"Whenever I looked at that drawing, I felt I was looking, for the first time, at reality -- my reality. The world that my parents, teachers, and responsible type people all around me belonged to wasn't my world. Why did I have to be like them, live like them? I didn't. And Rat Fink helped me realize that."

American cartoonist and custom car builder (1932-2001). He attended Bell High School in Bell, California -- some of his favorite classes were, unsurprisingly, art and auto shop.

After school, Roth built custom cars. While a lot of customized cars of the time focused mainly on improving engine performance, Roth was among the more artistic customizers -- not just painting cars, but rebuilding them into exciting, even fanciful new forms. He was considered an innovator in the use of fiberglass in bodywork. There were some designers who'd create cars that looked great but couldn't actually be driven -- Roth valued driveability just as much as a great design.

And Roth's cartooning skills helped popularize Southern California's so-called Kustom Kulture even more, as he created Rat Fink to illustrate his airbrushed T-shirts. Rat Fink was an oversized green mouse with bulging, deformed, bloodshot eyes, a huge mouth full of crooked fangs, and a red suit with an "R.F." logo on it. He created the character because he hated Mickey Mouse and wanted to create the anti-Mickey, but it caught on big. Roth wasn't the first artist to create "Monster Hot Rod" art -- the credit for that goes to Stanley Mouse -- but Roth and Rat Fink popularized the art form more than anyone else. Lots of kids loved cars, monsters, and gross stuff, and Rat Fink combined all three. Roth made lots of other characters, but Rat Fink was the one that was the most popular, even though he was far from being the first monster character associated with hot rod culture.

Roth worked with a number of artists, including painter Robert Williams, Rat Fink Comix artist R.K. Sloane and Steve Fiorilla, who was the guy who actually illustrated Roth's catalogs. Rat Fink appeared in car magazines, Roth's catalogs, T-shirts, and more. Revell made plastic models of Roth's cars -- and of Rat Fink. His work was popular with car enthusiasts, art lovers, hipsters, monster fans, beatniks, greasemonkeys, surfers, kids, and grownups -- and he influenced people like the Cramps and Rob Zombie. Every kid who preferred the freaky, monsterized, unrealistic Hot Wheels cars to the more "normal" designs was a kid with a little Big Daddy Roth in their soul.

Roth also started a surf rock novelty group called Mr. Gasser and the Weirdos in the early 1960s. I'd hesitate to say they were ever very popular, but they released three albums and eventually got a two-CD boxed set of all their music.

For years, Roth's phone number was listed in the phone book, and he encouraged fans to call or visit him. He was a character all his own -- part beatnik, part auto mechanic, usually dressed in either loud Hawaiian shirts or a tuxedo and top hat. Since his death in 2001, an annual Big Daddy Roth Open House has been held in his former hometown of Manti, Utah, to celebrate his art and influence. His fourth wife, Ilene, also created a museum to showcase his art.

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