THERE’S A MONSTER IN MY SEAT : An Interview with SUBWAY DOODLE
Written by Ashley Alleluya
Photography credits: Subway Doodle
Appreciate boredom. Illustrator Ben Rubin of Brooklyn, NY owes his popularity to it. Boring rides in the tube lead to the creation of Ben’s private underground fantasy world that is the New York subway system. A world where fuzzy monsters sit among us as invisible equals. They share our stresses, frustrations and the fact that even monsters scramble for seats as well.
While riding the subway, most of us can’t help but imagine elaborate stories and personalities of the people riding alongside them. Subway Doodles are the manifestation of one man’s extraordinary imagination brought to life for all of us to enjoy.
We here at Kingdome have been huge fans of Ben’s work. His drawings of the distinctive blue creatures interacting with commuters on the subway is at once hilarious and relatable. Judging by the almost 170,000 fans on Instagram, there are many others who feel the same way. So we decided to track Subway Doodle and ask him a little about his work and the inspiration behind these doodles, and his answers revealed a person as warm and as friendly as his doodles are.
Let’s begin with the origins of Subway Doodle – has doodling (or any form of drawing or art) always been a creative outlet for you?
My first memories of starting to draw are when I was in kindergarten. The first picture I remember drawing as a child was a picture of Godzilla. I must have been about five or six years old. By the age of seven, I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. The Museum of Cartoon Art just happened to be in the town where I grew up; Rye Brook, NY. At the age of 12, I started working at the Museum of Cartoon Art. I worked there every Sunday until I went off to college. I studied Fine Arts and pursued a career as an illustrator and a cartoonist. Then I fell into a creative job in television and I’ve been working in this industry ever since.
I started drawing on the subway about five years ago when I bought my first iPad. I started sketching on my iPad during my commute just to pass the time. One day I took a picture with my iPad on the train and drew over the picture. It was fun so I did another, and another, and another. Subway Doodle evolved from there.
Tell us a little bit about the blue creatures that feature in most of your doodles – do they have distinct personalities in your mind?
I’ve always drawn weird creatures. As I child, I consumed an abundance of comic books, TV and movies. Now, my brain is just smashing it all together and regurgitating it. Initially, the creatures didn’t have much significance, but as Subway Doodle evolved, these bizarre creatures can be fairly accurate representations of what one encounters on the subway every day.
The creatures I draw are mostly blue because I don’t want them to be interpreted as a criticism or representation of any particular race or nationality. My doodles simply reflect the peculiar universal truths about humans.
Let’s talk about your screening process. How do you choose the perfect candidates for your doodles? Does the doodle come first or does the subject inspire the drawing?
Sometimes I take a picture with an idea in mind, but most of the time I just take pictures and figure out what I want to do later on. Often, I start drawing without knowing where I’ll end up. I take a lot of pictures, but only a fraction of them become doodles.
How long does each piece on an average take to complete?
I went through a phase where I challenged myself to create one doodle a day. The pressure to keep up started to take the fun out of it so I slowed down. I probably spend four to eight hours on each doodle and aim to complete two or three doodles a week.
How do passengers on the subway and other unsuspecting individuals usually react to your doodles?
At first, when I had a very small audience, I didn’t worry about taking pictures of strangers without their knowledge. As my audience grew I changed my approach. These days I only use shots where no one is clearly recognizable or I change their facial features. All of the children in my Subway Doodles are my kids or friends’ kids. They are willing participants in my doodles, but are also my toughest critics! My mother, father, girlfriend and friends have also appeared in my doodles. The doodles featuring my friends and family are my favorites.
Most of the comments on your social media praise your work for being so relatable – they also feel similarly about cartoon strips and comics such as The Oatmeal, The Awkward Yeti or Cyanide and Happiness. What is it about the animated form of art that you think affects people this deeply?
Sometimes my doodles illustrate a common subway experience that a lot of riders can relate to. Yet sometimes I’m just drawing for the sake of drawing. I’m not trying to say anything. It’s interesting how some people find something relatable in the doodles that weren’t intended to be anything at all.
Do you get collaboration requests from other artists often? Or are your doodles purely a form of expression?
I receive collaboration requests from other artists from time to time. I enjoy collaborations if I think their style compliments and adds an interesting dimension to my work. My goal as an artist is to feel creatively fulfilled. I am happiest when I am creating something. Whether it’s a Subway Doodle or an elaborate Halloween costume for my kids.
Have you considered expanding the Subway Doodle series – into a mini animation series or a cartoon strip, for example?
I’ve been invited to attend a SpaceX launch at Cape Canaveral. I predict some fun Rocket Doodles in the near future. I am also currently working on the next phase of Subway Doodle. Stay tuned!
To check out Subway Doodle’s amazing work, follow his accounts on the following social media platforms: