Mike Perry on the joys of graphic design, hustling and why it's always good to laugh
The very colourful and comical Mike Perry is a Brooklyn-based artist, animator, creative director, brand consultant, poet and designer, as well as the mastermind behind the animated titles of Comedy Central's hit television show, Broad City.
Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, he studied graphic design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and after graduation worked in-house for Urban Outfitters for three years before moving to New York City and launching his own studio in 2006.
With many successful books under his belt, including his most recent offering – The Broad City Colouring Book (published by Laurence King) – he also loves to draw, paint, and illustrate, animate, cut, paste and build. That's whether he's working on personal projects or serving clients such as Nike, GQ and Playboy. We spoke to Mike about what he's currently up to.
How did you get started? Tell us more about your background.
I started art school wanting to be a painter but quickly discovered graphic design. Graphic design was so fresh and inspiring as a way of working that I quickly committed to learning how to use a computer and got started 'designing', whatever that meant.
Today I realise painting and design are basically the same things. I spent the morning working on a painting and everything goes back to the fundamentals of putting together a composition.
After leaving Urban Outfitters, you immediately moved to NYC to start your own studio. How did you make that work?
I moved in with my girlfriend the photographer Anna Wolf (now wife). She was already running her own business, she believed in me and showed me that it was possible. And the phone started ringing. I had just published my first book Hand Job and the internet was into it. I was young and I started hustling, meeting people. I was inspired and I worked all the time. I'm still inspired and work all the time!
How does working for yourself compare to working for someone else, in your opinion?
For me, it's perfect. It started off as simple as waking up in my bedroom and walking over in my underwear to my computer. But now I have three full-time employees so it’s not just about me anymore. Now I have to be the boss, which I believe in and I look at the studio as a ship that needs a captain. It needs to be taken care of and it needs fuel in order to move forward. It takes a team and a lot of collaboration to stay afloat.
I also love multitasking. I have my painting studio next to my computer so sometimes when I have to save a giant file or render something ridiculously large, I’ll work on a painting.
Are there days when you wish you could go back…if so, what would you change?
Back where? In time? Wish I could have a chat with my dad. He passed away years ago and I feel like I would love to have a good chat…but I would need to be who I am today, to go back without reverting to my earlier self.
You have a new colouring book out based on Broad City. How did that come about?
Publisher Laurence King reached out and said we are doing a colouring book, let’s go. I just did a bunch of drawings and then magically a year later this really fun book comes out.
What was it like working with Abbi and Ilana? Were you super involved in the process?
Abbi and Ilana have placed a lot of trust in me and what I do for the Broad City world. They were not really involved, it is just a really solid multi-admiration based relationship.
It looks like you had a lot of fun making the book, was there anything that was too cheeky to include?
There were a few bits that had to come out, too cheeky to probably mention here, but honestly, I was more shocked with the things that actually stayed in the book. I think that's one of the best bits about the book – that everyone involved was like...let's go for it.
Comedy plays a pretty big part of who you are and what you do... why is that?
Thanks for saying that! Existence is a pretty bizarre, and I think that really helps with handling the absurdity of life. I am an optimist and believe in positive energy. I think making someone smile or laugh is the best thing – it is what I love doing.
What's worked really well for you in making a name for yourself?
All I can do is try and be a good person and keep making the work that I believe in and putting it out there. Once the work is in the world I have no control of how it travels but at least it is there floating forward in time.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in life and why?
I am a lucky person because I am surrounded by inspirational people. I am talking about really good, honest, loving people. My brother and I were raised by our mother. As I get older I have been reflecting more and more on how she raised us and how she pulled off being a single mother. Not only is it inspirational but she fucking birthed me…
What's been your biggest lesson so far this year?
Animation, it really takes forever.
How do you come up with creative ideas? What's your process?
They just pop into my head. Sometimes they are ready to go and sometimes they take years to formulate. On a daily basis, I just try and keep an open mind to everything that is happening around me. I look for flowers when I’m walking, I say hi to my neighbours, I look up at the night sky and I have no qualms asking the big questions. My creative practice is really just me trying to use the materials the earth provides to make the things that I see in my head.
If you were a colour, what colour would you be?
Sea foam blue.
Which colour do you always run out of first?
That’s an easy one, fluorescent pink, every time...
Finally, if you could have a word with your younger self, what advice would you give?
The Broad City Colouring Book, by Mike Perry and published by Laurence King, is available to buy now. In the meantime, check out Mike's upcoming solo exhibition at Garis & Hahn in Los Angeles – Intoxicating Pollen Wiggling in a Moist Journey of Constantly Blooming Tides – launching on 9 September and running until 21 October 2017. With a title like that, it's not one to miss, really.