When Looney Tunes Were More Popular than Box Logos

Trends in the fickle world of streetwear are often irreverent and almost always fleeting, but just in case you forgot that the Looney Tunes were once sub-category icons, GQ is here to remind you of that air-brushed era — and break down what exactly it was that inspired it.

Using “deep fried memes” as an ideological entry point into the history of the phenomenon, the piece follows the lineage of chain-clad, gun-toting cartoon characters from humble beginnings in a Queens Mall to their place of near-ubiquity in a post-Space Jam world, when Warner Bros. “enter[ed] over 1,000 licensing agreements.”

“Streetwear imagery like the Tasmanian Devil in a gold chain, Wile E. Coyote in a mink, and Marvin Martian in a bandana can be traced back to the legendary Queens-based design crew, the Mighty Shirt Kings,” the author, Brian Josephs, writes.

“You got to remember: ’84, ’85, ’86, that was when the crack era came out and was devastating communities and destroying families,” Phade, one of the original Mighty Shirt Kings, told Josephs. “We had almost a moral job to bring joy to people’s lives — and you found joy when you were a child.”

So naturally, the Mighty Shirt Kings started calling back their favorite childhood characters, but updating those characters for the moment, and building a following as they went that included figures like LL Cool J and Jam Master Jay.

But perhaps the most fascinating part of the piece was when Josephs broke down the relationship between the original characters and those folks that were repurposing them. “Squint a bit and it becomes apparent Looney Tunes and black expression are bonded by the latter’s knack for reassembling American culture in its language,” he wrote, noting that a dreadlocked Daffy Duck is a “cogent example of black culture’s unrivaled ability to innovate.”

And even as the imagery turned into the ephemera it was destined to be, somehow, the story points out, Looney Tunes remain a sartorial inspiration. Long live B-Boy Bugs.

You can read more about it at GQ.

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