You may have seen his work for Apple, Converse and Scion. Or in Banksy's Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Or maybe in the recent coverage by The New York Times of his commissioned mural work for Pride events in NYC. Wherever you've spotted them, there's a good chance that you've seen street artist Buff Monster's fun, brightly colored ice cream characters — who also appear on limited-edition collectible trading cards.
This spring, the artist released his seventh series of "The Melty Misfits" cards, but the new characters take a much more corpse-paint-slathered direction. "I think this new collection is the best I've ever done," he enthuses. "I think the fun and optimism the pieces radiate is always needed, especially now."
While "fun," "optimism," bright colors, street art and ice cream may not seem very metal on the surface, as it turns out, Buff Monster is, in fact, a diehard metalhead. That passion becomes readily apparent once you see his recent series.
Channeling "true Black Metal from Norway," the 15 cards in the base set are the darkest and most ambitious in the Melty Misfits series yet. Most are printed on vintage-style chip-back paper and wrapped in vintage-style wax packs, but there's also a special foil set and even a super-rare legit metal card.
"I've wanted to make this series since the first international version of Melty Misfits came out," the artist explains.
Revolver recently caught up with the artist to discuss his inspirations, the appeal of black metal, what bands he blasts while working, and more. Plus, get a behind-the-scenes look at the process behind the charter creation of the character Forbannet Frode.
YOUR BIO SAYS YOU'RE INSPIRED BY "HEAVY METAL MUSIC, ICE CREAM, POP ART, JAPANESE CULTURE AND GRAFFITI." THIS SEVENTH SERIES OF MELTY MISFITS IS VERY OVERTLY METAL — WHY DID YOU WANT THIS SERIES TO SHOW THAT SIDE OF YOUR WORK NOW?
BUFF MONSTER That's all true! The Melty Misfits is my ambitious homage to Garbage Pail Kids. Series 1 came out in 2012, and we've subsequently released Series 2 and Series 3, along with a variety of subseries — Japanese, Spanish and the Metal Misfits. As a very serious collector of GPK cards, I want to do things that are consistent with, or deliberately different from, what GPK has done over 30 years in 15 or so countries. I've wanted to do a Norwegian black-metal set of Melty Misfits for many years now, and the opportunity finally presented itself.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BLACK METAL INSTEAD OF METAL'S OTHER GENRES?
I listen to metal all day in the studio — usually from the power, thrash and stoner subgenres — but I do enjoy some black metal. From a conceptual perspective, I love how dark and serious it is. There's a purity — maybe more perceived than real — that is really appealing to me. It doesn't ask for permission and it doesn't make apologies.
WHAT'S YOUR MEDIUM AND PROCESS TO CREATE A CHARACTER FROM START TO FINISH? WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE?
I used to do the final artwork the old school way: acrylic and airbrush on watercolor paper. But I've recently changed to doing the final artwork digitally. I still do the rough pencils and tight pencils by hand, but I've slowly come around to the benefits of digital artwork. And because I know how to use traditional media — and still do in my fine art practice — the switch was easy.
TELL US ABOUT THE CHARACTER FORBANNET FRODE.
When I sat down to create the new characters, I did research on black metal, to find the most iconic or representational images. Obviously, the color palette would be minimal. I found lots of images of guys playing metal, but I wanted to focus on the non-musical poses that drive home the feelings of agony, isolation, hopelessness along with the celebration of Satan. So, Forbannet Frode really captures that mix of emotion, while wearing very typical black-metal gear.
ARE ANY CHARACTER'S LOOKS INSPIRED BY SPECIFIC BLACK-METAL BANDS?
Dimmu Borgir kills it, hands down, bar none. I love them.
TO AN OUTSIDER, ICE CREAM DOESN'T SEEM VERY "METAL." BUT AFTER READING YOUR MANIFESTO, YOU EXPLAIN HOW "MELTING IS ALSO A METAPHOR FOR THE SLOW DECAY OF OUR SOCIETY" AND THAT ICE CREAM KIND OF REPRESENTS THE CYCLE OF LIFE — WHICH IS A VERY "METAL" WAY OF LOOKING AT IT.
I think that's a pretty good summation, and the manifesto does explain it in more detail. Now whether ice cream is metal or not, that's up for debate. But stylistically, I think that a black background, on a T-shirt or album cover, with white imagery on top is boring and a little too easy. If everything is black, is anything black? It's a balance between what's appropriate and what's obvious. I think there is room for some nuance.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO HEAVY METAL?
I grew up in Hawaii and I watched MTV as soon as it came on the air. That's about all I had access to, until I grew up, moved to L.A. and befriended someone at Century Media Records. Over the years, he gave me lots of CDs!
WHAT KINDS OF BANDS DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST NOW AND WHOLE WORKING?
Usually in the morning, it's something upbeat and optimistic, like Blind Guardian or Iced Earth. Then in the middle of the day, it could be anything — Cauldron, The Sword, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Sonata Arctica, Dark Tranquility, 3 Inches of Blood. At night, if I'm tired, but still have to work, it might be something darker or slower like Blut Aus Nord, Celtic Frost, Electric Wizard or Dimmu Borgir's first album. I could go on and on, but that's a good start. Metal is such a deep pool to pull from that you don't really have to look elsewhere.