For my final interview in anticipation of the Granite State Comic Con, I’m excited to be connecting with Rogan Josh who is the artist behind the gorgeous mod-hero Gallery, a collection (in his own words) of “fan boys hormones ret-conned into art.” What Josh does, basically, is create pop art images using characters that we are all familiar with (like Captain America parachuting from a plane or She-hulk carrying a stack of books) and then use modernist visual techniques to make them look like they might be a book cover or movie poster from the 1920’s or 30’s. The results are beautiful.
Q: Let’s begin with the convention itself. What do you most enjoy about working at conventions?
Rogan Josh: I love having the chance to geek out with other fans and get real excited about obscure characters that no one in the outside world would appreciate, much less discuss.
Q: Speaking of New Hampshire, aka “the Granite State”, if you had to create a “state superhero” for New Hampshire, who would it be?
Rogan.: Maybe some elder statesman made of stone? Like a gentleman Golem type of character. Kind of “Ra’s al Ghul-meets-The Thing”?
Q: For people who are not familiar with your beautiful work, there is a distinct superhero/pop element to it, but served up in a Modernist style reminiscent of print designs of the 1920’s and 30’s. Why Modernist style? What drew you to that visual mode?
Rogan: Using Adobe Illustrator to create vector-based illustrations, lines are very clear-cut, and can easily re-create that mid-century kind of bold, blocky, graphic illustration style. I was never all that drawn to mid-century illustration per-se. I love art of all types, and find inspiration everywhere. The vector art medium, which I wanted to use for these posters, is just sort of made to draw that way.
Q: And how did the idea of combining popular comic characters with the Modernist style come to you? Was it a gradual affair or more like a sudden bolt-out-the-blue epiphany?
Rogan: It was actually a very distinct bolt, which I remember having! lol I was noticing a lot of minimalist recreations of famous movie posters and book covers, brilliantly done. I needed a project like that, where I could use my design skills a bit more creatively, but I’m not really much of a movie buff, or book geek. I wanted to do an arty re-imagining of *something* that was closer to my heart. If only I could think of something I obsess over and know WAY too much about… Hmm.. I was on the way to buy comics (as I have done every week for 25 years) and it sort of hit me like a dumb bus. Why not draw super heroes?
Q: Despite the richness of the colors in your work, and the boldness of the figures, I almost feel like there is a sense of loneliness in a lot of your prints. People stand near each other but with little eye contact. A few touch hands, but there is often a sense of “apartness”. Many of the prints contain a single figure. Is this part of your expression, or am I reading a bit too much into it?
Rogan: I think you’re reading it all just right. I’m flattered! Someone once looked at my artwork and said “It’s all about being powerful and alone!” which sort of alarmed me, but I think he was on to something. Comic characters are often depicted as very 2-dimensional and brash, but if you are a hardcore geek, you probably understand how complicated and human they can be. I like to try and capture moments that feel very real, tense, lonely, etc. – a personal window or crucial moment that’s nuanced, even while I’m using big fun blocks of color.
Q: tell us a little about your process and work. What inspires you to start a new work? Where do your ideas come from?
Rogan: My ideas for new prints can come from all over the place. Classical paintings. Old photographs. Fashion shots. Geometric experiments. My own desire to try and tell a particular story. Usually, a very vague idea for associating a shape or scene with a comic character will pop into my head. I’ll sit down at the computer and start playing with shapes and compositions. Eventually, a figure is brought out of it. I then spend a long time rendering little details and tightening the character up.
Q: And do you work mostly on a computer or on paper (or both)?
Rogan: I carry a little sketchbook for ideas, but for the most part, it a brain-to-computer operation.
Q: Do you have a favorite work that you would like to tell us a little about?
Rogan: Oh, that’s a tough question. I have many favorites. Initially, each one is sort of it’s own individual experiment, so when I see them completed, I enjoy the composition if this one, or the character glance in that one, or the humor in this other one. I’m always partial to new pieces, though. My most recent one is Sherlock, which I based on a classical painting. I’m quite happy with how that came out. I find drawing the faces of actual people in vector art very challenging, so I’m proud of the likeness to Benedict Cumberbatch as well as the feeling of the piece.
Q: Do you have a sense of which prints might be available for those of who might meet you in New Hampshire?
Rogan: I should have prints of my entire collection in New Hampshire! If you are looking for a particular print, just drop me an email reminder and I’ll be sure to have it stocked.
Q: Finally, as a bonus question, if you were a supervillain who would you be and which superhero would defeat you?
Rogan: If I could be a villain, I’d be Juggernaut. I’d be gigantic and scary, but every hero would defeat me one way or another.
You can find Rogan Josh and his fantastic artwork at Granite State Comicon this weekend!