Acrossing the Miles: RON CHAN of Figaro
In Acrossing the Miles, the Beat’s intrepid Animal Crossing travel reporter Avery Kaplan will leave her home base on Dharma Island to soar across the Dodo skies and visit the finest creators in comics on their respective virtual islands. This week, she’s heading to an island that’s a secret to everybody: Figaro!
It was shortly after noon on May 30th, 2020 when I left Dharma Island to visit Ron Chan on his Animal Crossing island, Figaro. Ron is a cartoonist who lives in Portland, Oregon, and you may recognize his art from his work from the Plants vs. Zombies comics, the comic book versions of Stranger Things and The Guild, or his Patreon comic, Earth Boy – and fans of Star Trek will want to be sure and visit his website, where you can see his Trek-inspired Inktober drawings.
Ron was waiting for me in the airport when I arrived. I must have missed the sign he was holding with my name on it near the gate, but we sorted it out just outside the airport.
Then, we jumped over the little puzzle islands and entered Figaro proper, where the emphatic “Hey” sign prominently displayed on the ground near the entrance greeted me. Ron explained that before he had added the jumping puzzle, the “Hey” had been at the immediate entrance, but jumping over the water is a cinch, which is part of the design philosophy of Figaro.
“As soon as I got terraforming, I decided my town was going to be a no-pole, no-ladder zone,” Ron told me. “Everywhere is accessible by ramp or hop, no extra tools needed.”
The Local Watering Hole & Concert Hall
The first stop on our tour of Figaro was Two Gnomes Bar & Grill, the local watering hole.
Ron explained that the gnomes are incredibly devoted employees who work around the clock to ensure Figaro’s tiki bar can remain open at all hours.
Teamwork isn’t just important at the Two Gnomes Bar & Grill on Figaro, it’s also important in Ron’s professional life. The all-ages comic currently available through Ron’s Patreon, Earth Boy, is written by Paul Tobin, Ron’s collaborator on the Plants vs. Zombies comics.
Ron told me that after doing seven or eight volumes of Plants vs. Zombies, he was looking for a different type of project.
“It was a good project, but after a while, my brain just craves a little variety,” Ron said.
Paul suggested a creator-owned gig, and asked Ron if he’d be interested in working on a sci-fi project (the comic follows Benson Chow, the only human boy in an all-alien school).
Ron said that he leapt at the idea: “I’m like, ‘Paul, are you asking me to draw Mass Effect High?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, sure, close enough.’” Ron laughed. “I’m a huge Mass Effect fan and I’ve never really gotten to draw sci-fi before, so I thought it would be fun!”
After showing me around his wood-farm turned arboretum, we passed K.K. Slider in the Figaro Plaza and headed down to Ron’s giveaway area, clearly marked with a “free” sign. I was fortunate enough to find the DIY recipe for a western-style stone, which has proven invaluable in the construction of the Dharma Cemetery.
Next to the free area is Ron’s overflow garden, where friends can dig up any hybrid flowers that might catch their eye. Beyond that is one of the recent additions to Figaro, an outdoor music area.
“Russ Frushtick of Polygon posted a video of his animals playing some instruments, and I was like, ‘What? Animals can play instruments outdoors!’” Ron said. “So the next thing on my goal list was immediately to make an outdoor music area.”
— Ron Chan (@RonDanChan) May 29, 2020
The outdoor music area is adjacent to the island plaza, where the Figaro flag is displayed.
Ron explained that he used the Figaro flag as a touchstone for the signage all over the island. “I just adapted that color scheme and lettering to make town signs all over my different neighborhoods.”
The first neighborhood we visit is Lower Figaro, which is home to Ursula the bear, Anchovy the bird, and Pom Pom the duck.
All Around Figaro
East of Lower Figaro is Ron’s orchard. While he recently reduced the number of fruit trees he had growing in this area in order to make more room for growing flowers, he had initially had roughly fifteen of each fruit tree.
As it happens, Ron is no stranger to copious amounts of fruit. In fact, he is responsible for a Clip Studios tool that produces piles and piles of bananas.
“The banana brush! That came from a Plants Vs. Zombies comic,” Ron said. “One of the zombies, there’s just a gag where a zombie runs into a banana truck, and flings bananas everywhere. And at the time, I was getting into customizing Clip Studio paintbrushes and so I was like, ‘I could individually draw bananas, or I could make a banana brush.’ And I did just that, and I used it in the issue, and it worked great.”
However, Ron revealed to me that hadn’t been the conclusion of the legend of the banana brush: “I passed it around a little bit just as a joke, but then Steve Lieber ended up needing to draw a bunch of bananas for Jimmy Olsen, so he used it for that! It was perfect! The banana brush proudly lived on.”
All gratitude to @RonDanChan for actually making a @clipstudiopaint banana brush that, five years later, I was able to use when drawing a Jimmy Olsen panel with a lot of bananas. pic.twitter.com/gKUHJ1eHw0
— Steve Lieber (@steve_lieber) April 24, 2020
From the orchard, we headed downtown, where Figaro’s shops are located.
In addition to Able Sisters and Nook’s Cranny, there is also a courtyard area with coffee and tea.
And we also ran into one of Ron’s villagers, Roald.
Next, we headed to Midtown, which is home to several more Figaro residents, including Dallas and Boris.
Separating Midtown from Figaro Heights is the Great Waterfall, a scenic area that it’s necessary to jump across.
In addition to the neighborhoods where the villagers of Figaro make their respective residences, there are also several other interesting outdoor areas on Figaro. One of them is the lovely reception area Ron has designed for use when Redd docks at the beach on the Northern shore of Figaro. Unfortunately, Ron tells me that the lovely reception area has not been effective in attracting Redd’s attention.
“I made him such a nice area and he never shows up,” Ron said. “He should, too! He makes mad profit when he shows up! Not only do I shop but my friends have to come over and shop too.”
There is another nicely designed courtyard outside the Figaro Museum. “To the left we have this outdoor display area for various models and fossils,” Ron explained.
Ron has also designed an altar area, located in the center of several waterfalls. “When I first built this area with the waterfalls, I didn’t actually have a plan for what to put in the middle of it,” Ron explained. “I just knew I wanted like a waterfall area.” However, as he obtained more furniture, the ultimate purpose for the altar became clear.
Finally, there is a location Ron told me only visits when he’s searching for star fragments: Dead Man’s Cove!
Inside Ron’s House
With the tour of the island of Figaro completed, we head to Ron’s house.
The main room is arresting, to say the least: centered around the UFO centerpiece, the egg lamps on the floor add an eerie, Alien-esque air to the proceedings.
— Ron Chan (@RonDanChan) April 16, 2020
Ron explained that he favored the strange and unusual for his main room: “The last three iterations were all some version of “egg curse” with these egg lamps,” Ron said. “Before this, it was just about thirty-five egg lamps with the lights off, and a dark wall with a creepy floor.”
To the right of main room is the Arcade. “I didn’t even know that this game had arcade machines until I visited one of my friends who is like a serious, serious power gamer,” said Ron. “It was pretty early on but he had like almost everything already. He gave me one of these arcade machines to start as my first arcade machine… And eventually, of course, I collected them all!”
The next room on the main level is Ron’s Castlevania-inspired room.
Ron explained that he used a combination of custom designs and existing furniture items to create the undead atmosphere in the room. “I used lots of candles, and I made this custom portrait of Dracula’s wife Lisa to go about the fireplace,” Ron said. “And a dress on the wall – perhaps it was Lisa’s dress, before the humans killed her!”
The next room on the tour of Ron’s house is his bedroom, where he has used custom patterns he found online to create the illusion of a multi-level floor. Although the illusion can be easily broken, he nevertheless appreciates the interesting perspective on how to organize the furniture in his room.
Upstairs, Ron has a room that includes both an area for food preparation and a dining area. The setup includes several items from one of the most popular types of furniture in New Horizons, the Ironwood set. Ron told me that early in the game, he and many of his friends put plenty of time and effort into gathering the necessary materials for crafting the Ironwood Kitchenette and Cupboard.
Speaking of getting together, Ron told me that he is missing comic conventions.
“I miss having my hometown show, Rose City Comic Con, which would have happened later in the year anyway but they already announced that they’re not doing it,” Ron said. “I miss Emerald City Comic Con. Emerald City in Seattle has been my favorite show for like a decade.”
Ron explained that going to ECCC has become something of a tradition for him. “I’ve been driving up to Seattle from Portland for so many years to go to that show, and watching it grow to what it has now has been great,” said Ron. “It’s just the greatest reunion party of all of my comic friends from across the nation. So that a big hit to lose that. I know they still have it planned tentative for August, but I don’t think anyone really expects it’s going to happen.”
Ron told me that one of the things he misses most about conventions is getting the chance to meet his fans.
“I love talking to fans, especially I have regulars who come and get commissions from me like every single year, and I love seeing them,” Ron said. “All the kid fans of Plants vs. Zombies are very adorable when they come to my booth, and ask me questions I don’t know the answers to because they know a lot more about Plants vs. Zombies than I do!”
In the basement, Ron has a personal collection of fish.
“It gives me a reason to try and find more than one of each fish: one for Blathers, one for my fish room,” Ron said. “I got my very first Mahi Mahi last night, but I wouldn’t mind catching a second one to put in this room.”
Back at Two Gnomes
After the tour had concluded, Ron and I returned to Two Gnomes Bar & Grill. As we settled in with a frosty “vacation juice,” I asked Ron whether or not he had any special process for depicting characters that people might be most familiar with through live-action incarnations.
“I don’t know if I have a real specific process,” Ron said. “Other than the typical sort of, look at photos of them and do some sketches to kind of figure out how I want them to look. And depending on project to project, getting the likeness close to the original actor can be more or less important.”
Ron said that certain properties require more accurate likenesses. “For the Stranger Things covers that I do, they definitely want them very much to look like the actors,” Ron explained. “They want them to be very recognizable. And actually that makes a lot of sense for a cover, especially for something like Stranger Things.”
However, not every project demands such a high degree of accuracy. “For The Guild, general look was important, but they weren’t terribly concerned with having it exact, because they’re sort of fantasy characters anyway,” Ron told me. “So on that there was a lot more leeway to sort of cartoon it as opposed to go for a more realistic likeness.”
I also asked Ron if he had a favorite NPC in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and without hesitation, he answered “Celeste.”
“She’s very cute, and if you bring her celestial items for her to tell you about, she’ll tell you some myths around the constellations, and she always throws tons of shade at Zeus,” Ron said. “It’s pretty great. All of her stories are like, ‘This happened, and this happened, and basically Zeus is a big asshole.’”
After returning to Dharma Island, I grabbed a Aires rocking chair and brought it to Celeste, who confirmed Ron’s statement to be entirely accurate.
Be sure and follow Ron on Twitter to keep up with his work. Next time on Acrossing the Miles, Avery will be visiting Mathew New of Koriko.