You might not recognize the name Todd Francis, but you will recognize his work. This is the guy that designed the world famous Antihero eagle logo and countless rad graphics for companies like Real, Element and Stereo. He even designed a couple of those Bam Boards in the mid 00s when Bam used to pretend he was in the band HIM and scribbled heartagrams all over everything. Todd is only partially to blame for those – sorry about that.
Always in good spirits and humor, I spoke to the man himself and tried to push his buttons to find out how his genius (and kinky) mind works.
Has anyone told you to your face that your artwork sucks before?
Just the guy in the mirror. Plus I’ve had some people tell me they didn’t like particular things I’ve done, and there’s been plenty of disapproval over the years. But as far as someone issuing a blanket statement of hate toward my entire body of work, not really. The curator who wrote the intro essay to my book didn’t like my stuff very much, but it looks like he has a dislike of an entire category of art going on right now. He can suck it.
Why do you like to draw stuff that grosses people out? Diseases. Pig Fucker? While I imagine many skate artists draw stuff that could potentially sell, it seems like you create art that has the potential to not. Why?
It makes me laugh, that’s why. Eliciting strong reactions out of people is all I’m after, I like art with a message that makes people think and react. I’ve been laughing at the idea of a perfectly drawn bowel movement since I was about 16, so there’s probably something wrong with me and my maturity level. And if it didn’t sell, or if it didn’t make other people laugh or roll their eyes or whatever, then I’d probably not have lasted very long, right? There’s no shortage of boring, polished, shiny art that’s non threatening and meaningless, both in skateboarding and outside of it. I’d like to try and aim a little higher and lower.
You draw a lot of graphics where animals have intercourse with humans or rape / beat up humans. Why?
Have you had any sexual experiences with animals before?
Not yet, but I’m at a place in my life where I’m not going to rule anything out. As for why, I like seeing animals hurt people, always have. I’m a big fan of justice and retribution. Whether it’s bird poop or a full blown mauling or rape, I think it’s funny.
”There’s no shortage of boring, polished, shiny art that’s non threatening and meaningless, both in skateboarding and outside of it”
Have you ever considered using your own bodily fluids in a piece?
Man, that sounds pretentious in an art school sort of way. When I was in college working toward my art degree, I used to do a lot of really big charcoal drawings on paper, and I used to sometimes chew up the edge of the paper with my teeth, just to give it this deckled, textured edge.talking about it now, it’s pretty embarrassing, it sounds like an idea that an idiot would cook up to make their work seem “super gnarly.”
You were the artist for Antihero in the beginning when it started. What was it like creating Antihero’s look and working with Julien Stranger?
When Antihero started, there was no firm directive as to what the look of everything might be. Julien never really likes discussing things at length, and he was pretty much constantly on tour with Cardiel and the rest of the team, so I really only had a few tidbits of wisdom to try and work with.
One of the first things I remember at the start of Antihero was Julien feeling a little pressured by it all, where suddenly he had to determine the look of an entire skate company, and he told me, “Do something with a plane crash, because this whole thing feels like a plane crash.” So I think the first tee shirts we rushed to press were a crude drawing I’d done of a plane nosediving with smoke trailing behind it, and “antihero” written out behind it. Man, great idea…but that was a shitty looking shirt. I had to do it in like two hours! The whole start to Antihero was rushed to market, so we had to get tees and stickers and decks cranked out just to have something for the sales department to sell that week. So some of it was a little sloppy at the start, which I wasn’t very proud of.
In the weeks after that, I’d just doodle stuff based on Julien’s favorite books and writers, and we’d usually settle upon graphics that were anti-business or just mildly weird and vulgar. Eventually we just locked into a groove with those ideas, and that’s when things started to look better. But early on, a lot of the graphics I was doing for Antihero were a little confused and all over the place, mostly because we were in a rush.
The original Antihero Eagle artwork was stolen from you at some point. Where is now? How much do you think it is worth?
Yeah, it’s funny, that original Eagle was stolen from a group art show I was doing with Don Pendleton and Matt Irving about eight years ago in London. Best part is, the guy who snagged it was just a huge Antihero fan, and he’d had a few too many that night, and when he got home with it he immediately felt awful about stealing it. So he brought it back! I was so appreciative, and still am… I’d love to buy that guy a beer right now, as long as he doesn’t relapse and try to grab something else of mine.
I learned my lesson and put it into a much larger frame, and I own it. I always have it on the wall of my studio, it’s a good reminder on the days where I’m feeling stupid or useless that I’m actually occasionally capable of good things. As for how much it’d sell for, I have no idea, I never know how much things are worth. It’s not for sale, so who cares?
If you had to retire the eagle and totally recreate the logo and image for Antihero now, what would it be?
That’s a funny question. I think if you wanted to create something to sell decks and tees and stickers and coin purses and roach clips, I’d do something big and tough like a grizzly bear or a vulture or something like that, but since I don’t give a shit about that, and would much rather send a message and bum some people out, I’d choose a tapeworm. Did a set of decks recently featuring parasites, and the tapeworm one really harshed some people’s mellows, so I’d like to stick to my guns.
You’ve done graphics for Element too, and designed a lot of those Bam Element boards during their prime. Did you ever get any royalties or anything more on those?
It’s pretty rare for an artist in this industry to get royalties on board graphics. Sure, that would’ve been a smart business move, but that never really crossed my mind at the time. Smart business moves rarely cross my mind at any time, to be honest. I’m too busy thinking about turd burgers and parasites, remember? I’m kind of honored to have contributed in some small way to a visual legacy, and being part of an era where skating really flourished and helped out a lot of people.
Have you made any board graphics on any sort of drugs? Do you think substances help make one more creative?
As romantic and gritty as it’d sound if I only worked with a big glass of scotch nearby, I’m not very useful inebriated. I’ve known tons of creative types who can only draw or paint when stoned or whatever, but for me I can’t do that at all. I don’t trust my hands or my eyes or my brains when I’m not thinking clearly, and I actually get a little sad when I see people who can only be creative when they’re toasted.
For more Todd Francis check out his company, Special Crud as well as his book, where you see more of his art and stories behind the skate graphics.
Interview: James Lee
Portrait Photo: Amber Dianda
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January 14, 2015 12:42 pm
Whoa now, my understanding (and I worked at Deluxe when Antihero started) is that the “original” eagle tattoo logo was designed by Jef Whitehead – who was paid the going rate of $200 for it. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve been told this from Jef himself…