Frank Kozik"I trained myself to do everything."
Frank Kozikis an American designer and illustrator based in San Fransisco. Getting his start making flyers for underground acts like Butthole Surfers in weirdo 80’s Austin, Kozik’s is best known for his iconic poster and album art for groups like The Melvins and Sonic Youth. With the rise in popularity of grunge, Kozik’s signature combination of bold type and cartoon lunacy became a paramount aesthetic of the 90’s, attracting high paying clients that allowed Kozik to start his own label Man’s Ruin Records. With a punk rock ethos and pop art sensibility, Kozik has continued to balance commercial work with his own independent enterprises- making cool shit for people to look at and buy.
You grew up in Spain during the last decade of the Franco regime. What was your experience of that as a child?
Well, my mother was well-to-do. If you’re a member of the ruling class, growing up in a police state can foster quite a pleasant childhood. There was no worry of crime or danger, and we played in the streets without any problem. We spent our summers on the beach. I lived this idealized, almost Victorian, childhood.
Were you exposed to a lot of art?
I lived in Toledo and Madrid, which is basically living inside Classical Art. Toledo is a preserved medieval city, and every public building is filled with art spanning from the Roman ages to the 19th Century. I would just go to the Prado every day - it was free for kids - I’d wander around and look at paintings.
So how did you get into pop culture?
My mother married a succession of wealthy men, and my father was an alcoholic Air Force sergeant. I spent most of my childhood with my mother, an occasionally journeyed to England and the United States with my dad. When I got older, I started reading books and getting exposure to ideas from outside of Spain. When I was about 14, I was given the opportunity to move to the States with my dad.
What was your dad like?
My dad was kind of like a Good Time Charlie- just chasing tail, not an intellectual person at all. He was the son of a city worker, was drafted and fought in the Korean War. He never had any higher education. He was a bright guy, but he had no outlet so he became a raging alcoholic.
So you liked the states?
Yeah man! You have to understand that I grew up in a place where it really mattered who your grandparents were. It was still a daily topic of all conversation- the division of families of the War and subsequent ideologies. It permeated all of society. Very classist, very prejudiced, very judgmental, very programmed. It was fucked. I happened to have a liberal brain. I had a creative brain.
What happened when you got to the states?
I went to school for a year before I dropped out and got a job in a hamburger stand. I bought a car, had an apartment, smoked pot, got laid. Life was good.
How did you end up serving in the Air Force?
I got in some trouble, and it was my way out. When I went in, I aced their tests, so they just asked me what I wanted to do. I told them I would do whatever took the longest amount of schooling. I went to technical training schools for almost two years. And the last two years, I was in Austin, where there was nothing to do except hang out.
Do you feel like you got anything out of the Air Force?
The military was good for me because when I went in, I didn't know how to do anything. If you do get some technical training, and you pay attention to it, they will teach you a methodology to achieve goals and troubleshoot problems, to analyze systems and stuff. I still apply a lot of those methods today to what I do.
So no college?
I didn't finish high school. I took the equivalency thing but no college. Any liberal arts education I have, I've done for myself. I like to read a lot and study, so that's never been a problem.
How did you come to leave the Air Force?
By the time my enlistment was up, I had made a lot of friends in Austin. I was part of the local music scene, had a girlfriend, a cool place to live downtown. So I just didn't re-enlist, and I just stayed in Austin.
What was the music scene like?
The music scene was amazing. It had a good dozen or so ever-changing spots to see all kinds of music, ranging from Cosmic Cowboy-type music to punk and New Wave, to weird and whatever. For two bucks you could see a show, and everybody went. A lot of stuff was going on and living was easy. That's why so much stuff came out of Austin in those years.
What were some of your favorite Austin bands?
I was a big Butthole Surfers fan. Scratch Acid was an amazing band. The Dicks were really great. I would say those three bands were my favorites.
Did a lot of touring bands come through?
Every band that toured would stop in Austin to do a performance, because it was like a little oasis stop between the East Coast and the West Coast. There was no place else those bands could go in the middle of the country. That's why I had a good career. I was able to do all of the posters for the bands doing one small show in Austin on their way somewhere else.
How did you start doing flyers?
Before I did posters, I had been doing some mail art and I had this marginal correspondence going on with this group in Portland called the Art Maggots. Well, a couple of the Art Maggots moved down to Austin and rented a jam house. I started hanging out with them, drawing comics and nonsense guerrilla street art stuff. They would xerox it and put it up around town. At some point a local band or two were like, "Hey, we really like these posters that you guys are doing. Will you do a poster for our band?"
So you started getting commissions?
I just started off doing little flyers for local bands which kind of turned into doing T-shirt designs for businesses, which turned into more posters for bigger clubs and bigger bands.
What were the early aesthetic influence for your first posters?
It was this weird mix of new wave shit I'd seen, some of the European heavy metal comic book artists; the industrial research publications were a big influence on me. Eventually my work became more colorful wackier and more fun.
Were you always drawing from the beginning?
Not really. When I started corresponding with these punk rock people, they were drawing stuff and it got competitive. I trained myself to do everything.
How long was it until it was a viable business?
I didn't start making a living off of strictly my own, self-produced imagery until 1991. I quit my last job in 1987, and basically did commercial work: "We want you to draw an elephant on a surfboard with a margarita." That's what paid the bills. I still do it today.
1991 was also the same year you moved to San Fransisco. What drove you there?
No reason. I was bored of Austin. I did end up doing well here, and I've been here ever since.
You did a lot of commercial work in the 90’s, right?
I had tons of it. All the big companies, they wanted to sell to kids - grunge was the hot new thing in 1993, 1994. Subsequently, for the next three or four years, I got an assload of commercial jobs from Nike, beer companies, clothing companies, alcohol companies, tobacco companies, people who wanted to sell shit to kids. I happily took them all.
Can you speak a bit about your approach to commercial work?
I'm reasonable. They hire me to solve a problem. I'll ask them what they want, the physical parameters and the deadline. I ask them to reference any previous work of mine that they want me to sort of dive off of. I also ask "Is there anything you don't want to see?" Like, “Do you hate snakes?” You would be surprised, because a lot of times, they'll get pissed. It's like, "Don't you know the guy was in a plane wreck. You can't have planes."