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.

Another Reason To Be Cheerful!

September 9th, 2010

For those of you who competed in our 2009 Figment Album Cover Design Contest, you’ll remember that as one of the prizes we gave away a copy of the book Reasons To Be Cheerful:  The life and works of Barney Bubbles by Paul Gorman.  At the time, we spoke to Paul about his book and why Barney’s work was so influential, so if you haven’t read it I highly recommend you do.

Fast forward to September 2010 and “Reasons To Be Cheerful” has been named as Mojo magazine’s Book of the Year 2010, and a new revised version of the book will be released in October in the UK, and by DAP in the spring of 2011 in the U.S.

I spoke via email to Paul recently as he was preparing a new exhibition of Barney Bubbles’ work called “Process:  The Working Practices of Barney Bubbles” at London’s Chelsea space gallery.  Curated by Gorman, Process will contain many never-before-seen items drawn from private collections, including student notebooks, working sketches, original artwork, paintings, books and photography.  Bubbles used them as the raw materials for the videos, record sleeves, t-shirts and posters he created for such performers as Ian Dury, Hawkwind, Elvis Costello, The Damned and Billy Bragg.  You can check out Paul’s progress putting the show together on his blog.

Paul had this to say about the newly revised version of Reasons To Be Cheerful,

It is enhanced by around 50 new images, from his student days (including watercolours of Brain jones and George Harrison for a Mods & Rockers project) to his final years (including a sketch for Elvis Costello’s “Pills & Soap” – released without a sleeve in the guise of The Impostor).

There is a lot of fresh info derived from interviews with such people as his first girlfriend and quotes from such people as Simon Cowell’s brother “Record John” who roomed with Barney in 1969.

I have also discovered the identity of his first full-time employer and have quotes from a colleague about the rigorousness nature of employment there, which no doubt helped shape him.

He was also kind enough to share some of the new images from the book with us –

So if you’re in London, definitely pay “Process:  The Working Practices of Barney Bubbles” a visit at Chelsea space, and if you want to find out more about Barney Bubbles check out Paul Gorman’s incredible book “Reasons To Be Cheerful” or read his blog.

The Art of the LP

August 20th, 2010

All of us at Figment are unabashed fans of album cover art, but we’re also old enough to remember when the artists who created cover art had 12 inches to work with instead of the 4.75 of a typical CD cover or the miniscule digital download images sizes that are now the norm.  When the 10″ vinyl record ruled, the 12″ sleeve packaging allowed artists an opportunity to not only interpret the music contained within, but also create pop art on a global scale.  While those days are primarily gone – the vinyl record is having a bit of a resurgence – there are still a lot of people who remember them fondly and one new book in particular that celebrates the art form in a new and invigorating way.

“The Art of the LP:  Classic Covers 1955 – 1995” by Johnny Morgan and Ben Wardle (2010 Sterling Publishing) is a celebration of album artistry.  Whether it’s the smoldering pin-up girl on The Cars’ “Candy-O” or Andy Warhol’s controversial zippered pants on the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”, album cover images have long captivated our imaginations and added to the music experience contained within their packaging.  We had an opportunity to talk with Johnny Morgan about his book and his thoughts about the future of album art work.

Figment News:  In your new book “The Art of the LP” you have compiled 350 iconic album covers from albums released between 1955 and1995.  What inspired you to do this book?

Johnny Morgan:  the publisher offering a deal…Actually, this is the second book of album cover art I’ve been involved with (the previous one was The Greatest Album Covers of All Time), and interest in the art of LP covers seems to grow with the passing of time. There are lots of books out there on the subject, most of which give scant detail and little thought to what went into the creation of the art itself. I wanted to compile a book with real editorial substance as well as great art. Hopefully this has both.

FN:  I noticed that in the book the album covers are organized by visual theme, so there are chapters on Rock N’ Roll, Sex, Art, Drugs, Ego, Real World, Escape, Politics and Death.  Why did you choose the approach?

JM:  It struck me that music is inspired by basic human desires, needs and subconscious drives, and that the art work created to package the music is often similarly inspired. So instead of grouping artworks chronologically or by genre, I thought it could be amusing, entertaining even, to select the art according to the above categories. Interestingly the music contained on the albums which the artwork surrounds doesn’t always fit into the same categories—but it’s important to remember that the book is about the artwork only, and not the music.

FN:  I know you’ve written books on groups like The Clash.  How important do you think the album cover artwork was to the various groups you’ve included in this book?

JM:  I haven’t written a book on the Clash, but worked with them to create their own book. During the creation of the Art of The LP it became clear that some groups and musicians had very little input on the sleeve design for their records—UFO, for instance, who have several sleeves included, and all in the How Not To Do It category insist that they only got to see their nasty, childish, sexist sleeves when the records hit the stores. Music artists, like writers in Hollywood, were often treated with total disdain by their record companies in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. and their art work would be slapped together by the in-house art department who sometimes did amazing jobs and other times appalling ones. On the other hand the involvement of egotistical musicians can result in atrocious artwork—see Bob Dylan’s ‘Saved’ for a good example of that. There are plenty of others in the book.

FN:  In the case of The Clash, how involved were they with their visual identity?

JM:  Completely. Bassist Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer particularly liked to be involved with how their records looked and always worked with people they knew and trusted on all aspects of their visual representation, including newsprint ads for singles and tours.

FN:  Do you think album artwork has an effect on an album sales and the success of a group in general?

JM:  It seems to me that it can do. It’s hard to explain the enduring popularity of all those dreadful prog rock bands in the 1970s otherwise, is it? One has to assume that people bought them for the pretentious artwork on their covers (all inspired by Roger Dean’s work for Yes and others), because the ‘music’ was dire. Although a really bad album cover design never stopped people buying a really good record—see most Stevie Wonder albums, all but the first two REM albums and any Elvis Presley album released after 1960 (excepting ‘In Memphis’).

FN:  What criteria did you use to determine if an album was iconic enough to make the book?

JM:  The process of deciding what covers made it into Art of the LP involved much argument, near fist-fights and sneaking around by the authors and editors.

FN:  Do you think the move to CDs and now to downloadable music has diminished the value of album artwork or is it opening up new avenues for artists and groups?

JM:  It’s definitely diminished and will continue to do so, since a new generation of music consumers are buying individual tracks as virtual items and not albums. The concept of an ‘album’ came about because of the limitations of technology—an album could hold 20 minutes of music on each side (roughly) and artists worked within those constraints, sometimes making a whole out of the two halves of an album. That technology also meant that albums were 12 inches across, so the package it was housed in had to be 12 inches etc. Album sleeves were tangible objects (which proved remarkably useful, especially gate-folds, when rolling joints) that could hold a work of art which sometimes kept buyers almost as occupied (trying to work out ‘secret messages’ on the cover) as the music did. Designers today have to work on a tiny ‘canvas’ the size of an iPod window at best, and some show great invention, but really, any visual for a new record release today has to be pretty blatant, and all subtlety is being lost (along with irony) it seems to me. How does the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band look on an iPod nano?.

FN:  Why did you choose to stop the book at 1995?

JM:  That was roughly the year that major record companies stopped pressing vinyl records and concentrated on CD production instead. It also made a nice, round 40 years for the sub-title of the book.

FN:  What current album covers would you consider iconic?

JM:  There are no current album covers, only CD covers. Wait for ‘Art of The CD 1990—2010’ to find out…

FN:  Figment is a site devoted to fake bands and their visual identity.  Do you think someone could be fooled into believing a fake band was real if the album artwork for the band was strong enough?

JM:  Definitely. Hopefully Art of The LP can help someone to construct a good-looking album cover for a long forgotten but highly regarded American punk band called XXXX who toured once with the Replacements in 1986, before falling apart at a diner in Ames Iowa amid a storm of ketchup, beer and amphetamines, just as their debut album ‘Pick Your Noise’ was being pressed on a limited run of 1000 copies.

Anyone interested in taking Johnny up on his challenge?  If so, create an original cover for XXXX’s “Pick Your Noise” and send the file to us using the feedback link at the bottom of every Figment page.  We’ll pick the best cover and post it here on the blog.  Please don’t release it on Figment, just send us the file. If you post it on Figment we’ll delete it. The deadline for entries will be Friday, September 3rd.  We’ll send the winner a copy of Johnny’s book courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

A few weeks back I got an email from my good friend Jeff saying,  “Hey, you’ve probably heard of this book, but in case you haven’t, it looks like one you’ve gotta get.”  I hadn’t, and he was right!

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond is a book dedicated to those of us who have always wanted to be rock stars, but settled for being rabid fans instead.  Whether it’s meaningless Top 10 lists, a reluctant breakdown of Toto’s “Africa” or how truly unglamorous it is to be a rock journalist, Almond takes us all on a hysterical tour of what it’s like to be a “drooling fanatic”.

Drooling fanatic – noun – 1. One who drools in the presence of beloved rock stars.  2.  Any of a genus of rock-and-roll wannabes/geeks who walk around with songs constantly ringing in their ears, own more than 3,000 albums, and fall in love with at least one record per week.

After reading a copy of his book in 3 days, I was a drooling fan of Mr. Almond’s work, and was thrilled when he agreed to answer a few questions from a fellow fanatic.

Figment News:  You’ve been a writer and rock journalist for some time now.  When did you realize that you were a “drooling fanatic”?

SA: I’m not sure there was any Eureka moment. I’ve just come to realize as I grow older that I’m a LOT MORE into music than the people around me. I listen to it more often. I’ve got more albums. I get WAY into my favorite bands. I talk about them way too much and generally call the members by their first names, as if they’re friends of mine. (They are not.) But I’d argue that everyone’s got a little fanatic in them, because everyone has some song or album that’s helped them reach feelings that would have otherwise been out of reach.

FN:  Why do think so many people become drooling fanatics?

SA: Because we all want to be rock stars – or most of us, anyway – and very few of us get to be rock stars, and so some of us convert that unrequited longing into an obsession with music. The other thing is that people basically need music to remain fully human.

FN:  In “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life” you breakdown the song “Africa” by Toto.  Why?

SA: I think it epitomizes this weird paradox, which is that the lyrics to a song can be totally absurd and disjointed and even in the case of “Africa” kind of demented, but if the melody and rhythm are there, the listener really doesn’t care. I’d listened to (and loved) that song for years before actually studying the lyrics and realizing how crazy and imperialist they are.

FN:  Let me commend you on being the one of the first music journalists (at least to my knowledge) to write a book about how truly unglamorous it is to be a rock critic.  Do you think most journalists who cover music are really overzealous fan boys/girls or are they simply writers trying to make a living?

SA: I imagine they’re both, to varying degrees. Music critics are kind of in a tough spot, because I’m pretty sure they didn’t grow up thinking: Man, when I grow up, I want to be a MUSIC CRITIC! I’m pretty sure most of them would rather have been musicians. And they do get treated pretty horribly. They have to kind of beg to get interviews and get jerked around a lot. But at the same time, they get to go to a lot of shows and rack up the free CDs and indulge in the fantasy that they have a special connection with the rock stars they interview. (I certainly felt that way, wrongly.) So it’s kind of a mixed blessing.

photo: © Stephen Sette-Ducati

FN:  As a drooling fanatic father of two, I really related to the chapters in the book you devoted to your wife and family.  With Mother’s Day having just past & Father’s Day right around the corner, what advice do you have for those of us who are trying to balance being a mother or father with their musical fanaticism?  Any advice for those who are still single, but are thinking about taking the plunge?

SA: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough. You can’t really crank AC/DC (or Ike Reilly) when you’ve got a newborn. And a lot of the time that I used to devote to hunting down new music, now goes into changing diapers and making bottles. But I also feel like good parenting is partly about sharing the joys of your life with your kids, so we try to do that around our house. We have regular dance parties. We sing to our kids. And we totally indulge their drooling fanaticism.

FN:  You seem to be a devout fan of albums or CDs, but not as big a fan of digital downloads.  Do you think that’s a function of age or is there something else about listening to an album or CD that makes it special for you?

SA: I just think when you’re listening to a physical artifact, you’re more likely to listening intently. I find that when I listen on a computer, it’s too easy for me to just use music as background noise, rather than a concerted sonic experience.

FN:  I noticed that you provide every one who buys the book with access to not only a special hidden offer, which I will not divulge, but also access to a “bitchin’ soundtrack” at your website, www.stevenalmond.com.  Is this a way of better connecting readers with some of the music that inspired the book or a blatant attempt to justify your fanaticism?

SA: It’s more like this: I spend a lot of time in the book talking about how great I think Dayna Kurtz and Ike Reilly and Gil Scott-Heron are, and I just want the reader to be able to judge for him or herself. That’s one of the points of the book – that it’s impossible to convey music with words. People have to have the songs. So I’m just trying to give them the songs, in the hopes they’ll go out and buy some albums by the artists in question, all of whom I consider God-like and worthy of drooling worship.

“Rock And Roll Will Save Your Life” is a funny and intelligent look at what it’s like to be a true fan of music.  I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book, read Steve’s blog and check out the free bitchin’ soundtrack.  You won’t regret it, cuz face it, if you’re spending time on Figment you’re a drooling fanatic!  Better yet, win our Figment Album Cover Design Contest and we’ll give you a free copy of the book!

William Schaff is, for lack of a better way of saying it, a damn good artist.  His cover art for bands may be what he’s best known for, but paintings, etchings, collages and embroidery are all part of his oevre (there’s that word again) and when he’s not creating visual art he’s creating aural art as the drummer in the Providence-based marching band What Cheer? Brigade.

When we asked William why he agreed to judge our Figment Album Cover Design Contest his answer was very telling, “I was flattered and honored you would think of me and my work for such a task. I hope to be able to put what eye I have towards the efforts of others. To share my joy and knowledge of art with those who are sharing the same. I am just a voice, not a judge. A fellow artist, being asked to give my thoughts on other artists’ efforts. I look forward to it.”

It’s his lack of pretense that makes William so special, and made our talk with him about his art so revealing.

Figment News:  You’re an artist and a musician. Do you think being a member of several bands has informed your art?

William Schaff:  Sure, because music influences my art. It’s an amazing thing, music. I have found that it has taken me to places, and kept me grounded in a way nothing else has. Therefore getting to be a part of creating and perpetuating such an amazing things as gathered sound….well that keeps me hopeful. When I am hopeful, I make art.

FN:  How did you get started in album cover design?

WS:  Someone asked me to make art for their record. I know it’s not exciting to say it like that, but that’s how it came about. I guess the first “job” you could say I had was when I was a little kid. My mom would ask me to make covers for the mix tapes she made. She would pay me a quarter for doing each cover. that said, I was often asking her if she needed a mix cover done. I started my own business and called it “cover up”. Witty, yes?

FN:  You’ve had a long and well publicized relationship designing album covers for the band Okkervil River. How did that relationship begin and is it hard being identified so closely with one band’s visual identity?

WS:  It started partly because of the similarity of our names. [editor’s note:  Okkervil River’s lead singer & songwriter is name Will Sheff]  Long story short, a mutual friend introduced us, we started talking music,. Will asked if I wanted to do the artwork for their upcoming release on Jagjaguwar. I guess the only thing that may be considered “hard” about it is folks thinking that because of all these years I’ve done work for Okkervil, I am out of their price range ( I do keep my prices competitive and on the cheaper side), or that I make a lot of money from it, thus I can do charity work for them. Both ends are troublesome for me. The former loses me work without folk even approaching me, the latter has people approaching me and getting upset when I say Ineed “x” amount to do the job. They seem to feel I must be living comfortably enough that I can help a new band out for free.

FN:  How do you work with Okkervil River? Is it a collaborative relationship or do they simply leave you to create a cover image?

WS:  It is more collaborative than most other peoples’ projects. I don’t know if this is because of how long we have worked together, or just because of the relationship Will and I have cultivated. Will is really good about providing alot of ideas, lyrics and thoughts to me when we’ve worked on new projects. Ultimately, the images are what come from my head, but to say Will’s influence is not in there would be incorrect. In some form or fashion, they are very much in there.

FN:  You’ve worked with other bands like Songs: Ohia and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  How does working with them relate or differ to your work with a band like Okkervil River where you design all of their covers?

WS:  It varies. Godspeed asked me to use the images they used. I did not create those images for them. But bands like Songs:  Ohia, that’s the way I work with most bands. I asked for some things Jason was thinking of when he made the album, listen to tracks he provide me with, and go from there. In his case, all he said to me was that when he wrote the songs he was thinking a lot about owls, pyramids, and magnolias.

FN:  You’ve create pieces in a variety of mediums – paintings, drawings, collages, embroidery, mail art, scratchboards, movies and comics. Are you always looking for new ways to express yourself or simply don’t like to be restricted in how you express your ideas?

WS:  Certain pieces just feel as though they need to be created in certain medium. Granted, I have done some pieces repeatedly in a variety of mediums, but most pieces don’t speak to me that way. That sounds hokey, doesn’t it?

FN:  What inspires your art?

WS:  Watching everything going on around me.

FN:  How has the internet changed how you create? Is it harder to have an impact with an album cover in this day and age?

WS:  I am not sure. I would guess it is. I am sure it must be easier to not think of album art. I know many folks who when their iTunes is playing a track they have a big empty space with the musical note on their screen when the song is playing. I am baffled when I see this. I know for me, I go nuts searching for some of the album art. I cannot stand it if a track is playing and there is not the appropriate image up there on the screen. I imagine this is more a quirk of mine than the norm, though. Like folks who get pissed if the fork is on the wrong side of the place setting. Do people even think about that anymore? Is album art becoming the 21st century version of the place setting for silverware?

FN:  What is your work process like when designing an album cover?

WS:  I usually listen to the album over and over again, on repeat, as I create the work. This can often stand as a testament to the record if I don’t get bored of it while I making it. Think of it…listening to an full length l.p 30 to 40 times in a row. This isn’t always the case, though. For instance, I still haven’t heard the Mighty Mighty Bosstones album I did the artwork for, not one track off of it, but I did listen to a lot of their older tunes as I made it. But I will put the music on, sometimes sketch out very loose concept ideas, other times just stare at the blank surface I creating the piece on and dive right in. But it is safe to say that each album cover I have done (except for the Bosstones) shows a bit of where my head is at, at the time I creating it.

FN:  When you create a cover are you trying to capture the theme or sound of the recording or are you merely trying to grab a buyer’s attention with a striking image?

WS:  Not so much the second part you mentioned. I don’t think that comes into my mind as much as trying to capture what I hear in the album, and what’s going on in my own life at the same time. I guess I have (maybe an egotistical) faith that if Imake an image that I think is good, others will as well.

FN:  Who are some of the artists or designers who have inspired your work over the years?

WS:  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, the dreaded “inspiration” question!  The list is too long, but this much I can say.  I have learned a lot…looked at as teachers, you might say, from Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Kathe Kollwitz, Norman Rockwell, Samuel Bak, Rene Magritte, Jungil Hong, Dan Blakeslee, Brian Chippendale, Cw Roelle.  This is the short list.

FN:  Are they any other current album cover designers who you think are doing innovative or particularly beautiful work?

WS:  The one that stands out in my head as I read this question is the is the artwork for Of Montreal’s “Skeletal Lamping”. I like that cover alot.  [designed by the band’s lead singer & songwriter Kevin Barnes]  It’s exciting and fun. It captures the sound of their music very well. I am also a big fan of Brian Chippendale’s album covers for his band, Lightning Bolt. But I might be biased on that one, as I am a big fan of his work and his work ethic. I always thought the packing for that June of 44 album, the one that was basically a big matchbook, I always thought that was clever. I like it when a band gives me something to experience than is more than just the music. This is one of the reasons I love working for Graveface Records. Ryan Graveface always has such interesting ideas for how he wants people to experience the product that it becomes more than just music. For example, the recent record I did for his band, Dreamend, is an animated disc that you can watch as well as listen to at the same time.

FN:  You’ve recorded several YouTube videos and have been photographed wearing a variety of masks. Is that a way of maintaining anonymity, a signature look or simply an outgrowth of your playing drums in the “What Cheer? Brigade”.

WS:  I am not into people knowing what I look like unless I meet them face to face. I really believe that knowing what some artist you have never met looks like robs some folks of the ability to put themselves into the pieces they see. Instaead, the imagine this person they have seen an image of (and what that person must be like based on what they have seen) and view the art through that instead of vewing it through their own life. A good example would be Jandek. Think of how curious people were of who he is…they focused so much more on his music as a result. I would like to direct people to focus more on the visuals I create than the ugly mug I have, and what they might think the artist is like because they have seen it.

FN: In your bio you refer to punching people in the head as your regular pay work. Are you a boxer? Or simply fighting to make a living?

WS:  I was, until recently, the head of security (a bouncer) at a sizable nightclub. I had to stop. It was really starting to get to me that one can make much more money dealing with drunks than they can making art. As a result, I am now two months behind in my mortgage. I need an agent, or a manager. Dang.

FN:  You post a lot of the pieces you create on your Flickr account, some of them while they are still in progress. Do you do that to gather feedback or simply as a way to keep fans of your work up-to-date on what you’re doing at all times?

WS:  Both. I would love constructive feedback, because there is still much for me to learn, and a lot of folks out there who could probably give me good advice. But also, I get antsy if I don’t show folk that I am always working. I start to feel like a bum, and I need to prove to folk even though I am not making much money, I am still working plenty. This way no one can point their finger at me and say, “get a job!”  I got one already, and I can point to a lot of work to prove it. Although I am not sure if a vocation can be held up as a verified job. Can it?

FN:  Any words of advice for anyone interested in becoming an album cover designer?

WS:  Have a good day job or at least a modest trust fund.

FN:  We ask it to everyone, if you had to create a fake band what would its name be? First album? Any ideas for an album cover image?

WS:  Some folks I know came up with a band they wanted to (but never did) start called, “The Gini Pigs”. It was this handful of women of Italian descent at this bar I used to go to. They wanted to do harcore versions of Sinatra and traditional Italian songs. I thought the would have been brilliant! For album covers…hmmm..it would be debaucherous, and fun. It would involve something that looked fueled by outside, booze fueled influences. Might involve the leaning tower of Pisa as well, or some very recognizable Italian reference.

I’ll say it again…William Schaff is a damn good artist.  So show him some love and buy his stuff here and here.  Oh, and if you have a question for him – ask away, something tells me he’ll answer.

Record Store Days

April 5th, 2010

Without a doubt one of the best jobs I ever had growing up was working at a record store.  It wasn’t an independent store, but a local chain called Kemp Mill Records that has since shrunk to only one store.  Whether it was helping customers find new music, debating the merits of the latest releases with my co-workers or simply feeding my own musical jones by spending everything I earned on the very music I sold, it was a great experience.  I loved that job and I still think fondly of it many moons later.

The problem is that my memory may well become a memory for every person who loves music, because record stores like Kemp Mill are slowly but surely being pushed to the brink of extinction by the internet and illegal downloads.  Even huge chains like Tower,  HMV, Sam Goody and Virgin have closed up shop.  Despite this trend, independent record stores continue to survive.  Whether it’s Stinkweeds in Phoenix, AZ or Bleeker Bob’s in New York City, all of us at Figment have a favorite record store.  The question is for how much longer?

That’s why we’re excited about a new book called “Record Store Days” by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo.  The book, which will be released by Sterling Publishing on April 6, 2010, takes you behind the counter with fascinating first-person accounts from the store owners and clerks who have made browsing for records a national pastime for nearly 100 years. Out just in time for the 3rd annual Record Store Day (April 17, 2010 www.recordstoreday.com), the book features more than 150 photographs and is filled with reminiscences from musicians, music industry executives, record store owners and music fans from all across America.

For Phil Gallo, a music journalist and entertainment writer for over 25 years, this book was a labor of love.  We had a chance to talk with Phil about “Record Store Days” and what he thinks the future holds for records stores.

Figment News (FN):  Growing up I worked in a record store and I think it still ranks as one of my favorite jobs.  How did you get involved in this project?  Did you ever work at a record store yourself?

Phil Gallo (PG):  My co-author Gary Calamar worked in record stores from the 1970s into the 1990s and came up with the idea for the book a few years ago. Once he got a publisher interested and the concept worked out, it was clear a writer was going to be needed, which is when I came in. While in college I worked in a  stereo store that had a record department.

FN:  What is the attraction of a record store versus buying music online?

PG:  A physical product resonates with the mind more than a digital file. Holding music in your hands, seeing the pictures, reading the liner notes and credits and allowing all of that to go into your decision to make a purchase while some other music that you have not selected is playing …. Whew! It’s wonderful sensory overload. There’s a reason you should always bring a list when you go to a well-stocked music store. It’s easy – and a load of fun – to be overwhelmed like that.

FN:  Do you have any idea how many independent record stores still exist?

PG:  That’s a very tough question. At the time of last year’s Record Store Day, it was estimated there are about 3,000 physical retail operations that sell recorded music. How that breaks down I am not sure. One thing is certain – a decade earlier it was 12,000.

FN:  How do small independent record stores regain the attention of kids weaned on illegal downloads and iTunes?

PG:  That’s where history repeats itself – service, selection and value, the elements that stores used to distinguished themselves when there were three outlets in one mall or three stores within a few blocks of each other. The Internet has convenience all to itself, but smart record store owners stay in business by filling customers’ needs first. It has become a largely hand-selling business. By that I mean, record stores are keeping the lights on by informing their customers about music, offering products that make sense to purchase in a physical format and by having in stock, music that gives a store an identity. In some cases that means having every Pink Floyd title; elsewhere, it means having all of Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl.

FN:  We’re currently running an album cover design contest on Figment.  How important do you think album cover art is in selling a recording?

PG:  Massively important from the late 1960s up until the mid-1990s, which is covered in  the book. At the point vinyl completely went away, CDs became much simpler in the design department with an emphasis on typography. The reintroduction of vinyl has helped reinvigorate album cover design as artists have a nice 12 X 12 surface to convey a concept. Sonic Youth has always had great album covers and that must be rubbing off on acts that hold them in high regard for their music.  I’m guessing a lot of indie rock acts aspire to provide arresting visuals beyond concert posters.

FN:  Are we losing something by not being able to hold a record or CD in our hands before we buy it?

PG:  Yes.  Information.  Music becomes less visceral and more of a consumer good. The portability of music has diminished its value. That was true with cassettes, too.

FN:  What’s your involvement with Record Store Day and can you tell us a little about it?

PG:  Record Store Day was created by members of three organizations that support independent record stores and help enhance their buying power and access to releases. Our book is being released in April to coincide with Record Store Day and the organizers, especially Michal Kurtz of Music Monitor Network, were very helpful to us in getting the word out when we were writing and gathering photographs. This year RSD is expanding internationally but we have no actual connection to the event.

FN:  You chronicle some legendary in-store shows in the book can you tell us about one in particular that you think best sums up the record store experience?

PG:  We’re spoiled here in L.A. because Amoeba has brought in Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, etc. and the old Rhino had Nirvana and acts of that sort, not to mention Tower Records on Sunset. The McCartney show was the ultimate in-store event. Here you had one of the world’s biggest superstars performing amid the bins and he didn’t short-change it – he played 45 minutes or so in a set that went far beyond introducing the music on the new album.  In-store shows are the ultimate raw performances and you can honestly say the Paul McCartney Amoeba show is as rare an event as you can get.

FN:  You’ve covered the music industry for some time now.  What influence do you think record stores have had on music and the music industry over the years?

PG:  One of the subtexts of the book is the role stores had in shaping the business. There’s not a store that was not started by an enthusiast who saw records as a way to be surrounded by the music they loved. Get a clerk behind a release and a record label had a much-needed allay in the ’60s and ’70s when wall space was not sold. These clerks would create the displays themselves with materials supplied by the labels. When record stores were filed with knowledgeable clerks – and that goes back to the late 1930s – they shaped the popularity of music. Don’t forget, the charts were based on what a record store’s managers told a chart complier at a magazine and often they’d bump up numbers on their favorite bands. I always got a charge out of good albums that would do well in stores or have a prominent display position despite the fact that it was getting no airplay. It said, to me anyway, that the store has a believer looking to turn on people to music that he or she loves.  Apple’s iTunes has a considerable effect on what’s popular today; it’s a rare case when an album only does well in only CD or digital.

In a nutshell, records in the 1960s were sold in places that sold items besides just records. Instruments, electronics, drugstores. As the rock music developed in the album format in the late 1960s, it became a viable business model for guys who wanted to have stores with nothing but records. The more places to sell records, the more artists the labels would sign and the more albums they would release. Look at music today. Fewer physical outlets has meant much smaller rosters and far fewer releases than just five or six years ago.

FN:  One of my favorite independent record stores is Flat, Black & Circular in East Lansing, MI.  I also love Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ.  What is your favorite record store and where is it located?

PG:  It’s so hard to narrow down. I shop regularly at Amoeba in L.A. and Freakbeat in Sherman Oaks, Calif., do mail order with Dusty Groove in Chicago and always visit Downtown Music Gallery when I’m in New York City. I really like specialty shops and that makes Downtown Music Gallery, which thrives on avant-garde everything – jazz, folk, rock, classical – my ultimate favorite.

Side note: In recent years, record stores have struggled the most in college towns such as East Lansing, because the students are the ones most likely to pilfer music from Internet sites. At the same time, it’s the record collections of professors that, when they decide to unload them, can make the inventory in college town stores  much more interesting than your standard used shop.

FN:  What do think the future holds for independent record stores?  Will they survive?

PG:  What will make it tough is coming to terms with how to stay stocked and how to spend money to have the right selections. Smaller stores that focus on fewer genres will need to be able to sell two of three copies of many albums rather than hundreds of 10 or 20 titles. The more the indies can keep their customers informed, usually via the Internet, the better; they need to be seen as one-stop shopping, no different than Amazon. Music has become too vast for the average consumer looking to buy an album that’s not played relentlessly on the radio. The store owner is in a position to tout their wares rather than wait for a review from Pitchfork or Rolling Stone that might move some units and they have to take advantage of that. General interest record stores will always have to have the DVDs, clothes, toys, comics and books to remain profitable. Vinyl, new and used, will help prop up some stores but who knows how long this “revival” will last.

FN:  As you may know, Figment is a site devoted to fake bands.  If you could open up a fake record store what would you name it?

PG:  As a nod to great stores of the past such as Oar Folkjokeopus and Licorice Pizza, I would tap my favorite musical artists for inspiration.  Subterranean Smokestack Records.

Record stores have a rich history, some of which is chronicled in Record Store Days, but they don’t have to become history if we continue to support our local record store.  So on April 17, 2010 take a moment to visit your local record store and pick up a record from your favorite artist or better yet let them help you discover someone new, but don’t let it end there, keep going, and we can all do our part to add more chapters to the story that is our local record store.

We’re in the final week of our Figment Concert Poster Contest, and with the deadline looming we thought it might be a good idea to introduce you to the guy who’s going to be picking the eventual winner and designing a poster for one of their Figment bands.

Lonny Unitus is a professional poster artist from Minneapolis, MN who has been creating posters for musical artists as diverse as AC Newman, The Melvins, Guttermouth and Mastodon since 1997.   He also designs merchandise for bands like Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Slipknot, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rob Zombie.

We were interested in finding out more about Lonny’s creative process and how he actually works with bands to create such original concert posters, so here’s what he had to say…

Figment News:  How did you get started in the poster business?

Lonny Unitus:  I’ve been drawing/Xeroxing posters since high-school. I was in a band in college, so was very active in the music scene and created a lot of flyers for my band and friend’s bands. I got serious about posters after working a corporate job for a few years. I was looking for a creative outlet and saw what my friends from college were doing (Michael Byzewski from Aesthetic Apparatus and Miss Amy Jo) with screenprinting and rock posters. I was living in Mississippi at the time (for my job) but hooked up with two friends in Fargo (a promoter, and my old band-mate who is a screenprinter – Justin Seng). When I moved back to Minnesota, I joined a studio with Miss Amy Jo and Wes Winship from Burlesque of North America, and learned how to screenprint myself.

FN:  Did you study graphic design in school or did you just start creating posters for friend’s bands?

LU:  I majored in Art with a concentration in Illustration.

FN:  Is the concert poster business very DIY or do you think it’s becoming more professional?

LU:  Both. For every studio that grows and takes on big jobs for big clients, there are several artists just starting out and screenprinting in their apartments or dorm rooms.

FN:  How do you start working with a band?  Does the band approach you directly or are you hired by the promoter of a show?

LU:  While I used to chase after bands I wanted to work for, now the majority of my work comes directly from promoters and bands who find me.

FN:  Do you try to create posters that mirror the music of the band you are designing for or do you get inspiration from other sources?

LU:  It’s important for me to design a poster that is appropriate for the band, and that the fans connect with.

FN:  What’s involved (the steps) in producing a poster for a band?

LU:  It differs from job to job. Sometimes the band may have an idea, or would reference one of my other posters and say “something like this,” or the ball’s in my court to come up with something. I’ll usually send out a rough pencil sketch of the idea, and maybe block in some color. Once that is approved I’ll move right to the finished design.

FN:  You’ve worked with indie and well known major label artists.  Which do you prefer to work with?  Which allows you more creative freedom?

LU:  Oddly enough, I’ve had more freedom with bigger bands. I think smaller/indie  bands want to be more a part of the whole process, and I’m cool with that. Up and coming bands are often just establishing their visual identity, so they’re a bit more guarded. Not to say I haven’t worked with some big bands that were picky, but I often get more input/critiques with indie bands.

FN:  How did you start working with bands like Kiss and Slpknot to produce their merch?

LU:  I work with two major merchandising companies that are pretty much responsible for all the shirts you see at stores like Hot Topic and the like.  So, through those two companies I’ve done work for Kiss, Slipknot, HIM, Ozzy Osbourne, and Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few.

FN:  I noticed you’re a member of the Minnesota chapter of the International Cartoon Conspiracy.  What’s that all about and how are you involved?

LU:  It’s a group of Minneapolis cartoonists that meet monthly and “jam,” produce mini-comics (usually Xeroxed DIY kind of things), and produce box-sets of comics called Lutefisk Sushi.  A poster maker friend of mine hooked me up with that group when I moved to town.

FN:  There seems to be a lot of very talented and well known poster artists in Minneapolis.  Aesthetic Apparatus, FLORAFAUNA, etc.  Why do you think that is?

LU:  Minneapolis has a great music scene, so that helps. The art/design/music scene in general here is awesome.

FN:  Who are your favorite poster artists?

LU:  Guy Burwell, Ivan Minsloff, Tooth , Little Friends of Printmaking, Drew Millward, Tyler Stout, Willem Kolvoort, Mark Pedini, Print Mafia, Budai, Methane Studios, Aesthetic Apparatus, and Miss Amy Jo to name a few.

FN:  Any advice for our budding poster designers on Figment?

LU:  Look at Gigposters.com, figure out what you like and why you like it. Then put your own spin on it. Steer clear of cheesy PhotoShop filters and lame fonts. Hand-drawn text almost always looks cool. Don’t steal other people’s work.

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

LU:  My website is LonnyUnitus.com, or you can look me up at Gipgosters.com.

FN:  Have you ever created concert posters for fake bands before?

LU:  Not yet.

When I started putting together our Figment Concert Poster Contest I went on the web to do some research on who were some of the top new poster designers, and in doing so I stumbled across GigPosters.com.  The site is a virtual treasure trove of concert posters and is great way to bring yourself up-to-speed on designers across the country.

Clay Hayes is the mastermind behind the site, and since 2001 has built it into the world’s largest historical archive of posters with over 100,000 works from more than 1,000 designers.  With the release of his new book “Gig Posters Volume 1:  Rock Show Art of the 21st Century” he’s helping to bring more attention to this deserving group of artists.

Figment News: How did you first get interested in concert posters, and what led you to create GigPosters.com?

Clay Hayes: I used to play in a band, and collected the flyers from our shows. I was a computer programmer, and wanted to create a website, so it naturally came to me to create a site about gig posters.

FN: In this age of digital downloads and disposable culture many may see concert posters as a relic of the past. Why do you think they endure, and are they enjoying a renaissance of sorts?

CH: I think it is always interesting to look back historically and see where a band played, and who they played with. These days, with MP3s etc, posters are a great way to have a piece of art that relates to the bands you like, to hang on your wall.

FN: Are concert posters more than just ads?

CH: They can be more than just ads to those who collect posters, and fans who want memorabilia to hang on their walls.

FN: Many concert poster designers seem to be musicians themselves. Do you think that’s a prerequisite or just a function of them being artistic, creative people?

CH: I think it is just part of being involved in the scene. I’m sure being musicians, like I was, sparked their interest in posters.

FN: So how does the site work? Does it cost the designers to submit and display their work? Can anyone submit their poster designs?

CH: The site is free for everyone. Anyone can submit posters and interact.

(Editor’s Note: Only posters for real gigs can be submitted. Please do not submit any fake band concert posters to GigPosters.com)

FN: I noticed that a lot of designers use your site as their online portfolio. That clearly speaks to your relationship with the designers who use it. Are you friends with a lot of the designers on the site?

CH: I have become friends with many of the designers over the years. 4 times a year, many of us meet in person at the Flatstock poster conventions.

FN: You’ve published a book, “Gig Posters: Rock Show Art of the 21st Century”, that catalogs a number of the designers whose work appears on GigPosters.com. How did you select the designers who are featured in the book?

CH: I narrowed it down to approx 500 of the best designers from the site, then worked with the publisher to find the top 101 that we wanted to showcase in the book.

FN:  Was it hard narrowing down the list of designers to create Volume 1?

CH:  It was very difficult, and tons of amazing poster designers were left out.  Hopefully, I can showcase many more with other volumes of the book.

FN:  Who would you put in your Top 5 designers or is that simply too hard to do?

CH:  I would prefer not to say, as that would just be my personal opinion. Everyone has their own tastes, and discovering favorites is part of the fun of exploring the site, and book.

FN:  I love how you not only provide information about the designers themselves, but also their influences and preferred mediums/methods as well as some background on them. Are you hoping to elevate the design, typography and printing aspects of this art form as well as the profile of the designers themselves?

CH:  I think it just helps people understand where the designers are coming from, and what influences their designs.

FN:  I noticed the book has 101 perforated posters that you can actually take out of the book. Was that a conscious decision to allow people the opportunity to present the art in its original poster form?

CH:   It gives people the opportunity to hang some of the “book versions” of the posters on their wall, and hopefully spark some interest in collecting the real posters.

FN: Where can people pick up Gig Posters Vol. 1?

CH:  http://www.gigposters.com/book

FN: Is Volume 2 already in the works?

CH: Not yet .. but hopefully soon. That is all up to the publisher… and I’m just waiting to find out when it will happen.

Well, all of us at Figment hope it’s soon, because we love Volume 1!  To find out more and stay on top of the newest poster designs, etc. you can follow Clay and GigPosters.com on Twitter and Facebook.


Click on the player below to listen to our interview with filmmaker Eileen Yaghoobian.

[audio:Died_young _Stayed_Pretty_Intvw.mp3]


Died Young Stayed Pretty is the first full length documentary feature from filmmaker Eileen Yaghoobian.  The movie delves into the world of concert poster artists, and was a project that occupied almost 5 years of her life, most of it on the road.   Eileen self-financed the bulk of the project, which led to her actually staying with the artists she profiled.  Although born of financial necessity this close proximity to her subjects allowed her to capture on film not only the artists at work, but also a level of intimacy that provides a real insight into their creative process.   Edited together from over 250 hours of footage, Died Young Stayed Pretty is a 94-minute journey through the North American concert poster scene, narrated entirely by the artists themselves.

Watch the Trailer:

[youtube vrrss_Bxfw0]

Find Out More:

Find out about screenings, buy the DVD or shop for movie posters at http://www.diedyoungstaypretty.com

Buy a Died Young Stayed Pretty t-shirt!

Follow Eileen and Died Young Stay Pretty on Facebook.

Check em’ all out and help a fellow artist by picking one up today!


A few months ago I was talking to a friend about the interview we did recently with Kieron Gillen of Phonogram fame, and how interesting it was to learn more about the connection between music and comic books.  During the conversation he mentioned a comic book company, Terminal Press, that he said was just starting to create a whole line of comics based on metal bands and urged me to check them out.  Based in Long Beach, NY, Terminal Press is run by Brian Ferrara who publishes a variety of comics including ones based on the music and image of the legendary black metal band Dimmu Borgir.  Needless to say I was fascinated, and with my friend’s help I got a hold of Brian to get his thoughts on how and where he sees comics and music merging.

Figment News:  Can you tell us a little about Terminal Press and how you got started in the comic business?

Brian Ferrara:  I got started making comics when I realized I was incapable of sustaining my sanity in a normal office environment and my hands were too delicate for manual labor. Terminal Press is the vessel through which the dark juvenile fantasies in our artist’s minds flow.


FN:  You’ve just started creating a series of comic books based on bands signed to Nuclear Blast Records.  How did that relationship get started?

BF:  I first met the label manager for Nuclear Blast through a friend who was working our booth at the San Diego Comic Con in 08. He came by, heard us blasting Meshuggah and saw our line-up of badass books and the wheels started turning. Nuclear Blast displays at the con every year, so they are no strangers to comics. We’re all just a bunch of metal heads and fanboys, so it just made sense.

FN:  Do you think comics and music are interconnected?  Does music provide you with inspiration when you’re writing your comics?

BF:  100% yes to both. Art and music are like the two halves of a He-Man toy’s sword. They can both cut shit up alone, but when combined, you can turn Cringer into Battlecat. Take your classic Maiden and Megadeth albums and remove Eddie and Vic. Better yet, don’t do that, because that would suck.

I listen to music all day long. Seriously, all day. When I’m working I just rip through my whole library. When I’m writing, I usually go instrumental so I don’t get distracted by lyrics. Lastly, I like to get in a run every other day and that’s when I go with the heaviest of the heavy stuff to get all pumped and jacked and whatnot.


FN:  You’ve created a comic for legendary Norwegian Black Metal band Dimmu Borgir.  What was it like creating a comic for such a well known band?

BF:  It was an honor and something we were all very proud to do. I was very excited because it was something I always wanted to do and I just wanted to give it my all and put together something that would respect the band and their fans.

Dimmu Borgir Fan at Big Apple Con

FN:  Do you think their music and image are good fodder for a comic book?

BF:  Dimmu screams for a comic book. I can barely think of a band that would work better in a comic than them. They aren’t a bunch of guys with instruments- they’re fucking demons from hell wielding fire and steel!

FN:  Did you actually meet with the members of Dimmu Borgir or was their music and cover art the inspiration?

BF:  I haven’t met the guys personally, but I’ve been to the shows, have all of the albums and send all the content for their approval before it is released. I’ll hopefully get to meet up with them next time they’re somewhere closer than Norway.


FN:  Narek Gevorgian did all of the artwork for the “Dark Fortress” correct?  How do you two work together when creating a comic book?

BF:  I usually come up with the basis for the story and then try to brainstorm with him. Then Narek tells me it’s a good idea and then I’m like, “is it just good?” and then Narek will be like, “it’s good.” and then I’ll be like, “is it good or is it great? I want it to be great!” and then he’ll be like, “it’s great.” but he’ll say it all passive aggressive so I’m not sure if it is or not, at which point we start yelling at each other. That’s pretty much when the magic happens.

FN:  What does the band think of the “Dark Fortress”?

BF:  I think it’s exactly what they were looking for as far as Fortress’ go. They can’t wait to move in.

FN:  Are their plans to do additional books on Dimmu Borgir?

BF:  We haven’t gotten that far yet, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. I’m focused on making sure this one kicks ass.


FN:  I know you’re also working on a comic book involving Nuclear Blast artist ExodusWhat other bands are you working with?

BF:  That’s all we have announced for now, but I definitely have my eye on other Nuclear Blast artists. If I had my way, Meshuggah would be on the list for sure.

FN:  What piece of advice can you pass on to our Figment users regarding the best way to create the image of a black metal band or any band for that matter?

BF:  I think any great metal band needs some kind of mascot at the core of their imagery. Once you have a cool mascot, you can just stick it in different scenarios to create album covers and merch. Say you have some sort of demonic monkey with a switchblade and bee wings as your mascot- put him front of some pyramids- boom- instant concept album.

Hard Core Series

FN:  I see you’ve got an entire line of “Hard/Core” comics based on iconic adult films like Debbie Does Dallas and “The Devil in Miss Jones”.  What other comic books does Terminal Press publish?

BF:  That’s pretty much it. Metal and porno. We do have some based on killer teddy bears, graffiti, circus animals, zombies, assassins, one with a guy with a crow jammed in his eye socket and another about an alcoholic lemur and a baby eating rhinoceros, but mostly metal and porno.

FN:  Where can someone pick up “Dimmu Borgir:  Dark Fortress” and your other comic books?

BF:  For everything Terminal Press, go to terminalpress.com. We bake them fresh and mail them directly to your house.

FN:  Any plans to branch out and do comics with other labels or other types of bands?

BF:  For metal, we have yet to exhaust the awesome roster of Nuclear Blast bands. I never know what is around the corner though. Maybe I’ll finally get the chance to do that Miley Cyrus book I’ve always dreamed of. That’s only if her label goes for my tentacle porn for tweens pitch.

FN:  If you could pick one band on Figment to create a comic book around, which one would it be?

BF:  It would be for whichever band was able to pull off getting banged by groupies in the back of a creepy van on their imaginary tour.

FN:  Have you ever created a fake band and if so, what was its name?

BF:  I’ve created real bands that never went anywhere, so does that count? Here are some of the names I can remember – Black Magic, Moribund, Ultimate Paradox, F.O.C. (Forecast of Calamity) and 1000 Years of Winter. I’m definitely forgetting a few along the way, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind. That list is in chronological order starting in 6th grade, so keep that in mind too.