Growing up in Chester County, Joshua Ash had a Drake’s Cake advertisement on his wall. It was a picture of the 1988 Flyers holding boxes of cakes and “clowning around.” At the time, the 13-year-old Flyers fan liked that it deviated from the typical serious team photo.
“It was different,” Ash said. “They’re tough on the ice, but here they are, letting their hair down and just being silly.”
Now 48 years old and a professional graphic designer, Ash is designing posters that may be hanging on a young Flyers fan’s wall. It’s a journey that’s come full circle, an idea that’s fascinating and surreal to Ash.
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Ash has always doodled and sketched. In school, he was the kid who filled the margins of his notebooks. He “wasn’t an athletic kid by any stretch,” he said, but he loved all the Philadelphia teams. However, the Flyers had a special place in his heart.
Ash’s father, Richard, was a big hockey fan in the ’70s and ’80s, and the television usually was tuned to Flyers games. Bobby Clarke’s face and Gene Hart’s voice were familiar sights and sounds. Ash fell in love with the organization himself in the late ’80s.
When he came to athletic endeavors, Ash was “woefully uncoordinated,” but when he came to art, he had a dexterity that let him take great athletes and moments and translate them onto paper. When Ash attended games, he spent as much time absorbing the visual aspects of the designs and the performances as he did watching the games.
Eventually, Ash decided a graphic design would be a great field for him to translate his love of doodling into something practical. He attended West Chester University and graduated with a fine arts degree in graphic design. As he moved further into the field, he fell in love with the illustrative aspect of a problem-solving-focused career. While he spends his days providing clients with the designs they need, he spends his extra time illustrating his interests as a creative outlet.
Ash has always had a love for vintage designs, so he decided to incorporate that with his sports fandom and make a set of retro sports cards. He portrayed greats like Roberto Clemente and Gordie Howe in ’50s and ’60s styles. He created fun sports logos, vintage posters, and portraits.
While his personal art is displayed on his website and on social media, it is never designed with commercial intent. It’s always been just him making what he felt like making, and if other people liked it, that was great.
“And by chance, Ben [DiCandilo] from the Flyers apparently liked my art and decided he wanted to work with me,” Ash said.
The morning of Aug. 17, Ash opened his email and found a message from DiCandilo, the Flyers’ senior manager of advertising, saying that the Flyers wanted a series of retro posters to go with their “Throwback Thursday” games and were looking for a local artist to create them . They liked his work and thought Ash had a good appreciation for the organization’s history. The Flyers were wondering if he’d be interested.
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“Holy cow,” Ash thought.
The invitation seems to come from “out of the blue,” but Ash unknowingly had been on the Flyers’ radar, DiCandilo said. They like to keep track of local artists with whom they might want to work. They were drawn by Ash’s Bernie Parent poster, but what actually stuck out most was a vintage Chicago Blackhawks poster of his. When the Throwback Thursday project came up, they thought of him. It was a big honor, Ash said, but it was also daunting. If he was going to do it, he really wanted to do it right.
“He had this great heritage-slash-vintage feel to some of his work,” DiCandilo said. “He seemed really passionate about the project and great to work with, so it was the perfect match.”
At the time, the Flyers simply knew they wanted a series of retro posters, but they weren’t sure how they wanted to organize them. They eventually settled into chronological order by decade. Then comes the challenge of figuring out which players belong where (some players’ careers overlapped decades) and who should make the cut — the original list of players the Flyers wanted to include simply was too long to make an attractive poster.
Since the Flyers were drawn to Ash’s style, they gave him the freedom to do his own thing from an artistic perspective. He went with a general retro style and kept it pretty abstract. While that may be different from what many are used to, Ash hopes it will create a fun puzzle as viewers try to identify who is who. His hopes came true when his first poster was revealed on Flyers Pregame Live and the hosts guessed who the players were and debated who should and shouldn’t have made it.
Players’ identities can be determined by defining features, uniforms, and legendary celebrations. But Ash had to be very careful to get all the details right for identification purposes and for his own peace of mind.
When drawing JJ Daigneault for the ’80s poster, Ash combed through YouTube videos trying to make sure he got the scene right. That proved especially challenging since the camera was focused on Scott Mellanby. But even if the camera wasn’t watching, there were fans there who were.
“[Flyers fans] are smart,” Ash said. “They remember things. If you create an image of somebody with a left-handed shot, but you create them right-handed, they notice the details.”
Two of the four posters have been revealed, including the ’60s-’70s one and the ’80s one, and a third will be revealed at Thursday’s game.
“The Philadelphia Flyers have an incredibly proud and rich history, and these Throwback Thursday games are a great way to celebrate that history and connect today’s players and fans with different Flyers eras,” said Valerie Camillo, president and CEO of Spectacor Sports and Entertainment. “By partnering with Josh, we are also able to give our fans a special piece of local artwork to commemorate so many of the special moments throughout Flyers history.”
Just like all the other fans, Ash received a poster to go home with. He may be more familiar with the posters than anyone else after hours of staring at them, but he was excited for the initial poster’s reveal on Oct. 27. Not only had he kept it a secret, but he also felt like it wasn’t “real” until he touched it. Once he had the poster in his hands, the whirlwind of emotions that came with the awesome but daunting opportunity felt worth it.
Meanwhile, DiCandilo can’t wait for the final reveal so he can have all four of Ash’s posters spanning the “entirety of Flyers history” hanging on his wall.