Coffee & Design: Ashley Wong & Omri Almagor

A cartoon of a donut and a coffee cup smiling and dancing.

Meet Detroit-based Ashley Wong and Milan-based Omri Almagor, the dynamic duo behind 1st Crack, a comic about life behind the bar.

BY EMILY JOY MENESES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo courtesy of Ashley Wong

If you’re a regular reader of Barista Magazine, you’re probably familiar with 1st Crack, a witty (and often way too relatable) comic about life behind the bar. In today’s installment of “Coffee & Design,” we’re peeking into the lives of 1st Crack’s illustrator Ashley Wong and writer Omri Almagor, the duo behind the comic strip that so many of us now look forward to every single week. You can now get a print version of the comic collection so far, titled 2nd Crack, with the latest issue of Barista Magazine!

Note: This interview has been condensed.

An excerpt from 2nd Crack, a comic book by Ashley & Omri.

Emily: What first inspired you to dive into the art world? Has comic-making always been your primary art form?

Ashley:
I think I used to doodle a bit growing up, but it was never a hobby that I spent much time on. I was more focused on piano and writing, but then I discovered digital drawing on my tablet and it kind of took off from there. I started drawing little characters of my friends and family—everyone got doodles as birthday gifts or Christmas presents. I’ve played around with different styles and mediums since then, but I’ve always enjoyed coming back to colorful, cartoon-y characters.

Omri: My school notebooks contained more off-brand ninja turtles than words, and I spent my time in class imagining and illustrating all kinds of characters and situations. Drawing was a way for me to keep my head busy. These were the days before Ritalin and mobile phones.

For a period I considered a career in comics drawing, between the ages of 9 and 10, and attended the prestigious art class my neighbor ran in her living room. I eventually left that class in favor of my passion for the guitar, which I gave up at 11 for pottery, which I abandoned at 12 in favor of the junior-scientist class.

However, reading comics is a passion that stuck with me. I started with Lucky Luke, Asterix, Mafalda, Garfield, Tin-Tin and similar. As a teenager, I moved on to superhero comics like X-Men, Batman, and later, darker graphic novels. I am a great fan of reading when it’s mostly pretty, colorful pictures.

How did 1st Crack come to be, and how did you both begin working together? What has the process been like in creating this comic that so many readers now follow and look forward to? 

Ashley: The original idea for 1st Crack is entirely Omri’s. He posted in a coffee forum that he was looking for an illustrator for a comic strip and my husband happened to see the post, so he connected us. Now we have a good process where Omri writes the dialogue, I draw the strip, and then we chat and fine-tune it before posting.

Omri: A classic story of boy-meets-girl through girl’s husband. I posted on the Decent Espresso community forum that I was looking for a coffee-loving illustrator to partner with on this project, and Ashley’s husband, Jason, saw it and connected us. We talked, shared some thoughts and ideas, and went to work on our first 2-strip that was published by @50percentarabica. We then connected with Barista Magazine, edited the format a bit, and started our weekly posts and eventual printed version.

I wanted to have a café-centric strip because I thought it could be a great opportunity to poke fun at our industry, raise some unpleasant issues in a humorous way, and create a discussion around them. I always felt we take our passion way too seriously and thought a little satire was in order.

The concept was to make a kind of Dilbert, but for café culture. Dilbert is a skilled professional in a repetitive job, who complains a lot and is sarcastic towards his environment—much like many baristas. The financial motivation was to create an enthralling comics coffee-verse that can later be sold to Disney and developed into a few movies and animated shows.

A shirt designed by Omri for Decent Espresso. Photo courtesy of Omri Almagor.

How do you get inspiration for your illustrations and your storylines? Do you look to other artists and comics for inspiration, or find inspiration from the people around you and your own personal experiences? 

Ashley: Omri does all the writing and gets all the inspirations, so I think I’ll defer to him for this answer …

Omri: I write the majority of the stories, and then Ashley magically transforms them into a visual feast. The inspiration comes from my experience as a barista, endless over-the-counter talks with other baristas and bar owners, and being a part of this community. Some stories are there to draw attention to common (good or bad) behavior, some meant to develop the characters, some are just for the sake of stupidity. We also put a lot of ourselves in it—Bobberto’s receding hairline represents my own angst; Ashley is a barista, and we’re weaving her relationship with Jason into the story; Bobby is my son’s nickname, and like him, Bobberto is also coping with motoric issues.

What advice would you give to upcoming artists—to anyone who wants to express themselves creatively and possibly turn their creativity into a career? 

Ashley: I think the most important thing is to just keep creating, regardless of what it is. Art is a great way to express yourself; there are no rules and no limits. It’s also a great way to learn, and the more you experiment in different styles and mediums, the more you’ll learn, both about art and about yourself.

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your work?

Omri: I am not an artist or a designer. I am a liminal person with ADD and a burning love for coffee, specifically for espresso. I studied mechanical engineering and the core of my work is the development of new technologies, but I enjoy and pursue any creative outlet that celebrates the dark liquor …

I have a lot of things on my to-do list—barista fashion, several pourover devices, a new weigh-based doser and blender for stand-alone grinders and automatic machines, an online music service for cafés, a social gender-research of the barista world aimed at closing current gaps, etc. … There are many ideas at different levels of development. The progress is usually determined by having the right partner that helps to push the project towards the finish line. In the case of 1st Crack, I credit Ashley’s hard work, care, and dedication to its success. 

Outside of writing 1st Crack, Omri Almagor has been prototyping, testing, and patenting several improvements to professional machines over the past two years. In 2021, he will showcase Modicum: a 10” cube-shaped, fully customizable home machine. Photo courtesy of Omri Almagor.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Los Angeles, Emily Joy Meneses (she/her) is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams. Explore her poetry, short stories, and soundscapes on her website.

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