Conversation: Literary Pets Guy, Chet Phillips.

Chet Phillips had me at his illustration of John Pupdike, but then I started looking around his Etsy store, and figured that it seemed necessary to bother him about his art.

What do you like more, domesticated animals or books?
A book about domesticated animals with a literary theme, illustrated by me would contain just about the right blend of likeability .

Whats your favorite animal?
Hands down, monkeys. This fascination can be directly linked with the fact that I was raised by a family of Howler Monkeys until the age of 7. They abandoned me at a fire station door after my grooming habits become more than they could stomach. That brief jungle upbringing had less to do with my fascination with monkeys as with the long hours spent staring at the fire station’s Lawson Wood calendar.

I’m sort of glad you came up with the Poe as a pug thing. Do you think using a raven as the animal to represent Poe is played out?
Indeed! Very few people realize Poe’s first choice of bird for his famous poem was a cockatiel. Fortunately he re-thought it, realizing the bobbling head and cuttlebone just wasn’t properly menacing.

You seem to like to do trading cards.

I grew up loving the concept of collecting cheap little pieces of artwork with the bit of powdered hard gum as an accessory. Not so much the sports cards, but sets with the absurdist tendencies of Ed Big Daddy Roth and Norman Saunders with his Mars Attacks and Batman series. Later in life I learned to appreciate the look of vintage cigarette trading cards, which I have been seeking to emulate in some way with the the first three sets I’ve created: “World War Monkey,” “Steampunk Monkey Nation” and “Literary Pets.”

You also combined animals with war figures.
With the card sets “World War Monkey” and “Steampunk Monkey Nation” the style of turn-of-the-century cigarette cards proved to be a perfect vehicle to blend the austere seriousness of Victorian mores with the inherent silliness of anthropomorphic monkeys and apes. Technically speaking, my collections that are titled as “monkeys” also include several types of apes. I state this distinction as part of the required litigation agreement put forth in the landmark case Harry O. Rangutan v. Howard Mandrill (1947)

What’s next? Any plans to put together a collection?
I’ve received some initial interest from two publishers to date that are interested in seeing additional Literary Pets, which I’m presently expanding. I’m also hard at work with a new portrait collection of monkeys that combines elements of Victoriana and Steampunk with the inner workings of a secret society of simians most evil and foul (insert ominous organ music here.).