I have been afforded the special opportunity to interview the man behind MEERKATSU. I admire his artwork and his ability to go beyond the comfort zone of old rigid tradition and still be able to transfer his creativity to appease pretty much anyone in apparel.
Seymour Yang is the man behind the famous Honey Badger lines of Tatami, the creator of the heavenly footlock shirt and the ever popular Prescription Before Submission shirt that people beg for on BJJHQ.
It is now my absolute honour to reveal some of the questions and very thorough answers composed in the interview
HMR: Which artists have the most influence on your work since, you were a child?
When I was a kid I grew up watching eighties kids TV so I have no idea if they influenced my current work but I do have a penchant for 80’s and 90’s nostalgia in general. When I was a young teen I went through a pretentious fine art phase and borrowed gigantic textbooks from the library on many of the masters from the past – Picasso, Van Gogh, Michaelangelo etc. Having never been to art school or trained in any capacity I guess those days were the most I ever got as far as art education goes.
These days I am inspired by the abundance of design talent that I see on the internet, in books, magazines, posters, the world around me…I absorb all that is good, reject all that is bad, and regurgitate it into my own style (sounds a bit Bruce Lee’ish I know!)
HMR: If you could’ve been the artist for one comic book, what one would it have been?
I never was a comic geek, not as a kid and I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t know who half the classic comic artists are. I am aware of a few of them of course but I don’t read comics so I can’t really answer that question.
HMR: You favor designing/drawing unique and unconventional animals, what was the craziest idea you’ve nixed
I treat each project on its own merit, some require me to invent a hybrid creature – like my Dragonfly rashguard. some require a cutesy approach (eg Miyao brothers signature tee for Oss Clothing), others a more darker look (eg honey badger version 2 rashguard). I guess my breakthrough apparel design was the first honey badger rashguard. When I first unveiled it, the design received an extraordinary amount of negative critique, calling it ugly and worse! It was quite an eye opener on how people’s perception changes over time…I still receive emails begging us to re-release the design. I still can’t get my head around the psychology at work – I have noted many of those who at first hated my stuff, are now quite vociferous supporters and customers.
HMR: How do you feel about brands that seem, timid to using their creative minds? Such as having plain white/blue GIs, black shorts and using rehashed skulls
There is most definitely a place for my stuff and a (arguably larger) place for the stuff without crazy artwork. Not every person likes to wear ornate apparel…it’s the same in the real world…some people like bright colours and big designs, other people prefer something less showy. It’s not for me to judge. I’m very thankful there is a small but loyal band of followers who do dig my stuff and are willing to spend their hard earned money.
HMR: When you think of brand logos, what aspects do you think it must meet? A single drawing, work mark or anything in particular?
My views on branding would be the same as any other designer’s views: principally the logo should be legible, stand out both as a small icon and as a billboard sized motif, it should be distinctive, work in stark monotones or full colour. It should reflect the brand values and goals but not be so bland as to be unnoticeable. It’s actually a tough discipline and one that many superbly talented individuals in the design world dedicate their lives to perfecting.
HMR: Have you ever been tempted in doing more contemporary artwork such as shirts, jackets and maybe designer clothing?
I have been asked to provide artwork outside of the fightwear world. In actual fact before I began BJJ I did regularly provide cartoon illustrations for consumer magazines. This was before the internet haha so it was all very low tech hand inked line art coloured with real paint – eek, I’d never do that these days. But yeah, doors open all the time, it’s just a matter of seeing if it is the right match for both me and the client.
HMR: What was the moment you realized that you ‘made it’ in this subculture of combat sports? Seeing a certain athlete wear an item of yours? A certain letter from a company wanting your designs?
I’m not sure if ‘making it’ is the right term, my work is constantly evolving and growing slowly. I guess the first honey badger rashguard mentioned above was my breakthrough apparel design as it was my first product sold internationally (UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Japan). I’m very thankful to Tatami Fightwear for putting their faith in my crazy concept.
But if I had to answer the question, I guess when Rickson Gracie beams a happy smile and rocks a t-shirt that I designed, then there is really not much else that can top that experience!!
HMR: If it all ended tomorrow for MEERKATSU artworks, what would be the one piece you’d harping back to and just feel great about?
I’m immensely proud of my Heavenly Footlock t-shirt. I drew the concept on the bus to work (I still have a day job, art and design I do in the evenings) then I picked away at it over several months. It wasn’t intended as a product, just a personal project. When the chance came to work a fundraiser, I knew that the footlock would be perfect concept to use. A few quick emails to BJJHQ and Tatami Fightwear and it was remarkable how quickly we all agreed on the process and managed to sell almost 1,000 t-shirts in 24 hours. The whole campaign raised close to $10,000 which we donated to both RAINN and Rape Crisis, two victim support charities that help rape and sexual violence survivors.
HMR: Best advice you can give someone who wants to be involved in MMA/BJJ clothing?
Hmm, not sure I am qualified to give advice. I guess never be satisfied with your own progress, seek to improve your technical ability, seek advice, critique and use the energy in a positive way. I’m not the best artist by far, but I work hard – between 5 and 8 hours at night every single night, seven days a week. This is on top of a full time day job and young family oh and BJJ training! Some of that time has to pay off in the end I guess.
HMR: Finally, what was the weirdest animal idea you had constructed but, ended up nixing?
Well, although I’m mostly known for my animal/beasty drawings, and they do outnumber my other works by a large margin, I should point out that my best selling work has been some of my non-animal designs (maybe I should take the hint lol!). Examples would include the very popular Prescription Before Submission t-shirt, Modern Flow Chess design (my most bootlegged design! I see rubbishy purloined variations all over the internet) and not to forget my many BJJ event poster designs, such as this one.
But, again, if I had to answer the question, then I guess my katanapus design (done originally for Strike Fightwear) would be a rather strange mix of real world octopus and samurai helmet. I mean why? I don’t really know, it just sort of popped into my head.
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