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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Joe Phillips

The Legion of Super Heroes, Joe Phillips
American Gothic, Joe Phillips
There's an old debate as to whether mass media (in this case art) leads social changes or simply reflects them. There's rational arguments on both sides and from what my nearly seventy years of passive observation, I could argue that there's more than a little of both occurring. Motion pictures have especially come under scrutiny in this regard, but only because they wield so much more social influence (in the past, at least) than any other media art form. Television has come under the same microscope; and I suspect both film and TV may now be giving way to Internet social media in this regard. News, good, bad, or indifferent, now travels at the speed of light into the moral conscious of virtually all of us. We only have to look at the rapid changes in attitude regarding bullying, racial profiling, healthcare, women's rights, and same sex marriage, to name just a few, to understand the insightful words of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, dating from some forty-five years ago (1970):
"Society experiences an increasing number of changes with an increasing rapidity, while people are losing the familiarity that old institutions (religion, family, national identity, profession) once provided."
Marriage License, 1955,
Norman Rockwell
Marriage License, 2005,
Joe Phillips
Joe Phillips Self-portrait
No area of art reflects this rapidity of social change and the social strains involved in coping with it more than comic book art. And, no comic book artist has stood at the forefront of this driving movement than Joe Phillips. Comic books are written for the young by the young, and as any sociologist will tell you, the primary impetus for change comes from the young (or those representing them). Joe Phillips is no Norman Rockwell, but it's enlightening to see how far the concept of marriage has migrated in the past fifty or sixty years. Even ten years ago when Joe Phillip's Marriage License was painted, the idea of same-sex marriage was radical to the extreme. Today, it's social and legal acceptance has become almost a foredrawn conclusion.

In just a few years, this Superman ...
became this Superman
As I was growing up, one of my favorite cartoon characters was Superman. I even went so far as to don red swim trunks and tie a red towel (cape) around my neck, then "fly" (for very short distances) saving the world from criminals such as Al Capone and the evil conspiracies of Joe McCarthy and Joe Stalin. Joe Phillips got his start in the comic book business drawing Superman and other super heroes once the fad caught on during the years to follow. Eventually the cast of characters began to resemble an army of muscular young studs (top) too numerous for me (and many others) to even remember all their names. Superman (above,) also evolved, sexualized by Phillips (above, right) and others.

Phillip's sexy Batgirl
Phillips' saucy Wonder Woman

Boys Will Be Boys, Joe Phillips

During the 1990s, Joe Phillips' superheroes evolved into sexual icons adopted by the LGBT community as both erotic images as well as symbols of the growing power of their movement. Moreover, having a strong academic background in drawing since high school and later as a result of his involvement in European street art, he easily took to "penciling" comic books, a skilled profession he pursued well into his twenties. His published portfolio of work grew to impressive numbers and excellence. Thus, when Eriq Chang, art director of XY Magazine, spotted his sexualized Superman/Superboy work, Phillips was well prepared to produce his first gay cartoon character, Joe Boy, for the gay-oriented publication. This, in turn, led to opportunities for additional gay comics, including a hardcore spoof of Star Trek.

Angel, Joe Phillips
Phillips' friend, Whoopie
Since around 2000, Joe Phillips has moved on from comics to gay art, running the gamut from simple fun-loving "Boys Will Be Boys" calendars (above, right), soft-core paintings (above), and zodiac figures (bottom) to hardcore gay porn. His art of all types has become collectible and much prized by the LGBT community. He's also become quite adept at painted caricatures (right). Frequently he enjoys painting gay tributes to the work of famous artists from the past such as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish (below, left), Grant Wood, and Alfred Eisenstaedt (below, right). In so doing, he underlines just how sharply art and social change has impacted our long-held attitudes as to gender identity and equality.

Phillips' homoerotic tribute
to Maxfield Parrish
Phillips' take on Eisenstaedt's
iconic Times Square photo. 

Cover of Phillip's Zodiac calendar.


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