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.
Aki 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 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.
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!
Here's what this year will look like for PDX (and you!)
For the past year, we've built a nine-acre roof on a prefabrication lot to the northwest of the airport. The construction crews are now installing the last component—an intricate wood lattice, sourced from sustainable Northwest forests, that will eventually cover the interior ceiling.
What you'll see: If you drive along Marine Boulevard, you can glimpse the roof's dramatic swoops in the prefab lot.
Behind all those partitions in the pre-security area, construction crews have been hollowing out the back half of the main terminal. Starting in March, the exterior structure is also coming down to create a more open, spacious footprint. It may get noisy for a few months!
What you'll see: Not much, in fact. But when you’re in the ticket lobby and going through security, you may hear and feel what’s happening on the other side of those partitions. We're strategizing ways to counteract the sound, including free earplugs at the front doors and a sensory room in Concourse D.
Next, we’re erecting 34 giant steel Y-shaped columns to hold up the roof. Right now, construction crews are driving steel pilings deep into the ground to anchor these columns. Over the course of a few months, we’ll erect the Y columns one by one.
What you'll see: You probably won't notice—most are going up overnight behind the temporary walls. Late-night travelers will occasionally have to walk a few yards around an installation site.
Once the biggest section of the wood roof is fully assembled, the project team will break it back down into 20 "cassettes". During the summer and fall, Hoffman-Skanska and Mammoet will maneuver each cassette into place over the existing roof. It will take several days to place each cassette, and the work will happen overnight — depending on the section we’re placing, we may guide late-night travelers around a short detour.
What you'll see: Unless you're flying into PDX on a late-night flight, or camped out on Marine Drive at 2 a.m., you won't see much. If you walk to the ends of Concourse C or Concourse D and look back toward the main terminal, you'll catch a glimpse of the airport's new roofline.
In addition to the big projects, you’ll see a host of new amenities appear throughout the airport. A new play area in Concourse E. New art. New restaurants and cafes. (Lardo! Screen Door! Good Coffee!) You're almost guaranteed to encounter something new every time you visit the airport — and we're not talking barricades.