Ed Repka’s works not only speaks for itself, it screams for itself!  With it’s touches of comic book, monster movie poster and sci-fi/fantasy illustration, Ed’s influences are clear, but it’s his bold use of color and sense of visual narrative that makes his art rock!

With a client list that includes Megadeth, NOFX, the Misfits, 3 Inches of Blood, and Venom among others, Ed is a natural choice to judge our 2nd Annual Figment Concept Album Contest, and we’re thrilled to have him on-board.

We thought you’d want to know more about who will be judging your entries, so we sat down to talk to him about his background, influences, and artistic process.

FigmentNews:  Album cover art is an important aspect of any band’s esthetic, but it seems to be that much more important to metal bands.  Do you agree, and if so, why do you think that is the case?

Ed Repka:  Album art is very important to metal bands in particular, which is why it’s 2010 and I’m busier than I was in the 80’s. I think there are two reasons for album art’s continued association with metal. First it’s a tradition. Today’s new generation of thrashers, death metal heads etc. want to bring back the glory day of the 80’s. There is even a resurgence in vinyl. Many of my new works get that great showcase.. The second reason is because metal has deep roots in storytelling. The majority of metal songs are about ideas and the most palatable way to express your idea to others is thru the story. Naturally, a story needs great visuals to make an impact and draw you in for a closer look.

FN:  Have you always been a fan of metal music?

Ed:  Not really. As a young boy I was aware of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and Kiss and gravitated toward their esthetic but, I never bought many albums.  I would always spend a lot of time in the music department of the local department store studying the metal album covers buy not buying. Later on, I was really into movies so I would buy movie soundtracks to things like Star Wars and Logan’s Run. When attending parsons. I discovered Punk and was into that for a while. It was not until I started working in the field that I investigated metal and began to appreciate it.

FN:  How did you get your start in graphic design?

Ed:  I have no formal education in graphic design I have a BFA in illustration. When I applied to Parsons School of Design, I wanted to get in to the graphic design department, but they said I would fit better in illustration.  Nevertheless, I continued to absorb and learn the various design theories and techniques on my own. My first work in the record field was album cover layout and paste up so I had to learn what to do fast. Now I work in graphic design for packaging at my job at NECA.

FN:  What was the first band you designed cover art for?

Ed:  My first record cover assignment was the Venom “Here Lies Venom” boxed set for Combat records. It’s a thick slipcase which holds a tray of four records. The slipcase is made to look like a stone slab cover in the graves of the three members of Venom. I painted the cover, back cover and inner tray art and prepared the mechanical.  I see that this package is a valuable collector’s item today.

FN:  You’re probably best known for your work with thrash metal titans Megadeth.  How did that relationship begin?

Ed:  I was working freelance for Combat/Relativity records and Megadeth was on the label at the time preparing their second release “Peace Sells” I was told Dave saw my work on the Venom box and asked I be assigned to his cover. I met with the two Daves in NYC and discussed the cover idea.  He loved what I did for “Peace Sells” and even called me to express his wish that I do the next cover. However, when the time came, for some reason I wasn’t asked to do the “So far..So good” cover.  That cover was kind of a flop and I was eagerly sought after to create the “Rust in Peace” cover.  By then I was working steady for Brockum, their merchandiser and over the next seven years created about twenty Vic illustrations for use on Megadeth posters and t-shirts.

FN:  Is it true that Dave Mustaine drew the original design for the band’s mascot “Vic Rattlehead”?

Ed:  As I understand it, Dave Mustaine had Sean Smithson, a fan artist, design (unpaid and uncredited) a version of the character based upon the lyrics to “Skull Beneath the Skin”. When I came into the picture they showed me a t-shirt with the Vic head on it.  It was a crude drawing, not very skull like but, with the basic elements. I assume this was Sean’s work. With that as my model, I redesigned the character and gave it my trademark bulbous head, mouth hooks, ear caps and visor. I even tried to infuse some of the cockiness of Dave Mustaine into Vic’s body language.  Dave liked my illustration and wanted me to do all his covers from then on.  Dave has even stated that it was in the ‘Peace Sells” illustration that, for the first time, Vic became a real character with a personality.

FN:  How hard is it to work with a band like Megadeth that has such an established icon as Vic?

Ed:  Since I established the character of Vic, it wasn’t that difficult. I made it up as I went along. After “Peace Sells”, I painted a series of posters and then t-shirts for Megadeth’s merchandiser Brockum. I had total freedom on those, being given only a direction in which to move. It was through these images that I kept developing the character of Vic. I decided he could change size, would wear different clothing, but retain the black business suit as the main costume. I also cast him not as a villain but as the anti- hero.

As far as working with the band, it really came down to working with Dave.  We actually got along well and would converse by phone about various ideas.  For covers he would tell me the kind of vibe he was looking for and let me come up with ideas.  For the merchandise art, he pretty much kept out of it.  Towards the end he began to take a more active hand and became more difficult, requesting changes more often.

FN:  A lot of metal bands seem to develop mascots – Iron Maiden’s Eddie being the most famous.  Why do you think that’s the case?

Ed:  I don’t know where the original idea came form but it likely stems from a need to embody an idea central to the band in some very aggressive tangable form.  This way the idea represents the band rather than any one person in the band. This appeals more to metal bands because they are more visually and narratively focused than say, pop bands.

FN:  Your covers are clearly inspired by comics and horror movies.  What artists and directors would you cite as influences?

Ed:  When I was young, comics and movies saturated my brain.  I gravitated toward comic artist like Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby. Illustrators like Frazetta, Basil Gogos, H.R. GigerJames Bama, movie posters by Reynold Brown and Robert McGinnis, really anyone who was painting the type of subjects I enjoyed.  I would analyze what they were doing and see if I could apply some of it to what I wanted to do. When it comes to film I don’t know if I have any favorite directors but, certainly the films of James Whale, Val Lewton, and Kubrick had a big impact on me. I draw inspiration form the whole gambit of genre movies – from kung-fu epics to film noir and euro-trash horror.

FN:  Your covers seem to tell a story.  Is that a conscious effort to capture the direct themes of the music or do you simply create an image that captures the general esthetic of the band/album?

Ed:  Because of my comic and film influences, I’m basically a story teller so this comes out in the work. However, within the narrative context I create, I use symbolism to create levels of meaning beyond the obvious.  Color, perspective, distortion and dark humor are all used to express the emotional content of the album or the idea they want to express.  Not all of this occurs on a cognitive level. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition and recognize when all the elements work. I’m generally working with a band because our esthetics are compatible or identical.

FN:  Your covers use a lot of extreme colors, why?

Ed:  Color contrast appeals to me. It probably comes form my comic amd movie poster influences. It’s something I began in parsons and brought in to my cover work. My theory is that the closer an object is to the viewer, the more important it is and the more pure its color should be. I start out with a bright background color then progressively get more contrast and color involved in the successive spacial planes. It’s great for Thrash metal where you want the cover to scream at the viewer and grab him in.

FN:  What do you look for in a successful album cover design?

Ed:  First the composition needs to appeal to me on an emotional level. It should be powerful and draw you into the action or message. You need to pull the viewer in, get their interest so they will want to stay a while and uncover the story. The typographic elements also need to work with the art or become the art.

FN:  You are currently the Art Director for the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA).  Can you tell us a little about that job and what it entails?

Ed:  I develop licensed products like bobble head dolls, action figures, snow globes, games, and basically anything with a sculptural component to it. I have hands-on control from the concept sketches to the art directing of the sculpture, to making the paint masters and to approval on the final production samples made in China. At NECA we develop a lot of different products for any one given license and we do it very quickly.

FN:  I’ve read a lot of articles lately, including a recent one in the NY Times, which point to band merchandise and promotional collectibles becoming the primary way for bands to monetize as well as promote their music.  Do you agree?  And if so, have you worked on any projects of this type?

Ed:  It may very well come to that. The record industry is in bad shape and looking for any possible way to maximize profits.  Band merch as advertising that generates income is nothing new. Megadeth produced a lot of merchandise, and look at the Misfits, I think they now make more money from their merch than record sales. But having the music as a secondary component is a disturbing idea.

I’ve done a lot of work that is only available on t-shirts and posters for Megadeth, the Misfits and other bands but, the music always came first. Recently, I did an illustration for the band Mercenary. The art was only physically used on a t-shirt and became a virtual cover for their downloadable album. There may come a day when the focus will shift from the physical CDs and cover art to t-shirt art and 3-D collectibles. In either case I have a great deal of experience in both areas. One day I may be designing and sculpting a bobble-head or stature instead of a CD cover.

FN:  How involved are the bands you work with in the final design?  Do you typically work with them or their label?

Ed:  Most of the time I have direct contact with the band and am being hired because they wants my point of view fits with theirs.

When I get an assignment, most of the time I get a title or some vague concept from the band or label and I try to come up with something visually interesting that makes sense with the title. Some times the band or label gives me an idea of what they want and I try to make something interesting out of it. I really need to know what idea they are trying to express, then I can come up with an exciting visual solution.

FN:  Any covers you’ve designed that are personal favorites?  Why?

Ed:  One of my favorite covers is Uncle Slam’s “When God Dies”. It was the last cover I did in the old days and really represents the type of work I like to do. Technically it all works, the color scheme, the large iconic image, the concept, the balance of hand painting and airbrushing.  It represents for me a fitting end to an era.

From my recent work I really like “The Pre-Fix for Death” art I did for horror-rapper, Necro.  This image needed to be created in a short time frame. Necro had only a title for me, no concept.  I came up with this concept, designing something I could accomplish in the allowed time. The picture is kind of a summation of my other work and has a lot of impact. It’s rapidly becoming an iconic image like the “Peace Sells” image. I have seen many people with tattoos of this on all parts of their bodies.

FN:  I noticed that you’ve exhibited your work here in the US and overseas.  Are these album covers or other artworks?

Ed:  For several years now, I’ve been selling and exhibiting artwork at MF Gallery’s Annual Halloween show, Zombies Attack and toy shows in NY, and now in Genoa, Italy. I’ve also had original work sold in Gallery de Muerte, Japan.  Right now I’m selling original pieces that I create just for the various gallery shows. They are pieces that work out my obsession with monster culture and range from small paintings and pen and ink pieces to one-of-a-kind figures.

Some of my Heavy Metal work has been included in the ENTARTETE KUNTS show at Optic Nerve in Oregon and A Heavy Metal Survey exhibit in Nottingham, U.K., but right now I’m not making any of my album cover work available for purchase.

FN:  Where can people find out more about your work?

Ed:  There are plenty of articles and interviews in magazines like, Terrorizer, Metal Hammer, Staf, you can go to my Myspace page to see more work and then one of these days there will be the big art book of my work. That will have more information than you want to know about me.

FN:  What “real” bands do you listen to?

Ed:  Now, I listen to classical music mostly. It keeps me calm.

FN:  Have you ever created a fake band?  If you did, any idea what you would name it?

Ed:  Not really I work for so many [bands] with crazy names that I don’t have to. When I was in grammar school, I used to make up books of fake monster themed products like cereal, and beverages, and I used to toy with the idea of creating a phony band just to make all kinds of merch art for it, as a way to do the kind of work I like to do. That might make a cool art book one day.

5 Responses to “Screaming Visuals: The Ed Repka Interview”

  1. frizbee Says:

    It’s always surprising to find out how many big-time graphic designers actually have no formal graphic design education. It’s a nice reminder, because I plan on freelancing for the most part once I graduate. Awesome interview!

  2. TMTYTF Says:

    The Megadeth and Iron Maiden covers are iconic. This guy’s the real deal!!!

  3. eric Says:

    TMTYTF…I agree, except he didn’t design the Iron Maiden cover. Eddie was originally designed by Derek Riggs who created many Iron Maiden covers bearing his likeness. I only put that cover in the article, because we were talking about how metal bands often have mascots…like Vic Rattlehead (which Ed Repka did help design) and Eddie. The Megadeth covers he did design are iconic though, I agree.

  4. frizbee Says:

    I knew of Eddie, but I didn’t know that the skeleton guy on all the Megadeth covers had a name. I didn’t even realize that it was a reoccurring character until I saw the covers side by side.

  5. Childofalma Says:

    My friend is in a cooking class. His project was to make a cake with a design made of icing on it, and he put Vic Rattlehead on it. He’s a huge Megadeth fan.

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