There’s no denying that these are some harsh times. There is a weight out there, in the real and virtual spaces, that’s swamping even the purest hearts and minds. Perhaps that explains why some humble cartoons from a Melbourne artist feel like a shoulder to cry on.
Bjenny Montero is illustrating a world found somewhere between Peter Max’s colourful daydreams and Robert Crumb’s barnyard stoners. His psychedelic characters are a modern, earnest callback to the 60s countercultural movement of underground cartoonists. They look out for each other and go at their own pace. They find something serene about the modern world. These cartoon animals, dogs, birds and frogs, feel like the Sesame Street clique all grown up. And they provide an opportunity for us to reflect on our own existence, sometimes just long enough to remember it’s not all that serious.
“I have a mantra, ‘it’s only life.’” said Montero in an email, “that always pops into my head. It takes some of the weight off so I can make spaghetti, put on a favourite album and lie down and relax for a while.”
Montero told me he never pursued cartooning, he’s just been drawing his whole life. He’s always been interested in the everyday things. And the word ‘OK’ comes up a lot in his world. That’s OK. It’s OK. I’m OK.
There is a vocal audience for cartoons celebrating the nice mediocre things in life. Montero has collaborated on merch and album art for the likes of Grammy-nominated Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, and Pond. He recently toured with Mac DeMarco as his wavy psychedelic outfit simply called Montero.
Montero retweets constant positive feedback from strangers, people around the world who say these make-believe animals lighten their load. One fan from Bristol was retweeted for saying these comics makes her feel less lonely. Another fan said reading Montero’s cartoons should be part of a daily routine.
“It’s personal therapy that I’ve been using to deal with my own negativity,” said Montero, “to channel the fatigue, loneliness and nostalgia into something constructive. I’m very happy that it can provide a little fresh air for others. I try to avoid a lot of the online world.”
As much levity as Montero’s cartoons can beam into your world, the artist says his creations don’t live in a different, less cruel world than ours. They don’t occupy some toontown, we’re living on the same planet, said Montero, continuing that “it’s total reality to me.” That in his own time alone, these characters keep him company and keep him happy too.