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Eye-catching cartoon character murals pop up around Islip

Islip store owner Lori Zegel stands beside

Islip store owner Lori Zegel stands beside a tile mosaic on the exterior of her store Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. The murals are composed by an unknown creator, an artist who calls himself "Mr. 8 Bit." Credit: Barry Sloan

Pokemon Go wasn’t the first character-catching sensation in Islip.

Murals made of colorful tile pieces and depicting popular cartoon and video game characters have been spotted around the town since 2014, delighting many residents.

In August of that year, Diana Farrell, 29, of Islip, was walking with her husband near one of the town’s beaches when they spotted their first artwork: a blue and white tiled depiction of Princess Zelda.

“We stumbled upon a piece of the artwork and thought it was really cool, and we wanted to show our friends to see if there was anything else out there,” said Farrell, a sales representative.

She launched a dedicated Facebook group that has grown in the past two years to more than 300 members posting photos of nearly 50 discovered murals and trading hints to the locations of the artwork.

The murals, often found outside local businesses and on street overpasses, hit a sweet spot of nostalgia and scavenger hunt, Farrell said.

As street art mounted without permission, the artwork is not officially sanctioned — the Islip Town code prohibits graffiti — but so far, the murals seem to have drawn little attention from town officials.

The artistic style — called “8-bit” — recalls pixilated video-game graphics from the 1980s, and to many, finding the artwork in random locations around town is part of the adventure.

While the murals are composed by an unknown creator, those who have corresponded with an artist who calls himself “Mr. 8 Bit” say he’s someone with Islip roots who wanted to bring a sense of fun to the town.

“There’s so much excitement. It’s like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket when you find it,” said real estate agent and Islip Chamber of Commerce president Doris Kennedy.

She posted about the artwork on the chamber’s Facebook page and has sworn to keep the identity of artist Mr. 8 Bit a secret.

“There are kids and adults that are excited about it, and they’re out all night looking for the art. That’s the artist’s original intention — get out, get into your community and walk around town.”

The characters depicted include video game, movie and cartoon stalwarts such as Pikachu, Mario, the Powerpuff Girls, Pac-Man, Darth Vader, Yoda and a nod to digital culture with Nyan Cat and emojis. There’s even a mural of Albert Einstein’s famous unruly hair.

This summer brought a new development — after Facebook group members reported damaged or stolen murals, new murals mounted inside frames have been discovered around town. Farrell herself found a framed Princess Peach.

“It made my day, it was so exciting,” Farrell said of the discovery. “Once the location gets known, we find that the art gets taken down, whether by people who want to take it home or people who don’t want it there. That’s kind of a bummer for everybody and that makes us upset.”

But shopkeeper Lori Zegel, who owns a store in downtown Islip where a mural of a Shy Guy video game character popped up last month, said she welcomed the attention.

“It’s a positive thing for the community,” she said. “Anything to bring energy to Main Street.”


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