ART CORNER: Skylines, Truenos and Robots by Matt Spangler

Nissan Skyline Hakosuka robot by Matt Spangler

We love it when JNCs pop up in unexpected places, especially when they’re obscure models never sold in the US. Last year, a hakosuka Skyline showed up in Adventure Time. More recently, we received an email from a friend that works in the music department of Universal Studios. He had noticed the image above used on a new album cover.

We tracked down its creator, Matt Spangler, who as it turns out has had his work featured on The Big Bang Theory. We asked him what inspired his art and whether he had any more automotive work. He did. 

Toyota AE86 Levin by Matt Spangler

We love the simplicity and earnestness of Matt’s work. There’s an innocence to them, as if they’re characters in a cartoon, but not the hyper-realistic Initial D type that’s all about driving aerobatics. As it turns out, there’s a good reason for this. “I have loved cars since I was a little kid,” Matt told us. “My first love was the exotic Lamborghini Countach, the unapologetic, extreme nature of design is what drew me to it.”

Datsun Roadster by Matt Spangler

However, he eventually became enamored with Japanese cars. “They were the underdog when they first came to the US. When America was about muscle, size, and presence, the Japanese were about being fun, functional, compact, reliable and efficient,” Matt explained. “With this, came the soul of what Japanese cars are today.”

Toyota Corolla TE27 by Matt Spangler

But why the robots? The answer is two-fold. The first is a commentary on the cars of today: “With the innovation of throttle-by-wire, drive-by-wire, lane assistance warning, back up cameras, the interaction with cars and humans has become more ‘robotic.’ While modern standards have made cars safer, it has taken much of the soul and character from them.”

However, there’s a nostalgic Japanese connection as well. “My robot is an homage to the classic Japanese tin toys. They were funky, ugly, and simplistic, but had a character about them that made you like them. This is why I think my robot and classic Japanese cars go so well together.

As for the Skyline, though you can order prints the original painting has been sold. Matt calls it ’72 and Chillin’, and woman who bought it and eventually used it as an album cover had never met Matt before. “I was showing at the Abbott Kinney Festival a few years back,” he tells us, “She came up, not knowing anything about the car or the history, but loved the painting and bought it on the spot.”

Datsun 240Z by Matt Spangler

The painting ended up in her office at Universal, and she told Matt what drew her to the piece. “She thought the robot loved the car, but was exhausted trying to fix it. Thus, a lesson of life came about: Sometimes when you work your ass off, things don’t work out. She uses the painting when talking to clients that sometimes you can end up like the robot.”

As for Matt’s whimsical drawings of J-tin, you can purchase a print at his website, or see more of his work at

Thanks to Patrick S. for the tip!

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18 Responses to ART CORNER: Skylines, Truenos and Robots by Matt Spangler

  1. Nigel says:

    Very cool drawings Matt.

  2. Jim Daniels says:

    Nice work.

  3. JHMAB2 says:

    I like the woman’s thinking, “Old cars always need fixing” that’s what I got out of it. Pretty accurate at times. haha

    That is the fun thing about art though, you can interpret art however you want, there is no right or wrong.

  4. Michael says:

    Hey Matt,

    Top work! Real awesome! Simple, understated, timeless, but killer! 🙂

    Any thoughts about you (artist) & JNC website working together on a cool line of t-shirt designs?

    What do you says guys? Am I the only one who thinks it would be an A1 winner???

  5. Nakao says:

    very good drawing, and unique style.
    It remind me of those pic print on Shirts that i wear when im a little kid, bring back so much memories to me. Great Job MATT!!!! 😀

  6. ish parken says:

    This is awesome work man! Im going to need a robot with a 86 (popup hatch) drawing. That would make my life.

  7. Dave Yuan says:

    These are beautiful! The Levin one might be my favorite, so simple and happy. I love the robot, too. He/she seems very earnest.

  8. Sean says:

    Oh man, I love this art style. Not too clean, but not too messy either. Kinda reminds me of older automotive products and dealership signs that had something similar. They’ve got a real nice comic-y aesthetic as well.

    I’d love to see some boso’d out JNCs with Japanese rockabilies all piling into it.

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