Teen 'speaks to younger kids' with artwork

Could a buck-toothed rabbit saying "crap" and a big-eyed insect saying "nuts" be the next big thing among youngsters?

Dunwoody High School sophomore Steffen Yoshiki Ware soon will find out. The 15-year-old artist, known as Styk, is rolling out his own T-shirt line emblazoned with those cartoon characters in February at a Duluth retailer.

His signature Stykfigure shirt collection will come in all shapes and sizes and feature characters he's been doodling and drawing for years, in some cases since he was 6.

"At first, I was like, ‘Are kids going to like this?'" said Suzanne Smith, owner of Sassy Girl on West Lawrenceville Street, where the shirts for both girls and boys will be sold. "Some characters say ‘crap' over and over again. So I took it home to my son, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I'd wear that.'"

Already, Styk has created online comic strips starring such characters as Rabid Bunny, Billy Goat, Shadow Ninja and Gnat. Ever the entrepreneur, the Doraville teen sports his own business card and occasionally freelances for his art-minded father.

More recently, he's transferred his vision to the covers of school notebooks, hoping to charge $10 a pop for what he calls Stykie Notes, a compilation of artwork and lyrics.

"He adds a bit of the whimsical for boys his age," Smith said. "His art speaks to younger kids, mostly those in middle and high school."

Styk's catchy moniker comes from his first and middle names, coupled with his rail-thin physique. He said the inspiration for Stykfigures emerged from television shows such as "Heroes," "Chuck" and "That '70s Show" and music like hip-hop and rock.

"My stuff's really cartoony, but I think it's real down to earth," Styk said. "It's the art style of the now."

As for those quirky quips, they just seem to fit the character, he noted.

"The rabbit usually only says ‘crap' because that's the expression on his face," Styk said. "Goat's a smarter character. He's trying to prove Rabid wrong."

Styk's mother is an artist and his father is an art director, but the teenager taught himself to draw.

"His art, it touches on the Japanese anime as far as Stykfigures goes," said dad Jim Ware, whose son is half-Japanese. "He's highly interested in all things art, really."

Styk doodles daily, constantly refining his characters in the hope of one day launching a syndicated comic strip similar to Calvin and Hobbes.

In the meantime, the teen is focused on his T-shirts, which will run $18 apiece and range from pink to blue at Sassy Girl. He said he's already taken the shirts to school and received rave reviews among 30 of his classmates.

Carlo Nasisse, a 16-year-old artist from Athens, checked out Styk's work online and said his style will resonate with today's youth.

"Generally, teenagers aren't interested in art, but his artwork is appealing because they have humor and some wit," Nasisse said. "They look great in the form of a T-shirt."

Styk hopes to showcase his art at the next DragonCon, the annual foray into pop culture geekiness, and pursue other avenues in promoting his work.

"I just think if you have a dream," Styk said, "you have to go after it and try your best. I want to encourage everyone who likes to draw to do it."