Renaissance Man serves community, creates art

by Judith Kahn

Eddie Ahn is a man of many talents. He spent nine years as a lawyer in service to the community. He is the director of Brightline Defense, a public non-profit organization, and one of seven appointed commissioners on the SF Commission on the Environment. He is also an accomplished self-taught artist and comic book writer.


 Richmond District artist Eddie Ahn with a Christmas sketch. Photos: Philip Liborio Gangi

Although his work is in very different fields, he connects them through his art. At age 35, he says he is able to work in these different fields successfully by using his time judiciously.

At Brightline Defense, he works to effect policy and legal changes to benefit under-served communities. The organization works with diverse communities and other nonprofits in the Bayview-Hunters Point, Chinatown, Mission and Richmond districts.

The SF Commission on the Environment sets policy for the SF Department on the Environment and advises the City on environmental matters.

Ahn says the same challenge faces both Brightline Defense and the SF Commission on the Environment – whether enough is being done to create positive and sustainable gains for low-income communities. In November, Brightline worked with an environmental coalition to successfully pass a statewide rule that all buses become 100 percent zero-emissions.


Eddie Ahn cleaning one of his works of art on a utility box in the Outer Richmond District.

Ahn has loved to draw since he was a child. His images are often built upon cinema and photography. He became serious about art while attending Brown University, where he drew cartoons for the school newspaper. His art falls mostly into two categories: cartooning and illustration.

rr_inside1eddieahn_dec2018 copy

Eddie Ahn.


For illustrations, Ahn uses Box Art, a process where the images are printed on vinyl wrap, which is then installed onto the box. The line work is drawn by hand, then scanned, colored and sent to a specialized installer, which expands the art and prints it on vinyl. The vinyl is then carefully wrapped by a team onto a box, most recently on numerous outdoor utility boxes. The wrapping process usually takes 3-4 hours.

According to Ahn, Box Art promotes the principles of One Richmond, SF Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer’s plan for locals. One Richmond calls for “inclusivity; taking care of each other; taking care of the Richmond District; and eating and shopping local.”

Examples of his Box Art can be found on outdoor utility boxes located at the Richmond Neighborhood Center, Balboa Theater, Green Apple Books, My Tofu House and Baker Beach.

Ahn has always loved storytelling and he values fiction as a medium to convey his stories. A part of his inspiration comes from cinema, photography and narratives he heard while working at his family’s liquor store in Dallas. Many of the scripts in his comic books are based on personal incidents, such as “Sidewalk Empire,” which is the story of a turtle opening up a coffee shop in the Richmond District. It is based on his memories of his grandfather.

Ahn’s comic books can be also be read as social commentaries about family relationships, diverse geography and cultural issues. While he focuses on writing good dialogue to match the comic book’s art, Ahn has also used humor effectively, especially as a means to get through tragedies in life.

He has launched his comic books and displayed his art at different galleries in the City, including Dada Art Gallery, Second Act Gallery, 111 Minna Gallery and Ma’velous Coffee and Wine Bar.

Two of Ahn’s favorite comic books are Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes,” exploring the antics of a six-year- old boy, and Haan Lee’s “Noodle Fight,” a tale about an underground fighting ring set against a backdrop of hip hop music and drug cartels in the early ’90s.

Ahn’s parents emigrated from South Korea to attend the University of Texas, in Austin, where he was born. He grew up in Dallas before attending Brown University, where he majored in political science and graduated in 2005. From 2005-2006, Ahn worked for AmeriCorps, the domestic version of the Peace Corps, in Oakland’s Chinatown as an after school programmer, teaching art and public speaking to elementary students. He continued his education at UC Hastings College of the Law, graduating in 2009.

3 replies »

  1. Eddie’s enchanting smile and unassuming ways are memorable. I am not surprised he is working so diligently for the people of San Francisco. It was a pleasure to know him at The Greenhill School in Dallas. I wish him great success. Edith Dulles, Dallas, TX


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