Friday, February 29, 2008


Born near Madrid, Spain in 1962, Frank Kozik is best known as a living master of poster, album cover, and toy art. Credited by such sources as Rolling Stone and the Smithsonian Museum for single-handedly reviving the ‘Rock Concert Poster’, Frank Kozik has done over 1000 concert posters and 300 album and CD covers for acts as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Soundgarden and The Rolling Stones.

Frank Kozik also founded and managed Man’s Ruin Records which popularized the genre of ‘Stoner Rock’ and released over 200 records and CDs in a 5-year span, including first releases by bands such as Queens Of The Stone Age and the Hellacopters.

Frank has also maintained a steady stream of Fine Arts gallery shows with over 60 exhibits in the last 15 years.

Kozik began to work in collectible art toys in the late nineties. His Smorkin’ Labbit character has become a huge success, as have his scores of other characters (Mongers, Chumps, and many others) created for Kidrobot, Bounty Hunter, and other manufacturers.

Frank Kozik currently resides in San Francisco.

PAUL: I remember that you once told me that Kozik is a Czech name. What was it like growing up for you, and how did you first discover that you are an artist?

FRANK: Actually, I think it's a Polish name. My father's side of the family came over here around 1905 or so, and at that time I believe the village was in Russian hands. I do know our 'hometown' was wiped out sometime between 1914-1919 during all the battles in eastern Poland/Russia.

I had a sort of odd dad was an American, but my parents split up before I was born and I was raised primarily in Spain by my mother, although once in a while I'd spend some time with my dad when he was in Europe. I remember living in England for a year.

My mother’s family was a classic case of a Spanish family split up by the civil war there in the 1930's. My grandparents where from Barcelona, and lost or gave their business to the 'anarchists' or 'communists' or whatever and ended up both being killed during the war... and on the losing side. My mom ended up being raised by 'fascists' and my uncle, who was older, fought in the war, survived but was branded 'undesirable' as he fought on the losing side as well. My childhood consisted of shuttling back and forth between the 2 households. One wealthy, right wing and 'connected' and the other, poor, disenfranchised and tied to anti-government activities.

I hated it... and when my dad showed up again when I was 14 and said I could come to America, I immediately did so.

As to discovering the 'art thing'... I have no idea. I always was attracted to visuals as a child and drew a lot, I also loved building things. So for me, it has always been there. I don’t really consider myself an 'Artist'... I just like to make stuff. I have no formal training of any kind, but I always was fascinated by the visual thing and spent a lot of time as a kid going on my own to museums and so forth (in Madrid I lived very near the Prado, and went there at least once a week for maybe 10 years), looking at comics, art books, atlases etc.... so eventually I got a pretty good education in 'art' and 'pop culture' from different eras on my own.

PAUL: I know what you mean about not considering yourself an artist, and having worked with you, there’s a kind of freedom that you have that makes sense to me. I have the same experience, often I look at something I've done and it's as if it was done by someone else, maybe someone I'd heard of once before, but certainly not by me.

FRANK: This correlates directly to my experience. I think the 'fugue state' is a valid indicator of immersion in the process, and an essential part of it. I look back at 25 years worth of projects and there is not much of a personal connection, its far more abstract. But then again, I don't archive or 'collect' my own work (I have none of it at home, for example), so maybe my 'art' is simply one very long term project.

PAUL: I don't have much of my own work at home either. I hadn't thought of that before, I think it's sort of like designing a clothing line, after a while all you want to do is wear black because you're so immersed in your work life. All Marc Jacobs ever wears is a Mickey Mouse T-shirt!

I've said about you that you're the easiest artist to work with, because all you care about is making good work and at the same time, your ego isn't in the way. So it isn't about you, it's about the work. My experience of you is that making art is pretty easeful for you, it's not a big stressful thing, and yet your work is nevertheless immaculate.

FRANK: Well, having some sort of big ego is pretty tacky, basically. Additionally, I already considered myself a 'whole person' by the time I decided to start doing whatever it is I actually do in the creative field, so my 'art' does not have very much to do with my 'self worth'. It's more of a very interesting hobby.

Also. I came into this by a backwards route... My very first 'real' work was done commercially, I learned all my techniques by doing commercial, technical hands-on graphics work. Any 'theory' actually crossed over from my social and entertainment interests... music, weird art, world history, etc.

Basically, I don’t have a message. Each stage and level of the things I have done over the years where always linked directly to what resources and tools I had available, and my 'focus' has shifted many, many times.

As to it being 'easy'... well... Ideas, yes. Very easy. I have a MILLION ideas...some of them good. More every minute as one unfolds into it's opposite or another.

What IS very stressful is the 'actual physical' part of it. I am fairly capable in a wide variety of techniques and 'schools'... but really hate doing the work. So in essence, my approach is to think about it a lot, then do the end piece as quickly and 'perfectly nailed' as possible the first time out. I do VERY little sketching etc. I don’t do sketchbooks. There is usually no more than 1 or 2 rounds of revisions (for commercial stuff). And when I paint or make a 3-D object I never revise, it's just done once.

This works really well for me, to fully mentally have visualized the end result. I hate the process, I am results-oriented. In effect, everything I make is already there, all ready finished before I ever draw it or lay it out in the computer. This allows me to do a lot of work, very quickly, that is very focused and finished.

PAUL: There's a kind of funny ironic darkness in your work, Frank. It's as much in the colors you choose as the imagery (light blue rabbit with a cigarette, orange Mao Tse Tung with Mickey Mouse ears). Is that something you think about, or is it just what comes up? Is there anything specific you're thinking about when you make these things?

FRANK: Well, each type of character or object exists for a fairly specific purpose. As to the Labbit, well, it's my attempt to create a very simple, very 'expandable' character along the lines of say... Hello Kitty... except it's a character that reflects my own sort of view on things. Basically, the 'darksided' Hello Kitty. Bright, pastel colors serve as a nice sort of 'poison candy'.

With things like the Mao...that's a bit more complex. It involves these factors:

1. My love of and desire to make 'Pop Art'...what better than a large, shiny plastic object.
2. My fascination with Mao
3. My fascination with 'branding'
4. The utter oddness of the current '3rd road' approach in China
5. The ability to produce an exceedingly odd object of no value whatsoever, except it makes people go 'whoa... what the fuck?' ...and then want to own it.
6. My love of the utterly absurd.

PAUL: Where did Labbit come from?

FRANK: Back around 1996 or so, I was in Tokyo doing some work and visiting my friends. One evening a few of us were in a bar or restaurant or something and my Japanese friends where trying to figure out my Hello Kitty obsession, and why I had asked them to take me to places to get 'rad' HK stuff. They, being sort of upscale people, thought it was weird and sort of trashy that I was into it, but they appreciated the commerciality of it, so they suggested I design a 'Kitty' type character.

So, I doodled a lumpy little dirty bunny looking thing with a cigarette on the spot and they all thought it would 'work' and agreed to make a few items for Japan out of it. We ended up selling like 1000 plushes instantly. I then started putting it on stuff like ashtrays and Zippos etc., even made some plastic lunch pails. They sold really well, primarily to the 'music' crowd I was dealing with then.

PAUL: Was this related at all to your record label? I don't think most people know that you had a pretty successful record label. What made you want to do that? What kinds of bands did you sign? And going backwards in time, how'd you start out designing rock and roll posters?

FRANK: I first started doing posters in 1982, in Austin. I had been doing 'mail art' (sort of a pre-zine thing where people would make weird art and mail it back and forth... I used to correspond with people all over the place, Europe etc.... anyways, we had this little mail-art collective (Artmagots) going on and we would also do weird 'punk' comics and posters, just random street art sort of stuff. Some local bands saw these, liked them and they slowly developed into posters for shows. One thing led to another and around 1991 I had a national sort of deal going on, doing these posters for bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers etc. Right around then I started doing 'fine art' and gallery type shows and eventually, large format silkscreen stuff. All basically music related.

This, in turn led me to do a lot of high budget ad campaigns for like BAF and Nike and soon... I took those massive checks and used the money to start releasing vinyl records by small bands (and not so small), which in turn led into CDs and a fully blown label (Man's Ruin). I ended up releasing about 220 different singles, EPs and LPs in all formats. Did all the artwork, and posters etc. Some bands include Kyuss, the first Queens Of The Stoneage, Turbonegro, Hellacopters... many, many bands.

PAUL: The most amazing thing I ever saw in your studio was a giant Star Wars imperial walker toy that you'd modified and painted in WWII camo. I think you said it was a commission. That just blew me away, and I've been secretly trying to get a Star Wars license so we can produce something like that together, though I doubt it would get past the Lucus branding machine. It seems like you have a kind of obsession with WWII-era Soviet-era Mao-era stuff, where does that come from?

FRANK: I did several of those for a show in London. As far as my love of militaria, well, I come from a 'military' family on both sides and grew up watching military parades, and then went on to serve in the military myself. The 'look' is fascinating... what can I say? I was surrounded by military people and machines until I was 22 years old.

PAUL: What happened to the record label? Did you enjoy that?

FRANK: Tha'ts an epic saga of despair. Basically we outgrew our distributor and the whole thing simply imploded.

PAUL: Man's Ruin Records was an apt name, I guess.

Your story about the posters makes it feel like you almost fell into being a working artist. Your whole identity has morphed as things keep changing. Now you're making all these toys and clothing with us, bigger art shows, sneakers, big art pieces. Is there anything you're just dying to do that you're planning to do someday?

FRANK: Well...part of me has this desire to very large, very stupud 'pop art' installations and interiors. The 16" and 30" busts and the giant Labbit stools are sort of the tiny first step in that direction. Also, I really want to keep making the toys forever. I really love them. I have always changed my focus according to what resources become available... so as those change, so will I.

Interview sourced from Paul Budnitz who is the founder of Kidrobot, so the interview isn't the most objective seeing as Paul would probably put out a tissue that Frank has blown his nose on given half a chance.

The reason why I'm bringing Frank up is because after getting wind that he had published a book called Plasticland I ponied up the $30 for it in the blink of an eye. Now seeing as it was sold as such, "The man credited with single-handedly reviving the concept of rock posters as an art form, Kozik was first exposed to the counterculture world of "designer art toys" on a trip to Japan in 1996. His collecting hobby soon mutated into a new profession, and in 2002 Kozik made the leap from illustrator to toy designer. Now considered one of the world's top three underground toy designers, Kozik shares all the secrets of this arcane and cutting-edge art movement in Plasticland. This deluxe oversized volume, the first collected work of Kozik's foray into this explosive new phenomenon, offers a fascinating look at the creation and end result of modern toy design. A dazzling photographic record of all Kozik's production and custom pieces through early 2006, the book also features his new works in serigraphy and oil painting."

So far so good but when the book arrived and once I had opened the embossed cover I was a bit underwhelmed in all truth. I could have made this book in a day tops and it was very first year design if you get what I mean. It just seems strange that an artist as capable as Frank wouldn't put more effort into the aesthetics of what is ultimately a vehicle for his work. I guess, I'm the fool for dropping thirty notes on it but I'll get over it and it'll make a decent way of cataloguing the toys that he designed in my collection. I was also a bit disappointed to find that he didn't do his own sculpts as well. Here are some images from the book.

You can buy the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Making It Quick

Right, so it is my birthday and as this will be the last year of my twenties, so forgive me if I make this one quick I have a lot of 'lost' time to make up. Basically today I've simply chosen just to highlight things that I like.

First off, my favourite scandinavian psychedelic balearic band Studio have put out yet another stellar reworking this time of Rubies (nope, I've never heard of them either) and this is so good that when you listen to it you can practically feel the sand between your toes as the boys take you on a slow laconic melodious guitar-flecked journey through a truly breath-taking sonic template as categorized on their previous remixes for Love Is All, Kylie Minogue, A Mountain of One and on their West Coast album (send it to me please, Paul), basically everything they have released has been sublime, utterly original and you should buy it all now. That'll be $5 please, Dan and Rasmus.

Rubies - The Keys - Studio remix

The second track for the day comes from LCD Soundsystem and it has been out for a while and I've played it to death but incredibly I'm still not tired of it, which is saying something as I tend to shelve records fairly quickly and move on. This was originally the b-side to the All My Friends 12" that came with the incredible Harvey mix and as good as that is, it is not a patch on the Freak Out, which has one of those grooves that will get a dancefloor moving. I'm not that enamored with Starry Eyes and as their is no differentiation between the two on the single you had to concentrate a bit harder than usual (not a whole lot in my case) as to when to mix it out and obviously I wasn't the only one who saw this as a bit of a hassle as they've just released a 12" with the two separated, handy that. I'm crap at genres seeing as I hardly stick to one but I'd probably describe this as post-punk disco-not-disco if I was pushed to but I'm not and that is a bit naff in all truth.

LCD Soundsystem - Freak Out/Starry Eyes

I'm not certain why this one has been slept on by the balearic/re-edit axis of doom, maybe because it came out on Kompakt or wasn't given a glowing endorsement by the Lowife mob or Prins Thomas on DJ History but Justus Köhncke has produced yet another superb late-night disco workout with more than a touch of the Moroders to it. This is a record that could quite easily be embraced by the disco nerds and the too cool for school prophets of minimalism and has by quite a large number of the latter if charts are to be believed. If this takes your fancy then don't just stop here, search out/buy his other essential records 2 after 909 and Elan. He's just about to release another album and I'll be the first to admit that he can be a little bit hit and miss but when he hits it is dy-no-mite.

Justus Köhncke - Parage

Taking a bit of a detour here but recently I've come across a publisher called Victionary who put out incredible books that are both aesthetically pleasing and absolutely cutting-edge. Their editing process is great and they hardly ever have publish a page that isn't pure candy for the eye. Hopefully in a few years when I hopefully fulfill one of my ambitions by publishing a book or two that I have been working on based on my travels. If it turns out even half as good as any of the Victionary publications then I'll be satisfied. Here are a few images from my two favourite books, Illustration Play and Type Addicted.

Illustration Play

Type Addicted

You can buy the books from here.

For my birthday I always buy myself something and this year I bought myself $137 of records and a Brixton Castor.

Right, I'm off to hang out with the wife, have a great day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sc-sc-sc-sc-scra-a-a-a-a-tch... SCRATCH!

I have been watching the DMC championships for years and I have to admit that I don't find anything even remotely interesting about the singles competition but the team competitions are what really get my attention. A few years ago turntables were outselling guitars by two to one and when you watch the teams battle it becomes very clear that even though they are essentially moving a piece of black crack backwards and forwards at varying speeds that they are playing the various parts in a band expertly. It must take a lot of dedication and willpower to devote a year of your life to listening to the same pieces of music over and over again in a room with three of your friends straining relationships trying to get your six minutes down. It is most certainly not for me, especially as I'd probably bring a new piece of music every day frustrating my colleagues and probably getting fired from 'the band' for being disruptive. The following three groups are easily my favourites, what I love about them is their musicality and craft. All three of these were winning routines.


Birdy Nam Nam

Scratch Perverts

I do get tired just watching it but having spoken to a quite a number of scratch DJs over the years I can tell you that they generally leave no stone left unturned from any genre in their quest for the breaks. They'll search their records out everywhere from record stores to those boxes under dusty tables in thrift stores. They can smell the records from a mile away. Check the movie Scratch for an insight into their world.

Check the records on the wall in this clip, there are some truly incredible bits.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One Hundred Project : Mike O'Mara

What is on your stereo at the moment?
I've been listening to a fantastic Soul mix by a chap called Paul Stewart this morning. Check it here.

3 records that changed your life? Why?
Snoop Dogg-Doggstyle
I remember being about 13 year's old and thinking I was proper bad for having this CD before realising every kid my age had it! It's the first real non-commercial CD I can remember buying and still sounds ace today.

Black Science Orchestra-Philadelphia
When I was 16 one of my mates did a mix-tape, at the time I had a few House tapes but they were all a bit ravey and snide. My mate Marc was already into decent stuff and I remember listening to his mix over and over again and this track was the one that stood out and made me realise there was more to life than N-Trance and Oasis.

Rufus and Chaka Khan-Sweet Thing
I bought the grass roots album by Ashley Beadle when I was 19 and it had some amazing music on it, I think this album inspired to get out there and not just buy House/Hip-Hop music. To this day this is still my fave Chaka track.

What are you looking forward to?
Going Grey, I reckon i'm gonna be one of those fellas who looks proper dashing with Grey hair. I'll be like Failsworth's answer to George Clooney.

What couldn't you live without? Why?
My snide-pod (couldn't afford an i-pod), I walk about 5 miles a day and I need to be listening to music or I get bored and end up getting a taxi and that's no good for the carbon footprint!

Most memorable gig?
It'd be playing at Soul City in London last year,100 odd people in a basement with a low ceiling and an anything goes music policy.

Who/what are your influences?
My mum and my brother both have fantastic taste in music so they're a big influence, I was also lucky enough to have mates who dragged me to clubs when I was 17/18 and got me listening to decent music.

My mates are a massive influence, there isn't a day goes by without one of them playing me an amazing piece of music/track I've never heard before! The radio was a big influence too, I was lucky when I was an impressionable yoof as Kiss 102 had just started up in Manchester and you'd be listening to half decent music all day long, then at night they had specialist shows with The Slammin Boys, Greame Park etc.

Unlike now where 99.9% of the music that gets banged out on the radio is snide and miserable, it's no wonder all the yoofs are turning into Goths.

What is the best and worst thing about the city that you live in?
I love pretty much everything about Manchester, It's a fantastic City to live and an amazing place to have grown up. I honestly couldn't pick one single "best" thing about it, its just generally fucking ace.

The worst thing at the moment is the Northern Quarter. It seems to have turned into a place where someone with trainers and a Mancunian accent struggles to get in half the gaff's at the weekend, You've got to look like one of the Kooks and have pointy shoes on to get in anywhere..…No ta!

Given the accelerated pace of modern culture, what are we due a revival in?
Proper names for kids like Harold, Derek and Edna instead of Buttercup, Ferrari and Unicorn. If kids had proper names they wouldn't cause half as much trouble. You'd never catch a Harold decking an OAP.

Hero? Why?
There's loads of people that I respect and admire but my Family and Friends are my only real Heroes (Although Sven will be my Hero if he bag's us a European spot in May)

Is there anything else that you feel that we should know?
Lots of stuff going on in 2008.

Development is going from strength to strength and the lad's have started the year with some great booking's in Dixon, Kenny Dope, Domu and Kelvin Brown. And have some very big plan's for the rest of the year!

Me and the lad's are going to be starting up a Development radio show/podcast type thing on Its going to be going out every Tuesday 8-10pm The station should be launching in early March.

I'm also going to be starting up a night myself, not gonna be doing monthly parties but will probably do 3/4 little one off parties each year. The nights called "Make You Thump" check for info on parties, mixes, interviews and full frontal pics.

Mike O'Mara KUMO mix


Soulphiction-Love Thang
Grooveman Spot feat Count Bass D-Benazaiten Love (DJ Mitsu the Beats Remix)
Slum Village-The Look Of Love (Jay Dee Remix)
Outlines-Waiting In Line
Heavy-Do For You
Atjazz feat Clara Hill-Before
Kid Sublime-Lookin' At Me
Rednose Distrikt feat Lady Alma-Gotta Make A Move
O Boogie feat Tableek-Paper Chaser
Hog Dogs-First Time Around
O/L-Im In Love
Linkwood Family-Piece Of Mind
Marvin Gaye-Whats Going On (ssshhh edit)

Download the mix here.