EXPLODING VIKING SHIPS; EAGLES SPITTING GREEN LIGHT
Keni Thomas is “a little creative illustrator, with a lot of curiosity”, and hair dyed midnight green. He loves the Philadelphia Eagles. So when the team commissioned him to create a poster for the home opener on September 19, Thomas dug deep into his memory bank to tap into vintage NFL programs from the 1960s. were rude and irreverent, often mocking the visiting opponent with a cartoonish eagle swooping in to save the day.
“I noticed a lot of teasing in this old stuff, like they were making fun of the rival team,” Thomas said. “The eagle was always the hero, and the style was to have him threaten the other city or the other team’s mascot.”
His version? Well, he marries that bygone era with his own unique style: a cross between Marvel Comics (for hero worship) and Looney Tunes (for comic relief). The design shows a giant bald eagle howling over Lincoln Financial Field, with smoke billowing around it and a fiery green torch hanging from its talons. The Vikings mascot looks on in awe, with his purple ship engulfed in green flames. Take a closer look at the drawing to find the Easter eggs.
“I always try to have a punchline in my work, something that’s hidden in there or something funny,” Thomas said. “I want people to remember what they see. I always want people to laugh and hope it makes life a little bit easier because life is hard enough.”
Thomas grew up in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands before moving to the Philadelphia area in 1985. He began drawing at age 8, drawing inspiration from the 1940s artwork he saw him hanging out at his grandfather’s house. The plan was never to make a career out of it until a paperwork mishap following his Navy graduation knocked over the easel.
Thomas, pressed by his mother, brought some sketches to the Art Institute of Philadelphia where they encouraged him to enroll. What he did. He chose to study graphic design and illustration, a breath of fresh air for him after living on a naval base in San Diego for four years.
“The art world chose me,” Thomas said, “and it all started to go that way.”
Thomas, aka Thomcat23, has a studio and shop at Cherry Street Pier where he exhibits and sells his work which is classified as Pop-Surrealism. It didn’t hurt that Thomas was a die-hard Eagles fan. He told a story of trekking to Lehigh University to watch the team practice in the early 1990s, a trip that included a chance encounter with former Birds running back Keith Byars.
“I remember hearing the bell ringing for the ice cream truck and I guess he heard it too,” Thomas said. “All of a sudden, Keith Byars – the tallest human being I’ve ever seen – is running out of the field and jumping a fence to get to the ice cream truck. He bought a treat for every child present, including one for himself.”