The Austin Chronicle

I'm Sorry, Yogi

By Raoul Hernandez, September 12, 1997, Music

Like it or not, Frank Kozik is legend. If he never draws another red devil bitch with big tits announcing a Godbullies/Hole show at Club Soda (wherever that is), or a zombied-out Nazi clown saluting a spoken-word event at the Dobie Cinema, he'd still be legend. And legend has it that Kozik is a prick; a two-bit punk with bad manners. At least that's what some in the local music community will rant and rave given the right opportunity, and when were they ever spiteful of success? Success never equaled selling out, right? No, 'course not. Not in Austin.

So, maybe they didn't like his posters.

Kozik's Sebadoh posterMy favorite has to be the Sebadoh poster in which Boo-Boo Bear, his teddy-bear sincerity lit by the moon, is looking up at a figure nailed on a cross. In his book The Posters & Art of Frank Kozik, the poster artist has a three-word analysis of the image: "I'm sorry, Yogi..." Remember that cartoon voice? Why, why that's sacrilege! Kozik has raped our collective cartoon consciousness. And what about that Butthole Surfers/Bad Livers New Year's Eve poster in which bondage babe Betty Rubble is frenching Wilma Flintstone (also a mural down at your friendly, neighborhood punk club, Emo's)? Why it's perverted! Depraved! Bad taste, even!

And what's with all the Nazi symbolism (war imagery is a Kozik staple), and all those portraits of charming Charlie Manson; The Jesus Lizard/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion posters featuring Walter Keane-ish renditions of Adolf Hitler and Manson with captions that read "The Father" and "The Son," respectively. Nice. And Kennedy being blown away or Lee Harvey Oswald singing for Helmet and L7 (Donita Sparks undoubtedly loved that one). Beheadings, butchered bunnies (lots of other dead rodents), beautiful sunshine children with prosthetic limbs. What would mom say?

"Some people think it's the greatest fucking pop art deconstructionist cultural trip in the world, " says Kozik frankly -- Frank is always frank. "Other people say it's pure fucking bullshit."

Whatever the image, after flipping through 96 glossy, quality bond-paper pages of Kozik's poster art (much of it as irretrievable as that 100-year-old staple embedded in a barren phone pool), one is reminded, at the very least, of Andy Warhol and what he did with found media images. Gasp. Is Kozik headed for some city's museum of modern art (in addition to the 14 art openings he had last year in places like Tokyo, Vienna, and Stockholm)? Judging by the 35-year-old's San Francisco offices, yes.

"I personally don't think I'm very good," says Kozik, leaning back in his chair as the August afternoon blows fresh, cool marina air in through an entire wall of third-story windows. "I like to do it. I think I'm getting better, and I'm working on a second book right now, which, when it comes out, you'll be able to see a progression."

Oh, you can see the progression alright; you can see it through the billowing white drapes. It's looks a lot like a perfect view of the San Francisco Bay.

Last time yours truly viewed Kozik's surroundings, it was in Austin, from the inside of the huge, haunted mansion-looking barn that the poster artist lived in down on 12th Street. At the time, in the fall of '93, Ken Lieck and myself were mooching Dazed and Confused posters off of Kozik. He wasn't really paying us much mind, pulling out posters and grumbling about shaking the dust of this cruddy little town off his boots. His poster empire was already well into its ascendancy, and by the following spring, one could almost hear his rueful, "So long, sucker" as he bolted Austin for San Francisco.

Not that he didn't put in his time here -- try 13 long years. Kozik had arrived in Austin in 1980, as a member of the Air Force stationed at Bergstrom. Born in Spain to an aristocratic mother and an American military man, Kozik moved to the United States when he was 15, quickly growing disenchanted with the suburban desert that is California's capital, Sacramento. He dropped out of high school, joined the United States armed forces, and wound up in Texas.

"When I came over to the states in '76," says Kozik, who speaks Spanish fluently in accordance with his early upbringing, "it was cool, because I went from this Victorian world to one where I could have a car, I could smoke pot, I and I could listen to heavy metal music -- the exact reverse of everything that my life had been in Spain. The problem was those people were dipshits. I never really got along with any of that crowd. Punk rock was the perfect fusion, where it was completely weird and chaotic and promoted random acts of drug use."

In the early Eighties, there were few places better for misfit punk kids than Austin, a place crawling with weird and chaotic -- not to mention random acts of drug abuse. Whereas punk emporium Raul's was closing down, Club Foot had just opened, and Kozik quickly found a home within the scene. "The scene was really crazy, but it had this intellectual tint to it, because it was older people doing it -- college people, or just weird, liberal freak people," explains Kozik. "There were a lot of gays in the scene, because it was all mixed up at first. You'd go to the club and there would be like gays, New Wave people, leftover Cosmic Cowboy guys, these weird punk people. It was kinda like it was a big joke.

"But that was the initial attraction -- I fit in. I could give vent to my intelligent side, because a lot of the music was intellectual in its own weird way. You had to get it. At the same time, I was young and stupid and wanted to get stoned, and fuck, and be physically retarded, so it was like perfect."

Since he didn't play any instrument, yet wanted to hang around the scene "and be cool," Kozik fell in with a couple of guys doing "your basic mail-art street Xerox thing," according to the intro to his book. By 1985, this had developed naturally enough into the art of Xeroxed hand-bills for such Club Foot acts as the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid. When Club Foot closed and the Cave Club opened, Kozik got a job there as doorman, and fell in with the mastermind behind both clubs and a man many longtime Austin scenesters give credit to as the godfather of modern-era poster art, Brad First.

"Brad was really influential," says Kozik, "because he totally encouraged it. He paid for printing, and sometimes he even paid me. And that was like a completely novel experience. So, it really focused it. That's why there's so many posters for his clubs, because that was the focal point. He gave me an outlet and I got to attach myself to the music really firmly. He did pretty good for a while there; bands started touring through, and they'd take the posters to another city, and then someone from another city would call and go, `Hey man, will you do a poster for our show in Houston?' It sort of grew like that."

Working out of a studio space that included first generation poster artists like Micael Priest and Guy Juke, it wasn't long before a poster collector on a reconnaissance mission from L.A. came sniffing around the place looking for poster art collectibles. Kozik gave him an armful of his work and before he knew it, some Hollywood art cartel had given him $10,000 to set up his own jerry-rigged silkscreen press. "I told them, `Look, if you're serious about this, for the price of setting up a primitive silkscreen press, it's cheaper than having somebody else print this stuff. And I'll print your other stuff, too.' So, they did that."

The results?

"Immediately, I got bored of doing the fine art prints, so I go, `Well, I wanna do a poster for Brad, a big silkscreen poster for the Cannibal Club. So, I started doing the big silk screen posters. And that was like the magic combination, because people really liked that."

The rest, starting with that first Pigface silk-screen in 1991 and ending with his move to San Francisco in 1994, can be found between the covers of Kozik's book.

Surprisingly enough, today, Kozik says he misses Austin. "Oh, totally," he nods. "I'm sure it's different now, but I miss the Austin from 10 years ago -- before it got built up. It was cool. Paradise on earth, actually."

So, why did you leave?

"It was just time. I had lived there too long. I'd also gotten really slothful, so I was like, `Gee, I wonder if I can make it in the real world'? So I came out here, which is a pretty hardcore town, to see if I could do it -- like to get my shit together -- to see if I could actually function outside of that bubble. Because [Austin] is like this little bubble. You can live down there for fucking ever once you have your setup."

Having torn that playhouse down in 1994, the one he's built in San Francisco during the intervening three years support the theory that Kozik did indeed get his shit together in the real world. Not only is his Man's Ruin empire (named for a Sailor Jerry tattoo) housed in a huge studio of hundreds and hundreds of high-ceilinged square feet, it looks like a professional ad agency -- one founded circa 1940. Besides the portraits of Mussolini, Mao, and Stalin glaring down on visitors from atop an enormous wall-sized bookcase, the walls are hung with pictures of Betty Page, and the filing cabinets are covered with busts of Lenin and Stalin. And check out the set of Hitler nesting dolls.

Say, what's with all the WWII shit?

"I grew in Spain, and it was a fascist country," says Kozik, reminding me that Franco was dictator until his death in 1976. "When I was a kid, they had a lot of military parades and that stuff was really prevalent -- it was part of life, so I've retained an interest for the weirdness of it."

The bookshelves confirm said weirdness with books like The Illustrated History of the Waffen SS sitting next to modern classics such as Hollywood Babylon and the complete works of Goya and Da Vinci. Bound magazine volumes of Forties girlie mags and various Betty Page publications are set apart from another bookcase full of hardcover cases of comic books like Tales From the Crypt, Weird Science, and Two-Fisted Tales. On a metal riser that almost reaches the ceiling are dozens and dozens of stacks of posters.

On the other side of the wall the riser butts up against are Kozik's silk-screening facilities. In that space, three guys covered with tattoos, paint, and tattered rock & roll T-shirts beam proudly at the dozens and dozens of wickedly colorful posters at which the touree (me) is gawking. Kozik explains paper weight indexes, waterbased color series, and color separations, but he might as well be speaking Russian; I'm too busy trying to recall whether I was actually at that Cows show the Emo's poster commemorates.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is a bookcase next to Kozik's desk that holds all the 45s and 10-inch singles the Man's Ruin record label has put out in its 18-month existence. Mini-poster art sleeves scream names like Steel Pole Bathtub, 7 Year Bitch, Daddy Longhead (see "7 & 7 Is"), Fu Manchu, the Mono Men, and many many more. Kozik estimates that his label, which traffics mostly in vinyl ("it's way more interesting than CDs") releases four to six singles a month, with the best-selling one (Kyuss) selling around 11,000 copies, the mid-liners (Melvins and Dwarves) doing around 4,000-5,000 in sales, and your average unknown band moving about 1,100 copies. As long as the label can break even -- which is has -- it'll stay afloat forever. But why take on the added hassle?

"I was totally bored," says Kozik flatly. "I've done a million posters. The nature of music has changed. It used to be that you needed posters, and now even the smallest venues can advertise in the paper. The poster thing just became more of a vanity/prestige thing. Everybody wants a poster still, but they don't really put them up anymore. They keep 'em or give 'em to the band, or give them away for contests. I still do the posters, but it's different now."

Kozik says that while most of his energy is now channeled into the label, the graphics trade-off is still there. "My big trip with the label is that the band does the release, and it's completely up to them what they record -- we don't do any producing or get involved. We don't give them any guidance or demands. It can be whatever they want to do. And the trade-off is I get to fucking jerk off with the sleeve art, right? And fulfill my fantasy of designing these records."

Still the fantasy? Even when Kozik is directing videos for groups like Soundgarden, doing graphic design freelancing for Nike shoes, and even telecommunications ad campaigns for Japanese firms?

"I could try to become a fine artist, but I'm no artist. I do that fine art stuff once in a while, but it's creepy. It's weird. You can't count on that. I need to make a decent living and feel involved, and the label was a natural progression."

So, is poster art dead?

"No, San Francisco really supports it. There's a lot of really good clubs... There's four of five groups consistently doing super good [silk-screen] work in the Bay Area. Locally, the place is really supportive of it. I do a lot of stuff for radio stations. The town is really supportive of visual arts in general. It really is."

Austin could take some lessons from that, yes?

"I hate San Francisco," says Kozik vehemently. "I'm moving away to Seattle. San Francisco is a falsehood. I have a pretty good lifestyle here, and I still can't stand it, because it's all used up. There's no walking down an alley by yourself and being at peace with the trees and shit like there is in Texas. Austin is built up, but I'm sure there's still some nice parts back there in Clarksville. San Francisco is a cesspool, it's a federal prison. It sucks, but it's a prestigious address. People see the San Francisco address, and they're really impressed. To be honest you, that has helped business a lot: `Well, he must be doing good, because he's all set up in San Francisco.' I'd be a lot better financially if I was somewhere else. It's a burden I'm tired of."

Not like Austin, where the poster art scene is dead!

"Stuff like that comes and goes. It'll come back. One of these years, the wheel will revolve and a batch of art students will show up at UT. And they'll be some weird punk revival and somebody else will re-invent the poster, and it'll be a cool thing to do. And you'll see another wave of it. It's always like that with everything."

Man's Ruin: 2415 Third St., Suite #239, San Francisco, CA 94107

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