The Art of Solicited D*ck Pics

Just in time for the Folsom Street Fair, a North Beach lettering artist and a colleague launch Dicks and Giggles, an Instagram project and eventual T-shirt line based on the joy of phallic puns.

Illustration by Laura Thomson

Boston artist and lifelong Golden Girls fan Mike Denison committed to a project several years ago where he would draw a daily picture of Bea Arthur, in the style of a random cultural reference and usually punning on her name. There was “DarBea,” after the main character of the 1990s animated show Daria, or “MartBea McFly” checking his watch to go back to 1985. #BeaADay led to a coloring book called Cuter Than an Intrauterine, and the project was so fertile that after the first 365 days were up, Denison did it for another year — and then another, and now another still. #BeaADay4ever, indeed.

Some of the titles can be self-consciously unwieldy, like “Friday the Thirt-Bea-nth,” although seeing the actress who played Maude and Dorothy Zbornak in a Jason Voorhees hockey mask is certainly amusing. (And for what it’s worth, Denison happens to be a heterosexual dad, a fact worth noting chiefly because several outlets erroneously published write-ups that assumed he is gay.) But his capacity for wordplay is apparently limitless, and there’s no telling how far Denison might go.

Just in time for the Folsom Street Fair (Sunday, Sept. 30), North Beach lettering artist and Columbus Cafe bartender Laura Thomson has launched a new Instagram project (and forthcoming T-shirt line) centered on a somewhat cruder type of visual wordplay: penis jokes. Dicks and Giggles originated when Thomson and a colleague named Will — who requested that only his first name be used, owing to another day-job he holds — started doodling together after their shifts. An educator with a dry bearing, Will is a fan of crossword puzzles, too.

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“Draw in pencil, crossword in pen,” he tells SF Weekly.

We’re sitting in Thomson’s apartment, where the dirty puns — intended or otherwise — seem to be unstoppable in our conversation. One wall consists entirely of a chalkboard full of ideas, like a Magic 8-Ball(s) that asks “Will I get laid?” and answers “Outlook not so good.” And the restroom is essentially a toilet-humor art gallery.

“My dad visited recently,” she says. “That was awkward. He just walked out of the bathroom, like ‘That’s my girl.’ ”

Thomson is continually struck by how any analog art project seems to be treated as an anachronism at a time when kids are no longer taught cursive in school.

“Doing shit by hand in San Francisco right now, coffee shop people just stare at me like I’m a freak because I have a pencil and a piece of paper,” she says, “like, ‘What, is that homework you’re working on?’”

Will and Laura Thomson

We alight on the topic of Greek mythology, which seems like an easy area to mine for material, what with Medusa and the Hydra and all. And in fact, Dicks and Giggles began with animals.

“It started with ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Doo,’ ” Will says. “That was just a chicken with a cock for a head. Then it was ‘Cock Lobster’ and ‘Cocktopus.’ ”

The latter’s style approximates the Sailor Jerry tattoo aesthetic. (It’s also something of a misnomer, since while all its tentacles are technically sexual organs, so is the mollusk’s head, making nine in all.) While heavily tattooed herself, Thomson is not a tattoo artist, although she’s produced signs for around 40 bars in and around the city, many of them in North Beach. Her propensity for time-consuming freehand line work makes her a relative rarity in an era when almost anyone can learn the basics of vector graphics and achieve similar results without a steady hand. A lot of tattoo artists, for instance, specifically dislike lettering, because as artists their minds are more pictorial.

“They didn’t go to school for it,” says Thomson, a native of Slough, U.K., who studied at the University of Brighton. “Understanding the little nuances in letters is a completely different thing.”

In other words, however juvenile Dicks and Giggles may sound, it’s the work of a trained professional — and one who needed “a little levity” in her life after several recent health scares, including a pulmonary embolism that led to a five-day stay in the ICU.

Beyond T-shirts (or “D-shirts”), Thomson and Will have a pop-up book (or “cock-up book”) in mind. They’re also open to collaborations and commissions, including one with a friend who’s adept at drawing manga and whose contribution will become “King Dong,” a giant ape on the side of the Empire State Building swatting at “heli-cockters.”

One of the funnier finished examples is a reappropriation of a well-known image of a certain jowly filmmaker who once made a scary movie about birds and who famously appeared in profile — except this time, he’s notably erect. (His surname alone is all the pun you need.) Above all, Will is adamant that the majority of the Dicks and Giggles images have to be funny and not excessively scary or gross. As we’re speaking, he’s playing around with something that might be a phallic yin-yang or ouroboros, but having drawn some eyes on it, it looks a little like two fish eating one another, so it’s going back on the lightbox for correction.

“I ran this idea by a few guy friends who were not comfortable with it. They’re too macho,” Will says. “But they’re better than fart jokes. And fart jokes are pretty good — but they’re too hard to draw.”


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