S. L. Johnson is an artist and graphic designer who works with local radio stations, bands, indie labels, authors, publishers, arts centers and individuals. Her influences run from Saul Bass and Looney Tunes to punk rock flyers & album art; punk and rock & roll fashion; the surrealists Carrington, Fini & Varo; Inuit, Tlingit, Haida and Kawkiutl sculpture and graphic arts; nature—a wide variety. One of her longest running gigs has been for Marko’s Punk Rock Jukebox.
How did you start creating the art for Marko’s Punk Rock Jukebox almost a quarter century(!) ago?
That long ago?! I am not exactly sure, but I believe it started when Marko wanted something to offer as a premium for those folks who donated to WCNI during their fundraising event. I think I created the Punk Rock Guy for that purpose.
What’s your process for reinventing the look each year? Do you brainstorm ideas or do you get requests?
I generally come up with something, but occasionally I get a request. I know Marko and what he likes, so I just go with that. The Sneaker T was brainstormed by my friend Bernie & myself; the Punk Mag rip-off was Marko’s request, I believe. And we often disagree on ideas as some are just overdone, or people just won’t get them. I’m appalled that one absolutely terrible design is the favorite of several people. Just trying to come up with something using the same Punk Rock Guy every time can be a bit frustrating, but it does push me a bit, which is always good.
I do offer various past designs in my online shops, so people can replace a well-worn fave if needed. And I have found some designs online, plagiarized, which sucks.
Plagiarists should suffer warts and eternal itch! What are some of your favourites and why?
The Sneaker and the Punk Mag rip-offs as they are punk rip-offs of punk icons and they’re fun; The Punkfather, especially the poster version which has a slight touch of colour as I made the safety pin red; the 2010 because it’s just kind of random, weird and experimental and almost has an 80s “new wave” vibe to it; and the 50 Punks Can’t Be Wrong (the Elvis album rip off) — the original version had glittery gold jackets, a cheesy take on Elvis’ gold suit, and I think the redux from a year or two ago is decent. Basically, all of them kind of amuse me. And they have to, as ripping off stuff a la punk is pretty much played out and not really a big deal in this age of constant easy plagiarism. The early t-shirts, like the 50 Punks, were done by cutting and pasting photocopies together and then drawing elements in. Those almost look best because they’re really not slick at all.
Is it frustrating if people don’t get the witty cultural references?
Every damn time. So, maybe they’re not so witty! I try to pick something recognizable, or something that might resonate, because in the end it’s to create something people will want to buy and wear and references the Golden Age of Punk — hahaha. And sometimes I massively fail – the Oswald and Mayor Vaughn tees were met with a resounding ‘WTF’ by many, and there are a couple of other clunkers.
For the record, I love the Mayor one! You also do book and CD covers: is the process different?
Oh, definitely. The audience is specific for these t-shirts — fans of Marko’s show/supporters of WCNI. I don’t think anyone would see any of these randomly on a rack and think, “oh yeah, cool, I gotta get this.” It’d certainly be great if they did! There are less choices to be made as they all feature the Punk Rock Guy and are white ink on black shirts. Book & CD covers can involve so many more elements & colours, as well as the various bits to design and also the need to speak to more diverse audiences.
What’s next for you? Any projects on the horizon?
Always — finished 3 illustrations for a new publication from Fox Spirit Books, finishing up stickers for a friend, another Punk Rock Jukebox design to be made for 2020, and let’s see….right on the tip of my brain….oh, yeah! An art show with you — and creating brand new works in a medium new to me. That should be both wonderfully terrifying and very fun!!
It’s going to be awesome!
K. A. Laity is mouthy gadabout.