T-shirt designer puts new graphics on face masks in the COVID era

When coronavirus hits and everyone scrambles to define themselves in a new era of layoffs, shutdowns, unending homelife and an uncertain political climate, what’s a queer Atlanta graphic tee designer to do? Create masks, of course.

The site TeePublic let member artists like Brad Gibson (self-portrait, above) know that the site would be offering cloth masks with a pocket for a filter. Most existing designs are available on a mask, as well as any new mask-specific options the designers want to create.

Gibson — known as a prolific illustrator at Q magazine, for epic cosplay, and as a general gay gadabout — got to work.

“I immediately started making masks I would want to wear,” he told Project Q this week. “I didn't know if it seemed exploitive or opportunistic, but I really wanted a fun mask since I'm going to need to wear them anyway.”

There are dozens of options. On top of the designs Gibson already offers, you can now find masks featuring cool patterns and compelling imagery, or ones that show you from the nose down as Skeletor, Hannibal Lector, The Crawler, Mario, and other characters. 

The masks are in limited supply, and only so many orders are accepted each day to keep up with demand. Gibson has experienced sellouts as early as first thing in the morning, and delivery takes a couple weeks.

Part of the big attraction is a trade program for the greater good through TeePublic.

“For every mask sold, TeePublic donates an N95 medical grade mask to Direct Relief, an organization ensuring that medical professionals have enough PPE,” Gibson said.

We asked Gibson to sit down with a eapid-fire round questions on the project, and he obliged.

What are your most popular designs on the masks so far?

Technically any of the designs can go on the masks, just like any of the swag in my shops, but I chose to promote the designs I made specifically for masks and ones that had a message appropriate for wearing a mask. 

The most popular design was the Skeletor mouth that says "MYAH!" and that got eclipsed by the mask that says "VOTE" with the "V" being a blue checkmark. It makes me so, so happy that that is my biggest seller now. If anyone design should take the lead from Skeletor, I'm glad it's that one. 

The reaction has been overwhelming. It really did exceed my expectations. I'm certainly hoping it's not permanent, but as long as there is a need I'll keep making some designs, I'm just rolling with it in my typical fashion. 

Any kind of negative responses?

I had one person ask me if I thought it was tacky to sell masks. Since the profit margin on them is so minimal and I was impacted financially like so many from this, I did it feeling zero guilt, because it is providing something that is necessary while adding my own brand of whimsy. 

Speaking of hard times, how are you getting through the lockdown era?

Passing time during quarantine has been quite easy. I have been busy with art commissions, planning virtual events, and there still doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. 

I've been offering my help to several queer entertainers and friends/family during the time, offering some work for free or reduced rates. I'm excited at how wide-reaching it's been from local queer activists, queer establishments, to national happenings like Rhea Litre's Quarantine Queen and her collab with Todrick Hall. So many exciting things are still happening and it's encouraging. 

Any final thoughts for LGBTQ Atlanta in the COVID era? 

Be smart, and realize we are in uncharted waters. Everyone is reaching for answers and relief. Try not to judge people too harshly, but encourage people to make smart choices. 

I also want to say that I miss queer Atlanta. I miss it so much. I was so excited about some things I was to have going on. Someday we'll get back there.

Top illustration by, you guessed it, Brad Gibson. Visit his NeonHorror TeePublic shop, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram