Helnwein was born in Vienna in 1948. "It is the most disturbed city I know. On the surface it is sugar and spice, elegant and civilized. Underneath Vienna is crazy, sick, insane. There are more insane people in that city than in New York . . . For me, childhood was all wrong. It was a dark, bleak time in the early ë50s after the war ended. Then, I remember, my father brought me my first Mickey Mouse comics -- I was 6 years old. There was something so fresh and happy about that little mouse. It changed my life. I began to draw cartoons." He was trained classically in Vienna by Rudolf Hausner, but saw himself outside the mainstream. In the 60s and 70s, he and other students staged Aktions, or happenings, in the Vienna Academy and in the streets. In one, he lay down on the sidewalk, heavily bandaged, begging for help. "The idea was to just wake people up, to break through their indifference."