Ethan and Joel Coen have directed 17 films spanning three decades, and in that time, they’ve brought some pretty memorable characters to life. They’ve given us the laid-back Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998), the bloodthirsty Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men (2007), and Ulysses, a charming “Dapper Dan man” who leads a band of escaped criminals in O Brother Where Art Thou (2000).
As it turns out, these characters aren’t just enjoyable to watch—they’re also fun to draw, according to Hong Kong-based artist Stephen Case, who's currently making caricatures of every character from every Coen brothers film ever made. If you count major and minor characters—plus some of the more intriguing extras, and the cast of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a forthcoming anthology film—that works out to be well over 700 planned drawings.
This estimate is based on the 100-plus hours of research that Case has put into the project, a figure that doesn't include the time it takes to actually create each drawing. While this may seem like a daunting task, Case has enjoyed rewatching all 17 films, beginning with Blood Simple (1984) and ending with Hail, Caesar! (2016). Case said the idea for the project came from friend and fellow artist Harvey Chan, and it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“What I love about the Coens is, firstly, I'm a huge fan. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Big Lebowski, but they also have many other classics,” Case tells Mental Floss. “Secondly, all their characters are so ripe for caricature, from the lead characters down to the extras.”
Take, for instance, Chad—a dim-witted gym employee in Burn After Reading (2008) who's often seen with his mouth agape.
While watching a movie, Case takes screenshots of the characters he wants to depict, then separates the images into individual computer files.
Next, it’s time to draw. He typically starts with a pencil sketch, then scans the image into his computer and uses Photoshop to digitally add in the color and brushwork. The goal is to achieve a likeness of the character without overexaggerating the features to the point where they're unrecognizable.
Ultimately, Case chooses which characters to include in the project. While he won't take on every extra ever shown in a Coen film, he says he will give characters with “decent screen time” or at least one line of dialogue their due diligence.
“For Raising Arizona, I'll only draw one of the babies rather than all of them, for example,” Case says, referring to the scene in which infertile ex-convict H.I. McDunnough, played by Nicolas Cage, kidnaps one of five babies belonging to a local businessman.
Case also finds inspiration in characters that make an outsized impression for the relatively short time they spend on screen, like the mysterious visitor in the opening of A Serious Man (2009), who is believed to be a dybbuk (Yiddish evil spirit).
"This is going to be one of the best parts of this project—drawing faces like this," Case wrote in a caption accompanying the drawing. "Most of the Coen Bros characters are ripe for caricature, but faces like this are a gift from God ... or Yahweh ... or whoever."
The most obscure drawing he has completed so far, though, is of a curmudgeonly man who appears for one second in a painting hanging above Freddy Riedenschneider’s hotel bed in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001).
“It's probably better to draw people as famous as possible, but with the Coens, some of the best characters are extras or those who have small parts,” Case says. “While they may be wasted on a lot of people, I figure fans of the movies will get a kick out of it.”
As for his favorite Coen character? “If I had to choose one it'd have to be John Goodman's Walter in The Big Lebowski,” Case says.
Some of his caricatures are currently on display at Swing A Cat, the art gallery and studio Case owns in Hong Kong. You can also check out his work on Patreon. He says he’s entertaining the idea of publishing a book of his Coen caricatures down the road.
So far, Case has finished about 35 drawings completely. And while he still has a long way to go to reach his goal, see if you can recognize some of the characters he's drawn already: