Category Archives: Design

Steamboat Willie and Tugboat Tillie T-Shirts

Steamboat Willie Shirts

I generally have little interest in drawing characters created by other people, whether they be public domain or not. Mickey Mouse is a big exception.

I grew up loving Mickey Mouse and the Disney characters, but that is not the reason I wanted to draw the mouse. As much as I enjoyed legally drawing these rascals, the primary reason I wanted to draw the mouse is political rather than artistic.

Some history:

Because of the Disney Company’s obsession with protecting the mouse from the public domain, they have been at the forefront of copyright extension for years. They pushed for the Copyright Act of 1976, and they spearheaded the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998 (also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act). Previous to these two acts, the maximum a copyright could be held for was 56 years (and only if it had been renewed after 28 years). By helping enact these two laws, they have extended copyright to a ridiculous 96 years, and have effectively have robbed the American people out of 40 years of their public domain to preserve, create and do with as they please.

This I view as extremely tragic, particularly because so many works that people have not been able to preserve legally have simply been lost. At this point, over 75% of silent films have been lost, for example. While many would have been lost anyhow due to rapidly decomposing film stock, the threat of a lawsuit for trying to preserve things clearly is directly responsible for a large portion of this loss.

It is also worth noting, to give you an idea of the scale of their thievery: if the Mickey Mouse Protection Act had not gone into law, (I believe) all works created before 1953 would now be in the public domain. This year would give us James Bond, Marilyn Monroe in Playboy, and the first season of I Love Lucy. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and The Human Torch would have been in the public domain for years. Much of Donald Duck by Carl Barks would be available to the public, well past the first appearance of Uncle Scrooge. George Orwell’s 1984. The recording of “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. The Wizard of Oz. Gone With the Wind. Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy, Doc and Dopey… the list goes on and on.

All of this has been done while Disney has made probably the majority of their wealth by exploiting works from the public domain (and then pretending they own them). The majority of Disney animated feature films from Snow White to Frozen had roots in creations in the public domain. Beyond that, they have used their ownership of Mickey Mouse to brutally harass cartoonists using the rodent in legitimate satire (see the tragic story of The Air Pirates).

The shirts I’ve printed are clearly transformative works. Disney has not to my knowledge portrayed Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie with a cable-knit sweater, a hook-hand, breasts, a pipe or a salty, devil-may-care attitude. Transformative works are what the public domain is supposed to encourage.

Disney should not be defining the conversation about what can be done with a public domain character. Rather than choosing to use the supposedly corporately-conceded tall hat and black-and-white shorts, I’ve chosen to do my own thing and have fun with it. I also put “NOT A WALT DISNEY PRODUCT” in the product descriptions, in case anyone should be confused about that.

I used “Steamboat Wille” rather than “Mickey Mouse” as the logo, both because I believe they could still harass me for a trademark violation for using a Mickey Mouse logo… but also to emphasize the transformative aspect of the public domain. I don’t want the character I drew to be referred to as Mickey Mouse (even though Mickey Mouse is public domain), because “Steamboat Willie” is a much more interesting and funny name, in my view (as is “Tugboat Tillie,” which was never a Disney character).

I’m no lawyer (thankfully), but this all seems well within the bounds of fair use of a cartoon character in the public domain to me.

Shirts available here, if you want one.

#mickeymouse #steamboatwillie #PublicDomain


OLD MADE MEN: Old Maid Just Got a Whole Lot Uglier

OLD MADE MEN is a game I made that is a gangster-themed variation on Old Maid, but rather than trying to not get stuck with the Old Maid, you try to not get stuck with The Godfather.

The Godfather


Also, when you place a matching pair (or “whack” them), there is an effect on the game that is listed on the cards.

I’m pretty happy with the design and packaging of the game… I managed to summarize the rules on one card, and it comes in a cool-looking pocket-sized metal tin.


I had fun doing the copy-writing for this… you can read more about the game here.

Youse a hitman for the Goombano family, what’s in the middle of a gang war, see? There’s a lot of contracts out for mugs in need of cement shoes. Gonna take your best poker face, plus luck and smarts to make sure you don’t get left with The Godfather. You get left with him, pal, then you gonna be the one what gets whacked.

54 CARDS | 2-4 PLAYERS | 12+ | 20 MINUTES

I’ve currently self-published the game and I have not really done anything to promote it at this point. I hope to find a publisher for it eventually (I have not started shopping it around yet). If it sounds fun to you, you can buy a copy here.


SQUIRMISH: The Card Game of Brawling Beasties

Back in 2014, my oldest daughter became obsessed with Pokemon cards. I enjoyed the creativity of the cards, but when we sat down and figured out how to play the game, I found it pretty disappointing… but inspiring! The things that I did not enjoy about that game got me thinking about how a better card-battling game could be designed… and thus SQUIRMISH was born.

After spending a year or so developing, illustrating and testing the game, I initially self-published it using the print-on-demand service The Gamecrafter. I’m more of a maker-of-things than a seller-of-things, though, so I decided I wanted to find a publisher for it. My favorite game publisher, Gamewright, had an open submission policy, so I decided to send a copy of it their way. They were enthusiastic about it, and picked it up to publish in 2018.

Here is the promotional video I made for the game:

As the audience for the game has grown, it has received a number of reviews. Here are a few of them:

“There is a ton of replay ability here… All of the boys, including Dad, are fans of Pokémon and Squirmish has provided a fresh and simple take on card battling games. The variety that is found within the game is really amazing.” – 8 0f 10 Stars at The Dice Have It.

“It’s really fun to play, really funny cards, and really fun to see all the different types of abilities and how you can try to utilize those during each game.” – Landon Squire at How Lou Sees It

“Squirmish is a fun, family-friendly game which surprised me a bit with the depth of play. When I read the rules, I thought that it would be too kiddy-like. While the artistic style and the humorous text on the cards makes it appropriate for kids, the actions on the cards does give the gamer something to work with! … If you’re looking for a game to introduce the concepts of individual card actions and combat, this would be a good choice. It also will be a good filler for gamers looking for a few laughs mixed in with their gaming.” – Dale Yu at

Squirmish was one of 16 games picked as one of “The Best New Puzzles and Games in 2018” by The Noise on Toys. Squirmish made #58 on the top 100 list of games at Benjamin’s Board Game Blog!

You can learn more about SQUIRMISH at the website for the game that I built here.

You can download the rule book for SQUIRMISH here.

Currently I am working both on creating an expansion to the initial game, and on a SQUIRMISH video game that I am developing in collaboration with Faust Logic.

For a more thorough summary of the process I went through making SQUIRMISH, you can read this article I wrote about it on Board Game Geek.

Here is a video I made on how to play SQUIRMISH:

The Beer Drinker’s Hall of Fame

The Beer Drinker's Hall of Fame posterThe Beer Drinker’s Hall of Fame is a limited edition poster I illustrated and designed (printed by the enormously talented folks at Burlesque of North America) for the first annual Posters and Pints show. It featured images of the last 42 honorees that would have been inducted into that noble institution, had it actually existed.

The show featured 40 posters by 40 different drunken Minnesota artists, along with a number of breweries from the area sampling their wares. You can see a high-resolution image of the completed poster here. You can read more about the show at


Strip Mall


My latest webcomic strip is a collaboration with my good friend Ben Zmith about the denizens of a Strip Mall. In a moment of inspiration, we decided to call it Strip Mall.

stripmall_minisBen and I both write and draw the whole thing and then forget who did what.

In addition to putting it online, we are also currently printing it as a series of mini-comics… we have three issues printed so far of a projected ten, after which it will be a book.

Ben and I also collaborated on a previous webcomic about monsters and angry science called Monkey’s Paw, which we completed a couple years ago. We’re hoping to find the right publisher for that sometime soon. Currently, it can be read in its entirety online.