For 24 years, Gordon Jones enjoyed a quiet life in the Virgin Islands, bouncing around odd jobs, from lineman to cable guy to jewelry salesman. But after returning to the mainland in 2016, at the height of the presidential election, the 62-year-old California native landed on a different path: political art. And now, his efforts have gone viral.
“I’m no artist,” said Jones with a laugh. “But I am a non-conformist. I think outside the box and I want to make people feel good, empowered.”
That desire led Jones to start WTF America, now known as Good Trubble, a design company that seeks to inspire hope and laughter in the face of political division. The company, according to Jones, was a reaction to the “bombastic” nature of then-candidate Donald Trump, and an attempt to make a positive difference, even in a small way.
“When I got back, I couldn’t vote for president because I still had Virgin Islands residency,” Jones said. “But as I observed what was happening, I thought ‘this is crazy. I have to do my part.’”
To start, Jones needed a like-minded artist who could help bring his ideas to life. Ever the networker, he tracked down Sirron Norris, the San Francisco-based illustrator behind the popular TV series “Bob’s Burgers.”
While Norris didn’t have much time to spare, he referenced Jones to his assistant, 23-year-old Emory graduate Bria Goeller, a freelancer who was eager for the challenge.
Together, the unlikely duo proved a success, as both set out on creating a bevy of punchy, yet moving images that plastered T-shirts and – to Jones’ surprise — sold quickly.
“I thought ‘wow, people really like it. They’re connecting to it,’” he said.
T-shirts included one of the Statue of Liberty with a giant post-it note on its chest reading “You’re in danger, girl,” referencing Trump’s Muslim ban and restrictions on immigration. On the back of the T-shirt, another post-it note on the back of Lady Liberty reads “We got your back!”
Jones also came up with a slogan “I’m not anti-American. I’m just anti-stupid,” which also sold well on shirts, as well as the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston but with a KO’d Trump superimposed onto Liston.
All was moving steadily until weeks before the election when Jones and Goeller truly went viral with a photo illustration of then vice-presidential candidate and now Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
The image, titled “That Little Girl Was Me,” shows Harris walking beside a wall blazoned with the shadow of a six-year-old Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to integrate an all-white public elementary school. The shadow of Bridges was inspired by the classic Norman Rockwell painting “The Problem We All Live With.”
Jones said he wanted to do something empowering, something that “touched people’s consciousness and added some historical context to what Kamala has achieved and how she has ascended.”
His vision paid off.
Within days of going public, the image received over 50,000 likes on social media and led to over 5,000 T-shirts sold in about a week. The image was also featured on The View, during an interview with Ruby Bridges, now 66.
“I’m totally humbled,” Jones said. “It makes my heart happy. People from around the world, of all generations, people love it because it touches them in different ways, both men and women, and even the young people because it has a little bit of swag to it.”
Goeller was equally taken aback, telling The Daily News that she was “so happy that so many people found inspiration and hope in this image.”
“Gordon believes both Kamala and Ruby are trailblazers, and he was insistent on putting their stories together in this way. When he asked me to create this design for him, I myself was inspired,” she said in a statement.
“The design symbolizes two powerful women of color in history who overcame the odds and stood with strength against everyone who didn’t want to see them succeed. Ruby walked into a white-dominated school, and that took courage and made history. Kamala is walking into a white-dominated White House, and she, too, is trailblazing for women and women of color both,” she continued.
For Jones, the success of his partnership with Goeller has allowed him to expand his company, hire employees and even network with museums and book companies interested in his work.
Jones said Good Trubble will continue to build a platform for digital media.
“We will continue political satire, [get] a safe place for a podcast and find other historical moments that have been forgotten and transform [them] into empowering images,” he said. “We all stand on the blood, sweat, tears and prayers of all who have come before us. It is our time to rebuild the bridges.”