Rocket Science: Josh Siegel

On X-Men, Queercore, and what makes a great portrait.

Josh Siegel, a.k.a. modHERO, is an L.A.-based art director, illustrator, writer and co-creator of Geeks OUT and Flame Con. Follow him on Instagram @modhero and Twitter @joshsiegelyeah.


Whose creative work do you really admire?

It kind of depends on the day of the week. I’ve been thinking about the work of Hilma af Klint, who was an abstract painter before people were really doing that. She had a show at the Guggenheim recently. Her work (from the late 1800s) explored concepts like particle physics and microbiology all through a kind of mystical, spiritual lens. She's really fascinating, and she's been inspiring me all year.

I love seeing people making personal, independent art, whatever the time frame. My friend John Jennison just put out a queer-positive horror comic called The Closet of Secrets. It’s heartfelt, and scary, and silly at the same time.

How has your advice to young artists shifted over the years?

I can lend advice to artists more as an art director about finding individual voice and developing work that stands apart from that of others. But for broader career advice, I'm listening to young artists and paying attention to what they're doing just as much as I'm advising them.

I go to Flame Con, which I helped found, and I see what young artists are doing. I think it’s amazing. 10 years ago, the convention scene was very different. It didn’t have the same show of queer, diverse voices. Now, they’ve got space to say a lot, and I try to listen. I’m incredibly proud to see what Flame Con has become, and all it represents to the queer arts community.

When we started Flame Con and the nonprofit Geeks OUT, we had a sense there was a subculture waiting for its moment. We didn’t really understand what it could grow to become. We knew the potential for a convention like Flame Con existed, and the community was taking shape. We didn’t really know it would grow to this size so rapidly, but that’s been part of the thrill of it.


When you start a series of illustrations, do you know what you want the final product to look like right off the bat, or does it evolve during your process?

I tend to have a kind of abstract goal in mind for how I want it to feel, but because vector art is sort of infinitely editable, I don't have a lengthy drafting process for each piece. 

When I start a series, I'm more concerned with establishing a process that produces an exciting result, and allowing the art itself to develop as organically as possible. 

For the Deco Droids, I kind of meditate on their baseline forms and let the compositions develop shape by shape, line by line. Experiment. Correct. Repeat. Until what I'm looking at feels like it works.

What's something you love but find challenging to illustrate?

When I’m drawing in Adobe Illustrator, facial expressions are pretty challenging. Likenesses take a long time to feel right, I think because vector art is so exact. Subtle, gestural aspects that would be quick to capture with pencil and paper can feel labor-intensive to me.

It's something I'm trying to loosen up about. I've spent years adding complexity to my pieces and that's resulted in a real heaviness, so I'm trying to lighten the f up and explore more gestural techniques.

I love looking in on a character while they’re having a moment to themselves, or not necessarily putting on a show for us as a viewer. It makes a great portrait. I try to find those moments just out of frame in a comic book or movie. I like to think there’s a lot more complexity to the characters we’re familiar with than what we usually get.

You can pitch a series idea to Netflix, what would it be?

Well, I’ve been working on my own sci-fi/fantasy project called Into the Mountain. I started it as a webcomic a few years ago, but put it aside because I wanted it to be better than it was. I’ve been working on it again recently, composing in a pretty free and artistic way, and thinking of it as something that’s not really a traditional story. 

How can I sum it up, let’s see … my elevator pitch keeps changing ... Into the Mountain is about an ancient, highly advanced underground civilization being upended by dramatic, surreal environmental changes that seem to be caused by a vague, ambient intelligence within the mountain itself. All life hangs in the balance and five explorers are sent to find a rare biological specimen high within The Mountain that could save everyone, but might just be a myth.

The story delves into the nature of exploration, gender, science, and belief. I imagine it told in a way that’s really scenic and beautiful, like concept art broken up by bits of storytelling, comics, poetry, mythology, and such. 

It’s become my own artistic mountain, in a way. But it’s been fun to imagine new ways to tell stories and to explore new techniques. I haven’t been sharing it much because I still feel very early in the process and it feels very personal. I’m letting it take its time.

You’re a huge X-Men fan, are there underserved storylines you’d like to see translated onto the screen? 

Well, first, I’m amazed we got three seasons of Legion, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and it explored a character I’ve always loved. Hardly any writers have ever wanted to touch him because he’s so weird. It’s incredible that it was even made.


I’ve watched the premiere so many times. I’m probably going to rewatch the whole series again soon. I’ve been thinking about doing a podcast on it ... I’m that obsessed! With the X-Men now under the Disney umbrella, I wonder if we’ll be able to get something quite as out-there and radical? I hope we can, because the X-Men deserve to be wild, and punk, and sexy, and to explore radical themes the Avengers can’t. That’s what I hope for. 

I just watched this documentary on the Queercore movement on Amazon. It was about how queer people carved out a space for themselves within punk culture through art and zines and films and bands, even as they were very few in number. They were wild and answered to nobody and understood the nature of their power. To me, that’s what the X-Men could be, culturally. Outrageous. Challenging. I would love to see that brought to film and TV. So, sign me up for a Callisto series, yeah?





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