Zack Snyder’s latest film Army of the Dead has a surprising amount of cool cars strewn about, and a few cars that are considered staples in the lowrider community. It makes sense given its glitzy — if post-apocalyptic — setting of Las Vegas, which is no stranger to the long, lovely bodywork of lowriders, perfect for cruising “low and slow” along the Strip.
Netflix asked one of the most iconic Chicano artists working in LA, Mister Cartoon, for help developing a lowrider to promote Snyder’s film. He and Ryan Friedlinghaus, of West Coast Customs, built a car that captured the essence of the zombie flick, while being something a little different than the usual lowrider.
The two started with an ’83 Chevy Monte Carlo sporting a 305 V8 as their base. They applied some iconic cues and then wrapped the car with Cartoon’s artwork, which pays homage to the film’s story. The final lowrider they came up with is less “low and slow,” and more in line with the action from the film:
I talked with Mister Cartoon about the design process and I learned a lot of what goes into lowrider design and culture. My first question was how he and Ryan landed the gig in the first place, because the mashup of zombies and lowriders struck me as odd.
Mister Cartoon and the streaming giant do have some previous work together, though, and this lowrider is more or less a progression of their partnership. He explained how it came about, “Well, you know it really starts from the documentary, when we started working with Netflix. And then, you know, to put your name in their head.”
Netflix wanted to do something different for the promotion of Snyder’s film, so Mister Cartoon asked if they were thinking about working on a car, on a lowrider, and he told me how amusing the whole thing must have been, “I can imagine some of these board meetings when they’re bringing my name up and here’s an executive saying, ‘Mister Cartoon.’”
Snyder’s movie was likely a good opportunity for a car featuring Cartoon’s artwork, and here we are. I then asked why he and Ryan chose a 1983 Chevy Monte Carlo for the project, and he said it had to do with the design and showcasing the artwork.
“Impalas are what people think about when they think of lowriders,” said Cartoon, “But Impalas have a lot of trim down the side. They have a lot of chrome trim racing up the bodywork, whereas the Monte Carlo is a streamlined car, using less chrome and more bodywork,” he explained, “So, it’s actually a better canvas. A better, flat kind of car to hit these big, bold pieces because the only trim is on the lower rocker or around the window.”
Cartoon also confessed that the Monte Carlo holds a special place for him. “I’ve had them before,” he said. “I have a real soft spot for the Eighties. This project was sort of reliving my childhood.” He surprised me with the notion that the Zombie film genre and this Monte Carlo also share something important: timing! “Zombies are Eighties films,” he reminded me, same as the car.
He then brought it back to the art, “With the car we pretty much wanted to split it in half. We wanted to have a good side and a bad side,” he said, “It was smile now, and gettin’ money...” That much was obvious, since the car’s artwork echoes both the film’s story and Vegas in general. To really hammer this home, the car wears license plates that reference the “Laugh Now, Cry Later” theme.
Mister Cartoon explained the transition in detail, “And then it moves to the dark side of things. Essentially...die later; face the dark side. And I put smoke in there to show fluidity, to show movement.”
“We used bold icons out of the movie that would be seen at a distance. We knew the car was gonna be shot. It needed to be kind of crazy, like the movie.” Cartoon also explained how this project was different than those he’s worked on in the past.
“On a traditional lowrider, I do it real subtle. The murals are kind of ghost. You can only see them at certain angles. They’re very elegant. But with this, we wanted to go crazy. No one’s gonna see the subtlety! All that is grace in person”
Indeed, Cartoon’s concept does follow Snyder’s own mood, “It’s gotta be more in your face,” he said. “It’s gotta be jumping off. That was the approach. Even to leave a little bit of grain in the artwork.”
That grain is definitely there. It’s obvious even in the flatter presentation of the art that the car wears through its matted vinyl wrap. That wrap could be sacrilege to lowrider fans, but it was chosen to communicate both the concept and its execution, as Cartoon explained.
“With this vinyl wrap, it looks so legit. It looks like they dismantled the whole car. We actually wrapped the car on purpose in a semi-gloss, so it was able to be photographed. Because there’s nothing harder to shoot than a wet show car with murals on the side. There’s so much reflection.”
Mister Cartoon and I went on to discuss the importance of paint as a medium in the car world, but first I wanted to know about his art choices.
I asked Cartoon about the narratives he likes to tell through art. “I like to tell the story of, say, underdogs. Stories of the glamorous life, or the romantic life in Chicano art. You see a teardrop falling from the eye, you see a rose or a collage going into soft clouds telling this romantic story of the street and the relationship between us and our family and our ties.”
His art is all about celebrating Mexican-American perspectives. These inform his art style and this is why he chooses “...anything like this, glorifying our culture.”
“The same way the Japanese have Koi fish and have finger waves. The fish is always going upstream to represent good luck and good fortune. Same thing with us. Where we might put a rose for a warm moment, and the Aztec pyramid behind to show us fighting in the modern day and as warriors in the past.”
When you consider the provenance of the cars that lowrider culture celebrates, you realize that these are Motor City icons. Except these Motown machines are filtered through a Chicano lens and come through both as Mexican and American works of art. It’s a physical manifestation of Mexican-American life, lowriders are a testament that we may really live in a melting pot.
“These cars represent disrupting the norm,” said Cartoon, “Detroit never knew what we were going to do with these cars. They had no idea that once they reached Texas and California, we were gonna put our culture behind it and were gonna develop the most beautiful candy paint jobs in the world.”
“You look to the West for the best. You go to Houston, it’s Candy-Apple Red, all day, every day. Candy, brandy, wine. Or in California, it’s laser-straight bodies and wet paint. You can pick your teeth in the paint jobs, you know. And all that is so important for us. Paint is number one. It’s the soul of every car.”
I am admittedly not the biggest fan of Snyder’s work or lowriders for that matter. The culture is not nearly as prevalent in South Texas as in Southern California, so I never took to them as part of my car-lover upbringing. Now, after talking with Cartoon about the passion in his designs, I am impressed with the craftsmanship and work that goes into these cars.
I’m also walking away with love for the Monte Carlo. It only took Mister Cartoon’s art and West Coast Custom’s bodywork for me to see the car for what it is: a handsome and poised American classic with a small block V8.