If you’re a reader of JUICE, you’re inherently a lover of pop culture, and there’s one band that’s so distinguishable amongst the rest that you’ll notice them immediately once you hear those apathetically cool vocals or see that signature character design.
That band is Gorillaz.
Catapulted into superstardom with their 2005 release, Demon Days, the band’s unique style of music as well as their elusive identities, which are masterfully hidden with their signature character illustrations, made them the pioneers they are today.
Sometimes we still catch ourselves jamming to ‘Feel Good Inc.’ just to relive the old days where we felt cool (or at least tried to).
So, when we saw similar looking characters but with a grungy, psychedelic twist created by a Malaysian designer, we just had to talk about it.
Meet Putra Al, a 24-year-old graduate of ASWARA who sees himself as a creator, navigating his way through various mediums like drawing, animation, clothing, stop motion, film and even music. Similar to Gorillaz, he creates art under the alter ego, Al Miha’el.
Speaking to JUICE, the artist chats in detail about his inspirations, his thoughts on fashion and his future plans. Here’s what he had to say…
When did you start designing characters and how did you find your style?
I started drawing at a very young age and I would often draw random doodles and comic characters during my free time. It kinda took me a while to find my style, cause I explored various styles of drawing throughout my life. At some point I was very into doodling, then went on to graffiti, comics, classical, modern, etc.
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For the AL MIHA’EL part, I roughly got the style during the first year of my studies. I started with a lot of experimental sketches with a ballpoint pen in class and decided to start doing it digitally. But at that time (until now lol) I didn’t have a drawing tablet to illustrate digitally, so I just decided to use my computer mouse to illustrate on Photoshop. From there I taught myself how to illustrate these characters that I’ve been sketching and tried making short animations from it. Hence most of my artworks are a bit edgy in terms of the basic detailing- lines and curves.
Commonly, most artists would illustrate characters from multiple angles to show the figure, but I would just make it frontal or side profile, due to my basic equipment (computer mouse lmao). Although those issues are limiting my work, I thought it would be cool if it’s just as it is. I feel like the limited equipment led me into creating an aesthetic that I’m comfortable with. (for now)
What pushed you to start selling your pieces?
I started designing and making clothes since high school, but Form 4 was when I began to sell them. At that time, Tempatan Fest was a big thing and my friends and I wanted to start our own clothing brand and so we did. From there, I began to see my interest in designing clothes and selling them to my friends. Every year I would design a shirt, send for printing and sell them. I’ve been doing that for quite some time actually.
Besides that, I would also design clothings for my college, clubs and friends too. But in 2018-2019, I decided to venture into making custom clothes, but mostly hand drawings on t-shirts. After I got bored with t-shirts I decided to start something new, which is hand-painted jackets, because I love wearing jackets and drawing them. So in 2020 I started to design jackets and start painting them.
What sparked me into making custom clothes is ’cause I noticed that I would often draw my characters with cool outfits that I would personally wear, but those outfits don’t actually exist. That’s pretty much why I love designing and making clothes, I really enjoy seeing people wear something that came from my sketches. It’s like having my little digital characters bridging into reality.
At first glance, your artwork seems inspired by Gorillaz. Is that a coincidence or are you a fan?
I am a fan of Gorillaz but I won’t consider my work to be inspired by them. I just really enjoy their music and appreciate how experimental they are ’till this day.
Looking at your drawings, they would make amazing album art covers. Do you have any local bands that you would like to design covers for?
I don’t have a specific local band in mind right now, but I’m always open for collaborations! (Author’s note: Golden Mammoth would be a great fit!)
What is your opinion on Japanese streetwear fashion and its influence on the way Malaysian youths dress?
I think they’re cool as hell. Their aesthetic is always on point in terms of how vibrant and crazy they can be. But somehow I don’t think Malaysian youths would reach to that level, maybe because of the culture here is different compared to theirs (also the weather is hot here so we can’t actually dress ourselves to be that extra lmao.)
The culture in Japan is a little bit more animated in a way, like how they’ve always been surrounded with the art scene for years. Unlike here in Malaysia, we have our own aesthetic but it’s still a little bit off from Japan. We do have the Japanese streetwear influences with the youths over here but it doesn’t really stand out as a whole for the culture.
Who are your fashion and art influences?
I’ve never really gotten myself into the fashion world ’cause I was never exposed to it, because I myself don’t really dress up that well in person, but I would say that I can get influenced by looking at fashion photos online from Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, photos like runways, photoshoots and collections from various high fashion brands. I tend to admire and memorise the style from those images and let it linger around my head. Then I’ll sketch it down when I have the time.
For art influences, I can say that I get inspired from a lot of things. It can be from a theatre show, marching arts, music shows, animations, paintings, etc. Basically I like to get inspired by ideas, concepts and styles. It’s really hard for me to name all of them, but one of the few artists that I really look up to is Claude Monet, Tyler, The Creator and Guy Billout.
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What are some of the brands that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
That’s a hard question for me, maybe Uniqlo, Converse, Gucci, idk, it depends haha. I’m actually willing to collab with any brands that are really into in my designs.
Interested in copping some sick clothes?
Keep up with Putra through his Instagram @almihael where he’ll announce his upcoming project!