Founder of the Fudge Factory Comics publishing company in 1997, Los Angeles-based artist Travis Millard marvellously combines social and political irony with absurdity in his theatrical yet overtly bizarre and hilarious pen and ink drawings on paper. Primarily influenced by skateboarding graphics, horror movies, punk rock and comics, Travis Millard has always been exploring and experimenting with new ideas, mediums and techniques as a means to convey humour and to provide for a low-key satire built around a series of open-ended sketches on common things.
Along with his self-published comic books, zines and commercial works, spanning a wide variety of notable clients including Sub Pop, Adidas, Vans, Blood is the New Black, Brand New School, Cartoon Network, Chronicle Books, Dakine, Nike, Puma, FYF Fest, Hewlett-Packard, Transworld, Burton, Titmouse Inc, Volcom and Wired (IT)2K, Travis Millard is also credited with illustrating album covers for many musicians and bands. In today’s interview, Travis takes us inside his wildly imaginative mind as he discusses some of his music-related projects and talks about his latest artwork for the new Dinosaur Jr. album “I Bet On Sky”, due for release via Jagjaguwar on September 18 and via PIAS in the UK/Europe on September 17.
Travis, you’re originally from Olathe, Kansas. What stories do you remember most clearly about your childhood? What was it that inspired you to be an artist?
My mom always had a pen and paper in her purse that she’d pull out to keep me from climbing the walls. I was also the kid in class who could do a really good rendition of the teacher kissing her own butt, which got laughs from the other kids and sometimes got me in trouble. I remember getting caught drawing a caricature of my history teacher in class. In my memory it was a nearly perfect likeness of him crossed with a large rat. He hated me for that one. I also had an art teacher who completely encouraged that behavior and his influence still rings in my head.
You have been working a lot with musicians and art covers. How was it like to work with El-P? You illustrated the album covers for Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx2 and megamixxx3 and Spin reported that you based the latest creation off the previous mixtape and El-P’s 2007 album, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Can you tell us more about this collaboration and its process?
I’m a fan of El-P’s music, so it was a treat to work with him on a few projects. He has a connection to the broken bird that appears on many of his records, and wanted to see a take on that theme. That being said, he was also very open to however I approached it. For the MegaMixx 2, I went with a mother bird feeding her chicks a dirty band-aid. For some reason it just seemed funny to me and somehow loosely tapped into the spirit of his music. When he asked me to do the MegaMixxx 3 album, I really just listened to the instrumental record and zoned out on a more meditative drawing that came out looking like a ball of feathers or something.
El-P contributed to Ghosted as well, right? How did you create the characters for the short animated film?
Yes! I’d been drawing a series of smiling ghosts, and my friend Kiel Johnson encouraged me to try building one in 3d. He was also interested in exploring a technique called roto-casting, so we each jumped into our own projects and figured it out together along the way. After much trial and error, I ended up casting a series of 50 that I planned to show at an exhibit at FFDG in San Francisco. It occurred to me that I should probably get some good photos of the group, so I got my friend Theo Jemison to come by, and he really just went over the top with it. Theo’s a master time-lapse photographer and suggested we try having some fun with it rather then just shoot a few still photos. We ended up with some awesome footage, and with just a couple weeks out from the show, I asked my friend Jim Dirschberger if he might be able to lend his keen editing and animation skills to it. In just a few days, what was supposed to be a couple pictures was spiraling into something kind of exciting. We wanted some kind of original music for it, so I asked El-P if he might have something unreleased he’d be willing to contribute. Instead he offered to create a new track entirely that was based on a rough edit we sent over. All in all, it was just a very fun organic process.
The packaging for Megapuss’ Surfing was entirely illustrated and designed by you and fellow artist Mel Kadel. How did you two end up working together on the packaging and how did you guys approach the project?
Mel and I live and work out of an old cabin on the backside of a hill in Echo Park, Los Angeles. One day a moving truck arrived and it turned out to be Devendra Banhart and Gregory Rogove, who we both happen to be big fans of their music. So we met at the mailbox and traded books and records. They only lived there a short time, but recorded the Megapuss album in the basement. They asked Mel and I if we might be into teaming up for the packaging and we jumped at the chance. Basically we both set out to create a bunch of pieces for the album and let Devendra and Gregory choose what they liked best. They threw out a few ideas for some, but just let Mel and I do what we do for the most part. It’s such a great record too.. one of my favorites.
Travis, you recently created the tour poster for Primus show at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, NM. We know that it’s not the first time you’re involved in this project for the band, right?
I’ve worked with my friend Zoltron through Sticker Robot for years, and he’s been curating a tour poster series for Primus. He invites a group of artists to each do a 4 or 5 color serigraph commemorating stops on their tour. I did one for their Los Angeles show last year, and just recently did another for their Albuquerque show. I saw a handful of Primus shows when I was a younger man, so it’s fun to be contributing something to them these days.
On September 18, 2012 Dinosaur Jr. will be releasing a new album entitled ‘I Bet On Sky’ via JagJaguwar and you designed its striking cover. How and when were you first approached about doing work for Dinosaur Jr.? What is the story behind this cover?
I’m thrilled to have been able to do this album. Dinosaur Jr. has been a longtime favorite of mine, so I was just excited to hear the record, let alone actually doing the artwork for it. I was contacted by their manager who asked if I was interested and able to talk about it. He said J Mascis likes my stuff but the deadline was very tight and things needed to come together quickly on it. So I gathered a pile of unpublished drawings and made a private link for them to browse. I wasn’t sure if any would fly, but J chose a drawing the next day and we moved on from there.
How long have you been working on the drawing? How did you come up with the idea for it?
The cover drawing was actually done last year for a show I did with Mel at FFDG in San Francisco. It wasn’t done for anything specifically at the time, just exploring color and kind of a hallucinatory dream state theme. The cover image is a crop of the upper left portion, and additional sections are featured inside the package. The package also features a couple other recent drawings done for a show in San Diego. I’m really pleased with the choices J made for the album, but even more so because the drawings he picked were originally just done for myself and freely exploring the act of drawing.
Your latest exhibition with artist Michael Krueger at Double Break in San Diego featured new works, including drawings, prints and ceramics, inspired by the figure of the “common man, displacing the mundane and the mythic from everyday life, weaving threads between past and present”. What else inspired you? Can you tell us more about Digging a Hole, Looking for Something?
This was a really fun show, not only because it was a chance to work closely with the good folks at Double Break, but also because Michael Krueger is a storied and crucial figure in my personal root system. Michael was my printmaking teacher in school and helped mash a crease in my curiosity that still lingers.
Any upcoming projects from Fudge Factory Comics that you’d like our readers to know about?
I have a show with Michael Sieben at Escapist in KC, MO opening October 5th. Just released some new t-shirts with Sub Pop available on their site. Also created a set of prints for a group show called Manwolfs in Seattle that was inspired by the raucous skate gang from the Machotaildrop film.. there are a few sets still available on my site. I have a few other projects I’m excited about, but those are still bubbling in the cauldron.