In many ways, perhaps the all-time best punk logos, I think, were always the easiest to reproduce or draw on your jean/leather jacket, skateboard grip tape, notebook cover, or spray-paint onto a brick wall, half-pipe, or cop car. But they needed to convey “not really normal” or “I am rather pissed and don’t need society.” Many of the people making logos, remember, were not necessarily artists, graphic designers, or anything other than a friend or member of the band itself. There are some exceptions, and a few artists who had terrific skills made them as well, like Pushead’s lettering and stippling dots, Winston Smith’s sharp X-Acto blade collage work, Dave King’s stencil genius, Chris Shary’s precision line work, etc. … But that was more uncommon. They did make some of the more memorable ones. The D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) skanking man, for example, was drawn by their original drummer, Eric Brecht, who did it as a school project designing a company logo—the company was their label and band. Think of the mileage that one still gets … not bad for a school assignment.
Whereas larger bands had someone from an “art department” to consult and get help from, the best punk ones were made out of necessity, and generally had way more energy, life, and rawness in the crooked angles, odd jarring shapes, and bumpy curves. These were the symbols used to quickly distinguish, and were signifiers to others that this band was real and serious, kind of like a gang or graffiti tag. Ever notice how the letters get sharper in rougher neighborhoods? Same idea was sort of at play with punk logos. When you saw the infamous Black Flag bars (made by Raymond Pettibon), you knew it was heavy and wasn’t meant to be taken lightly. It was a flag or a shield, and not something lightweight or flimsy. They were playing hard, aggressive, gnarly music; the logos were representing that and the feeling of being an outsider, misfit, or freak that came with being a card-carrying punker.
The other thing to remember about logos is that they were birthed to help others remember them. Sometimes the simplest ones are the most effective. Ask any T-shirt company which of their shirts sell the best, nine times out of 10, it’s the simple straight-up logo shirts, not the high art or arty ones. Why is that? People have a need or desire to associate themselves with things they like or want others to know they like—even punkers. People gotta know you’re on team Crass, or team Dead Kennedys, or team Corrosion of Conformity … the list goes on and on. I mean, you are down with the Crimson Ghost skull of the Misfits and fools gotta be told. It is your warning shot, either “Stay away if your are square,” or “Hey, let’s talk about whatever weird local shows are coming up or where to buy that fanzine, hair dye, or pair of Vans/Creepers.” And another thing, these very logos and the shirts, patches, stickers, etc., that they’re sold on, far outsell the records of these bands. Chances are, the folks who made these popular iconic punk logos got very little if anything in terms of their share of the compensation. Doesn’t quite seem fair, does it? And bootleggers probably make out the best as far as the loot goes. Modern bands’ merch tables always have long lines, but it wasn’t always like that. Might be time to actually, honestly “pay” for real and not just “pay” respect to some of the guys who made these iconic and lasting symbols of what you thought punk was all about, or what you choose to let represent it, for you. Think about that next time you wear one of them across your chest. Gives new meaning to the Minutemen song “Party With Me Punker,” doesn’t it?