LJ Phillips’ art is exquisite. The award-winning South African queer artist’s characters come to life in her online comic series Iron Nail Afternoon, flooding the web pages with images that could each be an individual work of art.
The comic addresses queer themes, delves into relationships – between lovers, friends, family and enemies – and draws on The Other aspect of being queer. Werewolves and shapeshifters share a home in a fantasy floating city where the stories of their lives and exploits play out.
The comic debuted on digital storytelling platform Tapas before being released on Amazon’s digital comics distribution platform, Comixology. The comic then made its way to its very own website, where the stories of Phillips’ intriguing characters continue to unfold.
Each pane of the comic can be a stand-alone art piece, and there is a good reason for this: Phillips is actually an award-winning fine artist who has had several solo exhibitions.
Iron Nail Afternoon has received a Shortbox grant and was selected for the Otherwise Honours List – accolades that place her firmly in the outstanding artist sphere of comics.
Her fine art training is reflected throughout Iron Nail Afternoon. However, fine art wasn’t where she started her working life, in fact far from it.
“I started out working in the security sector, doing bodyguarding. Then I started studying part time at an art college and went on to be an art lecturer. I always did independent comics on the side,” Phillips says.
“I was always into art,” Phillips explains, “Switching from fine art to a digital medium was challenging and you use different motor skills from drawing on paper. It took some adjusting.”
The inspiration for Iron Nail Afternoon is drawn directly from Phillips’ own life and experiences as a queer intersex individual. Characters are informed by the feeling of being “other” that so many queer people experience.
“I wanted to do stuff that was more centred around queer characters,” she says. The character she identifies with the most is Skollina, a gender-bender who is a metaphor for an intersex person and the medical gaslighting experience.
Phillips’ childhood was fraught with confusion and tragedy. As a child she had been shuttled to and from doctors regularly without understanding why, and her parents died when she was fairly young, leaving her without the answers about herself that she so desperately needed. Only in her late twenties did she find out she had an intersex condition, which was impacting her health.
“I always knew that some parts of me didn’t fit in with other girls, but it’s not something that’s talked about,” she explains, “It was very traumatic, and it was a bit of a shock.”
Her heart can be seen shining through her art in Iron Nail Afternoon, with fans relating how they identify with specific characters. She modestly acknowledges that the web comic does inspire and influence those who see themselves reflected in it, but doesn’t see herself as an activist: simply an artist creating stories around her own experiences as a queer intersex person and placing it in the world for others to enjoy.
Those of us who see ourselves represented – often for the first time – in art form, are grateful for artists like LJ Phillips, who so bravely, authentically and beautifully provide an avenue for us to express ourselves.
You can follow LJ Phillips’ riveting comic series, Iron Nail Afternoon, here: