Allow him to illustrate
How Zac Gorman went viral
Published: January 11, 2012
An artist has an idea. He thinks it's cute, pointless, utterly enjoyable: Sega's video game icon. Sonic the Hedgehog, funnily running. He sketches it out and likes what he sees. Looking for a good excuse to test out new software, he turns this little drawing into an animated GIF — a rough, Web-ready animation. He throws a title at the top — "I think it'd be cute if Sonic ran like an idiot" — signs his name at the bottom, and puts it on the website that's home to his art.
Somehow, someone finds it and starts sharing it online. It finds its way to a Tumblr page — a sort of blog that, among other things, makes sharing images very easy — then to a major fanboy site, in this case Nedroid.com. It's "liked" and reblogged several hundred times. Then the heads behind that site put out a call for more artistic renditions of a "dumb-running Sonic." The response is immense. Immediately, and for weeks, new versions appear.
Someone creates a site dedicated to hosting all the other animated dumb running Sonics, which others around the world are now creating. As of Jan. 8, it's home to 376 dizzy hedgehogs. New arrivals land daily with no sign of slowing down
A blogger for the SoHo-based content aggregator BuzzFeed (brainchild of Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti) gets hold of it, and suddenly a thousand or more people view it and toss it around the Web; they post it on their Facebook wall or send out tweets, maybe even go old-school and e-mail the URL link to a few friends and in the subject bar write: This!
A meme is born.
This is what artist Zac Gorman started Dec. 9, 2011. It's been shared more than 11,000 times. The way things are going, by the time you're done reading this article, it's been reblogged again. At its current rate of being shared via Tumblr alone, Gorman's original sonic will have been viewed more than 100,000 times by the end of 2012.
When trending Internet subjects come across whatever screen of ours they happen to appear on, very rarely, if ever, do we find the primary source.
That's the case for clips of kittens, indie music videos (have you checked out Azealia Bank's "212"?), parents confessing they've eaten all their kids' Halloween candy, inventively or lazily misspelled words, things that come out of Rick Perry's mouth. Most recently, the series of videos "Shit White Girls Say."
What follows is the story of how one metro Detroit artist, with a nuanced sense of nostalgia, has found success with some of 2011's nerdiest online memes.
Zac Gorman has been drawing his whole life. As a junior in high school, he penned a comic strip for the Dearborn High School Observer called "Fuzz Muffin."
"I can't even remember why I'd joined the school newspaper," says Gorman, who absolutely knows the reason. "My girlfriend at the time was doing it, so that was probably it."
It was the artist's first serial, multicharacter strip. "It had some anti-establishment undertones," he says with a laugh.
His backpack was filled with the stuff, entire notebooks of three-panel talking-head comic strips. This was his public artistic statement. And when it ran in the school paper, people dug it. But they never saw the whole story, or did they?
"The main character was obviously just an avatar for myself, a very self-deprecating avatar. I don't know if I hide it too well," Gorman says. "People liked it, I guess. But if you psychoanalyzed my whole collection, it was actually just very self-loathing."
It was a brief affair, and didn't even continue into his senior year, but it gave Zac, now 27, his first experience with what most artists desperately need — a deadline.
After graduation and two years at community college, Gorman went to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. He says he didn't have a strong direction. "I was considering psychology and a bunch of other things, but the one thing I always loved to do was draw, so I started looking into art schools — College for Creative Studies and Kendall — and I really liked Kendall's illustration program. I was going for comic art. They had some cool illustration thing going on."
Gorman spent more time at the grindstone than most students.
"You get out of it what you put into it, right? Even outside of classes, I spent a good amount of time drawing at school. I partied my fair share, sure. But most nights were just me in my room, drawing by myself, working on self-directed projects. That time was all about learning how to draw. It still wasn't about drawing comics so much at that time. It was about trying to find my artistic voice."
He finished up art school in the winter of 2006 and moved from Grand Rapids back to Dearborn for a few months. Then, in the fall of 2007, he followed his girlfriend out to Berkeley, Calif., where she was attending university. Corporate graphic design jobs are plentiful in that part of the country, and it didn't take Gorman long to find work at a consumer electronics company.
> Email Travis R. Wright