Rad People Who Make Rad Art: Brian Walsby
by Interviews

Brian Walsby has created over 10,000 pieces art. You'd know him if you saw him. He's a tall guy with a curly afro and spectacles that can be seen behind the merch table at a show markering dozens and dozens of variations on a few similar scenes -- inserting contemporary bands into the covers of classic albums and riffing on iconic Black Flag art. At once, he is examining the power of repetition as well as simply drawing for the sake of drawing.

On top of that, he drew the cover for 7 Seconds' Walk Together, Rock Together and the famous Nardcore compilation. PLUS, he's made t-shirts for Fucked Up, Descendents, Negative Approach, Minutemen and The Melvins. You can check out the shirts at his site.

Because Walsby is insanely prolific, Punknews features editor John Gentile spoke to him about his cartoony style, revealing personal stories in comic form, and whether or not his examination of variation is the result of strategy or whimsy.

How did you first get interested in visual art?
I was drawing and doodling since I was a little kid. I have been told that I have been drawing since before I could remember, actually. I used to read things like Peanuts and Mad Magazine when I was growing up. You have to remember that this was during the early '70s onward. I was born in 1965, you see. Never read superhero comics till much later when my little brother Marc started to collect some and I sort of got into that, so that was not a big primary influence.

I couldn't draw stuff like that anyways, no matter how hard I tried. Anyways, I would attribute my interest in those things through those early influences. Mad Magazine back then had a amazing staff of very talented folks that all seemed very different to me. Paul Cocker Jr. certainly didn't draw anything like Mort Drucker but they were both great. Even some of the guys that I didn't like too much I still liked because they were in Mad! The looseness and sense of humor behind the work appealed to me as well. It wasn't until the discovery of the punk rock subculture, or whatever you want to call it, where I sort of found a home to put these things in. That was a cool thing.

Did you receive formal training?
Nope. Completely self-taught. I don't know anything.

You did the seminal art for 7 Seconds’ Walk Together, Rock Together. How did that come about?
I used to write to those guys. I guess they liked my stuff enough to stick something in one record and have something I drew for them make it to the cover of another one of their records. My "success" of drawing a cover for them unfortunately led to a fallout between all parties concerned years and years ago. It is still being sold on t-shirts and even skateboards with my name removed, I have noticed. Not very nice! It is sort of pointless to give a shit about it now, the milk has been spilled years ago and turned to dust eventually.

I don't harbor any real ill will towards those dudes anymore, but can't exactly say I am thrilled about any of that. I can say that them deciding to use those images has certainly led to others giving me some work here and there. People just love that drawing and whatever they think it represents, so I guess that is cool.

You often slip the Peanuts gang into your work. Why is Charles Schultz’s work important to you?
I guess because it had a lot of heart. It has this sort of realism filtered through a comic strip about little kids that actually had adult themes if you think about it. I didn't really think of all of that till years and years later but if you notice, there are two themes that pop up in Peanuts: Being sad -- being human -- is one, and the second one is not giving up in the face of sadness or struggles or whatever. Charlie Brown rarely won at anything but he never gave up. I think people can relate to that.

That is life in a lot of ways. When I read that book that came out about his life, none of what he was about came as any surprise to me at all. He was very human, even in the face of all of the success he had in his life. I don't know, I just gravitated towards it in a huge way. Charles Schultz was a huge influence on almost anybody who ever picked up a pen, I would think. He is one of the all-time greats.

Do you think Schultz would be offended by your work where you merged Charlie Brown with Rudimentary Peni?
Hmmmm. Maybe not offended -- maybe just confused. It would be something that would have to be explained to him, like "well, you see there is this guy named Nick Blinko, in this band Rudimentary Peni, his band, they are really weird and…"

A lot of your work is rooted in pen and ink. Can the boldness of black and white, pen and ink say things that more refined, delicate mediums such as oil paints, can’t?
I don't really know. That is just the medium I have always chosen to work in. I try to work to my strengths and know what I am good at and that is what I am good at, basically. I have tried a few other things like painting but I could see right away I wasn't a painter. I have only recently learned to add color to some things via Photoshop, very crudely I might add. I think illustrations work much better with adding color then an actual comic strip -- less cluttered I think. It just seems to make more sense for some reason.

A theme running through your work is inserting bands into classic albums -- such as Fucked Up onto Pet Sounds or Buzz Osborne onto a Bob Dylan album cover. I once bought a picture that you drew imposing Buzz Osborne over the cover of a Nirvana album, which I felt has a message behind it. Is this type of work just a fun juxtaposition, or are we to take away a larger statement from this?
That all started for the most part on a Melvins tour they did when they got Jared Warren and Coady WIllis in the band, you know the two drummers/three singers version of the band. It was the three-month Senile Animal tour. I sort of jumped on board and hung out for a few weeks with them and wasn't actually working for them yet, just fucking off I guess. Anyways after a day or so I started doing those sort of things and then I realized that maybe I could sell them and it sort of snowballed from there.

The guys gave me some pretty funny ideas initially and I just ran with it. That turned out to be a very good thing for me when I did actually start going out with them and working for them, and it leaked into other things, like the t-shirts and what have you. The Nevermind thing is just meant to be silly. I think almost all of that is meant to be silly. There isn't any great message behind any of it, I don't think, but if people think otherwise, I think that is great.

Some of it was sort of meant to get a rise out of people and sort of bait them. Nothing has ever happened… I haven't been beat up at any Melvins shows or anything like that.

You create a very high volume of work. Many artists create work sparingly, so as to make each work seem "important." What are the benefits to being extremely prolific?
I don't think anything that I have ever done is of any real importance to be honest. I am not a perfectionist nor am I very sentimental over it. When I think I am done with something -- even in retrospect when I see that I am not -- I just move on to the next thing. I don't have much of a perfectionist sort of mentality. That kind of drives me nuts seeing that I am not someone with a whole lot of patience with those sort of things.

I think some people are just lazy, is all. And maybe a wee bit pretentious about it. Don't get me wrong, sometimes being pretentious is great, but it might lead to not actually being able to finish anything. It doesn't take much to want to create, you just do it.

The main thing with me is that I HAVE to do it. It is what I am supposed to do. Even if I go a couple days without it, I start to get kind of nutty. Playing drums is sort of the same thing but that has been a little less urgent I guess. So the benefits of being really prolific is obvious, you have a lot of stuff. I can't say I look back and think all of it is great, but there are always things in there that I am proud of. Over the weekend I have done these funny little things called "Middle Aged Rebel," which sort of represents this weird spot you are in during life where you are certainly not a kid anymore and you have to play out certain things, which is all part of the human experience.

There is a lot of me in these but I also know there is a lot of other people in there too. With Facebook, I have instant access to an audience for these things I do, and that is great. They were received really, really well, which was very satisfying. Communicating something that I thought -- at least in this case -- had some importance, or at least some relevance.

You’ve also been in a number of bands. Do you think being a musician yourself gives you an edge, or a unique voice, when creating art related to music?
I have been in lots of bands, it is something else that is an essential part of me. Another one of those things that makes me feel normal. Whatever that means!

I am not sure if it gives me any sort of edge. It seems to me to be the flip side of the same coin, really. There is the physical release of playing drums, and it is something you can't get anywhere else. When you play well, when everything falls into place, that is a very satisfying feeling.

A great deal of your work is autobiographical. Have you ever felt that you revealed too much?
At times, sure. I always get over that feeling. When I give people a book, it is like I am handing over all of my neuroses.

Looking back, a lot of that stuff was growing pains, trying to make sense of things that were happening to me and there was a certain amount of self-importance there. Not all of it -- some stuff that has happened were things that, if I look back on it, they are really funny, actually. These days there isn't quite as much chest beating over things of that nature.

The other thing is that there are some things that are really no one's business, things that could potentially hurt some of the people that have been in my life. I have been married, got divorced, had a little girl with another woman, we spilt up -- we are just parents who love our daughter now. So there is a whole lot of stuff I could get into if I still thought that it was of great importance to hyper-document every "struggle" or whatever, but it would not just involve me, it would involve all of these other people and I wouldn't want to hurt anybody. I also wouldn't want my daughter or her older brother to grow up and read all of these things. I mean, nothing terrible happened. But I have people to protect, sort of. It gets less important to want to reveal everything as time goes on.

You used to publish a series called Manchild but have stopped that series. Why did you do that? Are you "all grown up" now?
No, I am still a "manchild" all of the way! I think I am a little smarter these days though. Um, I haven't had as much time since the series began. I don't have anyone right now to publish these things for me. I have enough for a new one right about now -- contact me if you are interested in spending a bunch of your money on me -- but my time has definitely been cut short these days with my little girl and how I am drawing for my survival, basically.

I have been freelancing and making and selling merchandise these days so I don't have as much time. Things take longer to do these days. I have to work around things. That is fine, though. Hopefully I can get another one rolling sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I have been working on this pretty big project, a book project with the legendary Legs McNeil of Please Kill Me fame. Most of you know who Legs is. We met a little over a year ago and he liked my stuff. It’s hard to say when this will be done, but even if a Manchild book doesn't come out this year, the substitute of a book collaborating with Legs should be a fine thing indeed.

Have you ever had to deal with unauthorized usage of your work?
Oh sure! Lots of things but you know it goes back to the 7 Seconds story in a way. What am I really going to do about it, even if I want to? The answer is in almost every case… nothing. It's over. I am not crazy about the idea of suddenly deciding I am pissed and I am going to go after someone, especially some people I was friends with. It is not really a huge deal. A lot of times it is just better for me not to think too much about these things. So I don't. There's plenty of better things to worry about. Chump change at this point.

What do you have in the works?
The band I drum for called Davidians is going to have our debut single out fairly soon on Deranged Records. We are going to try and do a little tour to just play to people and have a good time. Hopefully that might happen in early May. I think I am going to go out with Buzz Osborne this summer for a month during his solo acoustic tour, that will be a lot of fun and of course there will or should be plenty of things for sell. We'll see about the book with Legs and hopefully I can find someone to believe in me to make a Manchild 7 a reality. If anyone has any questions or inquiries, e-mail me at reluctantking@hotmail.com.