The Art of Making Money and the Dark Side of Graphic Design

Posted by February 25, 2018 Comment

Carlos Gabriel Ruiz writes:

Listen, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I trust you. You can keep a secret, right?

Back in college, I used to make fake I.D.s. I never intended to make fake I.D.s, but like the origins of most criminal enterprises, I sort of stumbled into it, realized I was pretty good at it, and liked the money that came with it.

How does that happen? How does a fine, semi-upstanding citizen who has never been arrested and is on a full academic scholarship become an underground criminal? Little by little, one step at a time.

Today, state I.D.s and driver’s licenses are printed with 3D holograms, special reflective inks, and most have a scannable barcode on the back, but that wasn’t the case in the mid-to-late 1990s. Back then, most states had pretty basic licenses or I.D. cards, with some picture I.D.s basically amounting to little more than being printed on photo paper. Lucky enough for me, I was fortunate to live in a state that had such an I.D.

Freshman year was the year of the chalked I.D. Because of my blossoming art skills, I was able to change the date of birth on my license by whiting out the real date and replacing it with a fake date using colored pencils. The great thing about this technique was that it wasn’t permanent; if I was ever pulled over in a traffic stop, I could simply wet my thumb and wipe away my handiwork, and no one would be the wiser. My friends saw me do this, saw how well the chalked I.D. worked, and asked me to do the same thing to their I.D.s. Pretty soon, word around the dorm spread about my special set of skills, and I began charging $5-$10 per I.D., depending on whether I knew the person or not. I made some good cash this way, which I promptly spent on buying multiple rounds at the bar.

Sophomore year hit and a buddy of mine approached me with a proposition.

“Can you make me a fake I.D. with a fake name on it?”

“No,” I responded. “I can only chalk your existing I.D.”

“Not anymore.” He handed me a program I’d never heard of called Photoshop and said, “Learn this and you’ll be making money hand over fist.”

I know I should have said no and ended the conversation right then and there, but I didn’t. Part of me liked the fact that I was learning a new skill (Photoshop) and part of me liked the challenge of seeing if I could actually make a fake I.D. that would pass for the real thing.

So I threw myself into it, and made three real, completely fake I.D.s from scratch for myself and two of my friends. That Friday night we went to a club, where the security guard at the door happened to be an off-duty police officer. The security guard quickly confiscated our terrible fake I.D.s and told us if we ever tried to come back there he’d have us arrested.

That should have ended things, but it didn’t.

Angry and embarrassed, I threw myself into learning the ins and outs of Photoshop and I really began to study I.D.s. The next batch I made were much better, and they worked like a charm. Soon, I was selling I.D.s all over campus at $50 – $75 a pop, depending on whether I knew the person or not. For the first time in my life, I had real money that I could spend on whatever I wanted. I could go to the mall and buy the newest JNCO Jeans, Oakley sunglasses, and actually take a date out to a fancy dinner. Like I said, I didn’t set off to become a criminal mastermind or anything, it just sort of happened.

Things were great for while, but then got weird. My buddy was selling my fake I.D.s to co-workers at a local grocery store, and one of them got busted by the cops. She gave up his name, but he knew they couldn’t prove anything since he didn’t make the I.D.s, and he refused to name names. A bunch of random people started approaching me, asking me to make I.D.s for them. I started getting paranoid.

I remember having a smoke outside the library when this guy who looked to be about 25 (or older) approached me.

“Hey, man! Is your name Carlos? My friend told me you’re the guy to talk to on campus about fake I.D.s.”

I looked at this guy, whom I’d never seen before, and a slight panic set in. “Nah, man, you got the wrong guy. My name is Brian.” I put out my cigarette and walked away, making sure not to turn back around. Two blocks away, I ducked into a bathroom stall at the student union, ripped up my fake I.D., and flushed it down the toilet.

When I got home, I popped out the backup hard drive I used to keep all the fake I.D. files on, smashed it with a hammer, and drove to gas station dumpster to throw it away.

And just like that, my criminal endeavors were over. I was super paranoid for about three months afterwards, but then things eventually went back to normal.

So how much money did I make in the end? The final result of my sophomore year of crime was $2,325.00. Had I been smarter, I would have realized that $2,325.00 was not nearly enough to take the kinds of risks I took to break the law. Criminals are pretty stupid…

That said, I was smart enough to have never tried to make counterfeit money. While I experimented with the dark side of graphic design, I felt I never went all the way in. Fake I.D.s seemed like harmless college fun, but forging actual cash was a crime serious enough to get the Secret Service investigating. But the small taste I did get, made a big impression, eventually leading me to a career as a designer.

All of which brings us to my newest graphic novel Blood On The Tracks with collaborators Brian Atkins (Final Street, Family Graves) and Brandon Daniels (Ghost Town, The Baron Age). In Blood On The Tracks, the perfect crew has been assembled for “The Big Score” — the last job on which they can retire on. What exactly is the job? To rob a train going full speed down the Nebraska plains with an endless supply of money. A money train? Not exactly, but sort of.

How can someone have an endless supply of money? By printing it. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does get printed on them in the form of paper.

A rag-tag crew of heavy-hitters is trying to steal a $10 million intaglio press that is being transported via train to the United States Mint in Chicago. The printing press the crew has targeted is set to be decommissioned and permanently displayed at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. If they succeed, they will literally gain the ability to print an unlimited amount of money. But more money means more problems, and more problems can even derail the best crew no matter their intentions.

With Blood On The Tracks, we’ve packed a book full of action, thrills, and intrigue with the dark side of graphic design. I hope that you consider picking up a copy of Blood On The Tracks. For readers of Bleeding Cool, a special reward level has been created in the Blood On The Tracks Kickstarter Campaign to have themselves drawn into a comic book as a gang member with THE BLEEDING COOL VILLAIN TRACK Reward. For $100, a reader can see themselves drawn into Chapter 4 of Blood On The Tracks as a criminal or gang member, plus they’ll receive a hardcover copy of the graphic novel, their name in the THANK YOU section of the book, a button set, postcard, and bookmark.

You can support the Kickstarter here:

Blood On The Tracks is a full-color, 136-page graphic novel, with each of the five chapters narrated from the perspective of a different character. Each chapter is an action-packed bonanza featuring train robberies, carjackings, armored car heists, bar fights, motorcycle races, battlefield combat, and epic car chases. This story contains mild violence, intense language, and some sexual situations, and is suitable for readers age 17 and up (TV-MA).

The Blood On The Tracks Kickstarter Campaign launches on Wednesday, February 14th, and runs through Sunday, March 18th. There are a variety of support tiers available ranging from $5 and up, with a digital version of the book costing $15, a softcover copy of the book costing $25, and a hardcover copy costing $35.


Written, Lettered & Designed by Carlos Gabriel Ruiz

Illustrated by Brian Atkins

Colored by Brandon Daniels

Cover by Bryan Ward

Edited by Jason Green & Steve Higgins

Carlos Gabriel Ruiz is a cartoonist whose works include ROANOKE, Weathermen, and Pretentious Record Store Guy. His newest book is the action-packed crime graphic novel BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which you can support on Kickstarter here:

(Last Updated February 24, 2018 5:06 pm )

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