Manchild: An Interview with Punk Rock Cartoonist Brian Walsby by Greg Barbera

Aug 25, 2005

If you grew up on punk rock in the '80s, you are probably familiar with the drawings of Brian Walsby seen in fanzines. If you grew up on Nardcore, you probably saw his band Scared Straight, and if you were part of the youth crew movement, you still probably own of copy of 7 Seconds' Walk Together, Rock Together EP which proudly boasts his artwork on the cover. And if you grew up on punk rock in the '80s and read fanzines, he might have even been your pen pal. Walsby is an enigma; he's had people like former Whiskeytown frontman and darlin' Ryan Adams and Corrosion of Conformity's Mike Dean as roommates, he's illustrated erotic stories for a porn magazine that the Melvins' Buzz Osborne's wife worked at, and he even made a stab at being an editorial cartoonist for a Raleigh alternative weekly. He's currently experiencing a bit of a personal renaissance: he finally broke down and got a driver's license five years ago, he has moved out of Raleigh - where he spent the last twenty years - and he has just released his first book, Manchild: A Celebration of Twenty Years of Doodles.

Greg: How old are you?
Brian: I am thirty-nine years old.
Greg: What is your Zodiac sign?
Brian: I am a Libra.
Greg: What does your dad do for a living?
Brian: He sells insurance and he's a doctor but he lives in Vegas where anyone can be a doctor. He is not a real doctor. My mother lives in Vegas too and also is some sort of spiritual doctor or whatever. In Las Vegas they have all of this mystical stuff and spiritual stuff to balance out all of the soul-destroying crap there. I hate that place, actually. To each their own.
Greg: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Brian: Two brothers. I'm the middle
Greg: When is your first memory of drawing something and what was it you drew?
Brian: I used to draw the Zodiac signs. My mom keeps reconfirming that. So it must be true. Actually I do have a few memories of going up to my family members and showing them these things. What kind of kid starts off learning how to draw by drawing Zodiac signs? Me, I guess.
Greg: When did you start playing the drums and what inspired you to do so?
Brian: I guess I started off arranging all of these paint cans in my parents' garage and then I would use some chopsticks as drumsticks and go insane singing all of these demented songs that I would make up while my little tape recorder was rolling. It is probably a good thing that they are all long gone to posterity. I was like ten years old when I was doing that. I got a drum set when I was in tenth grade and I realized that I had some sort of knack for playing them. I realized this when I learned that I could easily emulate the drum introduction for Judas Priest's Living After Midnight, which had just came out at that time. For some reason I thought that it was really tough. I was inspired because I liked music so much and always wanted to play music in a band.

Greg: When was Scared Straight born?
Brian: The end of '83. I wasn't involved at the time. Before that Scott Radinsky and Dennis Jagard were involved in a band with a few other guys called SOF. This stood for "Secure Our Future" or something like that. They played at a battle of the bands event held in a rolling rink in Simi Valley. I remember how excited I was to watch kids play really honest-to-god punk rock. I basically made friends with them by drawing a picture of them playing, which they thought was pretty cool. So, I was "in." I always used my artistic thing as the one way I could get involved with things. I was a real big fan of theirs and after a few member changes and Scott moving to singing duties, they asked me if I wanted to join. It was towards the end of 1984 and I was really excited about it. It was a hell of a lot of fun, my first band.
Greg: What the fuck is Nardcore?
Brian: Nardcore is a nickname for all of the punk bands that came out of nearby Oxnard. There were a lot of good bands out there: Aggression, Ill Repute, Dr.Know, Stalag 13. They had a nice scene happening and we were in awe of most of those bands. RKL were from nearby Santa Barbara, but were considered a part of things. RKL were the best band, I think.
Greg: Name some Nardcore bands you played shows with.
Brian: I think we played with everybody there at least once but I am not one hundred percent sure. We were pretty close to Ill Repute at the time. They liked us and took us with them across the country on tour in 1985. We had a great time. I think I was kind of scared of some of the other bands, like some members of Dr. Know and RKL. I was basically a really naive, dorky kid and these other guys in those bands did drugs and drank a lot and seemed a bit more around the block then I was, so I was kind of intimidated by them. I think my first real show that I ever played was in Oxnard, actually. It was at the end of 1984, and I remember it because it was a blur and it was also the night that Vince Neil had killed Razzle of Hanoi Rocks.
Greg: Have anything good to say about Mystic Records?
Brian: They put out our record. I'm sure nobody else in his or her right mind would have done that. I never harbored any ill will towards those guys. It just seemed like to me that they were just putting out as much stuff as they could, as fast as they could and as cheaply as they could. All of us pretty much knew that this wasn't going to be some moneymaker type of situation. I have a hard time believing that they made a lot of money off of all of these sort of generic and premature hardcore bands that they snatched up. We were just one of them. Maybe I am wrong in all of that but at the time all we thought was,
"Man, it's cool to have our own 7" out! Alright!" Now it is like, who cares, you know?
Greg: When you were in Scared Straight, who was your favorite hardcore band at that time?
Brian: Black Flag. They were the first band that I heard and I was just really into them for many years. I was with them when they did the My War and Slip It In stuff, too. I kind of thought things were cooling down when Loose Nut came out. I always thought that Black Flag almost broke up in time... almost!
Greg: How did you hook up with 7 Seconds and end up doing the cover art for them?
Brian: I band-slutted my way into that one. Basically I just gave them all blowjobs until they relented. The rest is history.

Greg: How did you meet Buzz Osborne from the Melvins?
Brian: The Melvins played in Raleigh a month after I moved out here in the spring of 1986. They were on their first tour across the country, with RKL in tow I might add. Everybody hated them back then. They were clearing halls across the country but I thought that they were incredible. In my mind, they took what Black Flag and COC did and made it better. Plus they were cool guys. Dale, Matt. I remember that me and a friend of mine named Chris interviewed them for our respective fanzines that we were doing at the time and I was really impressed with Buzz and his somewhat cynical view towards the punk rock scene back then. He said really prophetic things like, "All of you kids out there listening to hardcore should just start listening to the Stooges and the MC5 now because you'll just be listening to them in a few years anyways." That is exactly what happened. I have been friends with those guys ever since. Buzz and Dale came to my
wedding. I still think that they are a great band, one of the last actually.
Greg: Did you really move from California to North Carolina because of COC?
Brian: That was sort of the catalyst for moving, my friendship with them. They were an incredible band and were some seriously cool people. I visited Raleigh in the summer of 1985 and was struck with how nice everybody was and how cool things seemed to be there. It was a lot different that Southern California, that was for sure.
Greg: Try to explain that dynamic to the dear readers.
Brian: Well, let's see. On every level it was a lot different. It was a smaller city for starters, a real different mentality. Everyone seemed so nice and friendly.
Greg: Like what was the difference between the Nardcore scene at the time and the Raleigh scene?
Brian: It's all the same man. There's no difference. I mean, of course there were some differences but really it was all of the same in the regard that everything was sort of set up in the same way. There were some bands, and then there were the handful of people that made things happen, like putting on shows, making zines, writing letters to other scenes. And then there were the rest of the kids that maybe didn't do anything but still supported the shows because they were fans. So in that regard, that is what was the same. It was this global tribal sort of thing going on, and it was an awesome time. But those are the similarities. It was all really small, nothing like whatever is considered punk rock today, that is for sure. So it is pretty funny to think that I moved out here because of COC, but it was also 'cause of punk rock and letter writing. I could have ended up anywhere because of punk rock and eventually I ended up in Raleigh.
Greg: At what point did you discover your inner metal?
Brian: I started off that way. I mean, I wasn't a real metal head or anything but I always liked heavy music. I was listening to stuff like Motorhead and Iron Maiden before I finally had a chance to buy some punk rock stuff. It was the most aggressive stuff that I could find at the time. Iron Maiden had just put out Killers and I couldn't believe how fast it was! It was actually really punk rock sounding, as most people know. I liked all of that rock stuff before - that and, of course, the Beatles and things like that. When I heard punk rock, it was all over though. It was like the bar had been raised. I'll still take the Bad Brians in their prime over pretty much any metal band that ever was. Or Black Flag in their prime - that stuff mops the floor with anybody, I think. I wasn't some art student kid that loved the Clash, you know?
Greg: You were in a mildly popular Raleigh band with Ryan Adams called the Paddy Duke Syndrome. When was the last time you saw or spoke to him?
Brian: Ryan and I exchanged some nasty e-mails over a year ago. He is a genius, as I am sure you know by now.
Greg: By the late '90s, I was trying to make an editorial cartoonist out of you while I was working as an editor at Raleigh's long-since dead weekly The Spectator. Was I successful do you think?
Brian: As it turned out, no. Nice try and thanks.
Greg: I see you included a hate mail letter someone sent to the paper when we ran that Brian Wilson cartoon - the one you have included in Manchild. I remember when your band mate Scott Williams from your thrash outfit Daddy sent me a hate mail letter and I replied viciously. Thank god he had a sense of humor. I hear he is a hairdresser now.
Brian: Yes. This is true. He's a hairdresser. But he still hates everything.
Greg: I wish we still had that "save the scene" full-page comic that ran in The Spectator. It would have fit in nicely next to the Honor Role story you drew in Manchild about them kicking people out of the scene from the stage during a show.
Brian: It seemed really important to call out those kinds of people at the time, but looking back now I don't know why. It's not as good as the Honor Role story. Once when they played, they unrolled a scroll and called people up to the stage to officially "kick them out of the scene," which was a sarcastic joke aimed at some people in Richmond at the time. That was very well placed sarcasm.
Greg: Explain your fascination with Charles Schultz and Peanuts.
Brian: It was my favorite comic strip as a kid. It was very relatable and with a lot of intelligence and heart. There were lots of biblical references from Linus that I still don't understand.
Greg: Aside from Pushead - who gained notoriety as a columnist with Thrasher and was a formidable skateboard graphic artist for Zorlac before going on to do Metallic album covers - were there any other punk rock cartoonists that you found influential or admired?
Brian: There wasn't really a whole lot. Of course, Raymond Pettibone. He did all those great Black Flag album covers and lots of other stuff for SST records. Shawn Kerri. She's dead now. She did the Circle Jerks stuff. The Hernandez Brothers. Before Love & Rockets, they drew a lot of stuff for the Nardcore bands -they were an influence. I liked Dennis Worden ( and his Stickboy creation. He was really funny. Even though Pushead ( was kind of a letdown personality-wise for me because he acted like some kind of egomaniac - I write about my encounter with him in Manchild - he was an influence on me. I never considered myself in any league with those people, they were all around before I was and were further along as well. It took me a long time to get up to speed, looking back at those days.
Greg: A lot of your comics deal with your day job as a record store and used book store clerk. Now that you work in food service, is the experience different?
Brian: There is way more hatred toward the people I'm serving and some of the people I work with. I'm only lashing out because the company has awesome benefits and insurance, so I'm stuck there. I have a vicious cartoon that sums up my work environment and by the time it is printed I will have transferred to another store with no fear of being fired. Working with the public has always and will always be a horrible experience.
Greg: I hear you are moving out of Raleigh after twenty-some years. How long do you think you will last before you move back?
Brian: I hope I don't move back. I don't intend on moving back. My time is done.
Greg: Have you completely abandoned your musical aspirations?
Brian: I feel like I had invested so much of my identity into that kind of thing. It became sort of obligatory after a while and because of that, I am going to retire for now and take a break. I am burned out. I have other things to do, so it will be no problem.
Greg: Burn any pizzas lately? I hear you have this habit of forgetting to remove the cardboard on the bottom. Firestarter Walsby. Isn't that what your old roommates call you?
Greg: You have been talking to Chris Jones. Actually, I have a good story that involves my wife Jennifer. This happened a few years ago. She had spent all of this time one evening getting this berry pie together to bake. She had spent a lot of time slaving over it and my job was simply to take it out of the oven the following morning when she left the house for most of the day. Well, for some reason I forgot and left the house. I am not sure if I went to work or not, but at some point while I was gone I realized that I had left the oven on with Jennifer's pie in it and that the kitchen was probably engulfed in flames at that point. So I literally ran home like a mile and a half and when I came into the kitchen I noticed that Jen had come home while I was gone and took the smoldering embers of a fruit pie out of the oven and left it on top of it. She wasn't there, though. Yeah, I was in deep shit. But I haven't burned any pizzas in years... so there!
Greg: Guilty pleasure: name a record you have never admitted to having until now (and I don't mean the new COC).
Brian: I was going to say King's X but then I realized that I had sold most of my records years ago and still don't care. What I have left is awesome, I am afraid: All of the Honor Role records, the Subculture record, a Motown box set. Sorry, nothing embarrassing.
Greg: What's next for the Reluctant King?
Brian: There will be an ongoing book/magazine coming out on Bifocal Media. I am going to continue to use the title Manchild for this. The first issue will hopefully be out by the end of the year, and will come with a bonus CD of all the bands I've played with over the years.Fourteen bands in twenty-two years. After a while the idea will be that I can take it over from Charles Cardello who owns Bifocal Media and run the whole thing myself, but who knows. I have a website too, there is a lot of artwork and cartoons on it and stuff like that. If you want to visit it go to I certainly won't stop anybody from buying the Manchild book that I am offering for sale on the site, too.
Greg: Oh, maybe you should explain the nickname.
Brian: Local music critic Karen A. Mann from the independent weekly in Durham did a story and used that headline and I perpetuated it and it stuck. I'm going to officially retire that name after this interview. I guess I thought it was funny at first.
Greg: When's the Daddy reunion? The band you once described to me as Black Flag meets Voivod.
Brian: I recently tried to play music with a couple of those guys and it wasn't happening. So I quit.

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