Greg Irons

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Greg Irons

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1947 - 1984, Bangkok, Thailand)

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Artist Greg Irons used his talent for draftsmanship in multiple fields, first as a poster artist, then in creating underground comix and book illustrations, and finally as a tattoo artist. Born in Philadelphia in 1947, his father was a commercial artist and his mother was a nurse. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and became a self-taught artist at a young age, influenced by the art in MAD Magazine’s pocket books. After flunking out of high school in his sophomore year, Irons spent a year at a military academy and then returned to his suburban high school only to drop out. He lived in downtown Philadelphia with other bohemian types, learned to play the guitar, painted and drew and experimented with marijuana and LSD. Irons created the poster for Philadelphia’s May 14, 1967 be-in, called “Alice’s Happy Un-Birthday Party.” Irons failed his physical examination for the military draft and moved to San Francisco for the 1967 Summer of Love. A friend got him a commission to create two posters for the short-lived rock venue Western Front. Irons showed these posters and a draft of a poster for an upcoming Fillmore Auditorium dance concert to promoter Bill Graham (1931-1991), who hired Irons to turn the draft into a finished product for the June 27-July 2 concerts. Irons created one more poster for Graham and one for an Avalon Ballroom dance concert promoted by Chet Helms (1942-2005) of the Family Dog in September 1967, before he and Evann Walker, his girlfriend and later his wife, decided to go to England together. Irons found only a few poster commissions in London, so he and Walker worked as house cleaners to support themselves. Eventually he found work painting cels for the Beatles animated movie “Yellow Submarine.” After a trip to Spain and Morocco, the couple returned to San Francisco in 1969. Irons received six more poster commissions from Graham that year for concerts at Fillmore West and designed posters for other rock concert venues, including California Hall and Winterland. He also designed LP album covers. With encouragement from poster and comix artist Rick Griffin (1944-1991), Irons ventured into drawings for underground comix, with his work published in Skull Comics, Slow Death Funnies and many others in 1969 and the early 1970s. He then moved to book illustration, working for Troubadour Press, Sunset Books and Bellerophon Books. One of his notable book illustration projects was “The Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Coloring Album,” in 1979, with text by Gary Gygax (1938-2008), one of the creators of that role-playing game. After learning what a friend had paid for a tattoo, Irons purchased tattoo equipment in 1975 and began doing tattoo work while continuing to create book and magazine illustrations and covers and cartoons for the weekly newspapers “Berkeley Barb” and “Berkeley Tribe.” In 1980 he joined Dean Dennis’s (1950-2012) studio in San Francisco. Irons worked at the Tattoo Emporium in Seattle for a year, and then returned to San Francisco to work with Henry Goldfield. Irons also worked at tattoo conventions in various American cities. In 1984 he took a trip to Thailand, where he received a “magic” tattoo from a Buddhist monk. Irons was killed by a Bangkok city bus on November 24, 1984. (TNB 2/2017) Selected bibliography: Eldridge, C. W. “Greg Irons 1947-1984.” 1992. Tattoo Archive: Levin, Bob. “Greg Irons: In the Fire,” The Comics Journal, September 27, 2010. Rosenkranz, Patrick. Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution, 1963-1975. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2008. (Pulled from De Young Museum by HER, 11/2/17)

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