B/D Apparel Artist Interview: Jim Callahan

Jim Callahan is a multi-talented creative who lends his bold pop-icon vibrant graphic style to a potty-mouthed vision of vulgar humor and the macabre. His humorously outlandish take on his subjects disarms their gritty gore visuals of exploding skull & brains, guts and the spray of blood. James Callahan also runs his own fledgling deck company: Nowhere Skateboards, and has illustrated comics, such as Strange Detective Tales and Rotting In Dirtville. He is also responsible for the DVD covers to the daybyday films, among art for piles of records, CD’s, shirts, toys, posters, and beyond.. James was interviewed in issue: D of Beautiful/Decay magazine and designed the three-dimensional stunner “Barf 3d” for Beautiful/Decay Apparel- which featured, of course, a three-dimensional skull puking a cacophony of vile beasts. Most recently he contributed the mind-blowing (no pun intended) graphic “Kersplat” that shows someone’s brain literally exploding from reading B/D!


Can you talk a little bit about your illustrational style? A lot of it seems super poppy, verging on the vulgar-though the cartoonish, vibrant graphic style seems to take away too much of the grittyness of the blood, exploding heads, guts and skulls. 

Yeah, you pretty much nailed it.  The whole gag is drawing subject matter that is grimy and repulsive, but contradicting it in a clean and sugar-coated style…almost to the point where it looks like it would be fun to have your head explode, or vomit spider babies.  This is all just an excuse to tell some kind of visual or narrative joke, to put things where they don’t belong. I mean, I could draw the most elaborate and amazing illustration of a car or a flower pot, but unless it’s done in an unusual context, nobody bothers to remember it. 

What do you love about the grotesque? 

Comedy, mostly.  I love comedy, it’s my favorite thing to laugh at, and horror can make some pretty ultimate slapstick.  Imagine the Three Stooges actually poking out each others eyes and crushing the skulls of one another with sledge hammers.  Hilarious!  It’s like a cross between ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘Faces of Death’.  It also  leaves a lot of room to explore form and texture.  To be truly gross, and make the joke work, you really have to find detail.  This was mastered by artists like Basil Wolverton, John Pound, Geoff Darrow, Tom Bunk, and others.

The Original Kersplat Design Artwork....

The Original "Kersplat" Design Artwork....

What other sources of imagery, music, culture inspire you?

It’s different stuff all the time, my skull is like a pop-culture toilet. I get preoccupied with something, and just start cramming crap into my eyeballs and ear holes until I back up the system, and have to flush it all out with some other new compulsion.  Right now, I’m kind of on this viking/barbarian kick.   I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘Witch’ and ‘Black Sabbath’ and soaking up the meaty works of Frank Frazetta and Ken Kelly.  But a couple of months ago I was real wrapped up in ‘The Twilight Zone’, listening to crappy surf rock and the B-52’s, and finding everything I could by artists like Jack Coggins and Alex Schomburg.

....And "Kersplat" transformed into Beautiful/Decay Apparel

....And "Kersplat" transformed into Beautiful/Decay Apparel

Can you talk a little bit about the designs you did for Beautiful/Decay Apparel-namely “Barf 3d,” and from the upcoming Spring ’09 season, “Kersplat.” What was the process like of designing these t-shirts, and what was your inspiration behind them?

Amir Fallah is a good director.  We discussed ideas, and narrowed down a concept.  Once we figured out where we wanted to go with it, I really tried to go nuts with it.  It’s always important to me to try to give people enough so that if they keep coming back, they keep finding new nuances.  I think this especially came across in the “Barf 3-D” print. 

Barf 3d for Beautiful/Decay Apparel

"Barf 3d" for Beautiful/Decay Apparel

You’ve designed hundreds of comic pages, including writing the graphic novel “Rotting in Dirtville”-can you talk about some of these comic books, and how you got into creating them? 

It comes from two places really. First, I learned to draw from copying comics as a little kid, so the progression to drawing my own comics came pretty naturally.  Second, I’ve always had cinematic concepts that I wanted to express, but comics are one of the few accessible ways to create them.  In addition to “Rotting in Dirtville”, a have also illustrated “Strange Detective Tales” (from Oddgod Press), a 3 issue crime/mystery mini series about monsters in 1950’s LA, and “Booyah the Oblitorator” (Team 8 Press) a mini comic with a screenprinted cover about a barbarian on a bloody quest for death metal, despite living thousands of years before man’s harnessing of electricity.  I’m half way finished with “Die Pumpkin, Die”, a story about rock and roll, shoplifting, and Halloween.  This will be out in early 2009.  I also do an annual book called “Barf Comics” that collects album art and shorter comics.    

Rotting in Dirtville comic

"Rotting in Dirtville" comic

I read that you founded a skateboard company, “Nowhere Skateboards.” A lot of your imagery seems to deal with totally rad 80’s skate-or-die culture-you’ve also designed skate decks. Can you talk about your involvement with skateboarding and how this might manifest itself in your imagery?

I’ve always been inspired by skating.  There are so many aspects that are truly indescribable, and so many styles and approaches, which means endless subject matter.   I’ve actually just started art direction, alongside Micheal Broth from Wilted Roses, for “Born Ugly”, a new skateboarding magazine that I will also be doing a lot of comics and artwork for.  I’m really excited about how it’s coming along.

Skateboard deck design

Skateboard deck design

What do you love most about making artwork?

The crippling social awkwardness that comes with spending the majority of your time in isolation.  It rules!  It’s also pretty neat when you tell someone what you do for a living, and you can tell they don’t believe you, and they’re thinking you sell drugs or live off some sort of undeserved corporate settlement.  Honestly though, the degree that people react to work always surprises me and makes it all worth it.

Any last words?
Quit your job and go skate.

For more on James Callahan, visit his B/D Artists profile or his personal website, Barf Comics.

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