Michael C. Hsiung has a bone to pick. While many other members of the mythological community enjoy public-wide recognition, there’s one that lags far behind: the Merman.
“I started doodling a merman character after being somewhat disappointed with their lack of representation in popular culture. It was always the mermaid,” he tells us, “there’s nothing wrong with mermaids, but it always begged the question to me… where were all the mermen? Why were the mermaids always running off with sailors?” Since taking up the Merman cause, Hsiung’s version of the ocean-born creature has become somewhat of a calling card; “I started to explore this idea in various crude drawing, and my merman character remains one of my most popular characters today!”
If anything, Hsiung admits, his sister was the more natural artist of the family — it became clear early on that art was her calling. It wasn’t such a straight line for Hsiung; at San Jose State, he studied English Literature, focusing on Career Writing, and it wasn’t until he moved back down to Los Angeles in 2007 that he picked up his pen again. Living with Pearl and her boyfriend in Koreatown, Hsiung rekindled his love of drawing; “I spent three months getting used to my surroundings, and in those spare moments when everyone was at work or in the studio, I’d read or draw. It was during this time that I started to kind of doodle again with the support of my friends and family.” Drawing was still a hobby, however, and Hsiung secured a job as an assistant grant writer at a museum. His free time was spent uploading images to Flickr and Myspace, churning out a steady supply of his quirky, charming characters.
“The hardest part is rolling with the ups and downs that come with being your own boss.”
Since then Hsiung has worked with The Hundreds, Vice, and Vans, for whom he is currently the online editor of their art-centric Tumblr. And to bring Hsiung’s artistic journey full circle, his career in illustration has given him the chance to collaborate with Pearl again, this time as part of his wife Rachel’s creation, Bitchcraft, an event for craftsmen, artists, vintage clothing vendors and other creative types. “Pearl and I ended up collaborating on a series of drawings that we used for prints, cards, and t-shirts. We called our collaboration Fight To The Death, after a phrase my dad would jokingly say to us when we were fighting as kids.” While the decision to pursue a career as a creative has brought up numerous challenges, in Hsiung’s mind the sacrifices he’s made have been worth the reward; “It definitely wasn’t easy and still isn’t,” he admits, “but I think what ultimately is the hardest part is rolling with the ups and downs that come with being your own boss. Not having money, not being able to go out, having no insurance…” Hsiung is navigating the trials of with aplomb, however, with upcoming group shows at Q Salon, collaborations with Burton Snowboards, work in the Land Exhibiton in Spain and some top secret assignments too: “I have some upcoming projects which I can’t talk about yet. That’s the worst!”