Artist Spotlight: Chris Shary

Interview with artist Chris Shary | By Damian Burford

You may not instantly recognize the name Chris Shary, but you have seen his work.

The Northern California drama teacher is one of the most prolific punk rock artists since Raymond Pettibon. He has most recently worked with artist such as 7 Seconds, Teenage Bottlerocket, and Old Man Markley, but most importantly, Chris Shary has been the go-to artist for Descendents/ALL since 1991. Shary might not have invented the Milo logo, but in his long run with the band, he has made it into something all his own while staying true to its original spirit. We chat with Shary from his Stockton, Calif., home about he came to work for Descendents, starting a Christmas sweatshirt craze, and parodies of his work.

Chris Shary - 7 Seconds

You’ve done some killer work over the years since starting in 1988. How did you enter the world of punk rock illustrating?

I went to high school in England. I was really good friends with the band The Stupids. In ’87 or ’88, they were starting to get really big and really popular, even in the mainstream British press. They were buddies of mine! We were skaters and we listened to American hardcore. I was also drawing a lot. I always have been drawing. They asked me to do something for them. I did a t-shirt design and that was my first official thing. It was pretty good seeing my artwork on people’s bodies, so from there on out, I started contacting bands that I liked. I thought that since I liked them, that maybe I could help them out by doing stuff, if they are into it too. So really, The Stupids got me started.

You’re most recognized for working with Descendents/ALL. How did that first t-shirt design lead you to working with them?

Shortly after finishing high school, I moved to Denver. The Descendents had broken up just before I moved, and kept going as ALL. I thought, “They have a different singer, but it’s the same band. So, ALL is now my favorite band!” I did some drawings for them when they came through on tour in Colorado. Bill [Stevenson] had seen the artwork for it and was really pretty impressed, and asked me if I would be interested in doing something for them. I was just really, really persistent. I kept calling and bugging them and saying, “Hey I know you’re going to be out on tour, let me do stuff for you.” I did a few things for them, and they liked them and they started using things as ALL. When Bill said, “We’re getting Descendents back together,” it took off. I’ve been working with Bill since. I think we figured out ’91 was the first thing I did for them. It’s been a long time period. Since they toured so much back then, I was constantly doing artwork. Most of it, they used. It got to a point where I think it was just easier having me do it than asking anyone else. I keep up on deadlines really well. The artwork hopefully reflected what the music was. People really like them, they seem to sell fairly decently. Over the years, we became very good friends. Now it’s just kind of what I do. I’m just their go-to guy now.

Chris Shary - Descendents

What is your collaboration process like?

There is quite the collaboration process, at times. Usually what I do is… I’ll be aware of them playing some big festival. I’ll start on some sketches and I’ll send [them] to Bill and Milo. A lot of times, they look at the sketches and go, “Yup! This is perfect, let’s go with it.” Then sometimes, Bill will chime in and say, “Yeah, I don’t know. This doesn’t fit really well for this show. How about we try this.” Or Milo will chime in with, “Well, what about this?” Sometimes it is very, very collaborative as I’m sketching things up. They give their input and it kind of morphs into something that reflects not only my sensibilities, but also their interests and tastes. At this point, I know the band so well that usually I can come up with stuff that I know is going to be really suitable. A lot of times, there is very little collaboration. Hopefully it was a decent enough idea and they were really happy with it. Sometimes it is a real push and pull because we can’t figure out what we want to do. It’s always through Bill and Milo that we collaborate on things.

You started the band Christmas sweater craze. How did the Descendents Christmas sweater come about?

We are definitely guilty of that! We did the first one in 2011. It was just my idea. I always like the idea of something that looks like it is something else. For example, I had a pair of swimming trunks that were printed to look like jeans. I have some Vans that were printed to look like they had shoelaces. That stuff is always appealing to me. Things that are not quite what they seem. I thought to myself, “I love the really ugly Christmas sweaters.” I thought, “Well, why don’t we try to do something like that.” Initially, nobody liked the idea. I told them, “Let me just do it up, you guys can look at it and maybe this will work.” I did the design, I had it totally complete, and sent it to them, and they absolutely flipped. I think it was exactly what they were hoping it would be, but something that was very unique. There was a natural tie-in to their song “Christmas Vacation.” I didn’t feel like we were stretching very much. It seemed like it was that natural overlap into their music anyway. The one suggestion that Stephen [Eggerton] had was, “What if we have Descendents on the back?” Originally, I didn’t want it to even say Descendents. It was just going to be printed on the front of a sweatshirt and that was that. Stephen said, “I think we should probably have the name on there.” I did it in a stitch pattern and that was that. That first year, apparently King’s Road [the merchandise company] told me that it was their highest selling (in a single day) piece of merchandise they ever had. They were pretty blown away by it. At that particular time, King’s Road went through all the red sweatshirts in southern California. They had completely bought out all of the people who stock those things. They couldn’t keep up with the demand for them. So we kind of had to do them the next year. Suddenly we noticed that all these other bands were starting to do it. Last year, it was just even more so. It makes me feel really good to know that, as irritating as it might be that they are everywhere, to have bands like Motörhead and Metallica copying something that we did… That kind of feels cool in a really weird way. If we do wind up doing one next year, I think we’re going to raise the stakes so it’s not just a printed thing, but it might be like a knit sweatshirt. I don’t know if we are going to want to do that or not.

How do you feel about the massive amount of Descendents parody merchandise?

I guess, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but when you really want to sell things because people immediately recognize it, that’s a little funky. There are so many of those parodies. It’s kind of cute, but I think it seems a little played out. If I were working for another band that was interested in parodying something, I would probably go with something a little more obscure. It just gets to a point where I have seen enough of those; can we think of something else? Most of the time it’s really not a problem. I understand that it’s just bands that are big fans and that’s fine. What really was irritating was when Diamond [Supply Company] were ripping us off for a number of years. That was really irritating. It wasn’t like they were a band showing something they appreciated. It really just seemed like they were just interested in making money. They were selling the shirts, sweatshirts and hats for really super inflated prices. To me, that just seemed distasteful. They were riding on the coattails of the popularity of this band. The band saw nothing from it. I saw nothing from it. They were making a tremendous amount of money from it. I have a real problem with that. Ordinarily, if it is just a band doing stuff, it’s kind of cute, but it’s a little played out.

How hard is it for a band to get a Chris Shary original for their merch?

It’s really pretty easy. I work with huge bands and really super tiny bands who say, “Hey man, we’re doing a cassette. Could you maybe do something for us?” I’m always happy to do stuff. My commission stuff, well it would be great to say it is all the same amount payment wise, but it’s not. If it’s a smaller band, and especially if it is a band that I am friends with, I’m always pretty willing to help them out. I think that art should be affordable. You should also be getting what you are worth. I have people who are contacting me every week to do t-shirts or album covers or single covers or whatever. It’s very, very easy. I’ll work with virtually anybody. I’m flattered when people want me to do things for them.

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Chris Shary

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