Comic book covers and panels can definitely be considered works of art, but wouldn’t it be nice to own a striking illustration of Batman or Spider-Man that was meant to be framed? If this sounds appealing, then it’s time to become familiar with graphic artist Rogan Josh’s modHero series of superhero portraits.
I first encountered Josh’s work at Rhode Island Comic Con 2015. Original art was everywhere at the event, but the colorful, minimalist modHero prints kept grabbing my attention. I finally had to crack open my wallet and purchase Josh’s striking print of the X-Man Cyclops (in full Mutant revolution mode).
This image of my favorite comic book character is now framed over my desk, providing me with optic blasts of inspiration on a daily basis. But the more I admired this print, the more I wanted to know about the artist behind it. So I reached out to the New York-based artist, and here’s what he had to say:
AiPT!: How did the modHero portrait series come about?
Rogan Josh: I was looking to do something creative, design-wise, really just for myself. I’d enjoyed fan-made minimalist movie posters online and wanted to attempt something along those lines, but since I’m far more a comics buff than a movie buff, I thought I’d try and depict superheroes with a similar graphic approach. The way I ended up drawing them was a lot more expressive and illustrative, but that was the original thought.
AiPT!: As an artist, what are some of your biggest influences?
RJ: My influences are pretty all over the place. Mid-century abstract painting. Ancient sculptures from around the planet. Rock posters. Experimental pixel art. Classical portraits and landscapes. Zines. Great commercials.
Comics-wise, my biggest influences are probably John Romita Jr., Bill Sienkiewicz, Duncan Fegredo and Chris Bachalo, but there are tons more that I love and admire.
AiPT!: You mentioned that you’re a comic buff, which is very clear based on your prints’ subject matter. When did you first start reading comic books?
RJ: Growing up, I always had comics around. Not tons of them, but the few I had I read and re-read, and when I came across new ones they became important additions, no matter where they came from. Like, the amazing mini-comics packaged with He-Man figures or Atari games, which far outlasted the novelty of the toys they came with.
When I started getting “serious” about comics (i.e., buying them myself), it was during the classic ‘80s X-Men era with Romita Jr. penciling Uncanny.
AiPT!: Speaking of Uncanny, you’ve done a number of X-Men-themed portraits. It’s clear you’re a fan. What is it about Marvel’s mutants that appeals to you?
RJ: I think what hooked me in those classic stories was the love the characters had for one another. Despite dodging violent attacks, government conspiracies, heartbreaking prejudice and some pretty terrifying villains, their thoughts were usually of one another – of their weaknesses and worries – the subtle things they’d notice about their teammates but keep to themselves. There was a very human intimacy in the X-Men that wasn’t necessarily about sexual tension or high dramatics. It felt very grounded in its own characters’ love and respect for each other. It’s that “found family” aspect of the X-Men that often gets noted in queer readings. That’s what got me. That, and the amazing ‘80s-tastic street clothes they wore! I loved how often they would be out of costume. Yet another aspect of how realistic and grounded the stories were. To this day, when a superhero has a scene in an office or a hospital and they walk in wearing their spandex costume, it just feels lazy and takes me out of the story.
AiPT!: What comic book series are you currently enjoying?
RJ: I’m loving the new Vision series. He’s a character I never cared about at all, but the story is really smart and the art is by Gabriel Hernandez Walta – one of my favorite artists currently drawing comics. I’m loving Monstress. It just feels incredibly ambitious and well-executed, even if it’s just begun. And I am really enjoying Jupiter’s Circle, which is tiding me over as I wait semi-patiently for more installments of Jupiter’s Legacy. I also dig Prophet for all its crazy sci-fi ideas and epic scope.
AiPT!: Have any Marvel or DC comic creators ever commented on your work?
RJ: I know several Marvel and DC creators have my posters hanging up in their homes and offices. Some have met me at cons and bought them from me in person, which was cool.
AiPT!: What are a few of your most popular modHero prints at conventions?
RJ: Every convention seems to be different, which is both fun and challenging. I can never predict what will be popular. At one convention, strong female characters and new fan-favorites will outsell every other hero, but at the next con, fans are all about the alpha males and the classic caped crusaders.
AiPT!: Would you have an interest in doing covers or interiors for Marvel or DC? If so, what would your dream project be?
RJ: Sure! I’d be all over a New Mutants comic. I’d love to write and/or draw either a nostalgic “reunion” type of book, or a recast team of awkward mutant teens. They’re my jam.
AiPT!: In addition to producing modHero prints, you also do graphic design and illustration work. I’m curious what a regular work week is like for you these days?
RJ: I’m currently trying to create a handful of new pieces in time for C2E2 [Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo] in March. I can usually start and finish a modHero poster over the course of a week. I have a new series I’m hoping to unveil at PAX East in April, and I have a couple book cover projects I am juggling. I am still getting used to the addition of webcomic pages to my workload, but I am getting in the groove with it, and seem to be able to wrap about two pages a week without letting other projects fall by the wayside. Hopefully that will get even smoother as I get used to the workflow.
AiPT!: You mentioned your new webcomic, Into the Mountain. How did this project come about?
RJ: I’ve wanted to start publishing a comic of my own for a while. This particular story started brewing last summer, and it felt like a good time to just take a new idea and run with it. After spending the last months of 2015 hashing out the story and sketching up characters and monsters, it’s exciting to finally get the journey going.
AiPT!: So what can fans of your work expect from you in the not-too-distant future?
RJ: I’m still establishing the setting and introducing readers to the cast of Into The Mountain, but it’s going to get pretty crazy soon, so stay tuned. I’ve usually shied away from making modHero prints of movie and TV characters, but I’ll be interpreting some big-screen favorites in the next couple months. I’m still making monthly coffee animals, which have been a huge hit at cons. I’m trying to balance drawing the adorable, popular animals that I know will sell well, and the bizarre, esoteric animals that fascinate me. I figure they all enjoy coffee, right? I’m brewing an idea for a totally different, kind of creepy illustration series along the lines of Welcome to Night Vale that I’d like to get rolling by mid-year, and one series that’s more of a loosely political LGBT-themed series. I actually just launched a Patreon page, where fans can support these new projects and get some peeks inside my process along with other perks.
AiPT!: Where can people go to buy your prints?
RJ: You can see all my work at modhero.com. I’m currently making signed editions of all prints, and you can order them on my site. I usually close that online shop down when conventions start up, but for now, it’s open for business.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to chat and best of luck with your upcoming projects!