- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

Ever wanted a print of Robocop riding a unicorn up on your wall? How about a mash-up of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers and the Berlin Wall? Perhaps a squid attacking a subway car, or a six-panel illustration of the evolution of Michael Jackson or Robert De Niro?

If these items pique your interest, congratulations: You’re a card-carrying member of nerd culture. And Tim Doyle has just the art for you.

“I’ve been a huge dork forever,” says Mr. Doyle, a print, poster and T-shirt artist and the owner-operator of Nakatomi Inc., a Web-based multimedia commercial-art venture dedicated to the celebration of nerd culture from the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond.

The Web site for Nakatomi (a reference to Nakatomi Plaza, from “Die Hard”) describes it as “a gargantuan reptilian beast looming over Tokyo,” a vanguard at the “threshold of a Brave New Era in nerd fashion” and “a composite Voltron of boundless geek obsession.”

A quick browse of the company’s site (www.nakatomiinc.com) will give the uninitiated a pretty thorough glimpse into Mr. Doyle’s sensibilities. In addition to Mr. Doyle’s work, Nakatomi is currently offering its Invitational Season 2, during which one of Mr. Doyle’s favorite artists contributes a T-shirt and a print each month.

The artists this season include those from the world of art prints and beyond, including Craig McCracken (creator of “The Powerpuff Girls”) and comic-book artist Jim Mahfood.

By using more mainstream touchstones like Robocop and Mr. De Niro, Mr. Doyle taps into the dorkier side of popular culture while appealing to a broad range of people.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh, you’re selling out because you’re pandering,’” Mr. Doyle says of a more dogmatic portion of his community. “I say I’m saving your [butt] because these people who have never bought an art print before, they might buy something of yours. It’s like any small, insular area, they don’t want the newbies coming in and messing up their thing. At the same time, their thing has to stay alive.”

Before starting his own business earlier this year, Mr. Doyle ran the merchandising arm of Austin’s famed Alamo Drafthouse. Before that, he was hired as a turnaround specialist to step in and rescue a trio of failing comic-book stores, an experience that helped shape his sensibilities when it came to Nakatomi.

“It’s about trying to grow your base, grow your customer base outside of your little niche,” he explains. “The stores kept shrinking and shrinking, and they didn’t know what to do because they became so used to catering to a small demographic. We had a pretty high female readership at these comic-book stores, which was pretty unheard of not too long ago.”

One way Mr. Doyle keeps his audience base wide is by keeping his art cheap: Most prints on his Web site can be had for $30 to $40, while T-shirts go for $20. In part, it’s a function of knowing your audience; the sort of person picking up these items tends to be younger and have less cash on hand.

By keeping costs down and volume up, Mr. Doyle can price his inventory for his customer base while still turning a profit and expanding his market. “Silk-screening, once you have the equipment set up, it’s rather cheap,” he explains. “I built the whole shop for under $2,500. And you can do the same quality you get out of every other shop. The material costs are rather cheap, it’s just all in the labor. So, if you do a run of a hundred prints, you can sell them for $30 each and make a pretty decent take on that, you know?”

Still, having quit his day job to focus solely on his art and his business, Mr. Doyle understands the temptation to raise prices as his work grows in popularity. “You see a lot of artists, as they become more and more popular, start pricing their stuff up, and more power to them. … But at the same time, I wonder if they did larger print runs and kept the prices low, they could get out to a wider range of people.”

One print run Mr. Doyle wishes he had run a little larger was “Change — Into a Truck.” A parody of the iconic Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster of President Obama from the presidential campaign, the print features Optimus Prime from “Transformers” and the title.

“That thing positively went viral,” Mr. Doyle says with a chuckle. “I wish I had a formula for that, where you could just create that kind of buzz every time.”

• SONNY BUNCH can be reached at sbunch@washingtontimes.com.

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