Randy Witte of Acme Comics has nearly 800 sketches of monkeys—probably more by the time you read this—and every single one has a story. From famous actors, illustrators and musicians to anonymous locals at bars and coffee shops, a range of artists and would-be artists have taken part in what he has dubbed “The Monkey Project.”
About a dozen years ago, Witte decided to start a sketchbook. “I didn’t have any real talent myself,” he says. “I just had random people draw me pictures. And the first three people drew monkeys. They all knew that I’d been collecting monkeys my whole life… After that, it just became a thing—everybody’s gonna draw me a monkey.”
A childhood fixation with bananas got the whole thing going. “When I was a little kid, there was a period of time when the only thing I would eat was bananas,” he laughs. “So I ended up having a nickname associated with it. The next Christmas, a couple people got me monkeys—stuffed animals and things like that. From then on, it was Curious George for every holiday, then King Kong and Donkey Kong… anything monkey- or gorilla-related, I received as a gift over the years.”
Witte’s assortment of monkey memorabilia also includes sculptures, oil paintings and other unique objects, but it’s his collection of sketches that has taken on a life of its own. “I started out with a wish list of 10 professional artists—I’ve gotten all but one at this point. And every one of them was very happy to do it.”
From Jack Black to Betty White, Witte has gotten a fair number of celebrities to sign on to his project. He meets them after shows and concerts, talks to them at signings and conventions, and writes them letters in the mail. But everyone is encouraged to participate.
“A lot of them were just random people at bars, or late nights at Perkins,” he says. “I used to go to coffee shops and just pass the book around. I always have [a sketchbook] with me. Now, after doing it for 12 years, I have people searching me out… They hear about it from other people and ask if they can draw me a monkey.
“And everyone is welcome to do that,” he continues. “In fact, that’s what I want. It doesn’t matter what kind of talent or who it is… I like the randomness and the spontaneity of it.”
Having recently completed the painstaking process of scanning all his sketches into digital form, Witte plans to launch a website someday. In the meantime, he welcomes you to stop in at Acme Comics, 2218 W. Glen in Peoria, and draw him a monkey today! a&s