Friday, June 5, 2015

Spoiler the Illustrator - the Drug Dogs Interview

Because it was a cut n' paste zine and you're not allowed to lay out a cut n' paste zine without using 'Cause for Alarm'
I wanted to start using the site to call attention to some of my friends who have worked as illustrators in "this 'ting of ours" so up first is an exchange I had with Spoiler back in 2008. We talked about Justice, Ninja Turtles, Pushead v. Pettibon and about "high and low" art. As mentioned, this is from 2008 so all references made are dated and some specific references may have changed. All art, except when specified, is by Spoiler, and all black and white photos are taken from the original Drug Dogs #2 Layout. Check out Spoiler's work on Google He doesn't have a website anymore.

How does it usually work? Do bands get in touch with you with a specific idea or do they just ask you do 'whip up something cool?'
Both happens. About 50/50 I'd say. It really just depends...

Which approach do you prefer?
If a person with good vision, that understands art a little, gives me a concept I like, then it works really well. Often it's someone I know and we can brainstorm about the idea and work on it together. Those always come out good.

What's the worst?
What's less fun is when someone has a concept in their head, but cannot explain it to me. I end up drawing what I think they want and they keep asking me to change it. That gets annoying especially if they insist I try out certain things that are impossible, or that I know will look terrible. This kind of thing hasn't happened much, but I've learned to kindly ask them to let me handle it or have someone else do the art. Not because I think I'm a big shot, but because spending weeks on art that I'm not into really bums me out as a whole. When someone is like "draw anything!" it's of course the easiest and most fun, but every now and then I'm completely out of inspiration, so I guess the best thing is working on a concept with someone and then executing it.

What's your process like then? Pencil sketch and then what comes next?
Yeah, I pencil it, then I ink it with a random assortment of black pens.

How much computer treatment are you willing to do?
I don't trace anything on the computer, but I usually touch up my drawings a little in Photoshop, just adding contrast and cleaning up some messy parts, nothing major. I recently got a job in graphic design and learned how to use Illustrator, so the last few drawings I did were vectorized....if that means anything to you. [Laughs].

How popular is graffiti in Belgium specifically?
In Belgium, graffiti is pretty big at least in the bigger cities. Street art isn't that huge that I know of, but there's a couple of interesting artists that do cool stickering and what-pasting stuff.

I always associate Europe with graffiti and "street art." Not sure why, I just do. Did that have any effect on your art as a youngster in Belgium?
I did graffiti as a young teenager, but I grew up in a small town with almost no other graffiti artists, so it kinda sucked. There was one crew I beefed with which is pretty funny looking back on it. I definitely miss doing graffiti when I'm walking around the city and see a nice spot.

For me, your art is really what introduced me to Justice. It reminded me of classic NYHC from a visual perspective, specifically the "cartoonier" side. You're not in Justice anymore. Why the split?
I left Justice when I moved to Montreal to live with my wife. She lived with me in Belgium so I could finish up school and we had a deal that we'd go to Canada even before Justice existed.

What did you study?
I grew up in Belgium, went to a high school that had a specialized art orientation and from there went to college to study art. Mostly though, I just went on tours when I was in college!

Backtracking, but that means the split was on good terms...
Of course, and I still love those dudes even though I haven't seen some of them since I left. The band itself broke up from what I understand, because Flip (vocals) could no longer tour. He has a pretty serious job and was almost fired a few times for going on tour. After a few years of that and with more and more tours coming up, and also having moved out on his own, he just couldn't keep it up. I think he also had some personal things in his life that made him decide to quite. Everyone's still friends and will continue to do bands and Powered Records together.

Are you trying to expand your artistic output at all? Beyond hardcore stuff I guess?
I always say that as a person, I want to grow but not change. I keep adding more and more to my interests. I want to learn new things, discover new things, but I don't want to exchange them for things from my past. I laugh at people that get old and "grow out" of things and replace their old life with a new one. That's not growth! That applies to my art as well. I don't want to get stuck repeating myself, so I try new things. That doesn't mean I won't draw up some moshing skinheads and feel awesome about it though!

Written Off S/T EP 2012

I saw that you've been painting a bit...
Yeah, I've been painting here and there. I've been learning how to use Illustrator and even been getting back into photography a little.

Would you ever do artwork for a band that wasn't a hardcore band?
Definitely! I listen to plenty of non-hardcore music and would love to draw for more punk-oriented bands, metal bands, even rap groups or decent indie bands. If I like their music, I'll do it. I like a good challenge.

I think when someone tells me that they only listen to hardcore, I assume they have mental problems. I couldn't listen to ONLY hardcore. What's your musical background like?
I'm the type of guy who likes to understand things. I like to know how and why things came to exist. Once I'd dug into hardcore deep enough, I naturally started listening to earlier American punk, proto-punk, and from there all kinds of 60's and 70's rock, power pop, British stuff, all kinds of stuff. I grew up on metal, so I listen to some of those classics every now and then, but some of my favorite non hardcore bands are Wire, Modern Lovers, The Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, Blondie, Cock Sparrer, Carcass, Slick Rick, The Smiths, Danzig, The Dead Boys, Buzzcocks and the list goes on...

Do you listen to any style of music in particular while you're drawing?
I will listen to anything when I draw. I'll usually listen to the band I'm drawing for, then bands that sound similar to them, and by the time the main idea is done in pencil, I'm listening to anything really.

Do you advertise to get jobs?
My work is my advertising. It works well for me, but bands usually approach me. The only band I ever approached was Mental in 2003. This was before I knew them and anyone really knew my art. I just thought my style went well with their music and they agreed.

But the hardcore scene can be pretty insular. Do you ever feel that without formal advertising you won't ever be able to reach any crowd outside of hardcore?
Yes and no. When I was younger, I assumed that when people grow out of hardcore, they just get some office job and drop out of life forever. Now that I'm getting a little older and don't see things so black and white, I realize that there's plenty of old hardcore dudes that grew out of going to shows and stuff, but are still the same dudes at heart. Some of those dudes get cool jobs and are willing to help out their fellow coremen. That's how I got to do a couple of non-hardcore related things. I guess it's just a matter of knowing the right people. I recently got interviewed for Under Pressure, a graffiti magazine from Montreal. I don't know if that will lead anywhere, I'm not sitting by the phone, but it would be cool. I'm not too worried about breaking out, I'm just gonna keep at it at my own pace and see what happens.

You have a very recognizable style that's specifically "Spoiler." You mentioned earlier that you don't like getting into stylistic ruts. I always go back to this old Pushead interview where he gets asked "do you ever get sick of drawing skulls?" and Pushead just goes "No. Skulls are the only thing I like to draw." Do you think you'll ever get tired of drawing skinheads?
Like I said, I like to expand, but I have no intentions of completely changing up my style. Any good artist has a signature style that will make their art recognizable no matter the drawing. One of my favorite Pushead pieces is the In My Eyes record which is not of a skull but still very recognizable as a Pushead piece. Sometimes it's good to mix it up a little, but there's no way I will ever refuse to draw a jacked dude with bad teeth and a shaved head!

At what point does art become high-brow?
It's hard to define when art becomes high brow. I guess it just depends on personal opinion...

Well I just ask because maybe the "high-browers" don't take Pushead seriously because there's no "message" in his work, they just see skulls or a really great stippling technique.
If it's in a gallery that doesn't belong to the artist or anyone in his circle of friends, and it gets some acclaim outside of its city or country, if people write about it....that might count as high brow. That would eliminate all the shitty painters who sell portraits and landscapes to rich widows. Pushead still might fit into that definition though. It's really hard to explain without sounding like the biggest douche bag, but basically good high brow art is something you see and affects you on a higher level, whether that's emotionally or intellectually. My art, or Pushead's art or a lot of the stuff I like, affects people on a lower level you know? Like "that's awesome, that looks cool." That isn't a bad thing of course. When I started doing art, hardcore was all about being serious and depressed and I just wanted my art to be a slap in the face, a wake up call, something people would get excited about. It's like a visual overdose, very over the top. I wanted people to see my art and get energized, not sit down and reflect on their life. I guess that's the difference.

Do you think a hardcore artist could ever get real credibility in the art world? Is that something you care about?
It depends on your definition of "hardcore artist" as well as your definition of "art world." Personally, I consider my drawings, and a medium like drawing or graffiti, to be on a completely different level from what I consider "art." My drawings are mostly just visuals of what I think is cool or funny, but most of them don't have a lot of substance to them. A few do though. I just call my stuff "art" because I don't wanna be a douche bag and argue about what "real" art is. Raymond Pettibon, who started out in the hardcore scene, is held in high esteem by today's high brow art scene. On the other hand, a guy like Pushead would never be taken seriously by that crowd, but he's well known within more underground circles ranging from horror and metal fans to sneakerheads and street artists. In the end, I think a lot more people know who Pushead is than who Pettibon is.

You talk about "visuals." I dunno. Even if a drawing doesn't advance some lofty idea, it still has some meaning I think. Even if the viewer is extrapolating something that wasn't intended by the artist.
Well, everything I do has meaning to some degree, I guess I'm just trying to say its on different levels. There's actually a storyline to a lot of the Justice art. It kind of evolved with the band. On the demo, it's simple: an angry dude moshing. That's all he cares about. On the first shirt, that dude is moshing through a brick wall. He's breaking out, trying to get to a better place. On the first EP, he's found that good place. He's got friends, they're all moshing partying and having a good time. On the insert though, you can see a bunch of sketchy dudes coming through the hole in the brick wall he made, fighting amongst each other and looking for trouble. It loosely symbolized the band and how we caught a lot of shit when we first started. People tried to ruin what we were creating, people who would literally follow everything we did in hopes we'd slip up so they could call us on it. That's why the second shirt is of a skyline of my city with evil eyes staring out. I guess I didn't keep the story going for every shirt, but it came back on the LP, where everything just got more complicated. The guy is now in the middle of an insane world building up around him, surrounded by the good and the band, and he's trying to keep his cool. I guess that symbolized us growing up, touring, seeing the world, starting to see beyond the black and white scene bullshit. I drew out some of the song titles as well, as several inside jokes. For instance, there's an arm with 4 elbows somewhere, which is the bass player from our brothers Restless Youth. His arm was really fucked up from skateboarding and we all believed it gave him special bass-playing powers.

Justice S/T LP AKA "Elephant Skin" 2005

Could you pay the bills just doing art?
I lived off my art for over a year total, split into two periods. I could live off it technically, but in the end I didn't want art to be my job. I dicked around in telemarketing and video game testing (that's right) until I got hired as a graphic designer. It's pretty cool, learning to look at art from another perspective is always good, and I have enough time to do art on the side, and I don't have to worry about some kid paypalling my money in time to make rent.

What artists influence you?
At this point, not many. For some reason, I barely look into others people's art. I don't know why not. I just take in all kinds of random art I see, but no specific artist really inspires me. When I first started out, it's no secret I was heavily into Sean Taggart, Kevin Crowley and the likes. To be honest, my biggest influence is probably Google images. Sometimes to look up specific images for reference, but a lot of times I will just type random shit, look at cool images, and just kind of take it all in and blend them in my mind. Whatever I end up drawing doesn't look like anything I saw really.

There's gotta be something that just gets the creative juices flowing though, like for me it's old wrestling shit....
I was huge into Ninja Turtles when I was younger. I think the imagery of sewers, dirty alleys with garbage cans, pizza, robots and musclehead bad guys was a big predecessor to my interest in the type of NYHC-related art I like. Also my parents are a metalhead and a hippie, so I definitely grew up around a lot of evil and psychedelic looking stuff.

Oh wow. I can definitely see that now. The Slumlords design definitely reminds me of the Rat King. How do you feel about that revamped Ninja Turtles thing? It looks all anime to me...
I didn't know there was a new TMNT until I googled some of the old epic images I used to have on my bedroom walls and all I could find was this new bullshit. I was so bummed out. It literally looks like shit. I bet they don't even eat pizza.

I liked the toys the most. I dug the auxiliary characters like Mondo Gecko or Usagi Yojimbo.
I liked the toys a lot but it was all about the cartoon and comics for me. Oh, and fuck how lame was Casey Jones in the movie? What a wimp!

If you had to narrow them down, what are your favorite designs you've done?
I can never really figure these out. I like a lot of them for different reasons, and also wish I could change something about all of them. I really like the first Iron Boots shirts, the first Justice LP and also the B-Side label I did for that, the Cro-Mags shirt, the Loud and Clear LP and the Lion of Judah shirts.

Do you have any design you've done that, looking back, you wish you couldn't done better?
There's a few. It's mostly stuff I wanted to work on more, but the band needed it ASAP or they had specific requests that I didn't really agree with. Off the top of my head, I really like the drawing for the Always Aware shirt, but it doesn't really go with the type of logo they wanted. I'm not super into the Mongoloids LP cover. Greg is a good dude, but he had me re-do the art too many times and it just came out kind of messy. Also, the original War Hungry shirt which I love, was originally going to be in full color for their EP, but I didn't like how it came out and there was no time to redo it.

Favorite album covers?
Agnostic Front Cause for Alarm needs no explanation. That demon skinhead is the coolest looking thing in the world. It's all just so busy and insane and over the top. Incredible.

Underdog S/T EP. Those bad guys look amazing. This cover has a little more substance to it as well.

Crumbsuckers Life of Dreams. Again, here's Taggart at his best. In all hoensty, the art is not even that tight from a technical viewpoint but it's just so damn gnarly looking. This one also has a pretty cool concept if the dude in the front looked a little more badass, it might have been better than the AF one.

Woah. More badass? How?
He could either be more pissed off which always works, but I guess he's supposed to be brainwashed or comatose, so he should be more gross. Drooling, blank eyes, his skin should be breaking. He could even have little Crumbsuckers crawling over him and coming out of his ears and mouth like spiders on a corpse. Man, that would be awesome!

So...all Taggart pieces?
Yeah. I guess there aren't a lot of surprises in this list. I tried to think of something unexpected, but nothing beats this shit man!

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