By the time her drawing had gone viral in late 2016, Tiara Seddens hadn’t checked Instagram in months. “It happened around November when I heard about it because I was off of Instagram,” she recalled. “I wasn’t even focused on my page anymore. I was in Barbados. I was just doing my own thing, chilling, drinking my little piña coladas and stuff.”
That’s when her brother, who is active in what Seddens refers to as “the meme community,” got in touch. “He was like, ‘Um, your drawing is a meme.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He was like, ‘It’s a pretty big deal. A lot of people are talking about this meme.’ I’m like, ‘Huh?’”
Checking it out for herself, Seddens opened up Instagram to find what she described as “thousands of comments of just hate, of people telling me to kill myself, and all types.”
But Seddens, who is now 20 and lives in St. Louis, hadn’t made a controversial statement, or stepped on a political land mine, or done anything morally dubious or illegal. All she’d done is draw a picture of Max and Roxanne, two characters from the 1995 animated film A Goofy Movie. (In case you need a refresher, Max is the son of Goofy, the classic Disney character.)
In the image, Max, in a baseball cap and streetwear, tells Roxanne, wearing high-waisted pants and a Thrasher logo shirt and holding a rose, “Wow Queen, you’re so beautiful.”
The picture was propelled to viral stardom by a tweet from hip-hop producer Ta$h, one-third of the VERYRVRE producing trio that makes tracks for artists, including A$ap Ferg, A$ap Rocky, and D.R.A.M. In a now-deleted tweet archived on Know Your Meme, he posted the image with the caption, “Good morning everyone except the one who drew this picture.”
Soon, people were making parodies of the fan art featuring other characters.
The phrase, “Wow Queen, you’re so beautiful,” became a verbal meme of its own, used both ironically and unironically.
A widely circulated edit places the characters in a messy room and replaces the dialogue with Max asking, “Damn, bitch, you live like this?”
Depending on how much time you spend online, the image is either confounding or makes the most sense in the world. For most people, I suspect it’s the former. Why make these characters wear these clothes and say these things? an amateur internet user might wonder. Who asked for a drawing of Max from The Goofy Movie in streetwear? This type of online activity lets people layer their own interests over mass media that might not necessarily represent certain demographics. Some of the best viral objects combine well-known iconography with uncanny tweaks, making the familiar seem odd and new, and often hilariously confounding. More and more often, the impulse upon seeing an odd piece of art online is to share it and meme it.
But the Goofy drawing is really just one of thousands, if not millions, of pieces of fan art that litter the internet. Head to Tumblr or DeviantArt, search any remotely popular cultural item, and you’ll find tons of fan art, remixing styles, costumes, and settings. A popular running joke is to search “[your name] the hedgehog” on Google Images and see what Sonic fan art comes up. An old internet rule of thumb known as Rule 34 — “If it exists, there is porn of it” — has given rise to countless, eye-searing works of fan art featuring famous characters in compromising positions.
Seddens’s own account, @eboni._, was filled with fan art, remixing and recontextualizing well-known characters. The Monstars from Space Jam as drawn by Picasso, SpongeBob and Patrick meeting the jellyfish from Shark Tale, the parents from The Proud Family dancing with Martin and Gina from Martin.
Her sketches, even the ones not featuring pop-culture iconography, are often focused on couples. Very quickly into our conversation, she freely admitted that she draws “a lot about love and things like that, because that’s just in my heart.” She added, “When I sit down and look at an empty drawing pad, I can’t think of just drawing one thing. I kinda have to draw two, you know, to make it feel complete.”
And like most fan artists, Seddens is self-taught. “I was 16. I was on Instagram and I saw someone post a drawing done with markers, and it was so beautiful and so vibrant to me,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know that markers could create something like that because Crayola doesn’t do that. “I was like, I want to do that. I think I can do that.”
While the drawing of Max and Roxanne (which I’ll henceforth refer to as “the Goofy picture” even though it doesn’t show Goofy) is probably Seddens’s most famous sketch, it’s far from the only one of her works that’s gained significant attention. She says she’d gained a pretty good following on Instagram from posting yoga videos, but abandoned the account after starting a relationship with a boy. Her first encounter with fame as an artist was from posting a sketch of Gerald from Hey Arnold! and Numbuh 5 from Codename: Kids Next Door on Tumblr.
“About the first five, ten hours, it didn’t get no notes or anything,” Seddens remembered. So she went to sleep: “I woke up and it had over 1,000 notes, and I was like, What in the world?”
“That’s when I realized, Okay, people do like my art. Maybe I do have something and maybe I should keep going.”
So she started posting on Instagram under the @eboni._ handle, derived from her middle name. Her most popular post (41,279 likes) was her participation in the #stylechallenge, in which artists try to draw in different art styles — the same character in the style of The Simpsons or Bob’s Burgers and so on. Before abandoning the account, she said it had more than 21,000 followers (it currently stands at more than 16,700 followers, the decline likely due to going dormant for two years).
As Seddens recalls, the Goofy picture was, like most of her sketches, a spur-of-the-moment thing, not something she labored over for a long time. She started watching A Goofy Movie on Netflix, decided to sketch Roxanne, and because her drawings are generally about couples, she threw in Max, too. Simple.
But what about the clothing? Seddens says, “That was a time when wearing Thrasher shirts, even though you didn’t know what that was, it was just a trend. It was on Tumblr — all the girls wore Thrasher shirts.”
And for Max? “I literally went on Pinterest or something like that and searched ‘men’s fashion.’ That outfit he’s wearing, that is somewhere literally on the internet, that exact outfit.” The ankh on his sleeve and Maxine’s crown are flourishes that Seddens adds to most of her sketches.
The origins of Max’s infamous praise, “Wow Queen, you’re so beautiful,” are less clear, though she didn’t intend for it to come across as corny. Seddens mostly chalks it up to being an idealistic teenager at the time. “I guess at the time, I thought it was cute,” she said. “That wasn’t even necessary. I don’t even know why. I wish I could tell you.”
The Goofy picture was posted on April 13, but it would be another six months before “the meme community” seized on it. By then, however, Seddens had moved on. “I walked away from it because I found happiness. I was kinda doing the art, trying to figure my life out because I was in the transitioning phase,” she said. Through her Instagram account, she had met somebody — a fan of her viral art — and eventually married him.
As for the dormant account, it could come back, but Seddens says she’s focused on other responsibilities for the time being. She wants to take painting classes and make T-shirts (perhaps the Goofy picture could be a top seller). But she also wants to “just see where life will take me because sometimes you can’t even plan. The way things are going now in this world, you can’t even plan it, like going viral.”