Fire Flower Island, 1982


Fire Flower Island, 1982

Cody VanWinkle


“I had to decide what Waluigi’s chest hair situation should be.”

Interview by L. Valena

First, can you please describe what you responded to?

It was a page of text, and I was surprised that it was one big video game reference. I'm not a gamer, so it was a fun challenge for me. It was a grittier, more realistic depiction of Mario and his lore. My first thought was ‘I don't know what to do with this’, and I didn't expect square one to be the hard part. I wanted to use the text as much as possible, but I also wanted to create something, more than just interpret something.

What happened next?

I read it a whole bunch more times, looking for other ways to interpret what I was reading. I tried to find different creative ways to find an 'in'- I was trying to find other creative applications of the text without really having to explore 'Mario'. So, I went through a lot of Plan A's that got scrapped. Mario himself has never really meant much to me. When I was a kid, maybe, and there was the nostalgic feeling of being a kid and discovering cool video games- that's a real feeling that I could have worked with. But Mario himself, especially seeing him in a more gritty realistic sense didn't speak to me much.

So I thought about other ways you could make a real application of these characters. I thought of other characters that meant more to me in that canon, like Donkey Kong, and Wario- who is evil Mario (and who I think is very charming). I thought about those characters, and what real world setting I could use. And then I realized that I could make them gay, and it might be a 1950's vintage postcard beach vacation kind of a thing. You know, point A to point B- a natural progression. And I'm really happy with how it turned out. That was the other fun part, when I finally had a vision and I got to sketch out thumbnails and figure out cute details. So it ended up being Wario, Waluigi and Donkey Kong, on the beach.

Maybe we should print these out as postcards and send them out?

I love that idea. I do think that the truest form for this piece would be to receive it in the mail as a postcard, and wonder what tropical location that came from. I got to look at old photos of muscle men posing, and I got to decide what everyone would wear to the beach. I had to decide what Waluigi's chest hair situation should be.

And what color banana hammock Donkey Kong was going to wear?

Well that was a no brainer, it had to be red. Everyone knows that. Normally he doesn't wear any pants at all, but when he goes to the beach he has to slip into a banana hammock. I don't understand why that is. It's like when Porky Pig gets out of the bath, and wraps a towel around his waist to answer the door. But when he leaves the house he just wears a hat and a blazer, and no pants whatsoever! I had the most fun with Wario because I wanted him to be wearing something sexy.

Because he's evil?

Yes, and because he's more visibly butch of all the characters on that page, I figured he should have the most flamboyant, femme- presenting outfit. So I put him in a transparent sarong. It was important to me to explore: if Wario was going on a gay beach excursion, what would he wear?

When you look at this now, what is your favorite thing about it?

Probably Wario's outfit, and his pose. I'm an illustrator who has very shamefully not explored drawing a lot of different body types. I hadn't explored drawing curvier characters in a variety of positions, so that was a fun challenge for me. To take a character like Wario, who has a big belly, and strip him of his clothes. I've never seen him clothesless before, so I had to figure that out. And then I also wanted him to be standing in a pose in which he's being flirty. And I'm really happy with how that turned out. Also Donkey Kong's sunglasses. I looked up an image of when Cartman was a motorcycle cop on some ancient episode of South Park, and he was wearing some highly reflective aviator sunglasses, and I wanted to capture that.

Do you have advice for someone else taking on this project?

I think it's important that you find that balance that I had to find between being faithful to the piece you're inspired by and also doing your own thing. That can be a really hard spot to find- I don't even know how successful I was, but I thought it was important to look to satisfy both of those sides. I wanted to interpret and to create. And I think I did it, but that would mean something different to different people. That's something that you can't blow off- you have to explore that.

I have always done my best work when I'm given a challenge- when I'm given someone else's idea to work with. Because then I have to go through an exploration to apply it to my own art. When I was illustrating at 826 Boston I had to do that all the time- little kids made up a weird idea and I would have to draw it for them, to their satisfaction.

Like half one animal, half another animal?

Yeah, there was one story that took place inside a haunted hospital in space, and so I got to draw that, on the inside and the outside. And then one of the characters was a mad scientist, who was half normal human, and half frozen Mountain Dew. And he was split down the middle- the right half was one thing and the left half was the other. That was their idea, and I was given that challenge and 10 minutes to draw a six panel storyboard about this character in this context doing these things, and that was the most fun. I think that experience prepared me for certain challenges that other artists just don't get, because they're always making up their own weird things, and I was assigned ideas to work with by small children. So I recommend all artists find challenges like this, because it helps you flex muscles you haven't flexed before, and may not even know you have.   

[Editor's note: We did have a small run of these postcards printed, and we'd be delighted to send you one! Just send an email with your mailing address to with the subject heading 'POSTCARD'.- xoxo LRV]

Call Number: M7PP | M10VA.vaFi

Cody headshot


Cody VanWinkle spent five years illustrating children's books at the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. In 2017, he was published in And Lester Swam On, written by 21 rambunctious second graders. Someday, he would like to combine his passions for making ice cream and knitting.