ROB FLETCHER INTERVIEW
by Andre Torrez
If you type the Google search term, “flyer art” the first row of images that pops up includes
ROB FLETCHER's poster drawing for a Rocket From The Crypt concert. His drawing style is easy to distinguish among the crowd and is an amalgamation of many influences. East Bay locals may know him as the record-store guy at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, or from his band MUSK, but he's closely connected to this fleeting art form, which he describes as a labor of love.
His upcoming exhibit, "Garbage Day: 20 Years of Flyer Art," will include a zine release, "junk sale," and (among other things), the promise of tiny dogs in stupid costumes. We caught up with Fletcher about his philosophy behind the all-too-important show flyer, something he's very passionate about.
How did you get involved in making flyers? How'd you know you liked or had a gift for drawing?
I've been drawing since I was probably 4 or 5 years old. After-school and summer breaks were spent drawing on my bed. Occasionally I'd stop and play demolition derby with model cars on the basement pool table, but otherwise I was glued to a pad of paper. In high school I made a few flyers for fake bands, but nothing for real shows. My first paid rock art piece was inking Eddie (Iron Maiden's mascot) on a white denim jacket in 7th grade.
I didn't start making flyers until I moved to Phoenix, some time in 1994. Back then it was mostly quick, cut & paste stuff. Once I ended up in Seattle, a few bigger bands gave me either drink tickets or a few bucks and then I started to spend more time drawing these things. I didn't really lock down the illustration work until I had my own band, though. In some ways I feel I started a band just to have an outlet for drawing! It was like the band and it's music was secondary to the art in the early days.
How would you describe your style?
I'm not really sure what the style is, honestly. It's changed a lot over the years. Most of what I do is hard line cartoon-ish illustration work. I'm somewhat obsessed with line quality and the use of negative space on paper and I think that might be what sets these flyers apart. Over the years I've tried to branch out and be more "free" and casual with my work. I'm trying to not be so strict or limiting in my design aesthetic.
When you started noticing flyers, what bands were playing on the bills?
I was in Pittsburgh, PA for school and Jacksonville, FL for a sculpting job. That's when going to shows really took a hold of me. Before I was 19 years old, I had seen probably five shows tops. County Fair and arena like things. Some friends would play thrash and punk covers ineptly in their basements, but there was no touring bands or all ages venues really. Once I moved off to school, I was buying a ton of cassettes and hoarding flyers from the record store's front racks. This was 1990-1993 so the "underground" was swelling to forefront. Sub Pop stuff was big with me — pre-Nirvana blow up. I was way into Mudhoney, Green River, The Fluid, Tad, Love Battery, etc. At one point I was getting called "Sub Rob" because of the amount of the label's tapes I'd amassed.
Around the same time AmRep [Amphetamine Reptile] started rolling out the big guns too. First you'd hear Helmet or the Melvins and then you'd start digging to find gems like The Cows, Unsane, and the Australian stuff. Being a Midwesterner, all the Touch & Go releases were big with me as well. Early, LOUD Flaming Lips too. Jesus, no one could touch them at the top of their game. Never saw many hardcore shows, but the drunk punk noiserockers were killing it at the time. It's funny, but I went to more all-ages shows and basement punk things once I was in my 30's. Creepy old dude hangin' out, trying to be cool.
I notice you have a horror-film, monster motif going on or at least a predisposition for the grotesque. Is this a cliche for punk rock ephemera?
It's just ingrained in me. I ran a video store and have always obsessed over oddball horror and exploitation films. That shit goes hand in hand, really. B-Movies and bands that aren't quite ready for mass consumption. Both are grotesque, rough around the edges, and take an audience with strong stomachs. I was a monster kid, like a lot of folks doing the punk flyer scene. Famous Monsters, Nutty Mad figures, Weirdo's model kits, Rat Fink and so on. It's just a base, silly thing. Grown-ass adults who like to draw veiny eyeballs, pulsating tongues, and human ball sacks. We're like stupid grunting monkeys flinging poo. It may be cliche, but it still feels right. Haha.
Any stand out films or specific concepts that have seeped their way onto flyers you’ve made? I definitely see Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
"The saw is family..." I've got an unnatural obsession with the Ed Gein inspired human skin home furnishings. Movies like Deranged, 3 On A Meathook, TCM and the like. Early Cronenberg bodyhorror epics work their way in. Andy Milligan movies are a huge influence. I Drink Your Blood is the best flick ever made, and has crept into no less than 3 different record sleeves I've designed. I used C.H.U.D. recently. When I'm lazy and have no time to draw, I always turn to old movie 1-sheets and admats. That stuff is golden.
When I look at old flyers from things like Budget Rock, Gonerfest, or even Pork Magazine, it’s like you can judge the book by its cover. You know what you’re getting. You can tell by a flyer that it’s a going to be for a punk show. Is it important to stay within this aesthetic when making a flyer?
There's a certain vibe that gets the right people to jump up and pay attention, sure. You wanna cater to the folks who'll get it. I mean metal flyers tend to look like metal flyers and pop punk shows really have handbills that say - yup, these are pop punk bands. Usually, when you see a flyer with sub-par Art Chantry text blowout and an old Don Post monster mask image stuffed into its boundaries — or whatever — you are aware that it's gonna' be a drunken sloppy rock night. That said, I've still done a few DJ, Industrial dance, and hip-hop bills without really changing my aesthetic much. It's fun to fuck with people's expectations.
What kind of art have you emulated or lifted ideas from? (comics, cartoons, film, paintings, etc.)
Old painted exploitation movie posters. CARtoons magazine— all eras — '50s through the '80s issues. Especially Shawn Kerri's work for them. That was my main influence for everything. Stanley Mouse's monster art even more so than Ed Roth. There's a piece in my show that I drew up sometime during middle school, and it's my take on an old Mouse monster shirt advertisement he had done. It's probably my favorite critter I've ever put to paper. Sadly it's not very original. '50s rubber suit monsters like The Saucer Men. Hi-brow art? I like the obvious folks - Bosch, Magritte, Francis Bacon and that Goya painting of Saturn eating a baby.
1-2-3-4 Go! Records has had flyer shows before. I went to Steve Oriolo's (Yogurt Brain) and really like his style. Both him and Max Nordlie from Violence Creeps consistently produce good visual art to accompany their gigs. Who are some of your favorite flyer artists?
I like their art too. SteveO's runs in the same kinda' realm as my stuff and Max's things are straight up outsider folk art. I really dig Brennan BTMC's work. It's really damaged, blown out scrawl and that seeps of scummy aesthetic. Timmy Vulgar's (Human Eye, Timmy's Organism) flyers are always tops. The posters and prints of FEEDING, mostly for the Iron Lung roster are great. Probably my favorite somewhat contemporary poster maker was Mike Sniper, before he quit to focus on Captured Tracks and Blank Dogs. His watercolor originals are incredible. I actually own a couple. Kinda' wish he'd dump the day job and go back to art — but I doubt that'll happen.
Speaking of exhibits, is there a holy grail of flyer collections that you know of or a good source for collectors?
Not really. There's a few private collectors I know that have huge stockpiles at home, but not anything you can drop by to see or have been busy digitizing. I'm sure there's some good websites out there, like Ryan Richardson's for sale archive, but I'm not too up on the interwebz. I used to go to Gigposters.com a lot in the early 2000s. It's still kickin' and a nice enough place to start.
Punk will always be from the gutter so to speak. Does that have anything to do with the name ‘Garbage Day’? What can you tell us about the zine? Are you looking to fill any type of void or cater to some niche audience?
The name came to me because of that stupid scene in Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 — a film I'm not even sure I've ever made it through! My art is just scraps in the trash to most folks. Art Chantry once called show posters and handbills "instant litter" — and he was right. Someone takes all this time to make them and they serve a purpose for one fleeting moment. Maybe a week, stapled to a tree. Then they get torn down, crumpled and tossed to the curb. It's a thankless task. Hours are spent working on something that — honestly — you could get the point across just as well with some hack computer printed type on a plain white sheet or by making a Facebook invite. Somehow, I feel compelled to do it. It's as important as the music being created as far as I'm concerned.
The zine is just a one off for now. It stems from me searching through my closet, looking for things to sell in a garage sale. I came across so many posters and unfinished layout ideas that I had completely forgotten about. I found one illustration that was turned down for being to sexually explicit, and I barely remember drawing it! It's funny because the bands who said no thanks to it were named after dick cheese and one even had "fuck" in their name. But there it was in my closet, rolled up and lost in a box of trash. I wanted to put together a small collection (like a work portfolio) of my favorite things I've done and their varying styles. And I really like zines.
Doing a proper art show is a tough one for me because — and I explain this more in the zine — as I work on a flyer illustration, I tend to erase my tracks. If I'm hard-line inking the final piece and I screw up something, I stop where I'm at and white it out. Since I work on the final pieces at copy shops almost entirely, I then photocopy it clean and continue the illustration on the printed out piece. Since I'm striving for some sorta' perfection — and I'm far from being perfect - the final art master tends to be 20 percent hand drawn ink and 80 percent xerox. It's been hard to sell or even find good originals, because so few worthy pieces really exist. My keeper copies are photocopies, just like the ones on poles. That's why I felt a zine was a good way to go.
Anything else I should know about the show, your art or music in general?
I've scraped together 8 to 10 originals that are good, hand illustrated, paste-up pieces for display and sale. There's also a few illustration boards for old admats and some sketches I dug up. I've also made these framed transparency overlays of some of the better images and did this acrylic and watercolor backgrounds for them. It's as close to a fine art piece as I can pull off without having to sit down and redraw the damned images again — and I've actually done that before!
I'm working on screen-printing some of my favorite monster stuff right now and I have this offensive Wacky Packages-inspired jab at a certain record label that I'm getting shirts made of this weekend. I'm quite pleased with it. If time allows, I'm hoping to put together this "wall of shame" for the event too. Like an embarrassing collage of really early work. Warts and all — high school folders, notebook pages, awful old attempts at doing things Coop & Hess style. Maybe I'll burn it all in the end?