Monday, March 14, 2016

Steve Munsell/Contagious Graphics Article, August 1996 Issue

Designing Men
by Cindy Sites
August, 1996 volume 1, number 12
Steve Munsell started working with graphics about eight years ago. “I wanted to do a punk rock fanzine,” he says. Hoping he could learn to keep expenses down, Munsell took a graphics class. He did the ’zine, and as he puts it, “now here I am.” Indeed he is — you can’t drive two blocks without seeing his work decorating cars, telephone poles or store windows. The Üblisch stickers have to be the most successful sticker campaign by any local band.
Munsell claims to have “no talent” for drawing, though he admits, “I have a good eye for assembling clip art.” His work spans from unusual typefaces (on the Üblisch and assfactor 4 stickers) to what he calls “’50s pop art posters.” These larger, multicolor poster versions of some of his flyers are simply gorgeous.
Munsell likes to use cartoon figures with thought balloons, and other weird images (devils, motorcycles, 18-wheelers). A poster he did for a Buzzov-en show features a neon-colored astronaut blowing his brains out with a raygun. Seeing examples of his work here in black-and-white can’t do justice to the originals.
Despite his distinctive style, Munsell says the most important quality of a design is “legibility. I think [graphic art] should be for the common people, not the artistic crowd.”
Speaking of ornate designs, why have flyers in Charlotte gotten so much fancier in the last few years? “It’s all due to the age of the home computer,” Munsell believes. “I think it helps to be more eye-pleasing, but when someone does something simpler, people don’t notice the difference.” A delicate balance must be struck between artistry and practicality.
Aside from designing and printing, Munsell also does some distribution. He’s got a scheme for handing out flyers: “I always go, ‘Ah, would you like a free sheet of paper advertising my band?’” Anyone who’s ever handed out flyers knows that a lot of people are reluctant to accept them. Munsell comments on “the funny stuff people say … I think mostly people just say, ‘I’ve already got one.’” Once, a guy who Munsell had given a flyer gave the flyer back to him later that night, using the same “free sheet of paper” line.
Of all his different types of work — t-shirts, stickers, flyers, posters and newspaper ads — he usually enjoys doing t-shirts the most, “because you have more room to work with, you can have a bigger image. Flyers too, because they can be really funny” (i.e. the aforementioned cartoon characters, devils and suicidal astronauts).
T-shirts must be fun, because Munsell wants to start doing his own line of them in the future.
Nosey as the question is, one has to wonder if freelance graphic design is something a person could make a living at in Charlotte. “The whole printing business is feast or famine … you can make a living at it, but sometimes it’s hard. There are short spells and tall spells,” Munsell admits. He recently got a steady-paying job doing the same things he does on his own.
Devin Thompson got his start in graphic design about three years ago, when he and some friends started throwing parties in an 8th Street warehouse. “When we started throwing parties there [I did flyers], and I had help from other people who lived there,” he says. “Victor at Kinko’s taught me a lot on the computer.”
About that computer — Thompson has a preference. “Macintosh is much better for graphics, when you get a fast one.” His most useful tool is a SyQuest portable hard drive, “which makes things super easy,” he says. He loads his software into the SyQuest. “I like manipulating artwork,” he says, so computers are important to his work. He admits, “I’m not a very good artist with a pen, but with a computer it’s different.”
His work has expanded from party flyers, to flyers for club shows, ads for clubs, membership cards and tickets. He gets ideas for his work from “feedback from people. Jody [Baha owner] has helped me a lot,” Thompson says.
Thompson, like Munsell, considers readability the most important factor in flyer design. “It’s pretty much worthless to put up a flyer that nobody can read,” he asserts. “Sometimes the most simple flyers are the best ones … Electro-luxe’s flyers have simple letters. Simple things are eye-catching,” Thompson says.
That said, he does believe the art on a flyer is important, which is obvious from looking at his ominous work. “It definitely helps to have an eye-catching, two-color flyer,” he says. As for paper stock, Thompson has found that “thin paper is a real turn-off.” A good quality flyer, he believes, can be folded up, stuck in a pocket and survive a couple of runs through the washer and dryer.
Thompson does most of his own flyer distribution. “There are some people who don’t want to be bothered. I just walk up and say, ‘Here, put this in your pocket,’” he says.
As for his other work, his ads for the Baha and Pterodactyl clubs can be found in local entertainment papers. You might run across one of Thompson’s Septic Tank stickers or t-shirts.
When asked about his favorite kind of graphics to work on, Thompson jokingly replies, “I guess driver’s licenses, social security cards and birth certificates are my favorite. It’s amazing how well a 600 dpi color printer prints.” (It's a joke.)
Thompson’s future may include tape and CD covers. As for other plans? “I’m pretty much open to anything. I don’t have anything particular in mind. I’d like to get more practice with four-color separation. I’d like to do some rave flyers … I’ll do anything, unless it’s a Christian organization.” His ominous style isn’t exactly holy.
Jeff Clayton says he started drawing “as soon as I could pick up a pen or pencil and know kinda what to do with it.” Unlike Munsell and Thompson, Clayton draws his work by hand. “I’ve never used a computer. I don’t know how to use a computer. I don’t know when I’ll learn, either,” he laughs.
Though Clayton does a lot of Antiseen’s art, he does hire other artists. “I hired an artist named Krites, who did some work on our CD that’s not out yet. Nick Boogas, who also gets hired by Charles Manson and Anton LaVey; a guy named Chas Bally — these guys, their art I admire a whole lot, even if people say it looks like what I do. I guess that’s why I like ‘em, ‘cause we’re kinda doing the same thing, even though I think these guys are a lot better. I think I’ve got a lot to learn from these guys,” Clayton says.
As for the famous Antiseen logo: “A friend of mine typeset that for me a long time ago, and we’ve used it ever since. I like it because it’s bold, easy to read, unlike a lot of these death metal groups, that you’ve got to hold it back, turn it upside down,” chuckles Clayton.
Clayton’s done art for G.G. Allin, Cotton Noose, Rancid Vat, Jesus Crust, Alcoholics Unanimous, Knifedance, Seducer — “a lot more, over the years,” Clayton says. Obviously, he thinks band art is important. “It says a lot. There are groups who put abstract paintings on them, and I guess a certain crowd understands and appreciates that, but I would never pick it up … but somebody’s head exploding or something, I would look at. That’s just me. I’m also a fan of having the band on the cover. That doesn’t happen a lot anymore. In the ’60s and ’70s, the group was always on the front. That’s why we’re always on the front,” says Clayton.
In addition to record covers, Clayton has designed t-shirts, CD covers and posters. “I really don’t have the time to do it full time, or I would. I really enjoy it. The groups I work for, everything they ask for is right up my alley,” he enthuses. “A local group called the Reviled asked for a boar, a goat and a hyena holding guns and stuff, and I said, ‘I can do that. That sounds like something I’d like to do.’ ...[other bands] have just said, ‘Go, whatever you want to do.’ But I have to tell ‘em I don’t do realistic, portrait, airbrush-looking stuff. I tried that when I was still discovering what I’m best suited for. Regular black-and-white, pen-and-ink style is what I’ve done for years,” he says.
Clayton's influences aren't hard to spot. “I was real influenced by the old cartoons, ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. Merry Melodies, Harmon and Isling; as a matter of fact the Repo Man [in Repo ads] is a direct rip-off — the eyes, mouth, white gloves. I love that stuff. I appreciate the new stuff, but it kinda gets out of my realm of understanding. I’ve also designed a lot of tattoos for people, I design a lot of my own.” He shows his newest tattoo, a black-ink cartoon worm with spilling guts and bug-eyes. Clayton adds that underground comic artist R. Crumb is a huge influence on his work.
“I like doing covers for albums that have a general theme and they want something that’ll connect with the title," Clayton continues. "Especially when I sit with whoever it is and we bounce off ideas, kinda out-sicken each other … I like sick characters, physically sick-looking … not over-the-top gore. I’ve done a lot of that, people ask for it. I think the one picture I’ve drawn that’s been used the most was the first thing I did for G.G. Allin. He had a microphone stuck up his butt and he was getting ready to eat into a giant pile of shit. That one’s been used a lot, it’s still being used to this day … after he died it really got into circulation. I gave him the original, but I have the right to reproduce it if I want to. I’ve seen a lot of kids with it on the back of their jackets,” Clayton says.
For ideas, Clayton says, “I watch a lot of horror movies, a lot of wrestling, the exact same sources we get our songs from: cartoons, horror movies, wrestling, Nick at Nite. I watch that continuously. The TV never gets cut off in our house.”
It seems that not many women seem to do graphic design, at least in Charlotte. Clayton remembers that “back at the start of the American hardcore movement, there was a woman named Shawn Carrey, she was great. She was a real influence on a lot of the stuff I’ve done. She did a lot of band logos and record covers that are deemed classics, like the Circle Jerks’ little skanker guy.”
Reactions to Clayton’s work vary. “It’s definitely geared to a certain audience. It’s hand-in-hand with what I do musically; it’s definitely aimed at that crowd. I just don’t do anything slick and high-tech enough to appeal to a mass audience. It’s real underground.” Like Antiseen, though, it’s safe to say that Clayton’s art is legendary.
The next time you’re out at a club, take the flyer that’s offered to you. Look at it closely. The same goes for those ads, stickers and t-shirts. It’s among the best art in Charlotte, and you don’t have to be an art snob to appreciate it.

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