It’s not that Brian Walsby doesn’t like his job in the kitchen of Whole Foods Market on Wade Avenue in Raleigh. It’s just that Brian Walsby doesn’t like to talk about his job in the kitchen of Whole Foods Market. He wants to talk about his passion for music and his passion for drawing. He wants to talk about the bands that turned him on and the friends that convinced him that his “doodlings”–ultra-detailed comic portrayals of the local music scene and his national heroes and villains–were worth pursuing. No, he doesn’t want to talk about the service industry. Walsby has quite a bit of other things to talk about, too. Since moving to North Carolina in 1986, Walsby has been wrapped inside the music scene, forming Patty Duke Syndrome with Ryan Adams, drumming with Polvo, obsessing over Corrosion of Conformity and issuing Merge’s second release with Wayne Taylor and Mac McCaughan as WWAX. At long last, Walsby–who has designed record covers for The Melvins and 7 Seconds and drawn countless comics and fliers–has published his first book, Manchild: A Celebration of Twenty Years of Doodles. The Independent Weekly had the chance to sit down with Walsby, known by some as The Reluctant King, for a Monday night of talking and watching vintage INXS videos.
Independent Weekly: When do you first remember drawing?
Brian Walsby: I just talked to my mom, and she said I used to draw all the time. She says that I knew how to draw every zodiac sign before I was three, but, of course, I don’t remember any of them.
Was your family artistic?
I don’t come from an artistic family at all. Well, my grandfather was a conga player and a drummer in upstate New York, but I didn’t get any influence from him. He gave me this drum set once, but he took it back before I had a chance to do anything with it. So I don’t know where any of it came from.
How about music? First memories?
As far as liking music and getting into it, I had this uncle that perverted me at a small age. Zappa, Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart–he had a huge record collection, and the stuff was weird for his day. He took me to my first concert, and that was Oingo Boingo in 1980 [laughing]. I remember there were all these weirdo guys there, and that felt all right to me.
What’s the first punk record you remember?
Two of them: Black Flag’s Damaged and Rodney on the ROQ. I had been listening to Rodney Beingenheimer’s radio show on KROQ in California, and I was immediately blown away by all this stuff I was hearing.
Do you remember the first time you drew about music?
The first time I really put two and two together was in sixth grade, and I drew this picture of Paul Stanley from the cover of Alive! Then I remember looking at it and thinking, “Well, this is kind of good.” I started doing all of this other really dumb stuff after that, designing band logos and coming up with song titles and band names.
Any memorable band names come out of that?
[laughs] People will just have to use their imaginations for that.
How did you get into the zine culture?
I was always pretty obsessed with music, and I drew all the time. In 1982, I discovered magazines like Flipside and Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll. Through that, I was able to write to all these like-minded people and get music and cartoons and send the same. I finally had this outlet, and that was so important to what was going on then. I was able to join this parade, but it was a really small parade at that point. I started to get these really primitive cartoons printed, and–for the next four or five years– I would get eight letters a day. I had this like mini-celebrity, and it was an experience that colored everything for me.
Who were your pen pals?
Oh, wow. I had at least 100 pen pals, and they were just really alienated kids that were mostly pretty bored and liked the same kind of music I did. I would write to people in Italy and this girl from Alabama with a mohawk, and they were writing about how alone and alienated they felt. At one point, I had like two huge dresser drawers just full of these letters. And I wish I had those letters back. That’s the one thing. I mean, selling a lot of my record collection was pretty liberating. But if I had those letters, I would have one of the greatest books.
Do you remember the first time you heard COC?
Oh yeah, I do. It was 1983 on the 7″ for “Why Are We Here?” with three other bands from here–there was COC, Bloodmobile, Stillborn Christians and No Labels.
Do you still have that one?
I do, actually.
Did you get that when you first saw them?
No, but they played at the Cathy de Grande in the summer of ’84. But I missed it, I missed it by one day. I started to write them right after that though, and I started talking to Woody Weathermen because he answered the mail for them back then. And I also wrote a lot to Ricky Hicks from No Labels because both of those bands were really great, and, for me, they kind of existed side-by-side.
COC was pretty important for your move to North Carolina. When did you decide to come?
I moved here in the spring of ’86 when I was 20 years old. I had visited in 1985 and spent most of the summer here, and I knew I was going to end up here. It was so different from where I lived in California.
Any early North Carolina memories?
Actually, I remember the first night I was here. I was supposed to be picked up by Claire Ashby at the airport, but somehow I missed her. So I took a taxi into Raleigh, and that wasn’t cheap. They dropped me off at 115 Ashe Ave., which was where Scott Williams–the self-proclaimed leader of the scene and one of the funniest guys I know–lived. That night, we went to The Fallout Shelter the first night it was open for music, and Gang Green was playing because of some cocaine situation or something [laughs]. I went back to the house with Scott, and some crazy, insane rednecks from next door had destroyed a power fixture outside. So, there I was on my first night in town at 3 in the morning, sitting in the dark in this decrepit, paint-peeling-off-the-walls punk rock hangout that would become my house. And, the airport lost my luggage!
How did you sort through all the material from 20 years for one book?
There’s stuff in here from one of my first bands, Scared Straight, and those are from 1985. It’s only 19 years, I guess. But I just went through a lot of it by myself and tried to consider what would be appropriate for a first book. I went with the typos and all because if I hadn’t, I would have never finished.
Do you have any plans for a second book?
The response has been great so far, and people, in their own words, have “been blown away” by it. I’m hoping that will lead to me being able to do more books, because–in the past year–I’ve done stuff that’s better than anything in Manchild. I feel like now that I’ve only been good for about the past three years, so it’s good that my first book came out now and not earlier. Now I think that I am finally ready for it.
Brian Walsby will read from Manchild and sign copies of it at his former place of employment, Schoolkids Records, on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m. An excerpt from the book is featured on this week’s Fun Page.