The front of Mike Bennett’s house in the quiet Northeast Portland neighborhood of Vernon looks like a Twitter feed come to life.
Scattered around his driveway and garage, painted onto pieces of plywood, are flawless re-creations of deep-cut memes recognizable to anyone who spends just a little too much time online—Big Chungus, Surprised Pikachu, Handsome Squidward. Other semi-familiar faces, like Zoidberg from Futurama, The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum, and No-Face from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, also appear throughout his makeshift workshop.
“I checked in with all my neighbors and asked, ‘If I put these out, is it going to bother you?’” says Bennett. “And they’re like, ‘If you put these inside, it’s going to bother us.’”
The illustrator, who works as an administrative assistant at a local real estate company, has been creating his own characters for years, through digital design and free-hand illustrations. But it wasn’t until a few months ago, when he began making wood cutouts of popular animated figures, that he ended up going viral.
It started with the Snow Goons, the army of tyrannical snowmen who made frequent appearances in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Bennett didn’t have any grand plans—it was just a way to make use of some plywood left over from a home decorating project. But once he started sharing his creations on Reddit, the response convinced him he should keep going. He then hid them all over town for others to find, as a sort of scavenger hunt. He re-created the “Homer Simpson disappearing into bushes” meme with an actual bush, and sat the “This Is Fine” dog among the tower of bikes of the Zoobomb Pyle downtown.
“I guess they just make me smile,” he says.
Bennett quickly gained over 210,000 followers on Tik Tok, the app for creating and sharing short videos, where he stitches together video of his process accompanied by music. His art has now been featured by Atlas Obscura and BBC News, and he recently traveled to New York City on behalf of Travel Portland for a creative conference.
Still, nowhere is Bennett more popular than back home in Vernon. On a recent Saturday night, the neighborhood gathered in his backyard to celebrate his recent success. Portland comics Jake Silberman and Hunter Donaldson, co-hosts of Comedy Party House Show Comedy, stood on a makeshift stage, surrounded by Bennett’s plywood creations.
“What the fuck are these things?” yelled Silberman over the mic, looking over his shoulder.
“Aren’t they fucking awesome?” Donaldson replied. The audience cheered.