Paul Friedrich draws on a quirky style for a cartooning life

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Photo courtesy of Paul Friedrich.


When Paul Friedrich draws, he knows how to strike a chord with an audience. The Raleigh cartoonist has made a living sketching characters like Hubie the Dead Cow and Onion Head Monster—oddly amusing figures that somehow connect with readers. But don’t ask him to explain their popularity.

“A lot of times, I’m just very fortunate that people like what I’m doing,” Friedrich says. “Mostly, the rule is: Entertain myself, because even if nobody else likes it, then at least I’m still going to like it.”

The Raleigh artist has rarely been alone in his love for the conjured characters. Drawings of Onion Head Monster and Man v. Liver have been popular for years in the comic world. Not only do the panels populate books; Friedrich turns them into acrylic paintings and sells them in galleries and shops as well. He also takes his art on the road to comic conventions, where his characters adorn T-shirts, stickers and more.

Friedrich’s artistic side began to show early in his childhood. Growing up in North Hills, he doodled many of the classic cartoon characters. “It was a love of Calvin and Hobbes, Snoopy, Bugs Bunny, the Saturday morning TV shows,” he says. “I just go for pure cartoon. Snoopy and Mickey Mouse are two good examples. They look really easy to draw. Cartoons generally are similar to cave paintings. They’re just simple drawings or doodles…the imagination fills in the rest. The simple style allows for a lot of [creativity].”

Eventually, Friedrich developed a style of his own. His characters are sometimes identified with the “low def pop” style whose rudimentary renderings often fit with “the grungy style, the simple aesthetic. Pop art with bold lines and bright colors,” he says.

Illustration by Paul Friedrich.

The result is characters with raw emotional appeal. “A lot of them are relatable,” Friedrich says. “Onion Head Monster lives in a world where every day is Monday and there’s always something out to get him.”

Man v. Liver, on the other hand, channels a party-circuit cool. Man makes his alcohol-fueled rounds with an impeccable sartorial style and wit. “The key to Man v. Liver was, [Man said] the things you wish you had said before, the snappy comebacks you come up with two days later,” Friedrich says. “He was the guy who could say it immediately.”

The idea for the Man v. Liver drawings sprouted from his own after-work libation lab back in 2012 with his friend Neil Hinson, a local advertising copywriter who has since passed away. “We would meet a few times a week for beers after work,” Friedrich remembers. “He just said something one day, and I wrote it down on a napkin and drew a quick drawing. The waitress said, ‘I’ll give you a beer for that,’ and we were like, ‘Oh, we’re on to something.’ He was always saying something funny, and I just started writing it down. He did most of the writing, and I did some of it. Within a few weeks, we had over 100 of them and put it together for a book.” 

Much to the cartoonist’s surprise, the boozy bachelor was a hit. Soon they were turning out memorable panels like, “Know what makes a great drinking game? Drinking.”

“We put a lot of craft and care into the projects we worked on,” he says.“This was the easiest and the stupidest thing we ever did, and it was the most successful.”

Illustration by Paul Friedrich.

Friedrich’s work turns up in commercial projects as well, with renderings on billboards, buses, murals, and even a music video for the Chapel Hill–based band Archers of Loaf. Triangle sports fans might remember the Carolina Hurricanes’ Cup of Awesome campaign more than a decade ago. The project featured the team’s mascot, Stormy, expressing his childlike love for hockey in print ads and animated scoreboard cartoons. 

“They wanted to reach out to people who weren’t already hockey fans,” says Friedrich, who came to love hockey while attending minor league games with his parents in New York. “The thing about hockey is, you go to one game, you’re going to be a fan. The cartoon was the way to go. For me, it was a dream come true when they put it on the jumbotron.”

Friedrich takes pride in knowing he has parlayed his creative instincts into a career. Along the way, he learned from Sanderson High School art teacher Bob Rankin, a notable Raleigh artist. Later at the School of Art and Design at East Carolina University, he pushed past those who questioned his focus on cartoons as an art form.

“I had a job for a couple of years out of college, but I decided that I had to stop that and try this,” he says. “Otherwise I could have had a successful career as a manager somewhere, then retired and thought, oh, I should have tried this. I’ve been very fortunate that people respond to my art.”  

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