A Brief History of Surf Cartoons
Interview by Jed Smith Amidst the cultural cliches, stoner put-downs, ‘shaka brahs,’ spin-offs and sell-outs, it’s easy to forget the role surfing has played in shaping contemporary art. For over 40 years now we’ve been a place where artists can get paid, and the result has been some of the edgiest, most warped illustrations ever to […]
Interview by Jed Smith
Amidst the cultural cliches, stoner put-downs, ‘shaka brahs,’ spin-offs and sell-outs, it’s easy to forget the role surfing has played in shaping contemporary art. For over 40 years now we’ve been a place where artists can get paid, and the result has been some of the edgiest, most warped illustrations ever to go to print. Former Stab cartoonist and all-round Australian pop art legend, Ben Brown, takes us on a trip through his favourite surfing cartoonists. From Rick Griffin to Tony Edwards and Drew Toonz, these are the best surf cartoons of all-time, in the words of Ben Brown:
Jim and Jimbo Phillips
“Jim became famous with the Santa Cruz stuff and the Screaming Hand. He must have been in his mid 40s when his son, Jimbo, took over in the mid-eighties, and sorta picked up the baton from where the old man slowed down. Jimbo, his son, has a similar style, almost like he took over the family business. Jimbo was down here (in Australia) for the 30th anniversary of the Screaming Hand. He’s a top bloke. A lot of the times you meet American artists and they’re quite affected and enjoying their time as the big time artist but Jimbo played in punk bands, surfed, skated, played drums in a couple of bands, he was a top guy to meet. Definitely influenced a lot of general surf cartoons over the years.”
Early Mambo (Gerry Wedd, Jim Mitchell, Jeff Raglus, Reg Mombassa, Paul McNeil).
“A lot of guys think Mambo is solely Reg but Gerry, Jim, Jeff and a bunch of those guys had a good surf art graphic style that influenced a lot of people in a really good way. Early Mambo when it started in mid-eighties, they were really cracking along. They had a good influence on a lot of artists, a unique, graphic art, surfing kinda style, really Australian. They weren’t copying other Californian styles or whatever. Gerry had these unreal ads in Tracks where he’d do full page comic strips which were full page woodcuts of funny moments in surf history – like stuff MP had done, Simon (Anderson) winning Bells, he basically retold history in six-to-eight frames. He’s into pottery these days and he does the same on tiles and teapots.”
Tony Edwards (aka Captain Goodvibes)
“A really big influence on me personally from when I was really young in the early 70s. It had that cross-hatch style using pens and ink. Generally amazing illustration, influenced I guess by Zap comics in Cali and Oz mag which was running out of London at the time. You read them now and they’re so out there. You thought they were funny, but they’re actually just really fucked up, but still funny. Real acid tripped out late 60s and 70s kinda vibe (laughter). I read one the other day about a kid stealing an old lady’s purse, running off to buy some speed, shooting it up, yelling ‘Yipeeeeee!’ and flying off into space (laughter).”
“Rick Griffin is my biggest influence. I remember being young and I had an older brother five years older. He was surfing when he was 12 and I was 7 and I was just blown away by the art. Rick always featured in them and then he crossed into music in the San Fran late 60s scene, doing posters for Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who. They’re worth a shitload those posters now if you can track one down. He lost in it in the early 70s and became a born-again Christian, and I reckon it blunted his work a bit. He went from doing really cool surf art and posters to illustrating the bible and probably giving all his profits and art to Evangelical friends. Weird path.”
Mark Sutherland (Gonad Man)
“Sutho is a legend. Gonad Man is super Australian, not influenced by anything else really. The humour and the way it’s drawn, it reminds me a bit of the Drew Toonz series. They’re unreal, so funny. There’s not a lot of fuss in the execution whereas someone like Rick (Griffin) is so full on. Gonad Man and Drew are punk rock – funny ideas, executed really quickly.”
Steve Cakebread (Felch)
“Yes, Felch is a classic. I can’t remember their stuff really well so I won’t comment too much, but from what I remember it was hilarious and again, classically Australian.”
New School: Nanda Ormond and Johannes Leak
“Yeah, Nanda (Surfing World) and Johannes (Tracks Magazine), I really like Nanda’s style. It’s perfect for now, its not like Adventure Time but it reminds me of that weirdness – stylised and really cool and his caricatures are unreal as well. He’s been doing it in Surfing World for a while now.
And Johannes, he’s got pedigree with his old man who’s one of my favourite artists of all time. I’ve watched Johannes as he’s grown up really develop his stuff and he’s just nailed that caricature, and the writing is good too, really good at being able to create a traditional one image cartoon.”
“Ozzie’s had an over all impression on surfing culture in the same way the Mambo guys did. Although they weren’t regularly publishing surf comics – they’re art and aesthetic was influencing surf culture and therefore surf art. Ozzie has had a really big influence in that way. He is also the only artist we’ve discussed that is recognised for his surfing as well, so he is very influential in the general direction of surfing art and the lifestyle.”
Ben Brown (Author’s note: we put a gun to his head for this)
“When I first started with Grub, Gary Dunne (Rip Curl honcho) was doing Tracks. When I look back at it now I wouldn’t put in a portfolio. I’m not really proud of it. And then with Stab, the concept that Sam and Derek had was rad. The reference they gave me was this 50 Cent cartoon from GQ, loose, super out there, funny style, and we kind of used that as a template, but then drifted more towards a Mad magazine style. The first one was the Kelly Slater cartoon which led to Quik pulling their money out of Stab. That set the tone. They were fun to do and when people would come up to you and say that’s the funniest thing ever, you’d claim it. But then you’d get, like, what the fuck? That is so gnarly and I’d be like, oh, that’s Derek, it’s his humour. This is just a paid job, gotta feed the kids and family you know. Derek loved to polarise people. But it did get weird when you had to do it about people you knew, like Ozzie and Kidman.”
“Love the stylised, throwaway style. It’s an animated thing you can do and put online without a huge budget. The writing is really good, I watched, I think it was someone like Dorian jumping out of the bushes with a big Hawaiian king helmet killing pigs and stuff. Fucking hilarious.”
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