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e-Briefing | Celebrity Setup

Form Before Function

Designer Paul Frank doesn't let technology make a monkey out of him.

November 08, 2001

Those on the forefront of fashion will have noticed that monkey faces have popped up in various places. Handbags. Purses. T-shirts. Belts. Socks. Watches. Doormats.

The monkey is Julius, and he's the marquee of designer Paul Frank. Julius has friends--Clancy, the world's shortest giraffe; Worry Bear, a neurotic and timid ball of fuzz; Ellie, the optimistic elephant; and Scurvy, a wisecracking, tale-telling skull and crossbones. Together, they make up the characters for a Flash animated Internet cartoon series produced by Zeros & Ones in Los Angeles and syndicated by Mondo Media in San Francisco.

Frank savors being on the blunt edge of technology. He spurns graphics programs, doesn't use personal digital assistants and ditched his fancy flip phone for one that lets him customize the faceplate.

At 34, the Huntington Beach native prefers a compass to Adobe Illustrator, a Xerox copier to a scanner and a film camera to digital. But his life is not devoid of technology. Frank just thinks technology has its limits and prefers not to rely on too many gadgets.

"It's too James Bond," he said.

Question: How do you use technology?

Answer: I'm a big cut-and-paste person. The Xerox machine changed my life. And things like Kinko's being open 24 hours. I'll draw something small and blow it up on a Xerox machine. Rather than try to duplicate that, I'll just Xerox it and trace over it. I use a French curve and drafting tools. Most people don't do that. They just draw it out. I'm very specific about a radius, angle or degree. That's why my bags are different. They're drawn with drafting tools.

Q: Do you use any graphics programs to design?

A: I personally think the fancy design programs are a crutch. It's so easy now to be a graphic artist with those programs. People rely too much on the computer to draw. A lot of the hand element is gone. There's something about drawing and having the line be a little messed up. Something about dragging a mouse or clicking and dragging: It would be a robot playing guitar. There's something about the way a hand moves that's different.

Q: So how do you use the computer?

A: I use it to communicate. I do a lot of instant messaging with my friends. And I use it to do research. Let's say I want to draw a helicopter. I look up "helicopter" and get photos of helicopters. I use them as references like you'd use an encyclopedia. But mostly I talk to my friends. So I appreciate my computer. I'm not putting down technology. I just don't like to start with it. I like to use it to help me but not to come up with the original thing.

Q: What kind of computer do you have?

A: It's a Thinkpad. I got it last year. There's cookie crumbs in it. You know how people watch TV and eat. I just sit at my computer and eat and talk to people at the same time. I talk to fans. I answer fan mail.

Q: Do you go online?

A: I have a cable modem at home. That's what's important to me. All I need is my EBay. It's my special special. I like to buy things. I like old toys. So EBay is like a worldwide antique shop for me. And there's a certain adrenaline rush you get with EBay. It's like gambling. People try to outbid you. I say, "I'm going to wake up before you, and I'm going to outbid you!" It's almost like I'll hate losing. The beauty of EBay is you can find anything. I've been searching for hubcaps, and now I have four sets I bought from EBay. I paid $25 for one set of hubcaps. No one wants 1970 Chevy hubcaps.

Q: What about cameras?

A: I always use the Sony Mavica. I can take the disc to Kinko's or my friends' house, and they can print out the images for me. I can take a picture of an old karate sign and drive back to Newport Beach and give it to my graphic artist the same day. But I don't like the way the pictures look. It's more documentary. I have an old Pentax that I like better. The clarity of that is so amazing. But mostly my pictures are to document things before they're torn down. Old buildings, signs. I say, "I'd better get a picture of this before they turn it into Starbucks." I just want to capture the oldness, the original themes, before it becomes part of a giant corporate takeover.

Q: How else does technology play into your life?

A: I'm in a band. Our equipment is from the '60s. We only have tube electronics. No solid state at all. We're using amps with point-to-point wiring. It's a piece of board with brass eyelets and hand-soldered wires. This is a tech that's made a comeback in the guitar world because the sound has more personality. You want an amplifier that responds to your touch. There's a warmth that comes out of that. They're boutique amps, made one or two at a time in a small shop. Like how I used to sew the wallets. There's something about when the electronics signal passes through a vacuum tube that creates a whole different sound. An electrical engineer will tell you there's no difference. But to a guitar player there's a difference. They're bringing back outdated technology because people still want it.

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