I first came across Brian Walsby’s comics back in the 1980’s in the pages of Flipside. Initially, you look at his stuff, and think “OK, here’s a nice light-hearted cartoon,” but his work is drenched in real-life. Not to say they’re not funny. In the same way Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, gave you humor in his strips, he never backed away from occasionally slapping you with a message. Well, Brian does this, but it’s different . . . it’s a back-handed punk slap.
And so that no one thinks I’m overlooking his other talent, Brian is also a hell of a drummer. Now read on:
1. First off, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I’ve been a huge fan for years. You often include other cartoon characters (especially Charlie Brown and Snoopy) in your work. Which well-known cartoonists most influenced you, and have you ever been told by cartoonists to stop using their characters?
Brian: No problem with the interview, I like doing them a lot.
I don’t think I have ever made enough waves or been in the right place (or the wrong place) enough for anybody to really notice the amount of ripping off I have done of other people’s work. In almost all cases it is a tribute to them though. And those people would be Charles Schultz, most of the folks who wrote and drew for Mad Magazine in the late sixties and bulk of the seventies, and then later people like Crumb and Harvey Pekar followed by Peter Bagge and folks like that. I can’t also forget people like Raymond Pettibone and (yes) even Pushead, because through those guys, I was able to see that it was okay for me to draw (even if it wasn’t very good) and try and find my voice. Punk Rock sort of helped me fine some start in having a voice. I will always be grateful because of that. I am sure I am leaving some people out but there you go.
2. Your stories are often autobiographical, including relationship issues, and arguments with friends, and you don’t shy away from identifying people by their real names (Pushead, In-Laws, and 7 Seconds.) Have you ever gotten into trouble with people because of this, and is there anything you consider to be off-limits?
Brian: Well..sure. I have had my share of awkward moments because of that. As far as some of the examples that you listed: I have never heard back from Pushead at all. I am certain that I wouldn’t have been worth the time har har yuk yuk! You have to remember that all happened a billion years ago. I don’t know what he could say about it, as he was a jerk to me for no reason whatsoever. He was a established artist who could really do some great stuff, and I could barely draw, if you want to call it that. Even if you don’t like what made him famous, there is no denying it is good stuff, and yet somehow (according to the late Tim Yohannon, based on what he told me) I was competition to him. I never understood that at all, he never explained what had made him so hot and bothered. I guess he was riding the ego train and apparently plenty of other people have said that stuff to me about him so whatever. A lot of people are sort of serious and a little uptight. But that stuff is also old news. Even when I have vented against people with somewhat of a malicious intent I really don’t think that I have said anything mean or really terrible about them. I am not drawing cartoons about wishing how certain people would get cancer or something. Its nothing like that. Sometimes the truth hurts.
What is off limits? Well, I was married a few years ago to a girl named Jennifer, and when that relationship fell apart, I got through it by venting a lot in some really probably crappy cartoons. Then I tore them up and threw them away so that I wouldn’t be tempted to run them later when I felt better, which is something I would probably have done I am sure! The world doesn’t need to know my every single thought. And you know..there is a thin line between being honest and self pitying garbage.
My girlfriends parents mean well but they are nuts. Flannery O Connor couldn’t have made up the garbage they put their daughter through. They are harmless yet very destructive people and for my well being, I had to vent in a cartoon about the black cloud that they carry around with them. This was an occasion where nothing was off limits. The cartoon about them might seem cruel if you read it but there is no chance that they will ever see it unless it is shoved in front of their faces and that isn’t going to happen. I am sure dealing with crazy family stuff is nothing new to most people.
3. Are you an artist that drums, or a drummer that draws?
Brian: Either one is fine with me. I used to think that one was more important than the other but they are both essential to my sanity.
4. Who is Double Negative, and what’s next for the band?
Brian: Double Negative is:
Kevin Collins: vocals
Scott Williams: guitar
Justin Gray: bass
Brian Walsby: drums
We have been a band for over four years, going on five. We have two albums out, a single and assorted songs on compilation and split singles. We do the band when we can, more or less making time to do it. I think because we haven’t been in a position to try and make it our number one priority it has worked out to our advantage. Our new record, “Daydreamnation” has been received very well by a lot of people. We are going to go to Europe for a week in late September and then the plan is to try and arrange a springtime tour of the United States and write some new material. We all value the band a lot. It is a great outlet for us four weirdos.
5. Please, give us the history behind your popular Manchild series.
Brian: Are they popular? I have no idea really…I think some people like them but the audience I have tends to be on the smallish side. They have gotten out there, and that is something that I am proud of. More or less because I never thought that I would be able to put out a comic book style anthology of my cartoons and now I have four out with a fifth one on the way at the end of the year.
A fellow named Matt Owens put out the first one, and then my friend Charles Cardello put out the next three. He is doing the fifth one too. There isn’t a lot of history behind them other then they all started to come out like five years ago…maybe more? Probably more. I have been very lucky to have them under my belt. I can’t say with hindsight that I like everything that I have put in these books but I do like the fact that they exist.
I rarely encounter any “fans” except for when I go out on tour with the Melvins. My association with them has certainly not hurt. I meet a lot of people through their audience that seem to really like what I do and I am pretty happy about that. Like I always say to people, no one has to care, or take the time to say that they like what you do so you know I appreciate that.
6. Were there any punk rock cartoonists that you found influential, or admired?
Well, I already mentioned Raymond Pettibone, who I still think is awesome and I did like Pushead. I think you could add a few other people that I used to see a lot in mostly Flipside magazine. Dennis Worden drew Stickboy and I always liked his stuff. Vince Ransid. Shawn Kerri. Mad Marc Rude. Those folks. Some of why I liked them was because it was work by newer people and it was filtered through the punk rock underground.
7. A lot of your comics deal with your day job working in some type of customer service. Does this help inspire your comics?
Brian: Sure. I have worked all manner of retail, from working in a record store to working in a used book store. I suppose it is up to your attitude about these things, and mine has usually been pretty negative! It did give me some ideas for some cartoons. I work at a Trader Joe’s currently as a signmaker that has to work the register some of the time. It is what it is. A little bit of what I try and say about these situations is that even if I inevitably have to admit that I need this job desperately, I still can’t help but feel that I could do better. I think most people deal with that reality and that sort of hope in their lives.
8. You were in band with Ryan Adams called the Patty Duke Syndrome. When was the last time you saw, or spoke to him?
Brian: I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw Ryan, but I have spoken to him over the phone fairly recently. Me, and Ryan always had sort of a love/hate relationship, but it was nice to finally patch things up because that had always bugged me. It might sound corny to say this, but we really did have a good rapport in the Patty Duke Syndrome years ago, and I always wanted to continue that somehow. There is always this threat of us either doing something, or him using some of that music that we made that to this very day, I still like. Nothing ever comes of these plans, but that is okay. He recently said some very nice things about Double Negative which got us a wee bit of attention, and that was very nice of him.
9. Care to explain the nickname Reluctant King?
Brian: There is a woman named Karen A Mann that lives here in Raleigh and she has a history of playing music and also writing about it. She used to write for one of the weeklies here in town and now she has a blog and really keeps up with music. Anyways, she one time wrote an article about me and titled it “The Reluctant King” about how I was king of the scene but refused to pick up the crown or something like that. I was always a pretender to that throne anyways..it was sort of funny so for some stupid reason I decided to perpetuate that nickname against my better judgment and now look. A joke that got carried away.
10. When is your first memory of drawing, and what was it that you drew?
Brian: I seem to remember drawing the zodiac signs at a very early age!
11. When did you start playing the drums?
Brian: I guess it was the first year of going to high school. Tenth grade. Before that I had spent years hitting paint cans with chopsticks and things like that. I remember being amazed when I got behind a real drum kit that I seemed to be able to do it fairly easily. I suppose I learned from copying records and stuff like that and eventually by the time I was able to play with people I was decent.
12. Who was Scared Straight?
Brian: Five young dudes mainly from Simi Valley California. It was the first band that I played in that did anything. We toured a few times and put out a single on Mystic Records. This was around the end of 1984 going into 1985. We seemed to have done a lot of stuff in a really short amount of time and it was a lot of fun. Touring the country for your first time, having that first taste of freedom..it was awesome. I quit the band to hang out on the East Coast but still was friends with them and did another tour filling in for their new drummer that replaced me. I moved to Raleigh in early 1986 and I think they kept going for a little while before splintering off into Ten Foot Pole and then Pulley afterwards when Scott Radinsky was fired from Ten Foot Pole. I still talk to Scott every once in awhile.
I have ran into kids that love that record, people that weren’t even born when we did that thing. Interesting, to say the least!
13. Who were, and are your influences, musically and personally?
Brian: I usually give a flippant answer because it is hard to narrow it all down. I have listened to music since I was a little kid and got really into it. I started out with the usual mid seventies rock bands like Kiss. They were my introduction to rock music. What little kid could resist them? Eventually I heard Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, UFO, and Queen. Queen especially blew me away with their “A Night At The Opera” album. Later on there came Van Halen, Led Zeppelin and all of the rest of that stuff. Around 1979 I heard some of what was known to be punk rock and a few years later I gravitated towards Black Flag. The rest is punk rock history.
I spent several years digging all of that stuff. I liked hard rock and heavy metal before punk rock so to me it was just more cool music to get into but there was something way more “hands on” and special about bands like Adolescents, TSOL, Minutemen, Saccherine Trust and hundreds of others. Those bands were literally in my backyard and there were tons of others across the country and all over the world.
After I burned out on hardcore by the time I moved out to the East Coast, I was able to go back and listen to all of the other weird rock music that I had missed and all of the post hardcore greats that were to come….Scratch Acid, Sonic Youth, Honor Role and of course the Melvins. And it just keeps on coming to this day. There is of course, not as much stuff that I am impressed with these days and seeking out new tunes (or even having the free time to do so) is less of a need for me but there is always somebody new that I hear about that kicks my ass eventually. It is just not as frequent.
This week I am listening to the first Fleetwood Mac album, the one where Peter Green was the band’s leader. They were a blues band that had some grit to them. And I have been listening to this totally obscure band from Lincoln Nebraska from the mid eighties called Power Of The Spoken Word. They are a demented band that were really ahead of their time. Who knows what I will be listening to next week…
My Uncle Michael was a gigantic influence on me as a kid because his weirdness sort of pushed me into gravitating towards weird things. I will always hold him responsible. It is his fault. I think I am also ultimately influenced by anyone who works hard at whatever it is that they do. I think you can be inspired and influenced by a hard working farmer, not just a rock musician or a good writer or whatever.
14. When was the first time you were paid for your art, and what was it you drew?
Brian: Oh man….what could it have been? Oh I remember; I used to draw pictures on the quad of my high school of rock musicians for a dollar or so during lunchtime. I am pretty sure that is the first time that had happened.
15. A lot has been made of recording for Mystic Records, and Doug Moody himself. What was your experience?
Brian: Doug Moody and Mystic Records had their headquarters off of Selma Ave in Hollywood-right next to the Cathay De Grande. He was an interesting character. I still have no idea to this day what seemed to be so appealing to this MUCH OLDER British man that he would want to start a record label with his own studio and put out mostly generic sounding poorly recorded (for the most part) hardcore punk rock music. I could never figure that out. For the most part, it was fine. What was there to really complain about? Scared Straight wasn’t a great band. We didn’t have record labels beating down our doors to sign us. We didn’t or couldn’t even self release any of our stuff. To be honest we were just another band that played hardcore punk rock. Nothing special. Mystic Records and Doug Moody obviously weren’t very picky! We got free copies of our record to sell on tour for money, we got our free copies to have for ourselves. We were thrilled that we were on a record! I don’t think any of us felt that we were involved in some money making venture with Doug Moody. I also don’t think that he made tens of thousands of dollars off of Scared Straight. Maybe I am just really naive, but I have a hard time believing that he was depositing a “cool million” in the bank due to Dr. Know and RKL records. I could be wrong. Its more old news now. Who cares?
Doug is still alive, by the way. I think he has to be at least seventy years old! I wonder if he has stayed hidden all of these years to avoid getting a beat down from a bunch of forty plus year old punk rockers who just can’t get over it?
16. I really enjoy your history of SST strips, and the strip of punk front men, Ian, HR, etc. What new strips do you have in the works?
Brian: Nothing except for some assorted strips that are going to pad some of MANCHILD, which is like an oral history of Raleigh North Carolina in the eighties, stuff that happened four years before I showed up here and a few years afterwards. It was an exciting time and a lot of great music came out of these parts, not just Corrosion Of Conformity. Raleigh had what I think of as being a really tight knit open minded sort of music scene here, and besides me talking to a lot of people that were there, these cartoon strips are going to be about how I ended up here, what I thought, watching COC play a really bad show where they were really mad at each other, and other assorted subjects that go hand in hand with the contents. I hopefully will be doing some assorted freelance work, maybe some t-shirt designs.
17. How did you hook up with 7 Seconds and end up doing the cover art for them?
Brian: I wrote letters to Kevin. I had heard some of their earlier stuff and loved it. 7 Seconds were for sure one of my favorite bands when I was first getting into punk rock. Eventually I had mailed Kevin some drawings that ended up being used in first the insert of “The Crew” and then later on with the cover art for “Walk Together, Rock Together”. I eventually met all of them and they were all super nice guys.
I had a pretty awkward fallout with the band over artwork rights, or lack thereof. It was pretty lame on both sides and it was hard to get over for me. I felt like I was burned by them, even though I did just give it to them. I felt like they had no conscience. I am sure that they felt like I was some asshole. Oh well, old news. I still like those old records and have good memories of those times.
18. How did you meet the Melvins?
Brian: I think it was the summer of 1986, they came through and played a show that really was a lot of fun. A lot of people left and didn’t dig them but I knew I was seeing something really special. We have stayed friends afterwards throughout all of these years. I don’t know what to say about them since everyone knows how much I think of them both as a band and as people. Dale is a great guy and a huge influence on me personally as a drummer. And it couldn’t happen without Buzz, someone that seems to have three brains going at once, someone that has truly thought things through. They are some of the only people that continue to help me out and I appreciate them, their band and their friendship more now than ever. Some of the last good guys standing that is for sure. I think that the reason that they elicit such a response from people is that they stand up for the underdog. That is my recent theory about them.
19. Did you really move from California to North Carolina because of Corrosion of Conformity?
Brian: I think that you could say that. Sure..why not? But it was also because of the punk rock letter writing thing that was going on. It was like another world that really connected you with all kinds of people, and some of those people were those guys. I really fell in love with the band and what they were doing and eventually their town and all of their friends and so on and so on. Plus, I was really young, like nineteen or barely twenty. I didn’t think so at the time but looking back it was sort of a courageous move to re-locate three thousand miles away from your family. Especially the part about leaving beautiful Southern California to end up in Mayberry North Carolina!
I know a lot of people from here that now live out there. I think they are having a neat experience getting used to Los Angeles but honestly it is probably a foreign thing to me cause the Southern California that I grew up in looks and seems a lot different then what I remembered.
20. Our last question, rather than complain about the current state of punk rock, my question to you is: do you find it strange or maybe amusing how incredibly accepted punk is now?
Brian: Sure. This is a loaded question in a way because no matter how you can answer it, you can’t win. I find it very strange and for sure amusing to say the least! I still feel pretty comfortable playing music to punk rockers in the punk rock world but what can I say? I don’t have a long list of complaints about punk rock today and I don’t really care what people say or do in regards to all of that. The only thing that I think is funny is how surprised people get, or how protective they get. Did you really think this stuff wasn’t going to be commercialized and co opted? It has always happened to every single rebel idea or counter cultural movement. Why did people think it wouldn’t happen to punk rock? Is it really that big of a surprise?
But having said that, there will always be people doing that stuff, no matter how strange or amusing it will be.