When Brian Walsby decided to join Double Negative early this year, the furious punk four-piece effectively became his 14th band in 22 years. He had been in one band in California, his home state and the place where he gained a growing reputation as a prolific teenage punk artist. Tommy Lee even came to pick up a Mötley Crüe T-shirt design from him at high school.
His arrival in North Carolina in 1986 would further meld his life to his passion for music. The airport taxi dropped him off at 115 Ashe Ave., the place where Scott Williams—who Walsby now calls "the self-proclaimed leader of the scene and one of the funniest guys I know"—lived. Williams and Walsby had begun a correspondence one year before, when Williams mailed the California zine artist a copy of a Triangle rag. But Walsby's ties to North Carolina were already strong: He was a pen pal of Corrosion of Conformity's Woody Weatherman and No Labels' Ricky Hicks, and a split between C.O.C., No Labels, Bloodmobile and Stillborn Christians was one of his prized 7-inch records. After he visited the state in 1985, he knew he would soon be back permanently. In the two decades since, he has formed bands with everyone from Merge Records co-owner Mac McCaughan to alt.country favorite Ryan Adams, played drums on Polvo's last tour and—most importantly—drawn.
Walsby released his first book of drawings and comics, Manchild: A Celebration of Twenty Years of Doodles, in 2004. As the name implies, it was a wide-ranging, unfocused collection, a self-assembled batch of what Walsby felt was his best work over two decades. The book was a success, with an independent distributor eventually purchasing all remaining copies.
But Bifocal Media, a Raleigh-based label run by Walsby's longtime friend Charles Cardello, helped him organize and focus for Manchild 2: The Second Coming, even selling advertisements to help fund the book. Brian took art classes and started using inks. He thinks the result is his best work yet, an involving read that's more than a simple collection of disconnected curiosities under one cover. It's such a statement, in fact, that Williams—Walsby's Double Negative bandmate—agreed to interview his longtime friend.
"I've always been Brian's harshest critic, and I say it to his face," says Williams. "But he's gotten so much better, content and technique and all. Brian is good at what he does." —Grayson Currin
I have been here long enough to see the city change completely: Old Pine State factories have been bulldozed over on Glenwood Avenue to make way for progress and more SUVs. I still think of Raleigh as being an OK place to live. Sometimes, I think it is because I have been here long enough to ignore what I don't much care for. Horrible summers aside, Raleigh is fine by me.
I was fortunate to come of age here with the '80s hardcore punk scene being the catalyst for my creative whims, like the beats or the hippies before all of us. I was prolific, but I really wasn't any good at all. Still, it was great. It was a lot of fun, but it's long gone now. It took me 20 years to get good at this drawing stuff.
Lastly, you all should know that before the interview, Scott Williams told me I had this tendency to draw myself as "some sort of cross between Osama bin Laden and Tommy Chong." Maybe I can use that as a new nickname or something—"Osama Chong." It has a nice ring to it. Don't you think? —Brian Walsby
SCOTT WILLIAMS: Last year I was in a bookstore in Portland, Ore., Powell's, looking in the rock section. I came across the first Manchild and I was amazed how your art had really gotten out there beyond fanzines and the occasional record cover. How do you feel about your spreading popularity?
BRIAN WALSBY: It feels pretty good to me but it is hard to really sit there and think about stuff like that because it hasn't affected anything other than me thinking that maybe I am on the cusp of something. Half of the feedback I get right now seems to be from people roughly our age with the same background, and the other half is from other people that like the art and stories. Who knows what doors will open with the new book? I am hoping that there are some.
Why should someone read Manchild?
Hopefully because it is entertaining. The new one has a lot more variety and is more focused. I can't really say why anyone should read my stuff over someone else's, but I think I have my own little style. That is a nice thing to be able to say.
Do you consider your art as an examination of society? What is the message you are trying to convey? And what messages are you getting from the people/characters who inspire you?
I think that the overall message is to try and think for yourself, no matter what the cost. My stuff sort of comes from just observing certain things that people do. I still seem to have a lot of anger from this kind of stuff, and this is where I go for me to get it out of my system. Plus, it's fun to call out people for being stupid or shallow. As far as the reaction, some of the "targets" seem to take it for what it is, a joke and a lampoon. Others definitely haven't.
Would you say there has been a conscious effort to improve your illustrations? How would you say your style has changed over the years? Explain the schizophrenic drawing style: Is it the pen, the brush or the coffee?
I think that I have greatly improved these days, and that has been a conscious effort. I look back even to stuff in the first Manchild, and I can't believe I let some of that stuff get out there looking how it did. I have only started doing stuff with ink and brush recently, and that took a long time to even get a handle of. I am still working at it. The schizophrenic style is just trying on different hats and seeing what feels good at the time.
How did you score the deal with AK Press and Lumberjack/Mordam for book distribution? Was it through Bifocal Media?
Yeah. It was all through Charles Cardello, who runs Bifocal. He already had a relationship with Lumberjack/Mordam. AK Press got in touch with him on my behalf and said that they not only wanted to carry the new book, they also wanted to pick up the remainder of the first book and distribute them. From what Charles told me, it's a big deal that AK Press called up because they are the heavyweights in terms of distribution for independent books like these. So that is really great.
Whose idea was it to put in advertisements in the new Manchild?
It was mutual. Well, I am sure that he said it first, but I completely agreed. It has made things go a lot smoother and I think it was easier to do than maybe I would have thought. Of course, it was Charles doing all of the work, though.
Are your books a series, or a collection? Are there more to come? Will your third book be called Third Trimester?
Maybe both. There will be more to come. We have already talked about the third one. It could be half new art and a really extensive oral history of the '80s Raleigh punk scene that I can hopefully finish now. The pressure is definitely on, but it's nice pressure. We shall see.
A lot has changed in your personal life since your first Manchild was published. Do you think these changes are reflected in the newest Manchild? Are you seeing life from both sides now?
Not too much, actually. I guess there is sort of a feeling I have that I better get cracking on doing more stuff at this point, to try and build some more momentum. As one's life goes on, you can sort of see that things get more difficult, and you try and handle these things with as much grace as possible. There is a little bit of that in the book, but only a little.
Didn't you go to art school last year? What did you get out of that?
It was just a couple of community art classes. I probably didn't get a whole lot out of it but it was still all right. I got a chance to draw naked people as fast as possible.
Many of your illustrations are based on your day-to-day surroundings. I have noticed one setting that is consistently missing from your comics: your workplace. Why do you exclude scenes from the job in your comics? I'm sure it's a fertile ground for ideas.
You don't know the half of it. I had a massive five-page cartoon all about where I have worked for five years now, and believe me it is viciously funny. I agonized over including it but thought that it could have gotten me in trouble. I removed it.
Just one music question: Do you think things would have turned out better if John Brannon could have joined Black Flag instead of Henry Rollins?
Probably, but I would be speaking from revisionist history if I did. I mean, John Brannon is awesome. It greatly amuses me when I hear any of the numerous weenies that "sing" in all of those lousy metalcore/straight-edge bands because they are all so god awful and knowing that John Brannon could crush any of them. They are mere children. He is a man. No one comes close.
You poke fun of yourself and a lot of people in your work. Is there anything you consider off-limits? Was anything discouraged from being put in the newest book?
I took out the cartoon about work and I stayed away from anything about my relationship with my ex-wife. Those were pretty much it, all out of concern for privacy and me not getting fired.
If I must quote you: "Some people say I have a cool past." But what do you think people say about your present timeline? What hopes do you have about your future?
They probably think I am a hermit these days. As far as the future, I hope to just be able to do more of this stuff. I would like to get into other things like writing. Since nothing about either is age-defined, I think I do have a future in this. Why would I stop now?
Is there a book tour?
We shall see. There is nothing I would like to do more than go on the road with boxes of books.
Brian Walsby releases Manchild 2: The Second Coming at Kings in Raleigh on Friday, July 7 at 10 p.m. Goner and Des Ark play the rock, and food will be served. $8 admission includes a copy of the book. Double Negative, featuring Brian Walsby and Scott Williams, plays Slim's in Raleigh on Saturday, July 8 at 10 p.m.