Joey DeMarco makes no apologies for being a geek. The Collingswood native loves comics, video games, sci-fi and, above all else, movies.
As a child he wanted to be an animator; he even enrolled at Temple University as a film major. But it’s his latest work behind the lens that’s given DeMarco an opportunity to marry his artistic interests and his love of pop culture.
In 2011, DeMarco saw some fan art that mashed up Star Wars characters and World War II recruitment posters. It was fun and funny, and he wondered why nobody had thought to do more of it; enough to make a calendar.
“My girlfriend, Stacey [Bridgeman], was a huge push for that,” he said. “She always says my photos tell a story. She pushed me to take it seriously.”
Response to the calendar was a modest hit, DeMarco said—fulfilling an order from Stephen Sansweet, head of fan relations at Lucasfilm was a personal triumph—but it proved two things. First, that there was an appetite for his work, and second, that he was capable of taking on such a project.
So when Collingswood artist Ally Averell, and Samantha Star, one of his frequent models, pitched DeMarco the idea of doing another calendar—this time with body-paint art—everything just fell into place.
“We met up together and did a Peggy Carter-Captain America painting, which was kind of like a Clark Kent/Superman thing, so I thought there might be something there,” DeMarco said.
For starters, using body paint cut back on the costs of props and costumes, and as a self-funded exercise, every dollar counts. Plus, DeMarco said, “Ally is also a big geek [so] it was a good pairing.”
DeMarco and Averell knew their idea could work because of the growing popularity of cosplay (think D.I.Y. dress-up for the super-fan set). They whittled down a list of 12 popular characters from cartoons, comic books, and video game franchises, and recruited models willing to work on a barter system.
The end result, while not a huge money-maker, did better than breaking even. More importantly, DeMarco said, it has helped a few of the models who participated to gain valuable exposure and build their portfolios.
It also got her, DeMarco, and Averell invited to appear on the Preston and Steve Show on WMMR-FM this Friday to participate in a live body-painting throughout the course of the show.
(Fans of Marvel Comics: they plan to paint Leesh up in the costume of the Punisher.)
If the appearance sells more calendars, so much the better for DeMarco and Averell. If it doesn’t, he said, “We just want the exposure because we both love doing this and we want to continue to do it.”
“The more people know about me the more likely they are to hire me to take some cool photos, and I just love shooting,” DeMarco said.
'It's putting yourself out there'
DeMarco is also acutely aware of the stigma surrounding body-paint art. It’s risqué, it’s provocative, and, when poorly done, he said, it can be vulgar. The challenge that he and Averell took on was to fool the eye with a well-constructed makeup job in the hopes of being able to deliver the same for paying customers in the future.
“There’s a lot of bad body painting out online,” DeMarco said. “If you Google ‘body painting,’ there’s a lot of naked women with a little bit of paint on them, and it’s horrible. That’s not what it’s about. If you want to see that, go somewhere else.
“We wanted these to be very artistic and not racy or sexualized at all,” he said. “We wanted you to look at the picture and initially think it was a costume and have to do a double-take to realize it was paint.”
Furthermore, DeMarco said, given the amount of time it takes to apply Averell’s elaborate designs, some of which require four to five hours of work, a great degree of trust, professionalism and respect are all important to the process.
“Reputation is important, especially if I’m a guy photographer,” he said. "You have to have a good reputation; you have to be someone they can trust. You can’t be creepy; you can’t be inappropriate. [Body paint is] putting yourself out there.”
DeMarco was also inspired by the fact that most of the models he was able to recruit for the calendar are local women from within an hour's drive of his studio. It proved to him that not only could the audience for his work be drawn from the area, but that it was executed by people nearby as well.
“I love Collingswood,” DeMarco said. “It’s my hometown. That feeling of familiarity allows you to be open or free or comfortable, which allows you to be creative and do what you want.”
Photography by Joey D and Artwork by Ally will be creating a live body-paint rendition of The Punisher with model “Leesh” on the Preston and Steve Show Friday morning. Listen on 93.3 WMMR-FM from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
To pick up a copy of the "15 Shades of Geek" calendar, visit DeMarco's etsy site.