he did a LOT of ‘rat finks’ and hot rod monsters for Impko.

todd schorr:"Originals by Monté" were an eclectic blend of Hot Rod bravado, Beat generation hipness, and Atomic Age paranoia, mixed with the craziest cartoon monster lunacy this side of Basil Wolverton. An American original in every sense of the word, Monté's life was one of incredible highs and devastating lows, but he lived it as a true bohemian while at the same time remaining a loving and devoted family man. A labor of love, Bill Selby has pieced together Monté's compelling story along with the wonderful designs that captured the imaginations of a generation, myself included. Read More:

Well, as the story goes, Ed Roth saw the success of his rival in the t-shirt biz – Detroit’s young Stanley ‘Mouse’ Miller and his ‘mouse’ brand monster t-shirts. Mouse had begun an extremely successful series of ads in the back pages of the car magazines (like hot rod) and sold (for money!) a catalog of his images that could be purchased mail order. He even created a bug-eyed snaggle toothed monster ‘mascot’ named ‘Freddie Flypogger’. He was selling oodles of the shirts.

He was signing each one with a little wild running rodent and airbrushing ‘mouse’ next to it. His logo/brand had become as hot and was selling as intensely at the car shows as was the rest of his shirts. His logo had become a pop explosion ‘brand’. Not bad for a dumb kid in Detroit city.

Ed Roth (he was later named ‘big daddy’ by the model kit company that marketed his designs as little build-them yourself’ models. They saw the success of Mouse as well and decided Roth needed a cool nickname. So the marketing department there came up with ‘big daddy’. Roth kept it), Then a pin-stripper and sign painter, he’d gotten in on the monster t-shirt biz as well.

---lowbrow art:Starting off in the late 70′s by Artists such as Robert Williams and Gary Panter it was a relatively small movement of underground cartoonists and started to grow throughout the 80′s with the first significant boom in the 90′s with the start of Robert Williams lowbrow magazine, Juxtapoz. It is one of the main parts of ‘Kustom Kulture’ and has always been closely related to hot rods and kustom cars, with huge names like Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and Coop becoming familiar names in the art and car scenes. Ed Roth’s Rat Fink, possibly the most famous creation in Lowbrow. read more:

Roth was a great world-class hustler. He saw what Mouse did and did the same thing. We’ve all known guys like Roth. They work hard at making money. How they make it and at whose expense really isn’t important. Roth was a genius-level hustler and a great art director. He immediately tried his hand at drawing the same ‘freddie flypogger’ monsters and all, but thought his own drawing work wasn’t anywhere as good (and therefore not as commercially viable) as Mouse’s.

So, what does Roth do? He starts to hire out. He simply hires another illustrator to do the images for him. It’s a pattern he follows the rest of his career with his legendary massive mail order biz and even his astonishing custom cars. So many famous designers/art directors/fine artists have used this technique throughout the eons that it’s shocking (to us modern lone gunmen) to realize. It used to be accepted as the ‘norm.’ but, in our era of ‘everybody is an artist if they only have the time’, it offends us as “inauthentic’. Back then, it was only business. No big deal. Everybody did it – which was true.

Roth had seen those great decals Monte had been doing for Impko. So, he hired Monte to draw a monster mascot/logo for Roth called “rat fink” (sort of a dig at his bitter rival and the more talented ‘mouse’). So, monte drew Rat Fink. Those decals you see floating around out there with that weird gnarly scratchy looking Rat Fink character that Impko sold? Those were the drawings that Monte did. Naturally, he tried to sell them, too. But Roth stomped on it and stopped him. Oh well.

I once saw a demonstration of how closely Roth copycatted the Stanley Mouse’s ‘freddie flypogger’ character in his classic ‘Rat Fink’ image. I saw a speaker actually lay a Rat Fink drawing transparency registered exactly on top of the ‘mouse’ flypogger’ character. Add a snout, ears and a tail and it’s lines up literally identically. It was virtually a tracing. This is how Roth initially conceived Rat Fink. Monte was the guy who ushered the broader idea into reality. Hell, it’s a living, ya know?

Exactly who did what and when is still being pieced together. But the evidence is just sitting there in front of us. It’s actually a pretty clear picture, fairly easy to read even from where I sit. Most of the major players are dead and those that remain, remain silent.

Roth, of course, being a great bullshitter as well, made up several different crazy stories (some about refrigerator doors) about the origins of Rat Fink over the years. But, he never mentioned Mouse or Monte in the history of his creation. Roth was no dummy. He didn’t want to share his money. Businessmen are like that, ya know. His legendary ‘thriftiness’ makes for bitter chats with old timers.

So, in the end. the designer/creator of the Rat Fink character that still haunts us to this day was (in reality) this unknown guy named ‘Monte.’ He was asked to copy Stanley Miller’s work and did a knock off. The rest is marketing history. Cool, eh?

Get the book, read the story. Nothing personal – it’s only business….

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