Earlier this year, I had a chance to speak with Deaf Club guitarists Brian Amalfitano and Tommy Meehan about mangling all sorts of pedal-squelching sounds into the post-grind wonderwall that is the band's new Bad Songs Forever EP. The artwork for the release is just as a deconstructionist, and is from one of my favourite active artists, Paul Rentler.
Paul's a collagist based out of Columbus, Ohio. He's big on recontextualizing cartoon, comics, and pop culture figures— think Mickey Mouse, Dr. Doom, or the Rolling Stones' tongue logo— into absurdist, stylized hybrids. For Bad Songs Forever, he's grafted Kiss bassist Gene Simmons' tongue-wagging mug atop a sagging, blood-strewn corpse, a gang of red-eyed football ghouls flanking him on each side.
Paul is currently pressing up monthly sticker packs of his cross-pollinated comics designs through Patreon, as well as supplying some surrealist imagery you can to contort to your own liking via his new, self-published Ephemera Eyewash zine. But as a follow-up to the Deaf Club piece over at Guitar World, I thought I'd reach out to Paul and see how he went about cutting up Kiss for his latest album cover.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
You’re known for your many character-mashing art collages through various zines, prints, comics covers, and your sticker club, but you also have a few album covers under your belt. What was the first album you’d designed?
Paul Rentler: The first several were for bands I was in, pretty much because we couldn’t afford to have someone else do it and I was ok at art. They were rough around the edges, but it was good practice and I always enjoyed the process.
The first cover I was paid to do was for an independent electronic label called Blacklist, and that led to doing a few others for that label over the course of a couple years.
Fun fact: the second paid cover was for DC’s Young Animal. It was a two-sided picture disc with collaged artwork from the comics we were working on—the music by Gerard Way and Ray Toro was done in-character. It was more of a promotional item than an actual release, but it was put out by Reprise Records for Record Store Day [in 2017].
How did you get connected with Deaf Club?
I received an email from Justin Pearson out of the blue. A couple of members of the band are fans of the work, so they reached out to see if I’d be interested in doing a cover.
Were you given any guidance on the art direction for this one? I know JP had made some posts about seeing Kiss at the end of last year, where he put down his thoughts on the spectacle of rock, poseurdom, and Gene Simmons, who he’d called “the butthole of rock n’ roll”
Yeah, the cover was very collaborative. Justin had a handful of ideas, and Gene was involved in all of them from the beginning. He explained the mixed feelings he had about Gene as a person and musician. We felt he was more than fair game to parody. The whole record—artwork, music, and all— has a lot of humorous elements. All the ideas put forward were done knowing it was a bit ridiculous. The challenge on my end was making it work, and somehow I think we managed to do it.
Did you ever have a musical relationship with Kiss? Any songs you dig, guilty pleasure or otherwise?
Besides seeing them on MTV as a kid, or hearing “Rock and Roll All Nite” and a couple other tracks on the radio, I didn’t actively listen to Kiss or know that much about the band. I did find their look to be visually engaging, though, and once saw an entertaining Kiss tribute band.
The Deaf Club EP cover feels medium-reflective in the same way that, say, the Cave Carson or Doom Patrol comics cover you did for Young Animal connect comics from the '60s with present-day titles. Kiss is a world away from Deaf Club, but they’re both part of a musical lineage…
The contrast of the two bands was very intentional. The art is a tongue-in-cheek take on band imagery: over-the-top frontman hamming it up on the cover; cheesy group photo on the back. It’s about not taking it all so seriously, to poke at the garishness of rock star personas—it's as self-aware as it gets.
I’m sure Justin could add much more to the dialogue on this subject, as this was very much his concept for the project.
Did you track down the infamous Marvel Kiss comic from the '70s, the one with their blood in the ink, to put this collage together?
I can’t say I went that far with this, but if I was to find a beat up copy in the wild I’d definitely add it to the collection. I'm pretty sure Google was the source of the Gene image I based the cover off of.
If I had to guess, the body of the lead singer on the back cover looks like it could be Lila Cheney, the mutant rock star from the ‘80s run of The New Mutants…
I can see it, but the real answer is less specific than that. I had made the image with the four other members based on an old band photo I came across. I tried to make a fifth member composed from parts of those members. I couldn’t quite make that work, so I had to grab a member from some other cheesy band photo. I figured it might be best to have the singer stand out from the rest of the characters. '80s hair-pop singer meets '60s Beatles knockoffs seemed to be a good pairing.
Do you scan work before you cut it up, or are you mangling the source material?
Everything physical gets scanned or photographed these days. Before that I would photocopy a page or image I liked and cut it out of the copy.
Pretty much any time I cut up an actual book or comic I regret it. I don’t enjoy destroying books. I only cut something out of one if it’s badly damaged, or if cutting up a page is the only way I can achieve a look I’m going for.
You’ve played in bands like Audion and the Cinema Eye, and somewhat more recently with Surfer. Are you making any music at the moment?
I am. My band Surfer is still going, and I’m hoping to release an EP sometime this year. On top of that I’m always making random bits of music on my own, just not in an organized formal way at the moment.
You can find more of Paul's prints, sticker packs, zines and more over at paulrentler.com