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David Echols Creates Community Through Caricatures

By Jordan Durham
David Echols sits in studio comic artist

Photos by Ava Kitzi

Three years ago, David Echols’ art went viral online. However, if you were one of the thousands who saw the drawing, you most likely didn’t know it was his work.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas in 2019 and amidst season one of the Disney+ show “The Mandelorian,” Echols created “A Mandelorian Christmas.” The drawing was his take on “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with characters Grogu and Din Djarin on either side of a small, barren tree with the ship, Razor Crest, decorated with holiday lights in the background. It went viral, without an attribution.

“My initial post got maybe a couple hundred likes or something like that, but I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing it,” Echols says about the drawing once it took off. “It was being shared everywhere. It was ‘There’s my thing, and it’s got 60,000 likes and no credit given,’ and there’s another place, and ‘Oh, it’s got like 80,000 likes.’ It was kind of fun.”

In Columbia, most people who know Echols know him through his work at City of Refuge as the director of refugee development. His department, formed in June 2023, oversees the helpful transition of refugees into the next stages of their lives. These refugees have been through difficulties and, many times, major crises, and now are trying to find their footing in Columbia, Missouri.

Peanuts caricature of Spiderman

This includes assisting initially with immediate and fundamental needs, such as a place to stay and clothing, and then supporting them as they acclimate to the region and culture. The latter comes in numerous ways, such as classes for language learning, a youth program to help with homework and a driving simulation to practice driving before a driver’s license test. Upcoming, the nonprofit will be opening an all-in-one food culinary training center and food truck, while also opening a preschool program.

The new food truck will help refugees in three ways, with personal cooking classes, with preparation to work in a kitchen or restaurant and with starting an entrepreneurial enterprise.

“There’s a big cultural, generational gap that we find between parents and their children,” Echols says while discussing the personal cooking classes and food being cooked in immigrant families. “Kids grow up here; they start wanting food that the parents aren’t familiar with, and the small thing starts to become an issue within families. Here’s how you could cook something that your kids have been bugging you about just to try and bring some things together in the family.”

In many ways, Echols’ previous experiences prepared him exactly to work at the nonprofit. Prior to November 2021, Echols and his wife and two sons lived in Windhoek, Namibia. Namibia is located
on the southwestern coast of Africa and gained independence from South Africa in 1990. Echols and his family lived in the country’s capital and founded Three Measures, a non-denominational Christian ministry nonprofit. The nonprofit focuses on community development surrounding its foundational ideology that what makes a successful community are three aspects — the physical, the social and the spiritual.

With his art, Echols has always enjoyed drawing as a personal hobby throughout his life. He dabbled in graphic design and similar mediums here and there. In 2018, he decided to participate in Inktober, a challenge given to artists each October to draw one image every day for 31 days. Each year, the Inktober website publishes its prompt list consisting of one word per day for the artists to interpret how they wish. The four rules are you make a drawing in ink, post it on any social media account — or even a refrigerator as long as you are sharing it with someone—, use the hashtag #inktober and #inktober2024 and then do it again the next day.

“I had never put anything out there for the public to see. I thought, ‘Well, it’d be good for me to just force myself into it,'” Echols says. “Because it’s my way to relax and release a little bit and find some peace. So, I thought this would be nice. It’ll force me to do it for 30 days, and it was actually quite nice, and I got to watch myself improve over 30 days.”

Echols also had given himself a secondary prompt as well, to combine each day’s prompt with an ’80s cartoon. Since fan art and “anything geeky” is what he describes as his favorite things to draw, it makes sense he’s gravitated to drawing people, families and, occasionally, pets in the vein of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters.

“Peanuts is a fun style, and it’s very distinct,” Echols says. “The challenge is kind of fun because with doing portraits for people and the Peanuts, it’s a parody. So, it has to look authentic enough to pass, but also, you don’t see any adult in Peanuts, so how would Charles Schultz have drawn a beard?”

Soon after Inktober 2018, Echols started an Instagram to share his drawings. It led to a few freelance opportunities and then commissions on his work, the most popular of which are his Peanut portraits of individuals and families. His website came in 2020 after people started asking if he had a site. Now, he sells shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, stickers, mugs, gift cards, etc. on davidecholsart.threadless.com. 2023 was the first year he participated in City of Refuge’s Holiday Market.

“When we did the Holiday Market, I kind of debated, ‘Should I do it? Should I not?’” Echols says, “because nobody around here knew that I was doing this either. I was kind of outed there, but it was great. I got a bunch of commissions.”

In terms of a distinct style, Echols believes he’s “getting closer to knowing what that is.”

“I feel like now I’m getting to the point when I do something I kind of know what my version would look like. It’s kind of a cartoony style. I don’t think I have a name for it.”

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