TVD Previews:
Rock, Paper, Zombies!

If there’s one running thread among the last three larger events TVD has sponsored, it’s been the phenomenal promo poster work from our friend Rich Bernett. From our SXSW showcase in Austin earlier in the year to the last two DC Record Fairs, Rich has been the man behind the stellar designs. In addition it should be mentioned, he devoted his time and talents gratis. And it’s not been for TVD alone—Rich has amassed hours of work on a million projects for a million bands this year.

Rock, Paper, Zombies! – a Halloween-themed, 62 poster retrospective of Rich’s work will haunt the Strathmore Mansion this coming Friday night (10/28) as will performances from some of the bands for whom Rich has designed posters. I’d go on a bit about what to anticipate, but Rich himself has this covered:

As the video attests, Rich is also bringing with him a number of regional poster designers to display their work on Friday and it’s these artists who Rich will be chatting up here at TVD over the coming days in anticipation of Friday night’s RPZ! event.

Kicking it off, Rich chats with another friend o’ TVD—the man behind the very first DC Record Fair poster—Mr. John Foster.

Please state your name for the record, as well as any name you wish you had instead.

John Foster – actually John Gordon Foster III. When I was younger it was frustrating in a lot of tiny ways having the same name as my Dad. My Mom tried to get people to call me Jack after I was born, but it didn’t stick. Instead, a lot of people would call me John John (like every other Irish Catholic John born soon after the Kennedy era.)

Around 7th grade I went through a few months trying to get my friends to call me Gordon. Once again, didn’t take. For a long time family friends would call me Little John, but then I was bigger than my Dad. Now my half sisters and brothers call me Kid John. When I was in college I met a girl and she instantly started calling me John John. It took us a few months before we realized we had played together as little kids when everyone called me that. Funny. Weird. Mostly just John now.

Where do you currently work? What is your role there?

I am the Principal, Superintendent and assorted other big words at Bad People Good Things – my own design studio. I also do A+R consulting work for Fire Records as their man in the states. I also write a fair number of books and I am a columnist for and occasional contributor to (I used to do a weekly column for BYT that I still recommend reading for music packaging lovers.)

Which part of your process, from designing, to printing, to sharing the final product do you enjoy most?

I love that initial rush of ideas in the concept phase, and then seeing how your ideas change (or don’t) when you actually realize them as an initial comp. I am still hopelessly in love with a box of samples showing up at the door and ripping them open and putting them right up to my nose to envelop myself in the inky goodness. So – the absolute beginning and the glorious end. Everything in-between is a little closer to “work.”

YES! The smell of fresh ink…the smell of xerox toner…Fantastic. What kind of genetic defects do you think are being created by the repeated enjoyment of the scent of printed-materials?

I don’t know about defects (though I seem to have shrunk an inch since I started doing this) but it certainly leads to crippling ink addictions and a need for nearly instant gratification.

Besides screen printing, what field of art do you wish you had more time to learn?

I end up taking a lot of photographs. Nearly every day I snap away for some project or other, yet I only know what my two college courses taught me and I get by mostly on chutzpah when it comes to photography. I wish I had time to learn to work that thing properly.

If a magic client said “To inspire your ideas on this next project, I will grant you one day to hang out in a room with any object of your choice…” what would you ask for?

I don’t know that I really get inspired that way, however, I would always choose an amazing meal with a tall glass of bourbon and a night of incredible music if anyone is offering.

Bourbon. You are speaking my language. Jack? Makers? Knob Creek? Other?

Usually just Makers. Maybe some ice if I am feeling girlie.

Are there any good stories behind any of the pieces you plan to bring to the “Rock Paper Zombies” show? Do tell!

Lots of fun things happen along the way in the organic manner in which I work.

What person’s body is it that is attached to Bethany’s head on the Best Coast poster? Why did I carry around an old laxative prescription wrapper for years before using it on my Rogue Wave poster? Why did Grizzly Bear hate the poster I delivered to them? How do you make a poster for Mountain Goats inspired by Japanese brush strokes that looks southern and cranky? How many comps do you need to do before you realize your client will sign off on anything that prominently features just one eyeball? How many of these posters are designed during the wee hours when my Daughter is asleep? (Almost all of them.) Who is the model in my Sprites poster and why am I forever indebted to my printers for nailing all of my overprints and transparent inks etc..? (Even though I rarely ask them to deal with a trap – haha.)

That’s a lot of material you just offered up, Foster. This might require a whole new interview. But if I were to chose one to pick out right off the bat, I would love if you could talk about Grizzly Bear not digging your design. What happened there?

That poster is really a lesson in dealing with bands as opposed to solo artists or groups with one voice/leader. More than anything, it is a lesson in identifying the stakeholder and all that brandspeak as well.

The band were just then on the rise and had their “Knife” single out. My design played up a lot of the themes from that song and centered around an amazing image of Ed’s face with a knife knocked out of his eye (it is cooler than it sounds – I swear – haha.) I hate most everything I do but I was really happy with this poster and I practically ran into the dressing room at this incredible old church they were playing in to unwrap them to show the band.

Ed was excited to see me but when I unveiled them he remembered which show this was and the design he hadn’t wanted to quash and was instantly deflated, muttering “oh right, this is the one with my face…”

I thought he was sensitive to his looks but it ended up being that he wanted to present the band as four strong members and as a whole. There was a lot of internal angst among them as it had grown from his solo efforts into something bigger (we now know each member and their subsequent kickass solo work as well.) It was really a Brooklyn super group and he was trying to balance all of that and here I was throwing a huge vat of gasoline on the fire by only showing his face as 90% of the poster.

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