Interview & Words: Alex Khatchadourian
The first time I met Myke Marts was at a zine fest in Orange County. He didn't have a table to sell his work, but rather was mobbing around with a skateboard in hand and a backpack from where he would pull out his newest zine creation and casually strike up convo with people about it. This first interaction pretty much sums up Myke; outgoing, wildly creative, and uninhibited by self-doubt.
Hailing from the rather pristine and bougie Southern California beach landscape, better known as Orange County, but now residing in Long Beach, Myke has fostered a lifestyle surrounding his three passions - surfing, skating, and art. For Myke, skateboarding, creating artwork, and surfing have no boundaries. There's no one there telling him what he can and can't do, and there are no specific rules or guidelines he must abide by. Rather, these three mediums perpetuate Myke's overall outlook on life and his quest to maintain the ultimate feeling of freedom he gets while atop a skate or surfboard.
These days, Myke can usually be found drawing or designing at his desk for the surf and lifestyle brand Dark Seas, piecing together his next zine, snapping photos of his friends while out skating, or painting and printing one of his many personal projects. It's all part of what he likes to refer to as "a perpetual visual odyssey" through his weird, different, and constantly evolving world.
Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? What do you do for a living?
I’m a complex, weird, and meticulous dude that’s super ambitious to constantly learn new things, all while over analyzing the purpose of life. Haha. In more simple terms, I'm a surfer, skateboarder, and artist. But those always sound so weird to me when I hear them about myself. Maybe it’s just more like a kook that makes stuff? Currently I try and pay my bills by spending 8 hours (often more) a day in an office building in Irvine, CA, as a graphic designer for two clothing companies called Loser Machine and Dark Seas.
Are you from Southern California? How did your environment as a kid influence your interests today?
I’m a Southern California native who grew up in various different parts of Orange County. From the time I was born until the day I officially moved away from home, I lived in 7 different homes in about 5 different cities all within OC. I also had to live with my friend Bum and his family twice because my parents went through some hardships during my teen years and became somewhat “homeless”. Not like tent living on the sidewalk, but definitely went months at a time where they didn’t know if they’d have a roof over their head for the night or whether or not they'd be living out of some piece of shit car. I learned how to take care of myself and became a super independent person. I have this very weird complex about being this kid from a region that is often viewed as this perfect suburban, American dream-like destination where everyone lives a problem free life, a paradise of sorts.
I was super into crust and peace punk and became very interested in DIY culture. I think living in a heavily consumer-driven society without a whole lot of money made me realize that creating things yourself was both efficient and cool because you could get exactly what you want, or support someone else making rad stuff that seemingly was purely creating rad shit as a result of being passionate towards something instead of trying to make a bunch of money.
Which came first for you surfing or skating? What was your initial introduction to both?
I definitely grew up a skate rat. I first started skateboarding towards the tail end of 6th grade. I never knew you could do tricks on them until right before I finished elementary school. During those years, there was a junior high directly across the street and after school I would see the older kids riding their skateboards home, popping ollies up curbs and always kind of skating with decent sized groups of their friends. While being completely mind blown at the fact that you could get a skateboard into the air with just your feet, those kids band together and looked super confident and empowered, so naturally I wanted that too. Even though I was cruising around and constantly falling off of some shitty Variflex board with plastic trucks from the swapmeet that I begged my mom to buy me, the rest just kind of became history after that.
Surfing is a bit of a different story… I was familiar with surfing since the cities I grew up in during those teens years was only about 10-12 miles inland of Huntington and Newport Beach. I had this friend Pat whose mom bought him some crazy, thin and chippy HIC step up board with a pin tail for like a hundred bucks from Play-It-Again sports. He let me borrow it and I never gave it back. It had gnarly dings on the deck that we just shoved wax into, and it was super waterlogged, but I didn’t care or know any better. I also used to wear my leash on my front foot for like half a year… haha. I got my first job at Blockbuster Video toward the end of high school and used a couple of my first paychecks to buy a brand new board that was on sale at Chuck Dent in Huntington Beach. At that point I kind of just put skating on the back burner and found every which way to get to the beach and ride that board in super blown out and chunky surf, since I didn’t know what the hell I was doing back then… still don’t.
How did you start to get into graphic design?
I decided to enroll in community college while I was working at a surf shop. My sister told me that X-ray technicians had pretty flexible schedules and made a decent living, so I decided to study Radiology in efforts to make some decent money and have free time to surf as well. I was doing really well and getting straight A’s and placed on the Dean’s honor roll list pretty regularly, but I fuckin’ hated it. Everyone in those classes was usually quite a bit older than me, always depressed and unhappy and only taking those courses to try and make some money, thinking it would make their lives better. At the same time I was still taking some general ed classes and had to take an art class as a requirement. After a couple of projects my drawing teacher asked me, “How long have you been drawing?” and I replied, “Since the beginning of the semester.” All he told me after that was I should keep doing it. The next semester I took a painting class and it was game over. I instantly became the biggest art nerd ever and just wanted to know everything. I eventually ended up transferring to Cal State Long Beach for Illustration, where I eventually got my BFA. All during this time I was still working at the surf shop full-time (I worked there for ten years), where I eventually became a store manager of this tiny little satellite store where all of the kookiest, and saltiest old dudes would hang out.
As I finished college I kind of recognized that making a career with creative means was pretty accessible through design work, so I guess that’s where my graphic design background started to flourish. Being familiar with all of the reps that came into the shop, I saw that they made a living in the industry and still had enough time to surf and/or skate, so I figured staying in the industry would allow me to keep surfing and skating while I wasn’t ever good enough to be pro.
Tell me about Dark Seas. How did you start working for the brand? What’s your role there?
Dark Seas is a clothing brand that aims to offer an alternative look at coastal living. It actually branched off of Loser Machine and eventually became it’s own brand. It was created by one of my all time favorite pro skateboarders, Adrian Lopez, so getting to work with a childhood hero is pretty surreal to say the least. As I was finishing up college, my best friend (Drew Martin) was working with Dark Seas and shooting photos for them and asked me if I would help him and be the subject of a photo shoot. When the photos got back to the crew at Dark Seas, I guess they dug my vibe and aesthetic so they asked if I wanted to be an ambassador for the brand.
When I finished school I ended up getting super lucky and landed a dream job two weeks after graduation. I got hired on as the graphic designer over at Deathwish Skateboards and was super hyped to have an opportunity doing something I could only dream of. The only problem was that Bakerboys Distribution is all the way in North Hollywood, so I was driving there everyday from Long Beach. I was spending about four hours a day in a car, so my time for surfing immediately went right out the window, and my quality of life was rapidly declining. Kind of depressed and locked into office life, I told the guys at Dark Seas that they should kick me off the team because I felt bad they were flowing me gear and I had no time to surf and get photos of myself for them. Knowing that their past designer was moving on, they asked me if I wanted to work there instead. I’m forever grateful and feel so privileged that I had the opportunity to work with one of my other childhood heroes, Erik Ellington, as well as everyone else at Bakerboys, but having a shorter commute and time to ride a few waves on the way to work was a situation I couldn’t pass up.
I feel like skating and art go hand in hand. Most of the dudes we know that skate, also make art. There is such a creative element to skating. Why do you think there is such a crossover?
Oh for sure! Art and skateboarding go together like peanut butter and jelly! I think art fueled skateboarding a ton from the get go, and then later on they kind of simultaneously and repeatedly took turns flip-flopping. Everyone that I know from my era still remembers what their first proper board was, and it’s always because of the graphic. I remember my first board was a Bucky Lasek pro model when he was still riding for Birdhouse. It had the Baltimore Oriole holding a lighter up to his butt-hole, ready to scorch the tail by ripping a gnarly fart. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’m sure a majority of people that skate and create can relate when I say that the reason there is a crossover for me is that there are no rules you have to follow. For me, skateboarding, creating, and surfing have no boundaries. No one can tell you what or what not to do with any of these mediums, or how to do it. It’s the ultimate feeling of freedom. Whether I want to slappy a curb, or rock ’n roll a quarter pipe, there’s no one that can tell me no (and if they do, tell them to fuck off). Having these creative outlets helps you escape reality a bit. Being able to escape and have fun doing it is a huge privilege that skateboarders, surfers, artists, and just people in general can enjoy and relate to each other on many different levels.
It also brings communities together and instills camaraderie amongst people. The bravery of B.A. recently coming out of the closet is a great example. Even off of the skateboard, the dude is destroying homophobia in a sub-culture that historically frowned upon or feared gay people. That’s where riding a piece of wood with wheels becomes so powerful and enabling.
In what ways does skating influence your art? Do you feel like these passions complement each other in any way?
Skating influences my art in so many ways that I could never keep track of. It’s taught me so much about looking at all things in life from all angles and being open minded and accepting. Even just taking a stroll down the neighborhood, we look at driveways next to fire hydrants or dislodged sidewalks from uprooted trees as blank canvases that we make our marks on with our skateboards. What some common folks might see as damaged and faulty, we see beauty and amusement. As a result, I feel like my everyday life and things I see throughout my day are constantly inspiring me to create things the way I know how to, visually. Art and skateboarding are like journaling for me, it helps me deal with the joys and struggles of life without having to see a therapist or burdening my friends and family with elongated and exhausting conversations. They both give my life a sense of purpose and a reason to exist in large capacities.
You work in a lot of different mediums: illustration, design, photography, zine-making. What type of work do you enjoy the most and why?
I’m very process oriented and methodical, so the more steps, preparation, and techniques it requires to reach an end product, the better. It’s very rare that I enjoy one particular practice over another because most of my work kind of encompasses a little bit of everything all at once. For example, the latest zine I put together is very focused on my introduction back to film photography, where I selected my favorite images from the first 3 rolls of film I’ve shot since a class I took in like 10th grade. It all stemmed from picking up an old used Nikon FM2 from a local camera shop on a whim. Commercially, I would say I enjoy drawing the most because it lets my personal aesthetic show through the most and I don’t get to do it that often to make a living. I usually just sit in front of a computer all day for my day job. It’s rad but you get burned out and feel shitty and lazy after staring at a screen for that long.
You also do some writing and creative content in addition to working as an illustrator/designer. Do you see this as a growing trend in the industry overall – the need to be more of a creative Swiss army knife versus a specialist?
The creative content I put out is both a release and a motivational tool for me. I give myself goals in both small and large capacities to keep myself involved with my passions so my quality of life doesn’t fully diminish and get the best of me. It’s tough in such a fast-paced and competitive world. We spend so much of our lives “working” for other people and we don’t spend enough time growing ourselves, for ourselves. So the creative content push gives me something to work towards, for myself. As far as being a successful and desired figure in the industry, I definitely think people are seeking out those Swiss army knife types over the specialists at the moment. The sad truth is that most people don’t give a shit about how much blood, sweat, and tears you put into something that is of the best quality anymore. People just want something that looks pretty cool immediately, then they move onto the next best thing within the blink of an eye. As a result, people don’t want to pay entire teams to put things together. In general they want to pay as little as possible to get to an end product as cheap and fast as possible, so that Jack-of-All-Trades type of person is the most convenient in terms of speed and profitability. Plus, everyone is so good at everything in this day and age, they become specialists in more ways than one.
When and how did you decide to use your brand new moniker “Splendid Disasters”?
It’s been a long time coming that I wanted to give myself a moniker that I could use as a constant reminder of why I do the things I do and why they are so important to me. I came to a simplified conclusion that nearly, if not all experiences in life all have a pro and con, a winning and losing side, a ying to a yang. Put simply, we always have to sacrifice something in order to accomplish something we want or need, in all different capacities. Want to learn how to kick flip? Your shins are going to get bloody. Want to love someone? You’re going to have to be hurt. Want to be creative? Your social life will rapidly decline. Want to be happy? You’ll always bum someone else out as a result. With that said I realized that everything traumatic I’ve ever experienced was a disaster, but once I really sat and thought about it, I always learned from it and became better for it. Life would always be more splendid in the long run. At that moment the entire list of names I had crafted went right out the window, and Splendid Disasters was born. It’s about realizing that nothing is perfect and being open, understanding, and accepting will make the world a better place for us all.
If your house was burning down and you could only carry 5 things out, what would you take?
Assuming that my roommates already made it out safe, I’d have to grab my childhood blanky that I’ve had since I was like two and sleep with every night I’m home, Beavis & Butthead trading card set from 1994, my Casanova action figure that a deceased friend gifted to me (R.I.P. Joe Le), my late uncle’s dog tags, and this old birthday card that a very special woman made for me a couple years back. It’s a drawing/watercolor of a surfing Guy Fieri that’s tandeming with a Corgi and has my name tattooed on his butt, tan lines and all!