One of Tucson’s favorite landmarks — the McDonald’s T. rex — is featured in Jos Par’s Tucson Tales series.

When Joseph Parker spent four months in Tucson for a writing residency, he thought he’d eventually end up in California.

But like many of us, the Wisconsin native fell in love with Tucson.

“It was the scenery out here — the mountains, the cactus, the palm trees,” says Parker, who you might know as Jos Par. “I ended up signing a year lease. I kept signing year leases thinking, this is the last time, I’m going to move somewhere else. And then I was like, I think I just live in Tucson.”

He wouldn’t call himself an artist then, but he’s certainly an artist now. His latest project is a very special series of designs that highlight our city’s quirkiest landmarks.

Jos Par's designs are influenced by Tucson, along with pop culture and music.

Tucson Tales: highlighting the weird and special parts of our city

When Parker started working at local print shop Cream in 2018, he saw all the local artists who came through the doors requesting their handcrafted designs be printed on tees and totes.

“I was like, I want to do that, too,” Parker says. “So I just started drawing. I feel like it’s more backwards than how people traditionally do it — people are usually artists first and figure out how to get things printed, but I knew about printing and wanted to make art.”

"Before I was screen-printing, I never drew at all,” he says.

He describes his designs as “silly whimsical desert art with cosmic motifs.” You might see hints of both existentialism and humor, with sayings like “the breadsticks at Olive Garden are vegan" and “existing in a body is exhausting.”

Jos Par's designs are available on shirts, stickers, totes, hats and prints.

Tucson’s scenery is what made him move here permanently back in 2016. Now, the scenery inspires many of his designs, along with pop culture references like the “Barbie” movie and music — his “emotional cowboy” design is inspired by a Weyes Blood song.

Each of the Jos Par designs are printed on black (or sometimes tie-dye) shirts at local shop Forward Printing, where he’s worked since 2022. The color choice is partially because he only wears black tees and wants to make sure he’s printing something he would personally wear and purchase. But it’s also because he has a small home and can only keep so many variants of tees in stock before running out of room.

The designs are also created specifically with screen-printing in mind. You can purchase his artwork on T-shirts, tote bags, hats, stickers and prints, which he sells online and in person at artisan markets and shops like Pop CycleArizona Poppy and Bookmans.

“I had no idea I could do it,” he says. “I never thought I would get to the point where I was doing markets.”

The debut design in Jos Par's Tucson Tales series commemorates the bats under the Rillito bridge.

His latest project is one he dubs “Tucson Tales,” which pays homage to Tucson’s funkiest landmarks in the style of comic book covers.

“I really wanted to start making Tucson shirts that didn’t have a cactus on them,” Parker says. “I went through a period where I realized every shirt I was putting out had cactus or mountains on it and I was looking at other shirts and other shops and everyone was doing cactus shirts — which I love. But I want to highlight other parts of Tucson because there’s so much about this city that makes it so special and so weird.”

The first design is dedicated to the bats who live under the Rillito River bridge. The second spotlights Tucson’s favorite McDonald’s — the one on Tanque Verde that has had a T. rex out front since 1994, inspired by the success of “Jurassic Park.”

“The first few days of moving to Tucson, I drove out to Sabino Canyon and I passed by the dinosaur,” he says. “I was like, what the f—k is that? Why is there a dinosaur there? And I’ve been obsessed with it.”

Jos Par's latest design in the Tucson Tales series celebrates the Rattlesnake Bridge.

The third design in the series — which was released on May 20 (aka 5/20) — features our iconic Rattlesnake Bridge, which was designed by Simon Donovan and hovers over Broadway near downtown. The shirt sold out in less than two hours, but it'll be reprinted soon.

“I pass by the snake bridge on my way to work every morning and as I was trying to think of iconic Tucson landmarks, I was like, ‘Oh duh, the snake bridge,’” he says. “When I first moved to Tucson and someone told me about it, I immediately went to drive to find it.”

Naturally, Parker now has a big backlog of Tucson icons waiting to be drawn onto tees and stickers, and he plans to keep the series going as long as he can think up fun landmarks to draw. At any point, he’s usually working on two to five different designs — both in the Tucson Tales series and not.

His “Barbie” design that reads “When I found out patriarchy isn’t about horses, I lost interest,” took him about a week to finish — when he heard the line while watching the movie in theaters, he knew he had to create something. Other designs, especially ones in the Tucson Tales series, can take months to complete. 

Many of Jos Par's designs are inspired by the desert, but he thought up this one while watching the "Barbie" movie in theaters.

If you ask Parker what his favorite thing about Tucson is, he’ll tell you the summers — except he’s definitely joking.

What made Parker move to Tucson almost a decade ago is still his favorite thing about our desert city — the plants.

“My house is filled with plants. All the plants at Forward are from me bringing them from home because I ran out of space. I wasn’t into plants before I moved out here either. I think walking through neighborhoods here is like walking through a botanical garden,” he says. “I remember doing a poetry festival in Denver and I went to the Denver Botanic Gardens and they had a Sonoran Desert section. I was like, ‘This is my neighborhood.’”

“There are a lot of things to love about Tucson,” he says.

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Gloria was born and raised in Tucson and is a 2018 University of Arizona grad. From wildflowers to wildlife, she loves all things Tucson and hopes to share her love of the city with readers ✨