Hard work and talent are nice, but you can’t really make your name in NYC nightlife if you haven’t got your own Phillip Orozco illustration on your social media profile. The Hirschfeld for this city’s modern fringe set, this New Mexico-born illustrator has had an eye for drawing drag queens, and other colorful characters, that was created in the days of Jessica Rabbit. Now, get to know the man behind your Facebook pic with the most Likes as Thotyssey gets drawn into Phillip’s world for this exclusive interview.
Thotyssey: Hi Phillip, how’s it going today? Your illustrations of drag queens come up on my newsfeed several times a day when the girls are using them in their posters to promote their shows. Is it still exciting every time you see them, or is it old news by now?
Phillip Orozco: No, it’s still cool to see that they still seem to make people happy enough to use them on social media. Sometimes I see one or two pop up, and I’ll realize it’s been a few years since I did this or that one.
Thotyssey: You’ve been at it for awhile! We’ll get to how that all started, but first… let’s get to know you. Did I see that you’re from New Mexico?
Yup, Carlsbad, NM. Tiny little town in the southern part of the state. Then eventually, Albuquerque. Moved to Santa Cruz when I was 19 for a year, then to NY til I was 23, then Albuquerque.
When did you come back here?
I was there til 2008, working in film production, then took a job here in NYC, and moved back.
So, do you finally feel like you’re home now in NYC after all that moving around?
Yeah finally. Mostly cuz I hate driving. But also, there’s just more here. More types of people, more types of situations.
And more people to draw!
So, have you been drawing and making art your whole life?
Yup! Old story I’ve always been told is, my grandmother got me into it. She used to babysit me as a toddler when she was a housekeeper, and she’d tear off a section of brown paper towel and give me that to draw on. So I’d sit with my brown paper while she cleaned houses.
Aw, that’s cute! How about training and schooling, as far as your art goes?
Didn’t have schooling, as much as I had a really supportive family who encouraged my drawing–and a VHS, and a worn-out copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Then later it was comic books, and Batman: The Animated Series. Just kind of picked stuff up as I went.
I’m guessing you’ve drawn Jessica Rabbit, like, a trillion times?
A million trillion times, yeah. Used to pause it on her big number, and would sketch and sketch until I had her face, and eyes, and hair just right. Probably why I like drawing drag queens now so much.
There’s this gorgeous Death Becomes Her print of yours. Besides Roger Rabbit, are movies from that period (late 80′s-early 90′s) a huge influence on your art?
Honestly, it’s weird, but I think Meryl Streep in general was a huge influence. Being a kid, and seeing her in She-Devil and Death Becomes Her. She kinda had this regal snobbery that I tried to put on paper.
That was a strange transitional period of movies for her: She-Devil, Death Becomes Her, and that one where she’s river rafting. She was finding herself!
And Postcards from the Edge! I think Death Becomes Her was a big influence because I was obsessed with drawing their outfits at the end, and I would always try to get Meryl’s top right.
Remember Mario Paint for the SNES? I used to animate short 8-Bit Death Becomes Her scenes.
So what about comic books, did you ever have any interest in drawing for Marvel or DC?
Oh yeah, mostly Image. At the time, Image was the new comic book company that artists had started after they left the big comic book companies. Spawn was my favorite back then though, and the angel warrior Angela… who now is under Marvel as part of the Thor universe!
Really? Wow, where have I been? So, where were your early hangouts in NYC where you started to take notice of the city’s colorful nightlife cast/cast?
Barracuda, G Lounge… then I mostly settled into the Ritz and Vlada. Rremember Vlada? That’s we’re I met Misty and Mocha, which are two of my favorite queens to draw. I have Misty’s up on my living room wall as a poster.
Those two are definitely a pair of human cartoons. So, how and when did it start exactly with you illustrating these queens and distributing the images?
Um, around 2012, I think. I was broke broke broke, and needed some cash, so I figured, why not try charging a little for some profile toons in a circle that people could post? I had a few friends and stuff take me up on it. It was pretty rough back then [laughs]!
But it wasn’t until the next year, when I did toons for Porshe Pink and Azraea both in the same week–and those two queens were the first ones that dominoed this this whole drag queen, go-go boy, nightlife performer streak. After that, people were contacting me saying they needed a nightlife toon, and to be part of the series which I hadn’t even intended to create. I was just taking gigs as they were coming in.
Then I started getting contacted by the Philly queens, and some Chicago queens. It was pretty fun to have people like them that much.
It’s wonderful to see someone directly profit from their art in this way! But everyone knows that nightlifers can be a little on the cheapskate and hustling side of things. Are people trying to constantly get, um, “pro bono” work from you?
Yeah, you get that. In the beginning, I’d get the “I have a lot of followers” line. But after a while, I just grew a backbone, quoted a price and gave my payment info. Most busy queens and performers know what it’s like to hustle for each gig and tip, so for the most part everyone I’ve worked with has been pretty professional about paying and crediting me for the art. It’s that thing: to become an artist people respect, you first have to respect other artists.
Do have some favorite toon that you’ve done? (I kinda love Zalika Parsons’!)
Zalika’s came out amazing. But I think that’s because she has that cartoonish personality already in hand. But some favorites have been… hmmm… Tina Burner’s, Misty Meaner’s, Logan Hardcore’s second one, Iris Spectre’s, Ari KiKi of course.
So, would you say that these nightlife toons raised your overall profile as an artist? Have they led to opportunities outside that world?
I would say that, yeah, It definitely kept me fed and my pencils sharp that first year. Having people post their profile photos and give credit has kept me busy. But honestly, it’s funny–sometimes you get a gig for someone big and think, this is gonna get so much exposure, and then after it comes out and gets posted, you know, your followers count clicks up by… .2. But then sometimes you get a gig for someone who’s a lot of fun to work with, and not a name, who will post something I did, and my Instagram will be blowing up the next morning.
Have you ever shown your work in galleries?
Yeah, I used to. Back when I painted on 4’ x 5’ canvas.
What media do you use to create your illustrations now?
Pencil and ink, then digital coloring on Photoshop.
Anything new in the future for you?
Thinking about starting some animation projects actually, and also blocking out some time for personal projects like my own comic books. But then again, we all say that, don’t we? And then we get busy doing gigs for other people again. But as long as it keeps me in art supplies, toys, and video games, I’m happy.
Who should win Drag Race All stars Season 2?
Hmmmm… Jiggly Caliente.
I wish she was on it! Finally: if you could completely redesign one comic book character, cartoon character, corporate logo character, etc.. who would you take a crack at?
You’re just the man for the job! Thanks, Phillip!
Phillip Orozco is a freelance artist best known for illustrating caricatures of nightlife personalities. You can contact him via social media if you wish to commission an original piece from him: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. His artwork also has a Facebook page, and there’s a Society 6 webpage to buy his merchandise.