There’s a new way for all of us horror fans to enjoy breakfast in the morning and it’s all courtesy of a man named Joe Simko. He’s a real rocknrolla with a “sweet rot” for poking fun at pop culture and he’s bringing his brand of stylized parody products to the masses this Spring with the 1st series of (hopefully many) Cereal Killers trading cards under the newly formed banner of Wax Eye. Simko is a published author, not to mention a co-conspirator on the newly resurrected Garbage Pail Kids card line by Topps… he’s also the subject of our latest Little Shops of Horror (cue maniacal laughter and thunder).
Your work runs the gamut from trading cards to album covers. How did you get started in illustration?
After attending NYC’s School of Visual Arts for Cartooning, one of my first art jobs was working as an in-house storyboard illustrator for television commercials. Also, I got exposure for my artwork through doing punk rock show posters for bands in the city. I would start with friends’ bands, and that lead to other art gigs such as album artwork, concert shirts, tattoos, comics, murals, etc.
What are some of the biggest influences on your work (comics, cartoons, music, movies)?
My earliest influences were cartoons, virtually every kind of Saturday morning cartoon during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. I would practice drawing characters from certain shows as they were airing. Comic influences came in a mixed form, from superhero to independent horror tales, but my largest comic inspiration was from Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard, or anything by Vaughn Bode for that matter. His style has such a universal cartoon quality that can appeal to anyone, and his writing pushes the boundaries of taste comedically and philosophically.
Music-wise, I grew up with punk, Misfits and Gwar being the strongest stimulus. Although my art has its roots planted in this type of music, currently I take in as many different musical genres as possible. Film has always been a great source of inspiration. Like music, I love to take in as many different types of work as possible. But those early vhs video tape collections I owned consisted of horror and independent cult stuff. As most teenage males in the 1980’s and early 90’s that are into comic books and punk rock, I too was drawn to the Evil Dead series, Mad Max, and early Peter Jackson stuff like Bad Taste, and Dead Alive to name just a small (but great) few.
Last year you released your first book, The Sweet Rot, which you descibed as “a modern day punk rock Charlie Brown.” What was the premise behind that project?
The Sweet Rot is a book project I’ve been working on for quite some time. I wanted to tell a tale about a town with a bunch of eccentric ultra-modern kids without any adults. The first Sweet Rot book is about a young punk kid, Pukeboy, who is struggling to play his guitar at the Sweet Rot candy shop performance center. I’m happy to say that The Sweet Rot books will be an on-going series published by Schiffer books. The second book will be out Fall 2011, followed by the third book in Spring of 2012.
I understand that your latest project, Cereal Killers, was initially a pitch you made for Topps Wacky Packges back in 2009. What made you want to release them yourself?
The Cereal Killers submission was how I got involved working with Topps. They were interested in the CK project and had me visit the office. I pitched Cereal Killers card set along with the mini-cereal box packaging design. It was considered ready to be released that following year, but ultimately got put on hold due to circumstances (budget issues, change in management). I knew the cards needed to be released, so I went on my own to make it happen. My wife, June and I formed the company Wax Eye specifically for this set. The response so far has been GREAT I’m very excited to have this 1st series out there.
What was your favorite kind of cereal as a kid? How about least favorite?
My favorite childhood cereal could be a very long list, but I’ll narrow it down to 2 for the sake of time and reading: Ghostbusters cereal and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal. Anything combining marbits and a crunch factor always will work! Least favorite would be any kind of oatmeal… kids cereal needs to be cold!
Wacky Packages could very much be considered a product of its time, back when MAD magazine and Saturday Night Live made it cool to poke fun at popular culture. Do you feel this sort of product is making a comeback?
Parody and spoofs seem to always be in style. We need to satirize and poke fun of the world around us in some way to survive it. My feelings are that trading cards, parody or non-parody, are making a comeback. Even more so in recent years with the sketch card phenomenon. Artists and collectors both seem to enjoy them, and it’s great to see new card manufacturers coming up with innovative ways of introducing special inserts and chase cards to this collectible art form of “trading cards”. Lots of trading cards, including Cereal Killers, are about selling affordable, collectible artwork in an alternate format than say something like a comic book.
What sort of secret prizes can fans expect from this 1st series?
Ahh, yes, along with 20 horrifying collectible cards in every Cereal Killers trading cards box there will be extra goodies– inserts included will be an eyeball gum and 1 free gift. The free gift will either be a fridge magnet, black-light sticker, gold-foil card, temporary tattoo, or an original hand drawn sketch card by myself.
Are there any future series planned after Cereal Killers?
If this 1st series proves well, then plans for a Cereal Killers 2nd series are definitely in development. There are also plans for an entirely new series of cards, but can’t give too much away about that at the moment.
How much of an influence (if any) was Art Spiegelman’s work on the original Wacky Packages in developing new, gross twists on everyone’s favorite mass-produced merchandise?
The Art Spiegelman influence can’t be denied. [We’re] so fortunate that he got this idea of Wacky Packages out there– it’s really a great thing. The gross-out twisted sense of humor is such a part of childhood for many kids, boys and (yes) even girls. It’s what being a kid IS! I personally grew-up collecting Garbage Pail Kids, and it’s an amazing feeling that I am currently an artist on the new GPK series. Collecting those cards in my youth helped forge friendships and connect with other kids when sometimes it was difficult to do so. I’m sure the same is true for other kids from that era. It’s a great thing to now be at an age where I can be part of the creative process and hopefully get the next gen into connecting with their new friendships.
What’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
Hmm… I remember as a 7 or 8 yr. old really wanting an Atari video game system. I drew out the full console with crayon on paper, constructed sides to make it boxy, then drew and cut out game cartridges that could slide right into my new paper Atari. I placed the final sketched- taped up system in front of the TV, and using the paper gameing joystick that I also designed with this 2-D system controlled whatever cartoon show was on TV at the time. Unfortunately, the cartoon characters never moved in the direction I wanted… maybe I should have created a cord from the Atari to the TV.