DEL MAR — The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, which defines a spectrum of mental and personality disorders. Artist Gary Cantor has developed a similar system, using T-shirts imprinted with cartoon characters and edgy descriptions of personality types.
Donald, who is green and wild-eyed, is neurotic. Cantor writes, “Donald was born concerned. Concerned that a sunny day is too hot and a windy day is too cold. Concerned that carbs make him fat and protein clogs his arteries. Concerned that white is too light and black is too dark. Some think Donald can be annoying.”
Cantor’s son, Dan, was the inspiration for Donald.
“He’s a curmudgeon and nothing is ever correct,” Cantor said. “He has to check into everything. If I send him an e-mail on a subject, any subject, he will find an opposite point of view on another side and correct it.”
Then there’s Mr. Green Tea, a cyclist Cantor encountered while driving in La Jolla: “Mr. Green Tea has a bit of trouble with his anger. He starts every conversation with, ‘Hey ass—-. He scowls all the time. Mr. Green Tea may not know how to love.”
Cantor was raised in East San Diego in the halcyon days of the 1940s and 2950s. His father and uncle owned Cantor Bros. Tires. His mother was a portrait artist.
By the age of 7 he began drawing constantly, a talent he said made him popular in school. He studied art at San Diego State College for two years, then transferred to USC where he graduated with a BFA.
Afterward, he went to work for the family business, changing tires and pumping gas.
“All my friends were wearing ties and I was wearing a uniform,” he said. “I decided to go to the library to research how to open an advertising agency.”
He launched Cantor Advertising in1961 and ran it until 1977 when he sold it to his brother. He accepted a position as VP, marketing and advertising for the retail chain Fashion Conspiracy.
When the corporation was sold in 1981, Cantor and his ex-wife started the Art Institute of California and sold it to a public company in 2000.
After retiring, Cantor returned to painting. His worked has been exhibited at the San Diego Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In 2011, an encounter with a friend who rejected the values of morality, authority and God that the two men were raised with inspired the sardonic, bitter personalities that today comprise “Cantor’s Characters.” Many personalities are portrayed sticking their tongues out at modern society.
“It was a dichotomy triggered by someone I‘d met,” Cantor said looking back. “Some are myself.”
He explained that the character, Bobby, is a self-portrait: “Bobby always has a challenge with crowds. Not exactly bashful, more — he just hates crowds — not people per se but people in groups. You would not call him a loner — more of an outsider — or perhaps a social anomaly. Not sure.”
Cantor’s characters initially appeared in paintings until customers began requesting T-shirts. In response to demand, the character was printed on the front of the shirt with a personality description on a cardboard tag that was attached. Soon Cantor discovered that it was the caption, more than the cartoon, that was a hit.
Today, the cartoons and descriptions appear together on the front of T-shirts, fitted tees and tank tops that are sold at Leaping Lotus in Solana Beach and Julie’s Beachwear and Durante’s Menswear in Del Mar. They are also available online and at the Sanctuate! (spa) in Point Loma.
“Gary’s canvas art is very unique,” said Yvonne DiChiara, owner of Durante’s. “When he said he was putting them on T-shirts I could hardly wait to carry them. They are popular with all my guys, from teenagers to men in their 60s who read the little story, then grab the T-shirt.”
In response to demand, a line of children’s T-shirts will debut within the next six months.
“Some of the characters will be the same but I’m going to lighten up on the sarcasm and not be so tough,” Cantor said.
For more information, visit cantorscharacters.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.