Year of the Rat

Step off, Mickey. The gun-toting, drug-dealing cartoon characters known as the Three Thug Mice inhabit a New York that thrived before the Disneyfication of 42nd Street. In 35 animated shorts that began airing on this past February, Vic, Tik and Brik (voiced by underground rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, Min One of Style Wars fame and gangsta rap pioneer Kool G Rap) evade porcine police, a cockroach cocaine cartel and other unsavory characters in their efforts to go from eating welfare cheese to making real cheddar.

The weekly series of hysterical antics and brutal power plays is rendered in a lively and colorful style by 38-year-old underground cartoonist Steve Marcus. The idea was to portray a pre-Giuliani New York—dirty and dangerous, but pulsing with authenticity and a creative energy. “I came of age in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Marcus. “I remember the bombed-out trains. I got my first whiff of marijuana at Yankee Stadium in 1977. People are seeking that experience of the street and that’s what I want to bring them.” The hand-drawn mice are set against photographed backdrops, shot in present-day New York but meant to evoke the mythological period when hip hop was born. But the series isn’t just a love letter to a bygone era. Marcus sees pieces of that old New York in the city still—in the hard knock lives of today’s inner city under-class. “I want to pay my respect to the street and the people who continue to come from there,” Marcus says.

The Source Magazine serialized “Three Thug Mice” for six months in 2007, then suddenly pulled the plug. Explains Marcus: “The creative director told me that they had a sexual harassment lawsuit going on and that their legal department thought the raw sexual elements of the cartoon would compromise their position in it.”

But “TTM” didn’t just crawl into a hole. Marcus decided to take his rodent scoundrels from print to animation, enlisting the talents of cultural innovators, luminaries and rebels to help out. He got voiceovers from M-1 of Dead Prez, Ricky Powell, former Cro-Mags frontman John Joseph, Spanky Hayes from MTV’s Wild ‘N Out, reggaeton innovator Don Chezina, porn star Ashley Blue, Ari Lehman (the original Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th), Reno Bo from The Mooney Suzuki and Donnie Darko‘s James Duval.

Supplying the trigger-happy mice with ammo is the Foss Fund, which invests in creative, innovative and intelligent entertainment by branding both the artist and the content itself. According to Foss Fund founder Jennifer Tuft, “‘Three Thug Mice’ is entirely unique both in its voice, its look and its approach. It’s irreverent and fresh. Steve is the Man, he is a visionary and I am proud to have been able to help in the development of what I believe will be the masterpiece of his already prolific career.”

“Ultimately the goal is a feature film,” says Marcus. “I want to make this part of popular culture because most cartoons are made for kids or toy endorsements—not for adults.”

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