Flynn Préjean is a fascinating guy. Not only is he a superb artist, he’s also a dedicated fan of heavy music. I’ve known him since 1995 when he graciously invited me to help with the writing (along with Greg Petitt) of the first issue of the independent comic book Texasylum for his imprint BadMoon Studios. Our paths diverged at that point, but I have followed Flynn’s incredible career ever since. The man has done more gig posters than I can count and had a fascinating collaboration with the band Ghoultown. I can’t begin to explain how cool it was to walk into Tower Records, browse through the bins, and run across artwork on a CD that wasn’t just a style I recognized, but I actually knew the artist! But he can tell you about it better than I can…
Fill me in on some of the biographical details, if you don’t mind. In particular, I’m curious to know when you realized that creating art wasn’t just something you were really good at but could also be something you did as a career. Did you get a degree in fine art, and if so, how did it help you?
I realized at a very young age that art is what I wanted to do. I used to create these fictional worlds and characters in my head and art was the only method I had at the time to bring them into the real world, so to speak. I would read comics, watch shows like UltraMan and the old Godzilla movies, and that just seemed to fuel the fire. I just never got tired of it. It brings me the exact same level of joy that it did when I was 3 or 4. I’ve always known that this was for me.
I did get a BFA from Sam Houston State University. I was concerned, honestly, about how outside direction may alter my natural style, but went anyway. I have to say that it was the right choice. I was exposed to so many diverse artistic styles and techniques that I doubt I would have encountered otherwise. Exposure to divergent styles and schools of thought is not only advantageous, it’s paramount. It’s inspiring.
I know you did the cover art for the Ghoultown albums, but wasn’t there a comic book you did with them as well? How did you start working with the band?
I only did one cover for them, but have done a lot of their tour posters. My discovery of Ghoultown was a happy accident. I was hanging out at one of my favorite haunts in Houston called Emo’s. It was a great place that usually attracted great live music. I was outside on the patio near the door, and every time someone walked in, I could hear this band that sounded like punk rock combined with Spaghetti Western theme music, complete with a mariachi-style trumpet. They call it “HellBilly” music. After a while, it just seemed more and more compelling, so I went in to watch the rest of the show, and I was hooked immediately. They were throwing something down that no one else was doing. They are entirely unique in my opinion. I hung out and talked with Lyle [Blackburn, ex-Solitude Aeturnus] after the show and we started collaborating on some stuff. We put out a Ghoultown mini-series that Lyle had written, and it was cool, but we didn’t get to complete the series, unfortunately.
Your gig posters are just insanely cool, and you’ve done work for some world famous bands (A Perfect Circle, Motörhead, Misfits, Danzig, and many others). Is it important to you to work with bands that you like? I mean, I assume a job is a job, but is it more enjoyable when you’re doing a gig poster for a band that you’re a fan of?
Yeah, the fanboy aspect of it does kick in when you’re working for a band you really like – I’m not gonna lie. That being said, it is true that I tend to gravitate towards bands I’m a fan of. The creative juices start flowing immediately. When you are incredibly familiar with the band, it’s so much easier to conjure imagery that fits the music perfectly. When the opportunity came about to do a piece for Motörhead, I actively lobbied for it; I pursued it aggressively. That was a bucket-lister for me and I meant to get it.
If I’m not super familiar with a band, I have to do my homework: I look at what other artwork they have used, listen to their music and pay attention to the lyrics, so I can get a real feel for what they’re about. And once I start to “feel” it, I can move forward confident that I’m gonna nail it.
Musicians can get very wrapped up in the details of making music… rehearsal, travel, playing shows, caring for gear, etc.; but promotion is very important as well. When you’re working with a band (management company, label) how much leeway are you given as an artist? Do they want something unique, or something that fits their established aesthetic?
Bands and their management really run the gamut in this regard. Some bands want to see things every step of the way and want to art direct the piece. I understand that, as they want to control (or at least approve) what you are going to do. On one hand, it’s pretty much a given they will like a piece they felt directly involved with, but if it goes too far in that direction, you can fall into a “too many cooks in the kitchen” type scenario. This can result in a lot of stand-alone, good ideas that don’t really seem to fit together. There’s a lack of cohesion that can work against a unified vision. I try to mitigate that when it becomes cumbersome; I whip out the Dale Carnegie 101. You can make anyone agree to almost anything, if you make them think it was their idea – ha!
The other side of the spectrum is when a band doesn’t want to be bogged down in the minutia of the process and says: “We’ve seen your art. We love it. Surprise us.” A blank canvas with no predetermined rules is a great way to work, and usually produces the most inspired pieces.
Gig posters have such an amazing history, and are a fascinating way to get a glimpse not only into the time period they were produced, but because they were sometimes done by local artists, into the style of a particular area as well. Do you have any favorites from the previous decades, or any current artists you like?
You may not like this, but I’m going to totally cop-out on this question. I sat and thought about it for thirty minutes and got no-closer to a decent answer. There’s just way too much to unpack here, so forgive me, but I’m not going to try. I love all of it, and more to the point, love being right in the middle of an incredible, grass roots-type art movement.
Tell me about the Flatstock convention, for those of us who might never have heard of it before.
Flatstock is a gig-poster show that usually happens in conjunction with a music festival. The biggest is at SXSW, but they have also cropped up at Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Primavera in Barcelona, Pitchfork in Chicago and several other cities. Gig-poster artists come from all over the world to display and sell their prints. We’re talking about a lot of artists here; sometimes up to 100. There is so much stuff to look at. It can take hours. You will always find something you can’t live without. Dealers, traders and resellers are not allowed – you buy directly from the artist(s). So, if one crops up in your town, or at your favorite music festival, come see us, buy some cool art and hang out and drink with us.
You and I grew up in the Time Before Cell Phones… even before the Internet. I remember seeing gig posters as a kid, even if it was just something made by the band, Xeroxed at a local copy shop and stapled to a telephone pole. But these days I mostly see them online. Has the constantly evolving technology affected your thought process or artistic vision in any way?
Yes, and no. I always complete the piece in my head first, so I’m not thinking how I’ll produce it yet, just what I intend to produce – then I start thinking “how.” Vdesign for print, and I will use the latest and greatest technology available if it’s a time-saver (and it usually is). Anything that will let me eliminate a step is aces with me, so I definitely keep my design software skills honed and won’t shy away from investing in a piece of equipment that has the potential to pay for itself relatively quickly. Modern processes are designed and utilized for the sake of expediency and one would be crazy not to take advantage. The digital age of art is here and will never go away, so let’s just embrace it already. But, I have to admit, the tactile sensation of pen on paper is something I’ll never fully abandon.
The last word is yours. What’s the best way for a band to get in touch?
Check out my work at my website, badmoonstudios.com, and if it’s something you dig, feel free to email me. I’ll be happy to talk about your project!