by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
one of the great things about early punk was the experimentation. the punk explosion that happened nearly all over the world within a couple of months, yes, it was that fast) broke the pop culture mold wide open. nobody really knew what was going to happen or what was cool or uncool (except hippies. everybody knew they were UNcool.)
if you think back to those heady days of the late 70′s, the amazing performers and enormously varied music styles and trends and weird ass ideas were the stuff of legend (anybody remember klaus nomi? any level of taste or sophistication or competence was perfectly acceptable. the sky was the limit. anything was suddenly possible. i’m running out of cliches, here. but it was the reality of that moment in time.
the same thing was true for the graphic design of that era. where before there was standardization of taste and style was so homogenous that it bordered on sterility. then, wham! it was all tossed out the window and everythign got a chance to be seen and heard. everything.
so, when i go back and research old punk graphics, i’m constantly surprised, even stunned, by the work i find. the kids out there went out and experimented in spades. literally anything was fair game. whether it actually worked well or survived beyond a brief burp was not relivant. all that mattered was trying it out. all that mattered was “freshness” – new and untried and unseen.
one of the many ideas you’d find out there that seemed to survive for a short period of time was simply using cheap common available systems for design that were previously shunned or snubbed as “tacky, stupid,or childish”. these sytsems were crude and textural int he extreme. systems as common as quick-print and xerox and mimeograph and desk-top toy silkscreen kits were the only affordable way to DIY the printing. i once saw a poster that been printed with POTATO STAMPS! when you started to literally mix up these crummy processes, anything could happen. i have found posters that have rubber stamping, silkscreen, xerox and even things glued on the surface – all on the same poster!
typsetting was extremley expensive by punk street standards. you actually had to go to a type shop and PAY somebody to set the copy for your poster – that could be as much as $15! that was more than your whole promtion budget for the show (no exaggeration.) so, alternate available systems of type generation became necessary.
anything that was free became usable. handwriting and labored letter-drawing became ubiquitous. also easily available were discarded used sheets of presstype (‘transfer lettering’) and things like label maker guns and letters cut out of magazines and books. it was open season on whatever you could think of.
it all worked so beautifully, the very fact that none of it looked ‘professional’ was enough to make it stand out like a giant sore thumb. in a world of disco chrome lettering and star wars heavy metal overdrawn logos and slick full color finely crafted advertising ‘rock world’ styles (airbrush anyone?), these cra
little images literally shocked people into violence. average folks would actually attack this stuff and rip it to shreds.
it actually happened to my first punk poster. within 24 hours, every single copy had been ripped from the walls and shredded on the ground. it’s extremely hard to imagine anything causing a reaction like that today.
this little poster i show you is all done with a child’s rubber stamp kit. you can still buy these things for under a dollar. instant typesetting! i’ve seen this appraoch used many tiems over the years in professional circles – record covers, book covers, etc. but, always in an editorial cultural sort of way as a sort of “illustrated typography”. the idea that anybody would actually tackle an entire poster this way was is crazy. it was stupid. it’s like cutting off your fingers and then trying to draw.
the guy who did this poster is named steve ahlbom. he lived in the same apartment building in bellingham, washington, as me back when i was a student at western washington state college up there 100 miles north of seattle. steve had connections to the san francisco punk scene (he knew penelope houston of the avengers, for instance). so, he always had all the latest punk 45′s. he was the guy who actually introduced me to early dangerhouse 45′s like devo, the avengers and X. then he turned me on to the ramones and television. i took it from there.
steve was a savvy design student even back then. but, he was bitten by the punk bug and eventually started singing in the band “the debbies” (along with eventual music historian peter blecha). when they got to open for british punk stalwarts FINGERPRINTZ, he jumped on the poster design. this was his result. (the other interesting band in this bill was Pink Section, whose guitarist, matt heckert, later became a member of survival research laboratories.)
years later in life, long after he discarded his punk record collection, steve became a rather prominent graphic designer in the seattle area, working for graphic design guru, tim girvin. that shop was and is one of the most professional and successful and profitable design groups in the history of the region. no contest. few know of his origins.
old punks show up in the most amazing places. for instance, gillian anderson of the x-files was a big butthole surfers hanger-on. you just never know where an old punk will pop up. did you know that patrick coyne, editor of CA (commercial arts) magazine used to be the drummer in a punk band called “idiot”? they played at the fab mabuhay gardens! no joke.
old punks are really sneaky that way.