Holy phenomenon, Batman!
Atlanta photographer Philip Bonneau is garnering acclaim all over the world with his ongoing Heroes + Villains series. Equally silly and sexy, the Heroes + Villains series takes legendary comic book characters and twists them for new and intriguing interpretations.
Bonneau, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design who’s a graphic designer by day, has worked for the past few years on delving into artistic outlets. With Heroes + Villains, he found a project that’s letting him explore his artistic inclinations.
“I’ve intended Heroes + Villains to be all about exploration,” says Bonneau. “I wanted to really explore different types of photography and see what I was drawn to and figure out who am I as an artist. I’ve been self-taught and been figuring out things as I go. Focusing on a subject matter that I am familiar with has really allowed me to focus on the technical qualities of my work.”
Bonneau certainly chose familiar subject matter; his grandfather introduced him to superheroes as a child, and they’ve stuck with him ever since.
“Comic book characters are the modern myths. Each myth was a parable to some lesson on life. Superman taught me about the American Dream, the X-Men taught me about acceptance to those that are different, and Batman taught me about one normal man being able to make a difference in the world.”
It’s that fascination and connection that Bonneau feels that he thinks also resonates with his audience, especially the gay members of his audience.
“Every single one of them celebrate and embrace people’s individuality. Most of these characters are one of a kind, and are considered freaks by the rest of society. For gay adolescents and even for some gay adults, those questions of fitting in and who you are compounded because they know in the back of their mind they are not the majority. They are different than the general status quo.
“In the world of comics, since their creation they have shown a society accepting of those that are different. I think it makes perfect sense for gay people looking for an escape to be drawn into those pages. I think with what you see in real life today with gay rights being a major talking point, reality has possibly began to catch up with the fiction a bit.”
For Heroes + Villains, Bonneau has split the series into four distinct parts, which – true to the series’ roots – go by issue numbers. In Issue #1, which focused on Marvel characters, Bonneau introduced his unique take on comic book characters through studio settings. Issue #2, meanwhile, focused on DC characters while adding in elements like environment and classic art references. Issue #4, which has not begun production yet, will shift to a black-and-white focus, with models being 65 years of age or older.
With the upcoming Issue #3, though, Bonneau is going for a significant twist.
“It’s the ‘shock’ show,” says Bonneau. “I am stylizing it more off of high fashion photography but touching on a wide variety of topics that many would consider taboo, but nothing that does go out of character [of the series]. Sometimes it takes a play on words to twist a character into a different light. This is the theatrical show where glamour, drag, and an exploration of adult themes come into play.”
With variety, though, comes the need for a bigger budget, and with what Bonneau has in mind, that meant a need for external funding. To this end, Bonneau turned to crowd fundraising website Kickstarter, though not without some hesitation.
“I had to be really convinced to do Kickstarter. I have always worked for everything I’ve had and never have really asked for anything. I come from the school of working for what you have. So I had to do some incredible soul searching of whether this was right for me to try.”
Once he decided to go the Kickstarter route, Bonneau worked on making a very specific budget that took into account all of the resources he wanted to get for Issue #3, including props and makeup artists. He ultimately came up with a very specific amount – $12,907, to be exact – then spent a month between May and June working on directing people to Kickstarter. “It became this second job. Most of my message came through Facebook. I figured, if this was the one dream out of reach for me, then I needed to do it right.”
Initial donations were strong, but not sustainable enough to hit the goal by his deadline. Compounding things was one of Kickstarter’s policies: projects that fail to meet their goals by deadline forfeit all funding.
“So I wrote basically everybody and their momma in the commercial industry,” Bonneau says. “To my surprise, one of the [publications] to instantly respond back to me was The Advocate, which ran a headline story on me and my work.”
Following that global boost in awareness, Bonneau set out to have some fun with his promotional efforts by using spoofs of pop culture references, such as Kristen Wiig’s airplane scene from Bridesmaids where she says “Help me, I’m poor.”
Still, by the final week, he was roughly $6,000 short of his goal.
“I was going to fail and I started questioning, ‘Why did I shoot so high?’ I really was beating myself up thinking that all of this was done in vain, and mentally I was prepared for that, but I was not going to go down without a fight. I took a deep breath and thought about how badly I wanted to see this succeed and if I really had it in me to try.”
The solution? He bared himself, both figuratively and literally. He posted a picture of himself online, covered only by a sign with a message:
“I am not a model. I am not perfect. I am not homeless. I am not dying of an illness. I do have dreams. I do have the talent. I do have drive. I do need your help… And I present myself nakedly asking for it.”
He originally planned to post a picture every day for the rest of the week with increasingly smaller signs once goals were met. As it turned out, though, that one picture was a game-changer.
“What I did not expect from that one picture is that suddenly out of the woodwork, friends and complete strangers were calling me up and saying, ‘Wow, I can not believe you did that, I would like to do that too.’”
By Wednesday of the final week, Bonneau met his goal. The money still kept rolling in – by the time the Kickstarter campaign ended that Saturday, Bonneau ended up with almost $16,000.
Now, Bonneau is working on actually creating Issue #3. While nothing is set in stone yet, he anticipates unveiling this latest installment in the fall. Hitting a certain deadline is not among his current concerns, though.
“I am shooting 35 different characters for this next series so I want to make sure that I do each of these characters justice and properly. I’ve always put a tremendous amount of responsibility to excel on myself, but since the success of my Kickstarter fundraiser by not just the Atlanta community, but all over the world, I feel I owe it to everyone to produce something that is truly special and has something to say about society and who we are.”
On top of creating unique artwork, Bonneau also wants to give back to the community. The opening of the next installment will benefit a local charity, though he hasn’t decided which one yet. Previous installments of Heroes + Villains raised money and awareness for MISTER.
“I’ve always liked the idea that my heroes actually help the local community, so that ‘pay it forward’ [idea] will continue throughout