RIP Dan Hughes, artist known for Japanese Breakfast posters and throughout Philly’s DIY music scene

“I feel like I’m mourning the loss of whatever Dan was going to do next,” said Mannequin Pussy’s guitarist and singer.

Posters designed by Dan Hughes for various bands who played in Philadelphia

Posters designed by Dan Hughes for various bands who played in Philadelphia

Dan Hughes
johnpaultitlow

A swath of the city’s creative community was saddened recently by the loss of Dan Hughes, a prolific illustrator who worked with well-known Philly bands like Japanese Breakfast and Mannequin Pussy. He died unexpectedly at 36 years old.

Over the last decade, Hughes became a staple of the Philadelphia music and arts scenes. He designed and screen-printed posters, t-shirts, album art, custom drum heads and other accessories for local groups and shows featuring national acts like Guided By Voices, Third Eye Blind, Maggie Rogers, and SZA.

In recent years, Hughes established himself as a go-to resource for up-and-coming acts across the city.

“He was a pillar of the community,” said Marisa Dabice of Mannequin Pussy. “Anytime we needed anything done in Philly, he was the first person that I wanted to call. He was always my favorite person to collaborate with.”

Hughes’s 7-year partnership with the acclaimed punk band yielded countless screen-printed tour posters, half a dozen t-shirt designs, and an iconic bass drum head that went missing along with the rest of the band’s music gear when it was stolen on tour last year. One of the Mannequin Pussy t-shirts he designed was featured in an episode of HBO’s hit Delco-based murder mystery “Mare of Easttown.”

“He was able to take these basic artistic seeds and pour his own creative energy and water onto it and create something that would be far beyond what my own mind could even think to create,” said Dabice. “He really set the tone for how I work with every other artist.”

Fans of Japanese Breakfast might recognize the banner Hughes designed for their “Boyish” music video, or have seen the illustrated bass drum head he screen-printed during one of the band’s shows or appearances on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” or “Saturday Night Live.”

Dan Hughes was 36

Dan Hughes was 36

Courtesy the author

“For a while there, he was the go-to dude in Philly, especially if someone needed something last minute,” said Japanese Breakfast bassist Deven Craige. Japanese Breakfast, who have been rising in mainstream stature and touring extensively since last year, canceled their show in Toronto to return home for Hughes’s memorial service last week.

“My brain just refused to accept that this had happened,” Craige said. “I couldn’t even begin to start any sort of grieving process until I got back to Philly and saw everybody.”

Japanese Breakfast bandmates joined several dozen friends, family, and fellow artists at a memorial service for Hughes in his hometown of Harleysville, Pa., on Sept. 25. Following the service, friends and fellow artists gathered to share drinks and stories about Hughes at the Monkey Club, the East Kensington dive bar where he was known to stop in for a beer.

Hughes played an integral role in Philly’s DIY music scene. He co-launched the indie cassette tape label Endless Daze, and booked shows during the late 2000s and early 2010s as a founding member of the now-defunct Kensington warehouse artist collective and music venue The Ox.

“Besides being a visionary illustrator and having amazing ideas, Dan was also a very talented and hardworking screen-printer who could do just about anything,” said Andy Molholt, guitarist in the indie rock band Speedy Ortiz.

The El Bar in Fishtown was a popular art subject for Hughes

The El Bar in Fishtown was a popular art subject for Hughes

Dan Hughes

Hughes was also known for his wit. In 2014, his humor made local headlines when his Photoshopped depiction of Bill Murray hanging out at The El Bar sparked rumors that the actor may have made one of his famous surprise public appearances at the popular Fishtown dive bar. Hughes followed up with visually  fictionalized nights featuring Senator Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis.

Hughes was found in his Olde Richmond home on Sept. 14 after succumbing to an unknown medical condition. Family and friends believe he may have been sick with an illness that went untreated due to the artist’s lack of health insurance. A PPD detective told his family there were no obvious signs of self harm or drug use. Official autopsy results are expected from the Medical Examiner’s Office sometime in the next 8 to 10 weeks.

Plans are in the works for a memorial concert featuring Philly bands, an art exhibit showcasing Hughes’ work, and a printed art book.

“I feel like I’m mourning the loss of whatever Dan was going to do next,” said Dabice, of Mannequin Pussy, wondering who the band might call to do their next poster. “I’m not in a rush to figure it out, because then it’s going to be really real. It’s not going to be Dan anymore. I don’t want to find someone new.”

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