Business Briefing: Artist draws up mascot for SF Castro district

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022
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Dimas Jose Arellano, creator of Castro Boy, works in his sketchbook on ideas for his Castro Boy images that are reproduced in stickers, a T-shirt, and a small poster. He is developing a game that includes a set of playing cards. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Dimas Jose Arellano, creator of Castro Boy, works in his sketchbook on ideas for his Castro Boy images that are reproduced in stickers, a T-shirt, and a small poster. He is developing a game that includes a set of playing cards. Photo: Rick Gerharter

It began as a request from his boyfriend, Mau Dominguez, who wanted something special to wear while working as a server at the Castro gay bar the Edge during Pride weekend. So last year Dimas Jose Arellano sketched out a design of a boy lying atop a rainbow.

"At first, it just started out with me wanting a T-shirt with my own logo," recalled Dominguez. "A lot of people were asking me where can they buy it."

Arellano no longer has his drawing of that first design or a photo of it, he told the Bay Area Reporter. But, as it happened, he had created a different "Castro Boy" logo that he first posted an image of on May 20, 2021 to his Instagram page. A note said a small batch of T-shirts emblazoned with it were on sale at the Castro adult gift store Does Your Mother Know.

For the logo "Castro" is written out in big pink bubble letters with "Boy!" in smaller type underneath the letter "o." A rainbow arcs above from the letter "a" to the letter "o."

The concept was derived from conversations the couple had about creating a character inspired by their own experiences living and working in San Francisco's LGBTQ district. Employed at a pizzeria in the neighborhood for a number of years, Arellano picked up the nickname "Pizza Boy."

It sparked the idea for him to create a cartoon character dubbed "Castro Boy."

"My boyfriend knew that a bunch of people catcall me, 'Pizza Boy.' He was like, 'Why not a Castro Boy? Why not draw a Castro Boy?' It was such a simple name but, I don't know, it is kind of too simple that it is kind of perfect," said Arellano. "My boyfriend said, 'Why not create stuff about the Castro that people can buy?' There isn't much merchandise people can buy that represents the people living in the Castro or the people who come to the Castro to visit for the same reason for this community."

First drawn as a little boy with brown hair and large eyes, the character debuted on Arellano's Instagram page January 23, 2021. He wore blue shorts, red boots, and a white T-shirt with a pink triangle on the back containing the letters "C" and "B" for Castro Boy.

"He is a curious kid running around the Castro looking around and making his way in the Castro," said Arellano, adding that the character is a homage to the Japanese anime and manga character Astro Boy created by Osamu Tezuka in the 1950s. "I saw his show a few times but didn't read the actual manga of his until 2017 and 2018."

Arellano made some stickers of the image to hand out to friends. And he began tinkering with the figure's proportions, elongating his arms and legs, and depicting him shirtless. In his more recent drawings of the character he is nude or only wearing skimpy blue shorts.

"That is what sells," said Arellano. "Nobody cares about him when he is clothed."

Their idea is for the cartoon figure to become another part of the Castro community, explained Arellano.

"I totally want the Castro Boy character to be not an icon but like a mascot for the Castro and support local community stuff happening," said Arellano. "I see him as kind of the Castro's own little spirit character thing."

It is also a manifestation of his own feelings about the neighborhood. Arellano, 32, has lived in San Francisco on and off for 11 years, mostly as a Castro resident.

"But this idea of me living in Castro all these years as some 'Castro Boy' who could not find himself to leave, to escape, ever; continued to dance within our conversations. Like some Peter Pan of San Francisco, never able to leave, age or grow up," as Arellano wrote in his bio on his website.

Moved from LA

The Los Angeles native first moved to the Bay Area when his stepfather, who was unaccepting of Arellano being gay, told him at age 19 that it was time for him to move out on his own. A female friend of Arellano's was attending art school in San Francisco and offered him a place to stay.

"I lived rent free on her couch for a year in the Sunset. I helped out with chores," recalled Arellano, who enrolled himself at City College of San Francisco where he took several art classes.

It led him to attend Parsons The New School for Design in New York in the fall of 2009. But he was denied financial aid and forced to quit after one semester and returned to Los Angeles.

For the next two years he attended the Art Institute in Riverside but ended up dropping out because of the nearly $50,000 in debt he had racked up paying his tuition. Once again, Arellano decided to move back to San Francisco and has called the Castro home for the past five years.

"Without Castro I would have never become who I am today. Castro Boy would have been in denial. I would have not looked at myself and seen success. But I do," Arellano wrote in his online bio.

He is again taking classes at City College, where he hopes to earn an associate degree. Due to COVID, he lost his server job at Castro restaurant Hamburger Mary's, which remains shuttered, and got rehired as a gardener with the landscaping firm Bramble and Vine where he had worked years prior.

"I love plants," said Arellano, who in 2020 painted the pink mural with green plants on the parklet for the former burger restaurant on 18th Street adjacent to the Castro's Starbucks.

Over the years he has worked at several Castro bars. For the past three and half months Arellano has worked as a tour guide and bartender at Anchor Brewing Company's brewery on Potrero Hill.

Eventually, Arellano would like to turn his Castro Boy art into a successful business venture. He is now thinking about creating a diverse group of friends for Castro Boy modeled after people he has met in the neighborhood.

"I just want to make a whole city of characters we can all fall in love with and get to know," said Arellano, who also paints surrealist works featuring characters named Red and Yellow.

He is hoping to get his Castro Boy T-shirts and stickers into more stores in the Castro. For now, people can purchase them through his personal website. The various stickers cost $3, while a Castro Boy print sells for $25 and a T-shirt goes for $30.

"For me, the character needs to be here right now," said Arellano. "For me, especially, I need this kind of character to bring energy into it because it does bring people joy. Once they hear a little bit about him, they get it."

Arellano has participated in several local art shows over the years and had his first booth at last month's Castro Street Fair where he was selling his Castro Boy merch.

"It is all my boyfriend. He is the mastermind with this stuff, getting me out there and promoting my artwork," said Arellano, who started dating Dominguez in 2020.

Dominguez, 23, also grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the Castro in December 2019, living out of his car until he found an apartment a few months later. He told the B.A.R. the couple were surprised at how well Arellano's artwork was received at the street festival.

"We sold more than we both expected," he said. "It makes me really happy to see the logo we both created a year ago is now actually out there. We have now seen people in the streets of the Castro wearing the logo."

The public response, said Dominquez, "makes me really happy to see where Dimas' art goes."

Arellano had been working on a mural project for a building in Mission Bay but it fell through amid the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. Asked about creating a Castro Boy mural in the Castro neighborhood, Arellano said he hadn't thought about it but said it is "an amazing idea" since the character brings smiles to most people when they see him.

"That would be something," said Arellano.

The character is also imbued with hope, a nod to one of the Castro's more famous denizens, the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk, who had a mantra about providing people, particularly LGBTQ youth, a reason to hope.

"Castro Boy is here to remind you there is hope. That there is a place we belong, and he's here to show you it's not far far away," as Arellano wrote in his website bio.

To learn more about Arellano and to order his artwork online, visit his website.

Honor Roll

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Hot Cookie in the Castro is offering special promotions throughout November. Through November 7 it has rolled back the cost of its classic Chocolate Chip cookie — "AKA the Basic Bitch" — to 1997 prices. It is also discounting "Yesterday's Cookies" to just 50 cents.

It has dubbed November 8-15 as Customers Week and is offering double rewards points on all purchases for customers who join its Friends with Benefits program. For Community Week (November 16-22) it will donate 25% of all sales of the Hot Cookie of the Month to Larkin Street Youth Services.

A Customer Appreciation Party will be held at its Polk Gulch location at 1817 Polk Street from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, November 13.

It has also given its location at 407 Castro Street a "much-needed makeover" in honor of the milestone.

For more information about Hot Cookie, visit its website.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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