Ahh, Black Bart t-shirts. Those of you who grew up in the 90s remember them very well. Flea Markets, Swap Meets, Korean Gift Shops, Fulton Street, Caesar’s Bay Bazaar, Canal Street…you could get them everywhere!
While the licensed shirts were amazing (who remembers having to put a piece of tape over the “Hell” in “I’m Bart Simpson, Who the Hell are You?”), the bootlegs were just so much better. The idea at the time was to basically take Bootleg Bart, or Black Bart, and somehow combine him with relevant pop culture references. Since they were churning them out so quickly it had to be the most relevant (or absurd) reference possible. The concepts jumped all over the place, from the really offensive, “Im Bart Simpson, Fuck you Man,” to Air Bart Simpson, Bart as a Ninja Turtle, Bart dancing to the Humpty Dance… the list is endless.
There was an article written in the Washington Post in the early 90s documenting this phenomenon. (Matt Groening almost said Bart is Black, then remarks, “He’s not Black but Bart listens to Hip Hop.”) I mean, duh, “DO THE BART MAN”, and of course who can forget Luke Skyywalker and “Doing the Bart ALLL NIGHT LONGGG…”
Growing up in Central Florida, I used to frequent the Daytona Beach Flea Market. I definitely remember picking up a “Mickey Bart” (long gone now) and a few that I sadly passed on like Black Bart as an A&M Rattler or a Bethune-Cookman Wildcat. But I do have a few in my current collection that I either bought off of eBay or were thrift store finds.
One of my faves (pictured above) I traded to ESPO back in 2003. He traded me one of his Bootleg “Save The Drama For Osama” tees and an amazing print that we have proudly hanging in the Mishka Studio.
The above shirt was Steve Powers AKA ESPO’s response to the Osama tees being sold on the streets after 9/11. He made this shirt as a give away to friends, family, and fans.
I still have a vintage AIR BART (pictured at the beginning of the post) and an equally amazing, “JUICY, GOT EM GOING CRAZZZZYYY” that has multiple “Black Barts.”
I totally forgot but I also had a “Bootleg Dwyane Wayne Air Jordan Higher Learning Bart!”
Eventually Bart became yellow again, and was used as fodder in a more truck stop/dirt bag sort of feel, yet still finding inspiration from slogans of the urban/black community. Crack Kills!
Proof that it doesn’t make sense to make every cartoon character black. Rasta Beavis & Butthead. This is just plain dumb.
This sort of bootleg phenomenon not only started, but died out in the early 90s. And while you can still get your fill of bootlegs in Chinatown, these days they are actually trying to make them look legitimate. The idea of drawing up something quickly to get it out, and make some quick cash, is rare these days. I did see some Obama/Malcolm X and Obama/MLK tees on Broadway that looked like they could’ve been made in the 90s. And you can still go up to Harlem and buy a Gangsta’ Spongebob, Elmo or Tony the Tiger tee, but it just doesn’t have the same feel as a “back in the day” t-shirt. I guess that is where we stepped in…
I remember when Mike and I were working on our first collection together, we both agreed that we had to make a Black Bart Shirt. We wanted to make sure we had the formula intact. Bart had to have the monster fade with lines, a Jordan jersey, he needed to be surrounded by some fly honeys, a Ninja Turtle should be in there for good measure and he should be quoting a catchy hook of a popular Hip Hop anthem of the time. And to make it even more ridiculous adding a Simpsonified Mishka bear and Lobster Roll… Huh? What? Exactly! It made perfect sense. Mikhail had his old childhood friend Tommy Lombardozzi illustrate it (and most of our subsequent Black Bart tees) to perfection! This was the most colorful design we had printed up to that point and it was also our first shirt to sell 100 pieces. That was big deal because up ’til that point we were lucky if we were booking 30 pieces per design. So a jump to a 100 was like “Whoa! We’ve made it!”. So this design and Black Bart will forever have a special place in our history as a brand because it actually helped open new doors across the country for us. Shout-out to Prographix, bro!
We continued our tradition almost every season, but instead of keeping with the tradition of “current rap bangers” we decided to get a little nostalgic and conceptual, and say “Oh, well what if this Black Bart shirt was made in say 1992, or 1994, a few years later after the Black Bart phenomenon died down, but like what if it didn’t!??” So we took things to the Westcoast with Black Bart, Black Milhouse & Snoop from the cover of Doggystyle. This design went through a few layout incarnations before we settled on the Pot Leaf and word bubble reading “So just chill, ’til tha next episode”. Originally it featured an unrolled Phillie as a scroll in the upper right corner with the text “Unfadable, so please don’t try to fade this!”. But ultimately we didn’t like how the layout looked and swaped the scroll for the leaf behind the characters. We also originally had the word bubble say “Cause it’s 187 on an undercover cop!” but after initially suggesting it, Mikhail felt it may put off some people having that on a shirt, and switched to “So just chill, ’til tha next episode”. I regret doing that, and so does Mikhail actually.
Our 3rd “Bootleg Black Bart” shirt was a challenge to ourselves. We really, really, really wanted to make a Biggie shirt! I mean this is like a Streetwear necessity! The problem was that we didn’t want it to be corny, and we wanted it to be something we would proudly wear. Poorly executed Biggie catchphrases & images were a staple of what was considered Streetwear a few years back. This shirt was very much our way of rebelling while embracing something we knew would do very well for us. We agonized long and hard over, “How the hell do we do a cool Biggie shirt!?” “What would a Mishka Biggie tee be?” I think Mikhail came up with the idea of bringing Garfield into the mix, after desperately looking for a “Garfield – I Hate Mondays!” T-shirt for himself. Once we had the idea of using Garfield for Biggie, the rest fell into place. Black Bart, Black Milhouse, Notorious G.A.R.F. and of course some honies would act out one of our favorite scenes from the Big Poppa video. And unlike the new Notorious film, Notorious G.A.R.F. has a wall-eye!
Our 4th “Bootleg Black Bart” shirt was never produced. There were a few reasons behind this and while some will remain unsaid, others may be a bit obvious. We weren’t sure, was it time to dead the Black Bart tradition we had established, maybe we were becoming too predictable, or maybe this one would just be too over the top? Either way the design got shelved. For those of you who don’t get the reference it’s based around our favorite Three 6 Mafia track, ‘Bin Laden Weed’.
“Who got dat hydro?
Who got dat lite green?
Who got dat Bobby Brown?
Who got dat Laden weed?”
*Maybe if we get enough emails we will cave to the pressure and produce it :)
So now with our 5th (4th official) release, we brought it back to the relevant, topical, and absurd, the Bootleg Black Bart Obama ’09 tee, featuring Black Bart, Obama, Young Jeezy and the celebratory anthem, “My President’s black, my lambo’s blue, and I’ll be goddamned if the rims ain’t too.”
January 20th is an important day because it marks a pretty epic change in the course of American politics. Not to get all politically-heavy with you guys, but “change” is coming.
This very change – which is rolling in waves – has affected us here at Mishka too. To the point where we’ve succumbed to peer pressure and finally caved into the Obama train. But being the jaded peanut gallery we are, regardless of change, politics is politics. A famous presidential candidate once said “You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.”
So to celebrate this monumental/business-as-usual day, We have decided to release an Obama tee in the only way it makes sense to us – Bootleg Black Bart style.
In addition to Twerps! in-depth cultural history lesson, I wanted to briefly mention that this shirt is deceptively simple. The catch-22 when illustrating a Black Bart graphic is creating a convincingly ‘bootleg’ aesthetic, while rendering all of the human-likenesses in a believably Simpsonized style. If Obama or Jeezy had been drawn too sloppy, the viewer would be left wondering who were the guys on the shirt. On the other hand, if Bart looks too much like his yellow skinned alter-ego, the shirt loses it’s bootleg vibe. It’s much harder than one might assume to draw something intentionally shitty. -MJ- Twerps!