His father was an artist who had worked as an animator for Walt Disney on the 1937 film Snow White, so it was natural for Stanley Miller to grow up drawing pictures and cartoons around the family dinner table in Detroit, Michigan. He could draw a perfect circle when he was five. When a grade school friend gave Stanley the nickname “Mouse O’Miller,” he started signing and writing things as ‘Mouse.’ It caught on and everybody knew him as “Mouse,” instantly, in grade school.
Mouse left high school in 1956 to attend art school in downtown Detroit, at the Society of Arts and Crafts. After going to art school for about a year he enrolled in Cooley High School, where he became the school cartoonist. In his last year at Cooley, Mouse started painting t-shirts at car shows and at the fair, and became immediately, instantly famous. He would have ads in Rod & Custom Magazine, and would receive one hundred dollars every day in the mail. Then Mouse started pin-striping cars and when he got an airbrush, started spraying cars with flames. For the next eight years, his parents went to work for him—his mother ran the mail order and his dad managed him on the road. They went to hot rod shows every weekend and during the week Mouse went to art school.
In art school, Mouse was keenly interested in life drawing, and he excelled in it. People said that his painting looked like advertising art. Consequently, Mouse started looking for the next step. That was about the time when psychedelic drugs came in and the Vietnam War gave rise to the anti-war movement. A lot of Detroiters had moved to San Francisco, and Mouse got word that a lot was happening there. Mouse had been to San Francisco for car shows and had liked the city.
In 1965, Mouse drove his brand new Porsche to San Francisco and got a little place in Berkeley. After a draft board episode in Detroit, Mouse made a bee-line back to San Francisco in a rented hearse with a “Make Love, Not War” sticker that he had put on its back window.
While Mouse was away in Detroit, the parties had become so big they had moved to dance halls. And the promoters had started using posters. He considered Wes Wilson's early posters—rounded shapes, funky looking—the start of an art movement.
Mouse rented an old firehouse with a place for a studio upstairs. Alton Kelley came over with Chet Helms. Mouse had known Kelley from the prior stay and Kelley knew all the Detroit people. At their first meeting, Mouse’s Porsche had broken down and Kelley worked on trying to fix it. Kelley was the art director for the Family Dog, and he and Helms met to ask Mouse to do a poster. Mouse tells it in an interview:
“. . . Kelley and I would go to the library and would just scour through all the art books in the San Francisco Library. And just doing that, our art education became so amazing. I looked at the Art Nouveau and the Art Deco, and all that stuff. And Kelley's apartments were always really tastefully done. He really had good taste and I thought, well you know, with his kinda taste and my hand, which was really at its apex at the time, from drawing some near a millions miles of drawing on T-shirts and airbrushing, that I thought there was a really cool combination. I always liked . . . I guess it might be one of my Libra traits, that I always like to paint with somebody else. Kelley was great at layout and he had really fine taste, and so we started doing these posters, which were instantly really far out and sophisticated. And it was an amazing thing, you know, it was that moment in time where you keep saying that it was the apex and it was . . .”