Interview with Liberty Maniacs Founder Dan McCall
There are tons of pro-liberty creatives out there, already spreading the message of freedom through art. Today AFL brings you Dan McCall, founder and artist behind Liberty Maniacs, the foremost online store for liberty-focused clothing and merchandise.
Dan agreed to answer our questions over email, and the transcript follows below.
1. Why did you start LibertyManiacs and how did you realize there was a market need?
I got into this line of work in a way that’s probably really familiar to anyone who’s started a business. I was basically looking for products with my sense of humor that also represented my philosophy on things years ago and simply didn’t see anything that really spoke to me.
It took some time between simply making stuff for my friends and myself before I really decided to jump fully in and take the project seriously, but I figured there were others like me out there. I was right.
2. Describe the company and what you do a little. How do you get the word out? Is it your primary job or do you do other work?
The company is solely based around the idea that we should popularize the philosophy of liberty as best we can. How best to do that somewhat evolves, but a political movement such as the liberty movement has to have many players. There’s the philosophical and intellectual players; people that do the intellectual heavy lifting. There are political people; the activists that push, pull, and struggle to make a realm of freedom within an all-too-imperfect system.
Then there’s the place where we somewhere fall in – the artists and entertainers that try and penetrate popular culture. It’s just another way to persuade people to see the World in a different way.
The coolest thing for me, however, is just doing something that grows confidence in everyday freedom fighters by creating stuff that they can identify with. Being outsiders almost by definition, libertarian-minded people can feel pretty isolated and defeated at times. Let’s face it, there aren’t many things to cheer about when you look at the World today, and many people around us that are more comfortable reflexively accepting the status quo can feel threatened by the message of freedom. Being able to get liberty stuff, and knowing that there are others around the globe that dig the same things you do, that see the world as you do; there’s something to that.
As for getting the word out, I’m a a huge fan of partnerships with like-minded organizations and people. We did bumper stickers that were sold on the Ron Paul 2008 site, a couple years ago we partnered up with Reason Magazine to do their official shop, we’ve worked with Young Americans for Liberty, Liberty on Tour, and we have plans to continue doing more of these types of things. I look at Liberty Maniacs as a vehicle to merchandise the liberty movement as much as possible. We’re always looking for ways to expand and help the best we can.
I’m full time with Liberty Maniacs. I also have a small design and licensing company, so when I’m not doing something for Maniacs I might be making t-shirts for a movie or Star Trek posters or something like that.
3. I assume you consider yourself a libertarian politically, what inspired you to become one?
My father exposed me to people like Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman when I was a kid, along with other folks. When I was in college I began to really become more of a libertarian in principle. By the time I was done with college I was a Ludwig von Mises Institute and general Austrian economics junky, but also a big fan of reading philosophy from the Enlightenment. I made my 1st Ron Paul for President bumper sticker in college.
Honestly, though, I’ve never been good with arbitrary authority. I chose to go to a public high school over 20 years ago as a kid, breaking a family tradition of going to a great private school in St Paul, MN. I think my libertarianism sort of organically grew from the horrible experience of public schools, and how compulsory systems are essentially nests of incompetence and corruption. I considered my public school to be horrible and it was apparently supposed to be one of the best in the country. Pretty sad.
Like many libertarians or free-market anarchists, though, I’ve flirted with political parties and organized political action. I’ve been precinct GOP captain in my town and was a Ron Paul delegate to the state convention last election.
4. As an artist, how do you get your ideas? Are there any other artists who have influenced/inspired you?
Freedom is the core inspiration for all my work. There’s no real formal process for generating the actual ideas, though the work flow process of getting ideas to product is a bit more structured.
There is so much material to work with in my field of political art. So many themes of good and evil, irony and absurdity and so on that my concept list is never bare. I think I have about ten years of ideas in my file cabinet. It seems like every time I read another book, or listen to another lecture I get a few more ideas.
I’m certainly inspired by countless other artists. Too many to even name. Sometimes you’ll see the direct influence in my work. In many respects I’d say my stuff is more thematically original than artistically original. It’s somewhat the nature of the work I do and the volume of work I produce that limits my ability to really forge ahead into completely new artistic experimentation, but that’s fine with me for now.
5. What is your personal philosophy on art?
The philosophy I have for my political art is that it should inspire people to celebrate their individuality, and challenge authority – at least illegitimate authority. The statist mindset is so ubiquitous that simple truths about right and wrong are so distorted and confused that they become really hard for people to see. When I’m doing it right, I achieve this.
As for my larger view on the object of art itself, that’s another interview probably. I’ve never been a huge fan of trying to define art. To me it’s pointless because it is so highly and wonderfully subjective. Government is basically an inversion of morality in that typically what is seen as immoral for an individual person to do actually becomes a central function or premise of the state. My professional goal is to continue to pierce that absurdity, and challenge through art and satire the idea that coercion and violence are proper ways to organize a society.
6. Many in the liberty movement seek to promote their philosophy through activism and academia, why do you think art should be included in that mix?
You have to go where the people are. The vast majority of people do not participate in politics or engage in meaningful academic discourse. That’s just the way it is.
I think it’s my calling to do what I do. I love it. I think I’m more effective doing this than anything else as well – a sort of division of labor that makes sense.
7. Do you have any favorite piece of art, literature, film etc that promotes libertarian ideals?
Orwell is in pretty heavy rotation for me right now. I get really inspired when I read his stuff and you can see it reflected in much of the work I did in 2010.
I’m also really into podcasts right now. There are so many amazing broadcasts from Freedomain radio, Lew Rockwell, and Free Talk Live, and so on that I have to admit they have been pretty influential.
8. What would be your advice for aspiring artists who share your love of liberty?
Express yourself! I so want to see more of a community of libertarian artists emerge in film, the visual arts, music, and performance art! Please experiment with your craft and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You’ll be amazed at how rewarding it is.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Learn to be amused by hate mail.
9. Could you describe your creative process? How do you go from nothing to one of your beautiful prints, for instance?
I usually sketch up some concepts based on something I thought of. It’s actually kind of weird how many ideas I have that actually come in the shower. Maybe it’s the shampoo. I don’t know.
Those sketches sometimes will make the cut, and I’ll think about what I’m going to compose, and what sort of product it’s going to be on. Certain designs work for certain products. Some posters don’t work as shirts, some shirts don’t work as iPad cases and so on. (Successful t-shirt design is sort of a niche that has its own rules, actually.) But generally I begin looking for reference material to help the composition next, and then begin working out the composition for its final stage.
Once everything is in order I bring it all together digitally. I’ve invested a fair amount in technology so that my workflow efficiency is maximized. I don’t have to scan my drawings in and painstakingly digitize them much anymore because I use WACOM tablets that allow me to draw digitally right on the screen.
From there the images go to the printer, where they do their magic once I decide where and how the art will be placed on product.
10. Did you have any formal training as an artist?
I did. I went to a now defunct private art school/community in Minnesota called the Minnesota River School of Fine Art where I learned how to sculpt, paint, and compose illustrations according to the old French Academic methods. There was breathtaking and humbling talent there from around the globe, both learning and teaching. I was truly fortunate to be there when I was.
11. How can those interested in promoting liberty cultivate and inspire artists and other creatives within the movement?
I guess I’d say by simply doing their best. Do your best and people will be inspired. Also have the courage to speak truth in what you do. That’s essential to any artist.
To see more of Dan’s work, and buy a tshirt or two, head on over to the Liberty Maniacs online store!