Punk Rock Satirist Brian Walsby, Still Kicking Ass After All These Years (Part One)
Brian Walsby (with his daughter, Willow) has been creating original art, both visually and musically, for nearly three decades.
Growing up in California on a steady diet of Charles Schultz, Goofus and Gallant, and Mad Magazine, Brain Walsby recognized very early on that he had a unique satirical illustrative knack. Already a fan of heavy metal bands like Motorhead and Judas Priest, when the late '70s and early '80s ushered in the hardcore punk rock movement, he became energized, pouring his energy into countless works ranging from panel-based standard comic fare to the mixed-media cover art for 7 Seconds' Walk Together, Rock Together.
In 1986, his pen pal relationship with Corrosion of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin convinced him to leave California and move to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he still lives. Through fanzines and correspondences with various notables along the subculture's network, he carved out an artistic niche for himself, both in graphic arts and as a drummer in bands including Scared Straight, Wwax (with Superchunk's Mac McCaughan), Snake Nation (with COC members Mike Dean and Woody Weatherman) Polvo, Patty Duke Syndrome (with Ryan Adams), and Double Negative. His illustrative work can be found everywhere, from the pages of Maximumrocknroll and Flipside to some illustrated erotic stories he did for a magazine his Melvins friend Buzz Osborne's wife worked for.
Now 47 years old, he spends much of his time caring for Willow, his two-and-a-half year old daughter, and keeping the artistic ball rolling, putting together five more collections of work under the unified title of Manchild since I met him at the Culture Room in Lauderdale during the Melvins' 2006 show.
He does freelance and merchandise business through his website, maintains a blog, and joined the Melvins once again during the stateside stretch of their tour this year. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Brian recently, and he was gracious enough to grant me an interview.
In the first half of our interview, we discussed topics ranging from fatherhood, work output, and carving out one's legacy.
New Times: What is the first piece of original artwork that you sold? What is the most recent?
Brian Walsby: The first part of this answer is sort of funny. When I was about twelve years old or something, my family went to Sun Valley, Idaho, in the middle of the summer because my father at the time worked for an insurance company called Prudential. I guess they were having some kind of convention up there. I remember sitting in the lobby of this weird-looking Swiss kind of deco hotel and drew stuff and sold it to various people who walked by.
I don't really remember too much else about it other than the fact that it was kind of the equivalent of a little kid selling lemonade on the street. It definitely happened, and I made maybe a few dollars, but I can't for the life of me remember too many details.
A week ago, I sold a drawing I did of Black Flag - in one of their many different lineups -- for fifty dollars, I think.
When not doing tributary or satirical work, much of Brian's artistic output is autobiographical in nature.
On a day you've set aside for drawing, how many pieces -- on average -- can you do?
I have been in a lucky situation since last summer because I haven't had a full time "real" job or at least a situation like that. Between the work I did last year, in addition to whatever freelancing I can get, and spending two nights a week at the Whole Foods I used to work at, I get by, but it's a roller coaster ride. There is no security in it, and when things are happening, it is great. But when work is scarce it is pretty scary. Anyone who does this kind of stuff can tell you.
So depending on all of those factors and adding in the time I spend with Willow and sometimes her older brother Noble, I can have a pretty productive day. If I am not doing any special project, I usually will sit and do a lot of short pieces and then I throw them up on my Facebook page. Some days, I have cranked out thirteen drawings. Most of the time it is less than that. And also the real projects are obviously more time consuming. So it all just depends.
I've seen you work with just a magic marker in person to awesome and blistering-quick effect, but I know you work with multiple mediums (your Walk Together, Rock Together cover, for instance). What mediums do you use, what is your favorite and which ones do you feel yourself gravitating towards as your art evolves.
For most stuff, it is just ink on Bristol board or some comic book type paper that I get from a local art shop in town. A lot of the quickies are done on generic eight by eleven regular paper.
On all of the posters that I sell when I am working for the Melvins, it's a different story, and sort of funny. I just go to a Walmart or a similar kind of place and stock up on cheap poster paper with a gloss and get some sharpies and Crayola colored markers, and that is pretty much it! It's extremely cheap, looks fine and is sort of funny because what I actually spend to get a decent amount of supplies is pretty much nothing. Selling just one of those posters is getting my investment back in just that.
In the past, I have done a few different things, like work with watercolor colored pencils and I had a phase where I tried my hand at painting, but I really wasn't painting. I was just doing bigger versions of what I already do with varied results. I was never really too good of a painter and realized I had little interest in it. I mainly stick with Bristol board and ink. I think one of the main reasons is it's something I can do that takes up almost no real space and I can pretty much pack up and go anywhere. That part of it is very appealing to me.
Seldom can artists of any kind rely solely on their life's passion to monetarily sustain them and the things they love, and often they are required to work a "day job" to bolster their income.
On that note, what's the worst "day job" you've ever worked, the greatest?
Every job I have ever had ended up being the worst job because I end up always having a really poor attitude towards it eventually. I have always viewed a job as something to pay the bills while you try and devote the rest of the time to what you really want to do. That is a hard attitude to hold onto when you get older, especially for me now. I will say that not too long ago, I worked for a year at a Trader Joe's and I was hired as a sign maker.
Initially, I was thrilled and figured I could pick up on things quickly, but eventually it turned into sort of a disaster. There were two other employees of that department who had all kinds of real art training but it seemed that we were always pressured for time because we had to work the registers as well as meeting these deadlines for all of these fucking signs and other stupid shit that we were expected to do. The woman that hired me and ran the store was impossible to please and contradicted herself constantly. She had the personality of an evil and smart cheerleader. I haven't been in that store ever since.
Some of Brian's more bizarre work hints at his continual evolution as an artist.
I am not a good fit for that stuff. I am not good at lying or sucking up to people and that is generally what you have to do if you want to excel at most places like that. I am not good at playing the game and it never seems to be about working hard, only about metaphorically sucking someone's dick. You would think I would have learned my place by now, but through sheer terror, I have learned how to hustle quite a bit outside of the realms of holding a regular job. I have more faith in my own abilities to make some sort of income than I do in having a golden future somewhere else.
You have a daughter now, Willow. How old is she? Tell me about some of the things in your life that have changed, personally and professionally, since she entered your life.
Willow is now about two years and five months old. A lot has changed. For starters, her mother and I are no longer together. We are just parents to our daughter and do the best we can for her. I live really close by, which helps quite a bit. People breaking up is of course nothing new, but the stakes were pretty high for this last one, and to be honest, I don't have a great history with the majority of the relationships I have had over the years, so what is the most important thing to me right now is to sort of live a simple life of someone who isn't a liar, someone who will trust their feelings, stuff like that. I don't know if that is going to make too much sense without further explanation but I think you know what I mean.
I have also realized that I need to learn how to be more patient with things, especially myself really. That has been kind of tough to do but so far so good. Another important thing is the realization that at this point, I can only be myself and that is it, with no apologies to anyone. Most importantly, Miss Willow is a beautiful little girl and I truly love my daughter. There have been a lot of challenges and readjustments in having her in my life; it really simplifies things quite a bit. You just take it one day at a time. There are sacrifices of course but when she runs into my arms when I greet her... Well, you can't really put a price on that. It's pretty cool.
Professionally, I guess the only thing that really changed was the good fortune of falling into working for my friends, the Melvins, more steadily. It has been amazing and nothing I take for granted. It is a really twisted almost subversive way to make a living, very strange for sure.
It took 20 years for your first compendium, Manchild: A Celebration of Twenty Years of Doodles, to come out. Since then, you've churned out five more books. Are you consciously working at cultivating a legacy or was it just a matter of, "shit... I've got all these piece laying around... Might as well bind 'em and try to sell them..."?
It was more of a combination of both. When I had the opportunity to put out the first book it was more of what you had said. I have all of this stuff lying around, so let's see what will fit in here, what I can cram in here that I actually like. With the books two through five, the reason they came out was because I became friends with Charles Cardello of Bifocal Media fame. We did a lot of stuff together and the end results were those books as well as some T-shirts and other things. The last book was put out by Will Butler, another guy who lives around here and he has a record label called To Live a Lie Records.
I have been really lucky in finding people that have wanted to do these projects. I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to have one book of my stuff come out, and now I have six. That is a good feeling. I don't think I was trying to think ahead of myself in regards to any kind of legacy, I just had the opportunity to be able to do this, especially when I was working with Charles.
Since Willow has come into the picture, I stopped having as much time to be self-indulgent, at least for a little while. And also, I feel like I have exhausted most of what I have done subject matter wise so in the back of my mind I think about doing something completely different if there is going to be a new book. Nothing has really hit me yet; I haven't done too many cartoons lately, mostly single panel -- if you can call it that -- drawings and illustrations.
Part 2 of this interview will be on County Grind tomorrow.
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