From October through February, the North Shore of Oahu sizzles. WQS and WCT pros from around the world post up in the team houses along the Kamehameha Highway, the best waves light up the hallowed beaches from Waimea to Velzyland, and a seemingly unending string of contests have locals and visiting hoards of fans in the daily routine of waking up before sunrise in anticipation of “the call.”
Another seasonal addition to the community every winter is Volcom’s in-house artist, Andrew Miller, better known as Drew Toonz. Whether you were a fan of his sketch surf sitcom Surf Skool back in the day, or you wore his printed Volcom tees, or you followed the Volcom Pipe Pro broadcast and chuckled at the animated PSAs from North Shore staples, you’ve probably seen Drew’s sketchy, speedy, raw lo-fi cartoons, honed from years as an animator.
“I used to do really detailed stuff, and it still can be detailed, but with animation you can’t spend too much time on a single drawing because you have to do so much just to keep it moving,” he said. “The style is almost rushed, but it kind of works.”
And if you’ve cruised Pipeline during peak season, you’ve probably even seen Toonz himself at the pair of houses owned by Volcom. Tall, dark haired, quiet, and usually wearing shades to keep his thoughts hidden inside until they’re ready to spring to life on paper or screen. He’s an elusive figure, usually tucked into an oft-ignored corner of the Volcom, sitting at his desk where he can create while crowds cheer and waves break right outside the door.
The 38-year-old Philadelphia native “was always into drawing, ever since I could pick up a crayon or whatever. We never had art classes or anything. All my notebooks were just drawings, but art as a career was never an option.” So he did the seemingly sensible thing and went to the only college he got into, studying chemistry and hoping to work with his pharmacist sister in the future.
“I went to some liberal arts college in Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania. It was fuckin’ horrible,” Toonz said, his light East Coast accent emerging on the choice words describing the school he refused to name.
When he dropped out after a year and found himself without direction, it was his brother who took the wheel and enrolled him in the Philadelphia Art Institute. It finally put Miller’s talent, passion, and future goals all on the same path. Having spent one year attending Mililani High School on Oahu’s North Shore — where his New Jersey surf skills got a Hawaiian upgrade — Drew knew this was where he wanted to live after graduation, and soon thereafter Surf Skool was born.
Centered on a typical North Shore surfer named Johnny Stone, the stoniest Stone on the block, the short comedic episodes of 2D drawings quickly caught the attention of coolest Stone on the block: Volcom Stone. By the time Toonz premiered the third episode, Volcom hired him to do a 24-minute animated film featuring all the team riders, and the rest is copasetic, organically developed history.
“It was kind of my big break, I was really excited about it,” Drew recalls of the 2007 film about a caveman frozen in ice who washes up at the Volcom House in present day Oahu for animated antics alongside guys like Bruce Irons, Ozzie Wright, Dean Morrison, and Kai Garcia.
After nearly a decade of seasonal work with the brand, Toonz finally began sleeping in the house every winter three years ago, following the same gradated process as the groms that pass through year after year.
“I started out on the floor, then the next year I got the couch, then this year I was Big Willy style,” he said. “I’ve got it pretty good.”
Toonz calls year-round keeper of the House Tai Vandyke his partner and “go-to guy” for the voices of the characters that grace his cartoons. Drew can draw the Volcom Stone — which he thinks has roots in the yin-yang symbol — in his sleep, and he arrives every year with a few approved sketches already done for stickers and t-shirts. This year’s designs featured the Stone replacing vowels in “If You Ain’t Got Aloha, You’ve Gotta Go, Brah” and “Ho, Brah” as well as a sketchy doodle of the Stone holding up a sign proclaiming, “Keep Hawaii Stoned.”
It’s been an exciting season of free surfing coupled with a few epic contest days out front where Toonz became good friends with young New Yorker Balaram Stack. But the cartoonist is ready for his next steps, which he is aiming at the white hot lights of Hollywood. After some close brushes with syndicated animated show offerings, Toonz is exploring his options within the music industry. He’s worked with Lil Wayne and recently produced a mesmerizing, psychedelic animated video for the Lolawolf x Miley Cyrus song, Teardrops.
Beyond his videos, Miller’s work can be seen through commissioned jobs and his Instagram account, where nearly 100,000 followers peek inside the artist’s head as he expresses himself through Emo Cat, a small, cool feline who’s always wearing shades and seems to have been born without any fucks to give.
Emerging about three years ago and commonly gracing notes to ex-girlfriends, Emo Cat has toned down the darkness and elevated the humor after amassing a devoted fan following. Whether he’s navigating the world of dating, commenting on current events, or expressing his political views (spoiler alert: he’s not a fan of The Donald), Emo Cat is where the unspoken words of Andrew Miller pour out freely. But it’s not the reaction Toonz seeks in his work, it’s the connection.
“Before I’m a political cartoonist, I’m just a cartoonist,” he said. “I like the ones that people relate to and think are funny that doesn’t have any really shocking political or crude imagery. It’s very simple, but all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life can relate to it. I did this one about doing laundry, and how doing laundry makes you feel like you’re getting your life together, and all these people related to it and it was perfect for me because it wasn’t offensive and it wasn’t attached to some political movement or anything — it was just a little piece of life, you know what I’m saying? Those are my favorites.”