AI-generated images of beloved cartoon characters flexing designer clothing, cash, and bling have taken over our timelines within the last couple weeks. These images naturally feel like the revival of those MySpace wallpapers of yesteryear. Back when everyone was freshening up their profiles with an airbrushed “Gangster SpongeBob” character or Bugs Bunny as a mob boss. Now, thanks to AI, we can add images of Peter Griffin clad in VLONE while holding a bottle of dirty Sprite or a blunt-smoking Minion getting his money up to this ongoing canon of hood cartoons. It’s arguably the greatest (or worst) gift AI has given us aside from ChatGPT.
One account that’s paved the way for these AI-generated cartoons that channel the aesthetic of late-2000s Gucci Mane mixtape covers is none other than @LitCartoons420. The mastermind behind the account is a 29-year-old musician and artist named Bobby Swan. And since going viral in October, the New York City–based creator has continued to pump out AI cartoons that seem to only exist in a universe where bling, lean, and designer clothing are life’s necessities.
But like everyone else, we were curious to know what exactly spawned these lit cartoons and how they were actually made. To get to the bottom of it, we spoke to Swan to explain his vision as an artist, how he crafts his creations, and if he emulates the opulent lifestyles of his AI-generated cartoon characters.
Is making lit cartoons your full-time job?
No, it’s just something I started doing for fun one day.
How did you exactly start making lit cartoons?
I’ve been messing around with different AI tools as they’ve come out in the last few years. One day I was just making a bunch of funny images, posted one, and it blew up. People really liked them, so I just kept making and posting them.
When did you go viral and how?
My “OG Lean Peter” image first went viral on my friend’s Twitter after I randomly made it one night. The next day people started to send me Instagram posts and TikToks with the same image going super viral. That’s when I decided to make dedicated pages for the project and started posting more.
What’s up with Litcartoons420’s obsession with wock, bling, and designer clothes?
I was taking popularized clothing brands and drugs you would hear and see in rap culture and tried to emulate it through nostalgic cartoons. I like to curate a vibe with my TikToks; being able to get the details right and song choice really ties it all together.
You’re right—your TikToks really tie these together. What rappers inspire you?
My favorite rappers right now are probably Veeze, Valee, Lucki, SEBii, Candypaint, and Bby Goyard.
Tell me about the process behind crafting lit cartoons. A lot of people aren’t familiar with how the images are being made. How would you explain it to someone who knows absolutely nothing about it?
Text to image generation is just writing into a text box and telling the AI what you want to see.
Damn, that sounds so simple. So you’re telling me all I have to do to make something like this is type: “I want to see a Goomba that looks like Ken Carson holding a gun and sipping purp?” What do these prompts actually look like?
Yeah, essentially you could. I use really specific keywords and write many sentences to get my signature look. You can be as descriptive or non-descriptive as you want.
So how much time do you spend making these?
I put a lot of time and effort into these. I wouldn’t say any of mine are short prompts. I’m usually writing a full paragraph with descriptive words for every aspect of the image: visuals, lighting, background, style, etc.
I think your work is really intriguing because I could truly envision it on a DatPiff mixtape cover or something. Do you feed the AI any reference images? Or is it just typing out in this text box exactly what you want?
Just typing out prompts. But I’m definitely imagining mixtape imagery a lot when I’m making them. I love the compositions and overall feeling of those old mixtape covers.
What’s the craziest shit you’ve ever typed into a text box to make one of your works?
I’ve made some pretty disgusting close-ups of SpongeBob where there are a lot of details, like to the point of being able to see his skin pores. They are really disturbing though.
I saw that SpongeBob one. Can you share an example of what you typed exactly?
I don’t share my exact prompts, but like I said, I just write very descriptively. It’s a really fun tool to just experiment with and use your imagination.
How long does it take for AI to make these images? Is it seconds, hours, days?
It’s typically just a few seconds to a minute.
Is this software something you could buy online on Amazon, or is it more like an “if you know, you know” type of deal?
Most of the tools I’ve used are actually browser based, so they are super accessible. Most have some system of paying for “tokens” for uses, but often there’s free trials available so anyone could try it.
What is the most popular AI software that people use these days if you could name them?
I feel like Midjourney and ChatGPT are probably the biggest.
I notice in your posts that there are multiple renderings. Does the AI deliver several iterations of the prompt you put in the text box? Or do you have to reload it multiple times?
Most of the time it will give you a few images per prompt, but a lot of them come out pretty fucked up. So it’s a longer process of regenerating images multiple times or tweaking the prompt until I get something I’m happy with.
Also, is there generally a lot of AI-image-making software out there? Can you shed any more light on the software creators like yourself are using?
Yeah, I’d say in the last few years it’s becoming a lot more popular. It’s not really like a secret; even Adobe started implementing AI tools into their programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. There’s definitely bigger and more popular models, but also smaller developers have a lot of interesting tools available. It’s a really cool emerging space.
Did you have experience making digital art before this? What did it look like exactly?
Yes, most of my art is digital. I make videos, graphics, and 3D animations using a range of digital programs. Before LitCartoons420 I was actually working on a 3D project that is similar to the look and feel of the LitCartoons420 content. It was a warmly lit scene of a bedside table filled with cough syrup and other paraphernalia.
Do you have to have a rich background in computer science or design/art to do this?
I wouldn’t say you have to have a background in CS or design, but I will say it definitely helps. I went to art school with a focus in new media. As an artist I’ve always gravitated towards using my computer on my various projects. Whether it’s for visual art or music, I’m always using software, so I just kind of stumbled into messing with AI programs one day.
Does the creator of LitCartoons420 emulate the lavish lifestyle of his characters?
You could say life imitates art.
What LitCartoons420 creation are you the most proud about?
I think I’m pretty proud of all of them. If I had to pick one, it would have to be Sully from Monsters, Inc. He was the first one that started to take off on Twitter with the funny pun captions. “They called me a monster, I just miss my Boo.”
Obviously, the forbearers to your work are memes like “Gangster SpongeBob.” Have you seen people try to put your work on bootleg T-shirts or merch yet?
Yea I’ve seen my work being sold on merch or people copying my work and selling merch as well.
One glaring question I’m curious about these AI creations is trademarks. Are you worried about any legal repercussions from playing with these trademarks, or have you gotten served?
I haven’t, and I’m not really worried about that at all. If I ever make some merch, and it got to the point of getting a cease and desist letter, that would be hard.
Has any brand or celeb reached out to you about your creations?
eah, there’s been a few! I don’t really want to name-drop, but I’ve been working with some artists I’m definitely a fan of. I actually met SEBii via LitCartoons when we collaborated on the Ken Carson Goomba post. He reached out to me about the idea, and had already made a remix to a Ken song that we used for the TikTok. I made the images, and the post ended up being a banger.
Clearly, you’re not the only one making these anymore. As the nature of the Internet goes, a lot of other people have begun making images in a similar style. How does that make you feel?
I think you’re right—it's the nature of the Internet, and it’s inevitable. I made these just for fun, and I can see how other people would enjoy making them as well. It’s pretty cool to see how far something I’ve made has gone. It does feel good to get the acknowledgment through fans or even this interview for creating the trend. Even though it’s for fun, I do put in a lot of effort conceptualizing the posts, so it’s nice to know people can appreciate the origins.
Where do you want to take this exactly? Or are you already onto the next thing?
I want to continue making funny art that everyone can enjoy. There’s some ideas I have to keep the momentum going. Eventually I want to use my platform to usher people to see my other mediums of art.