Perhaps you’ve encountered his sensual drawings of the female form displayed on a table outside the Funk House during First Friday. Popeye Wong’s illustrated pinups and “eroticartoons” are impossible to miss. They’re racy, yet hardly more titillating than a Victoria’s Secret catalog, at least the illustrations he presents to the First Friday crowd. And like the famous lingerie company, the majority of Wong’s customers and clients are women.
“There was this guy looking through my stickers at First Friday,” says Wong, who has illustrated a back cover for fantasy magazine Heavy Metal. “He said, ‘Your drawings are only for women.’ It gave me pause, because I never intended my work to appeal to one gender. If you asked about an agenda, I’d say this: I don’t want to be offensive to women.”
Although many of Wong’s images can seem downright sinful, his respect for the fairer sex stems from his Catholic upbringing in Sonora, Mexico, where Madonna is a central icon. Honoring the beauty in all figures, Wong’s women come in all shapes and sizes, always dominant and never submissive to men or anyone else, not even the viewer’s gaze. They wield guns and swords, wear boxing gloves and ninja garb, and generally look sexy and empowered in an infinite number of scenarios ranging from the simple act of reading a book, to bullfighting in full-on matador dress, to enjoying a cigarette in lotus position. Sure, Wong’s women can sometimes be conventional, even clichéd, in their buxomness and trappings—e.g., stripper-heeled, bondaged-up, French-maided—yet they’re consistently portrayed with an admiration bordering on veneration.
Wong’s female-friendly mindset has attracted an unlikely crowd: porn stars. “I love being involved in the adult industry because I love drawing beautiful women,” explains Wong, 35. “When Belladonna asked me to produce a cartoon every day for two months for her website, I jumped at it. I had freedom and there weren’t any themes. Except Belladonna had to be included.”
Wong admits he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the explicit nature of the assignment, even though Belladonna is that rare porn actress with a massive female following. Still, he continues to draw cartoons and pinups of other adult-film celebs—such as Vicky Vette, Julia Ann and Gianna Michaels—and insists he’d relish another chance to work for Belladonna. At the moment, however, he is refocusing his energies on attending local and regional events to secure more varied freelance employment.
Having put a summer wedding ceremony behind them, Wong says that he and his wife plan to return to shows. “I like setting up booths to talk with people at San Diego Comic-Con and the AVN [Adult Video News] tradeshow in Vegas. Sometimes it’s expensive to attend these things, but usually worth it as I almost always get jobs as a result.”
People who approach his First Friday table enjoy looking at his images—and often buy them. Sure, once in a while, someone confronts him to complain about a few illustrations being offensive. Wong is careful to listen to what a critic says, yet he makes one thing very clear: He’s not going to change his art because someone doesn’t like it.
“I’m not politically correct,” Wong says. “I simply don’t appreciate or accept racism, prejudice or religious persecution in any way. But as an artist I can’t be too careful. I’m just trying to have fun, which I think is evident in my work.”
Inspired by the fun, passersby routinely ask why he doesn’t airbrush cars, design tattoos or draw comic books. “My skill set doesn’t include those yet,” says Wong, who learned how to airbrush by working on the Strip as a caricaturist. “Soon, though. I’d really love to work on cars.”