Posts in Category: Comix

Boondocks Triptych

Boondocks Triptych • 23" x 13"

Boondocks Triptych • 23″ x 13″

While thinking about new art to make for a comic-themed show (“Ripped from the Strips” at Psycho Donuts), I remembered The Boondocks. It ran from 1996-2006, originally on and The Source before it got picked up by national newspapers in ’99 when I discovered it. It was political enough that some papers would relegate it, Doonesbury-style, to the Opinion page. I enjoyed the comic and most of its animated incarnation. However, the cartoon shifted in tone from the comic quite a bit…enough that creator Aaron McGruder eventually cut ties with it. The opening theme song by Asheru still gets stuck in my head though.

I figured if the comic were going today, Huey and Riley would be Black Panther fans so they’re doing the Wakanda salute here…or trying to. After I inked it I realized I reversed it on Riley, which is incorrect. It kinda makes sense that Huey would get it right and Riley’s being a punk about it, though. Maybe he just wasn’t paying close attention to the form and would get pissed off if you pointed it out. Or it might actually be a partially-completed “up yours” gesture. Either intent works! I couldn’t bring myself to draw Granddad as anything but grumpy; he’s not pleased to be here.

Flaming Carrot

Flaming Carrot • 5.75" x 5.75"

Flaming Carrot • 5.75″ x 5.75″

I think every artist has a go-to character/style/theme when they’re feeling stuck…here’s one of my go-to’s when I want to draw a comic character.

This past weekend was Silicon Valley Comic-Con and we’re less than a month from Free Comic Book Day (first Saturday of May), so in honor of those, Psycho Donuts in Campbell is hosting a “Ripped from the Strips” show. It’s been a little while since I’ve drawn in a comic style, so I decided to go for one of my standbys: Flaming Carrot.

Flaming Carrot is an indie comic character created by Bob Burden in 1979, published in some form up until 2006. He was one of the “Mystery Men“, a superhero group also created by Burden that was made into a movie in 1999 that’s a pretty fair (though much flashier) representation of the oddity of the comics.

I like the combination of things to draw for Flaming Carrot – the giant carrot mask, on fire, on a guy in a kinda rumpled button-down shirt. Superhero costumes are usually spandex or armor so it’s fun to draw something different. I flipped through a pose reference book to find something suitably epic to base his pose on for exclaiming his battle cry, “Ut!”  I sketched it in pencil, filled it in with watercolors, and inked the linework once it was dry.

Peace, Love, and Understanding series

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

I made a few more three-panel illustrations with the phrase “Peace, Love, and Understanding” spelled out across tattoos. Not too much story on these; I mostly picked it as an excuse to draw different people and to think through the meaning of tattoos. “Peace” and “Love” are pretty easy to incorporate into tattoos…but “Understanding”? Much more difficult. The best I could do on that one was either including it in a longer phrase, or taking the education angle. It was getting quite challenging to not repeat tattoo locations too.

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017


Prior Art: Reel-to-Reel

Technology: Reel-to-Reel

Technology: Reel-to-Reel

Reel-to-Reel is the sixth of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Chris Edits the Clips • 24" x 18" • acrylic on canvas

Chris Edits the Clips • 24″ x 18″

Chris Edits the Clips

“Software has eaten music production. It’s gotten much cheaper, more dematerialized, and extremely powerful. And it’s become sterile, automated, and over-produced. My work tries to make digital music seem analog, to blur the 1s and 0s with waves and voltages, noise and decay. When I see these Old School reel-to-reel tapes I hear the room noise hissing like electric snakes on a Summer lawn, the rich magnetic warmth of tape head transduction, and the slight aperiodic wobble of the motors resolutely unknowable in the face of unyielding digital perfection.”
Chris Arkenberg // @chris23 //

Early audio used cylinders or disks to capture recording, until the middle of the 20th century when advances in tape recording provided a higher fidelity than ever before. Recordings were primarily made onto tape until the advent of digital recording. Tape recording allowed performers, who previously could only perform live, to record and edit their shows. It also enabled producers to create multi-track recordings where individual performers could record their parts and the producer could have greater control over how they combined into the final recording.

Recording studios used reel-to-reel tapes to capture individual performances and layer sounds. It also enabled editors to include sound effects like laugh tracks. In addition to the dedicated recording studios, radio stations would often have their own sound recording and mixing equipment as well. This was used for recording interviews and live performances at the station. It was also a way to create advertisements or underwriting spots that were pre-recorded and could be played between songs

True-to-Life Fidelity • 10" x 8" • colored pencil, marker, and ink on paper

True-to-Life Fidelity • 10″ x 8″

True-to-Life Fidelity

Advances in tape technology were a closely-guarded secret during World War II. German engineers had accidentally discovered a much higher-fidelity form of recording than previously thought possible, and this was used to allow Hitler to broadcast supposedly “live” speeches from other cities. At the end of the war, U.S. Army Signal Corps member Jack Mullin came across two Magnetophon machines at a radio station in Frankfurt that he brought back home and reverse-engineered to develop the machines for commercial use.

One early adopter was Bing Crosby, who was a popular radio star who had grown weary of a live recording schedule. He saw the potential in pre-recording shows and promptly invested in the technology, becoming the first American performer to use it. Further development led to stereo and multitrack audio recorders. One of the first musicians to use those was Les Paul who also invented the electric guitar. These two inventions set the stage for the explosion of rock and roll music.

The Art of Splicing • 7" x 5" • Dymo labels and colored pencil on paper

The Art of Splicing • 7″ x 5″

The Art of Splicing

Editing a reel-to-reel recording is a manual process of cutting and combining tape. Some machines included tape splicers directly on them, but editing could also be done simply with a steady hand, a sharp blade, and tape.

The angle of the cut affects the nature of the transition. A “hard cut” is a strict transition from one tape to another where the tape is cut at a 90-degree angle. For a softer transition, editors use a “soft cut” of 45 degrees or a “super soft cut” of 30 degrees.

Prior Art: Transfers

Technology: Transfers

Technology: Transfers

Transfers are the fifth of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Deb Trims the Screen • 18" x 24" • acrylic on canvas

Deb Trims the Screen • 18″ x 24″

Deb Trims the Screen

My art/graphic design education began when Macs were quaint little upright boxes, and most layout work required Exacto knives and hot wax. Ah, those were the days. This work is faster and easier now, but part of me misses the meditative physicality of this work.
Deb Aoki //

Just as typesetting made book creation more efficient by eliminating the need to write each one by hand, graphic designers and illustrators have also sought technologies to make their results more predictable and efficient. Transfers provided these shortcuts for fonts, clip art, and patterns.

One type of transfer is the “dry transfer” of rub-on (rubdown) screens: decals applied with pressure. These are used by placing them upside down on the paper and applying pressure by carefully burnishing the letter (or art) the artist wishes to use.

Another type is screentones: printed sticker-like sheets that artists cut pieces from and stick directly onto their art. Companies like Zip-A-Tone, Chart-Pak, and Letraset created halftone hatches, dots, and lines to provide texture for black and white art.

Comic artists have relied on screentones as a way to add depth and texture to black and white illustration. Screentones can range from simple dot and line patterns to action-evoking speed lines to elaborate backgrounds of stars, foliage, or cityscapes. Precisely trimming screentones and aligning their patterns is a skill unto itself.

Year 24 Group (Incomplete) • 8" x 10" • colored pencil, ink and screentone on paper

Year 24 Group (Incomplete) • 8″ x 10

Year 24 Group (Incomplete)

In Japan, comics (manga) have a large and diverse reader base that includes comics created for a range of ages. A group of female artists in the 1970s created manga aimed at women that explored complex emotional themes in a variety of genres. Though not an official group, they were dubbed the “Year 24 Group” since many of them were born in 1949 (Showa Year 24 in the Japanese calendar).

Traditionally, comics are drawn on Bristol board with blue pencils since the blue marks will not be seen when it is scanned for reproduction. Screentones are a quick way to add texture and depth for something even as simple as a gray gradient.

Quicksilver Ambition • 7" x 5" • ink on paper

Quicksilver Ambition • 7″ x 5″

Quicksilver Ambition

In 1976, Dean Morris (then 16) created a hand-drawn font and submitted xeroxed copies to the Letraset company in the hope they might be interested in it.

“Letraset must have wanted it real fast (fifties nostalgia and disco were WHITE HOT then, remember), because they did the finished art themselves at 5” high (they can’t have known my age, maybe they had no confidence in my technical talent).”

Many of these pre-digital fonts were converted to digital, so Dean Morris’s Quicksilver lives on to evoke the disco era.

How to Be Small

How to Be Small • 23" x 13"

How to Be Small • 23″ x 13″

I recently created this for the Works/San José group show with the theme “Vote Your Subconscience“. I’m feeling a bit weary of the daily outrages this political season and opted to focus instead on more universal follies: how lack of critical thinking and/or empathy can shut a person off from the world. Or, in other words: how to be small/narrow/inflexible in one’s thinking and behavior.

As a way to emphasize “small”, I’ve made this a tiny gallery on its own. Each piece in here looks like a frame, complete with mat and label. The art itself is on Artist Trading Cards, a nice small format, drawn with black and gray markers.

The gradation on the mat is not an optical illusion. I’ve had this aqua-colored mat board for years, and at some point realized it had become faded by the sun along one edge. I like the effect here where the color is draining away.

Reject New Information

Reject New Information

Discount Other Experiences

Discount Other Experiences

Ignore Your Own Motivations

Ignore Your Own Motivations


Editorial cartoons for the Mustang Daily

Over the course of four years I drew editorial cartoons for the Mustang Daily, the student-run daily newspaper for Cal Poly State University (San Luis Obispo). Since this was back when the paper was print only I haven’t had access to them…until now! Cal Poly recently digitized the entire 100-year run of the paper. I tracked down all of my illustrations – nine quarters’ worth, from ’96-’99, 231 cartoons in total.

The deadlines for a newspaper, especially a daily newspaper, are pretty grueling. I’d usually follow the same routine:

  1. Stop by the the newsroom to see what topics would be in the next day’s Opinion or Letters to the Editor
  2. Go down the hall to the radio station, KCPR, and sit on their broken-down couch to do research and figure out what to draw. During my last year, the paper opted to run solo editorial cartoons (not connected to the letters) so those took extra research. I’d usually read through the AP wire for potential topics.
  3. Draw! The cartoon itself could take an hour or more to draw. On some days when they needed more space to fill there were multiple illustrations to draw.
  4. When it was done, go back down the hall and drop ’em off with the editor.

The cartoons ranged from very local concerns (campus politics, things happening around San Luis Obispo), to typical college woes, to US and world politics. I’ll be writing posts about a half dozen or so themes I’ve gleaned from looking at all of them together and some of the context around them. In the meantime, here are a dozen of my favorite illustrations that showcase some of the variety of topics.


"Could you please stop that?"

“Could you please stop that?”
11/13/96 issue

"Just what is so great about color, anyway?"

“Just what is so great about color, anyway?”
11/21/96 issue

"Affirmative Action: A step towards equality"

“Affirmative Action: A step towards equality”
9/26/97 issue

"Time to face the music"

“Time to face the music”                        
10/7/97 issue

"More room for bikes!"

“More room for bikes!”                       
10/8/97 issue

"Making the best of campus dining"

“Making the best of campus dining”                                           
10/29/97 issue

"Television violence: hooray V-chip"

“Television violence: hooray V-chip”                                           
12/3/97 issue

"Adultery isn't a crime / We don't care unless it's about sex"

“Adultery isn’t a crime / We don’t care unless it’s about sex”
1/29/98 issue

Cartoon about Nobel Prize for Viagra

Cartoon about Nobel Prize for Viagra                                                         
10/16/98 issue

Cartoon about Jesse Ventura as governor

Cartoon about Jesse Ventura as governor                                   
11/6/98 issue

"War is necessary to preserve peace"

“War is necessary to preserve peace”
4/15/99 issue

Cartoon about easy-to-access guns

Cartoon about easy-to-access guns
5/26/99 issue

Compelling Characters and Customer Journeys

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Just finished a fun project: creating customer journey maps!

Though normally there isn’t much crossover between my artwork and my experience design work, this project fell squarely between the two. I learned a lot while doing it, and the output is fun…so here’s a glimpse at what I created and why.I recently worked with Weight Watchers to distill extensive research into a high-level story about what happens when people sign up for the program. Director of design Vlad Margulis, researcher Paige Bennett, and I worked together to describe the process – which spans a website, in-person meetings, and a mobile app – into one continuous experience. We used personas, spreadsheets, and service blueprints to craft a story with 16 distinct steps. Each step has its own customer & business goals, opportunities and pain points, and even different teams working on them.

High level view of the completed customer journey map

High level view of the completed customer journey map

That’s all design work, though…why use illustrations? With such rich detail about the logistics, the illustrations provide one coherent story arc. It not only shows how one interaction led to another, but also provides insight to the emotional cues: the uncertainties, the curiosities, the victories.

This project was particularly well suited for this kind of activity due to the variety of environments and people that are a part of it. Here are the qualities I’ve found to make these kind of illustrations lively and effective.


Expression. Both the facial expression and pose can speak volumes about what’s on a person’s mind. Eyebrows, shoulders, and overall angle can go far in showing reactions, even with stick figures. I reused drawings of “Jennifer” many times with these small adjustments. When Jennifer’s contemplating something, I have her raise her right eyebrow just a bit higher than the left; asymmetry always looks more natural.

Closed eyes can help reinforce contentment or frustration. On one drawing, I added a little extra blush when one of her fears is addressed. For the meeting portion I introduced Jennifer’s purse as an additional cue about how she feels. The way she holds/interacts with it changes over time as a signal about how comfortable she feels.

Meaningful colors. I started off with more muted tones and made them more vibrant as the story progresses. I also picked a few key colors to make it easier to spot particular items of note. Pink/salmon is Jennifer’s color to help keep the focus on her throughout the story. Green is a cue about the environment she interacts with: from her laptop, to the chairs at the meeting, to her mobile phone. Blue is a cue for Weight Watchers itself, which I used when Jennifer compares plans and imagines what it will be like, and reinforced by the book she receives and the meeting leader’s attire.

Varied layouts. Seeing the same layout step after step can present a quiet feeling, one where not much is happening besides the passage of time. If this is what you want, great! If not, it’s worth varying the size, layout, and/or angle of characters to keep it fresh and prevent them from feeling wooden or lacking emotion. There are three types of layouts I like to use to switch things up.

An Environment layout

An Environment layout

Environment. These are great for establishing shots before getting into details. I also started with one here with a thought balloon to contrast what Jennifer’s thinking about (“what plan should I choose?”) with a reflection of where she’s starting from for food and fitness.

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

Over-the-shoulder. It’s handy to see both the person and the thing they’re looking at. In this case, it was more important to see her facial expression and pose than how she was specifically interacting with her laptop or phone. What she sees – the screen – takes the place of the background. It’s what she’s focused on now, after all. I also kept with a cartoony style here to avoid prescribing what the interface itself should look like (and also wanted to indicate locations that matter to her: home, work, daycare).

A Cause and Effect example

A Cause and Effect layout

Cause and effect. I like to use a squiggly line between two things to show different points of view. Since I can assume the team I’m creating this for reads English, I can rely on a left-to-right visual parsing of what I draw. It usually doesn’t take much beyond that, though if it’s a trickier visual progression, characters can look or gesture towards the direction you want readers to see next. If all else fails there’s always arrows, but it’s a fun layout challenge to make it work without them.

Character illustrations can lend a lot of richness to understanding what’s happening with people, and any fidelity will do if you take a little care to keep them lively. I highly recommend using a vector drawing tool so they’ll look good when printed, and you can go far with simple transforms. Draw on!

Getting back to editorial cartooning

The final color version

Nothing like deadlines to get motivated! The Union of Concerned Scientists puts out a calendar every year with editorial cartoons about scientific integrity. I learned about the contest a couple of years ago, and somehow, each year, I let the deadline slip away from me. This year, the day before the deadline I realized it was about to happen again–and it occurred to me that the only way to break this was to treat this with the same urgency as the cartoons I drew for the Mustang Daily.

When I was doing this every day, the absolute fastest I could create a cartoon from start to finish (picking a topic, figuring out what to say, sorting out the layout, pencilling and inking) was an hour. I decided that I’d give myself twenty minutes to think of something to do. If I came up with something decent, I’d see it through. In college I used to run through the AP wire for story ideas; for this, I browsed through the UCS website to get a sense of the topics.

After twenty minutes, I had two ideas very roughly sketched out. Enough to go on! I drew these two cartoons in just under two hours. The siren lobbyists made it to the finals, which means they’ll be in the calendar. Will they end up on the cover? Perhaps, if I get enough votes!

The extent of the planning

A little social media commentary

The finalist!

Killers Lyrics in Cartoon Form

Never thought I'd draw these three together

Never thought I’d draw these three together

I was trying to make sense of some of the lyrics from new songs by The Killers. In particular, I was puzzling through the relationships established by the chorus of their latest single.

Starmaker says “It ain’t so bad”
‘s gonna make you mad
says “Everybody look down; it’s all in your mind.”

So here is the most immediate, literal interpretation that occurred to me. I figured Dreammaker’s being a jerk and Starmaker and Spaceman are dealing with it in different ways. At first I considered having them messing with tiny people, since they are mostly larger than life, but was getting stuck on a plausible annoying thing Dreammaker could do. Hence the dream dust.

I do like that this ended up as a mix of video game, comic, and music characters.