People often ask me: “Christopher, you milky white Adonis, how in the name of Kriss Akabusi do you come up with such super designs?” Usually I laugh my seductive, baritone laugh and make some pithy remark about magicians never revealing their secrets but today I thought I’d drop down the drawbridge of secrecy and open the French windows of enlightenment to show you how our skeletal lovers came to be.
One of the reasons I started making T-shirts seven hundred years ago is because I was bored of seeing the same old designs adorning every torso from here to Narnia and one of the main offenders was “I Heart NY”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against “I Heart NY” T-shirts; some of my best friends wear “I Heart NY” T-shirts, it’s just not for me. It’s been ripped off and bastardised so many times it’s become, at least in my eyes, a cliché. There, I said it.
So I thought about doing a different take on it and happened upon the notion of replacing the love heart with an actual heart. Sometimes I’m so clever I think it’s a pity I’m not working for CERN or something.
Picoseconds later it occurred to me that this wouldn’t really be a pastiche or satire but just another trite “spin” on the old girl, i.e.: exactly the kind of thing I was trying to get away from. So, in as soppy a moment as my withered, coal black heart allows, I decided to change “NY” to “you.” I’m so clever that MENSA rejected me on the grounds of being too clever.
Having this as a simple slogan would have been tremendously dull. It needed to be part of an exchange, but the couple couldn’t be people because a) it wouldn’t fit properly with the slightly gruesome nature of the design and b) I’m no good at drawing people.
If you can’t be bothered to endure me getting a bit artsy then stop reading now.
I’ve always been a massive fan of Mesoamerican art (Aztec and Incan, for example), as well as the intrinsically-linked style of the (primarily) Mexican Day of the Dead. Skeletons feature prominently in both and are heavily anthropomorphised in the latter. This love of mine was stoked (although not sparked) by the 1998 video game “Grim Fandango.” Set in the Land of the Dead, the truly spectacular artistic direction combines the art of Mesoamerica and the Day of the Dead seamlessly with art deco and film noir mise-en-scène.
The Day of the Dead’s anthropomorphosis led to my skeleton guitarist, Celso (pronounced “Sell-so”). I really loved the idea of a skeleton longing for the good old days when he wasn’t dead (perhaps just a touch of Schadenfreude there) and I thought that “I Heart You” could be something of an antidote to that: two skeletons long dead but (seemingly at least) not unhappy because they’re in love. This would have been unbearably mushy if the two were alive, but they’re dead and beyond decay, which serves as an effective counterbalance. “Grim Fandango’s” more stylised take on the Day of the Dead suited this design, both to set it apart more obviously from Celso but also to help lighten the tone: I wanted the image to be macabre yet adorable and having the couple as actual skeletons (rather than stylised/cartoonish ones) would have missed that mark entirely. I’ll save that for when I’m doing artwork for some goth band.
So they were born but unnamed. A friend suggested Manny and Meche, after “Grim Fandango’s” protagonist and his love interest; someone who saw it on the stall drew parallels with Frida Kahlo’s work which I found sort of flattering, although bemusingly over-the-top. She suggested I call them Frida and Diego, after Ms. Kahlo and her husband, the artist Diego Riviera (or Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, to give him his preposterously long full-name). Usually suggestions from people at the stall are ridiculous, irritating or ridiculously irritating but this was sufficiently ridiculous to massage my ego. I’m so clever the intelligentsia whither in my presence, the filthy serfs.
I’ll leave it to you to decide which you prefer: Manny and Meche or Frida and Diego; obscure and geeky or tenuous and pretentious.