I really didn’t think about it that deeply at the time. In fact, I knew who Chip Kidd was, but I had never really taken the time to look at his work to get a feel for his style. Today, while procrastinating, I went to take a gander. I gotta say… His work is elegant in its use of contrast and asymmetry, but the most part, not my thing. A little too elegant maybe. To make a music analogy, if graphic designers were sax players and I was looking for one to complete the Nix Comics band, he’d be John Coltrane and I’m looking for Lora Logic from X-Ray Spex.
(And you know… He has a lot of fans. Don’t let me be the arbiter of taste, go decide for yourself. http://www.chipkidd.com/gallery.html)
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So who would I choose for a make-over, if not the popular favorite?
In true Nix Comics fashion, the first name that pops to mind is record-related and belongs to a person who has been dead for over 30 years: Barney Bubbles, whose most famous work is probably the cover to Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True.”
Despite the eyeball-bending of the checkerboard pattern on the aforementioned EC jacket, it’s probably one of his more conservative pieces. (Check Out The Damned’s Music for Pleasure LP jacket to see just how little regard he had for conventions. Woof!) Bubbles’ earlier psychedelic designs for Hawkwind have an unearthly quality to them and his Stiff Records artwork played with geometry in a way that was meant to fly in the face of conventional album art design. Both Hawkwind and Stiff managed to create a unique and lasting images for themselves from Barney’s designs.
Barney Bubbles brought flourish to the text on his projects, the kind of flourish that a lot of graphic designers don’t use for fear of the band name or title getting lost. His Anthropomorphic use of letters to create a face/head out of the word Blockhead for instance. No one would do that today for fear that the least sophisticated consumer would be perplexed.
Sadly, Bubbles’ career was cut short due to suicide.
Assuming this fantasy game I’m playing here is limited to living graphic designers who I merely can’t afford, the next name on my list for a Nix Comics redesign would be Art Chantry. Chantry is best known for being one of the primary artists responsible for the look 80s and 90s Pacific Northwest punk, garage and grunge. I was introduced to his work through my love of Estrus Records.
Similar (and I expect in part in homage) to Bubbles, Chantry’s work for Estrus and other record companies defies what are considered design industry norms. He designed new Estrus Logos on a regular basis, as opposed to designing one and keeping it the same in the name of “branding.” Chantry’s sleeves for Estrus seven inchers used the European style cardboard sleeves rather than ubiquitous cheap flimsy gloss sleeves used by most labels at the time. Where most rock art of the era used computer design tools and desktop publishing apps, Chantry used good old fashioned silk-screens, scissors and glue to create his art, giving it an organic and raw feel.
Like I said, this is a fantasy exercise. While Art Chantry is alive, well, and I assume, still working, I simply don’t have the dough to pay a designer of his caliber and esteem.
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Now do you really want to talk fantasy?
If we’re talking dreams of dreams… I would want Poison Ivy Rorschach of the Cramps to do a Nix Comics redesign. I think that it’s weird that people don’t make more of the artistic changes that started to Cramps records after they left IRS. Outside of the iconic Stephen Blickenstaff art on Bad Music for Bad People, the IRS/Illegal releases had inconsistent design and worse, misleading. The IRS designs were dark and grim looking, but somehow still safe… lacking the color and joy of the possibly dangerous material inside.
That all changed once they left the IRS fold and Poison Ivy took over as producer and art director. The dreary black and white and often blurry images of the band in non-descript locales were replaced by sharp colorful pictures, mostly of Ivy in burlesque regalia, with explosively colorful and textural settings. Finally the album art matched the personality of the albums!