Making comics about the airport: A conversation with artist Aki Ruiz

Published June 02, 2021

Try and count how many comics you’ve read about airport construction. Yeah, we’re drawing a blank, too. 

But seriously, there’s a lot of storytelling potential behind projects as challenging and multifaceted as the work currently underway on building the new main terminal at the Portland International Airport. That’s according to Portland-based artist Aki Ruiz, who took inspiration from architectural models and blueprints for his newest work. 

Aki recently illustrated this comic, which shows what’s happening at PDX through the eyes of a couple of travelers navigating construction detours in the not-so-distant future. The story not only helps travelers understand what’s going on behind the temporary construction walls. It also gives them a glimpse of what inspired the new designs. 

We recently chatted with Aki about his creative process and how he got into his craft. He decided to show us his studio in an unexpected way: by illustrating his workspace and sharing some behind-the-scenes sketches from the story’s development.


An illustrated self-portrait of the artist working at his deskAki Ruiz, the artist behind a new comic about airport construction, tells us how he gets into the creative flow.


Hey, Aki! So tell us: How did you first get into comics? 

I have always loved comics, but it wasn’t until I started going to conventions and meeting comic creators that I felt like it might be something that I should be doing too. Reading their self-published work was so exciting. Their stories were so deeply honest and accessible; I couldn’t help but feel inspired.  


We know there's nothing "typical" about creativity. But in general, what's your creative process like?

I start each project by brainstorming, researching, collecting inspiration and exploring ideas. This is arguably the most fun stage, but it is also the most uncertain. There are so many possibilities and potential avenues to pursue; figuring out which is the best fit for the project can be challenging. 

Once I’ve nailed down a solid script, I make rough sketches (called thumbnails) of the images floating around in my brain. From there, it’s a process of refining those loose sketches, fine-tuning composition, and ultimately laying down ink and color.


Before and after sketches of the characters, a human named Ash and their service dog named PoppyBefore inking the final pages, Aki makes rough sketches to help put the story together.


What was your favorite part about making this comic for PDX?

Honestly, the collaborative aspect of this project is what made it so enjoyable to work on. Receiving enthusiastic feedback from the team was jet fuel for my little quarantine-isolated artist soul. 


Portland is famous for its comic scene. Who inspires you?

That’s such a difficult question because there are so many artists who have influenced and inspired me. (And the list keeps growing!) Moebius, Sergio Toppi, Linda Medley, EK Weaver, Tillie Walden, Jillian Tamaki, Tracy J Butler, Lucy Knisley, Emily Carroll and Max Sarin are all such amazing artists and storytellers who have influenced my life in one way or another.


Before and after sketches of a comic panel, which shows how Aki develops his ideas. Through the sketching process, Aki refines the details and rhythms of the narrative.


What are you personally most excited about with the new airport designs?

As I was looking through the reference images of the architectural models (made by Talisa Shevavesh), the one thing that struck me most was the light pouring in through the intricate skylights. Also — a small forest of trees in an airport? That’s pretty cool, too!