During July in San Diego, we don’t only celebrate Pride but also await Comic-Con to come to town. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping major gatherings away and virtual events taking place instead, we still want to celebrate the art and fandom. One of the local artists we wanted to talk to about the LGBTQ+ artist experience is the extremely talented comic legend Joe Phillips. Since 1988, he has worked on some of the top comic titles featuring the Justice League of America, Silver Surfer, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Wolverine, Green Lantern and Superboy. He worked on the “Doctor Who” comic book and created the art for the comic character Rage, which was featured in the second season of the Showtime series “Queer as Folk.” Aside from his mainstream work, Joe has created a following for his LGBTQ+ and male erotic-themed artwork, which has been picked up for major campaigns by Bud Light and LOGO, to name a couple. I remember coming across Phillips’ “Joe Boys” calendars and dress-up magnets at the long-gone Rainbow Road store (now Ortega’s). The characters were so fun and as a young, 20-something Gay kid, it was so cool to see Gay characters living out loud and proud; I have been a fan since. It was during one of my early attendances to San Diego Pride that I had the pleasure of meeting Phillips and getting a drawing done of myself (I wonder if he will do one now for a side-by-side comparison). His creativity has no limits — he makes dolls, puppets, costumes and so much more. And did I mention he is one character to go out to the clubs with? I can’t wait for the clubs to be open again because on any given weekend, Phillips can be seen at Rich’s enjoying the festivities especially if a theme night is involved. He took some time from his busy schedule to talk to us about his history and process — and we are so grateful for it.
Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Joe Phillips?
Gay comic icon that has been drawing comics and Gay boys since the 1990s.
How old were you when you discovered that you loved creating?
Since I could hold a stick in my hand. When I was a kid, we lived on a farm and I would draw chickens in the yard. My mom got me crayons and I’ve been drawing ever since.
How old were you when you realized that this passion was also a career?
I was 16, I went to a performing arts school in Atlanta, Georgia, and learned theater craft. I did costumes, scenery, makeup and set design. I loved it and wanted to make a career on the stage. I got into doing comic books because my brother Lex said I’d be good at it and I was.
What was your big break into the comic book industry?
I did some work for “Interview with a Vampire” back in the day when they did a comic book adaption; I then moved on to do a “Speed Racer” comic and then to DC comics and Marvel. I’ve worked for most of the big companies at one point or another.
Your Joe Boys became a sensation, the dress-up magnets were part of my collection — when did you decide to create Gay-themed comics and art?
Well, growing up most of the Gay art was centered around penises like Tom of Finland and Jim French. I loved that work but there was nothing out there with charm and humor so a friend said I should do some and I did. I just went with the stuff that inspired me like J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell and I created the Joe Boys to have that sort of American everyday slice of life.
We love the fact that you have created so much LGBTQ+ artwork. Do you feel it’s important to not only be part of the community but produce visual representations of us?
Maybe. I mean, in some ways, Gay men are very exclusionary. You are quickly labeled and put in a box: chub, bear, twink, Trans, what have you — so the inclusion is sort of an illusion. To me, Gay is Gay; if you have a same-sex attraction, you are Gay and that’s where my focus has been. I know politically, we are supposed to talk about unity and all that but it’s rarely like that. Bitches be cliquish, OK! I try to show a Gay world where we leave that baggage behind and just have fun and smile.
I’m not the voice of Gay inclusionary art but I try to put as many different kinds of folks that represent my friends in the Gay community. I’ve been out since I was 16 and have not had to hide myself or be closeted so I have a different perspective than a lot of Gays that had issues with their families.
A new project you are working on brings heroes and LGBTQ+ lives together with “I Married a Superhero.” Can you tell us more about it?
They say manifest what you want to see in the world, and I hope that’s what I can bring to life with this new book. I adored “Bewitched” as a kid and this got me thinking as I drew parallels with the witches and the Gay community, I also feel that way about superheroes. I think we have yet to see the daily life of a Gay married couple dealing with family and friends in a world where superheroes are real. They will have so many things to deal with from current social issues and family matters to personal issues of identity and community. It should be a fun ride.
With the pandemic happening, what have you been up to?
Well, art isn’t an essential service, so I’ve been scrounging for work. Doing lots of smaller projects and personal commissions. I’ve drawn a lot of folks and their boyfriends and dogs. [laughs]
With Comic-Con going virtual, how can your fans stay in touch with you and get your latest creations?
I need to look into that, I have no idea really. I have an eBay store and some stuff can be ordered from joephillips.com but I really need to set up my pandemic shop and sell my wares.
Not only do you create art but you also make costumes, toys, accessories — how does Joe Phillips stay in a creative mood?
It’s cheaper than therapy. Basically, I’m crazy and the art keeps me off the streets.
To check more of Joe Phillips art log on to www.joephillips.com