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Underground cartoonist is quick on the draw

Tony Millionaire doesn't let sleep get in the way of his artwork.

March 03, 2012|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Cartoonist Tony Millionaire's artwork and a portraits book, at his home studio in Pasadena on Wednesday, January 25, 2012. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Cartoonist Tony Millionaire's artwork and a portraits…

Tony Millionaire spends his nights in the garage. That's where you'll find him, in a space built just wide enough for a Model-T, bent over his drawing table until 4 a.m., a beer never far from his fingertips. The wife and kids can hear him in there, listening to talk radio or laughing and shouting, with the occasional crash when things are not going well.

He is happy this way, a cartoonist left to his own whims and solitude at his 1926 home in Pasadena, drawing his weekly “Maakies” comic strip about a hard-drinking, suicidal crow or his ongoing series of portraits of the famous and infamous for esteemed publications The Believer and New York Magazine. It pays the bills.

“Being a cartoonist is a great way to make a living — it's a lot of fun, but it doesn't pay for college,” says Millionaire, 56, thinking ahead for his two daughters, both still in grade school. “I can't save. I have to strike gold. Soon.”

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It's early afternoon in the garage, and he's eating a healthy breakfast of blueberries and cream cheese on toast. Work for him starts at about 10 p.m. Other cartoonists depend on cigarettes, coffee or some other ingredient to anchor themselves to the desk. For Millionaire, it's Budweiser, and without it he can feel every pen stroke, every squeak of his chair, and the sound of the gears in his head.

“When I was 40, I decided I was going to stop drinking hard liquor, because I kept getting in jail and smashing stuff, forgetting everything that happened and almost getting killed,” he explains with a smile. Now, he says, “I need a couple of beers to put me in the right place.”

Millionaire, born Scott Richardson in Boston, has two drawings to complete this evening, very much like the faces and personalities collected in his new book, “500 Portraits,” published by Fantagraphics. The book came about mainly because Millionaire had “piles and piles” of portraits around the house, in files, in the garage, all done on assignment. Each drawing is crafted in his distinctive inky hand, with faces rendered in lush, rugged detail that echo the comics of a century ago.

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