Swans poster for Yugong Yishan, Beijing

Justin from Secret Serpents asked me about participating in an upcoming Swans tour-poster series and asked, “Do you want any weird places?” Well, yes. I chose the show at Yugong Yishan in Beijing, China. This will mark the first time my art has appeared in a communist country; unless you count Impaled’s Death After Life printing in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which for all intents and purposes, might as well be the U.S.S.R. I’m just as giddy as a school girl halfway around the globe. One of my favorite bands is playing a show in Red China and this little piece of art will accompany them:

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You’re probably thinking, “I’m going to go buy this poster right now from the Sewage shop,” and then noticed that the poster features a lot of non-English. Is it because I’m a cunning linguist or a polyglot? Yes to both. But I don’t speak Chinese. The Internet, however, does speak Chinese. In fact, it speaks Chinese almost as much as it speaks English (and more than Spanish). With the help of some faceless forum members and my Wacom tablet, I created the poster above. Thanks, Internet.

I’m a fan of language. Just the idea, really, of groups of people communicating ideas through symbols. I especially love when those symbols cross-over each other and create word play. I play a lot with language in my art and when doing gig posters for other countries, I always try to respect the local tongue. English might be the lingua franca (an Italian term) for business, but art is all about symbols.

Chinese was going to be hard, though. I did a lot of Internet browsing to come across the Chinese word 鸿鹄, which translates as “person with lofty goals.” It also has a lesser, older meaning as a “great bird” or “swan.” I felt inspired but unsure, so I got help from the kind folks at Chinese-Forums.com. They go out of their way to make sure people don’t get shitty tattoos.

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I immediately knew what I wanted to draw after picking the Chinese name for Swans. I wanted to draw a soldier with wings, similar to my High on Fire poster from 2012. The soldier would be an infantryman with noble ambitions, but he would be caught at the moment when he realized the orders he followed were corrupt. Yeah, pretty over-wrought thinking for a gig poster. Maybe I should just draw a goat skull and call it a day.

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While searching for some photo reference, I came across this image. Oh God, do I love old propaganda posters. So I decided to “remix” this poster. Some of you might say, “rip-off” but, uh… fuck you. More often than not, I’m printing shit at my work that is nothing more than band logos over old wood cuts. At least I redrew this one. I’m not a rip-off artist, I’m part of remix culture. D.J. Sewage. I edited this poster to be my photo reference.

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I added some chicken wings and a gun. Specifically, I added an MP-40 submachine gun. You might also notice that the helmet of ol’ G.I. Joe is now shaped more like a stahlhelm. These are intentional changes; I wanted to draw a German infantryman from the most notorious Third Reich as the person of lofty goals, the swan with the broken wings. “WOAH! Ross! That’s pretty fucked up!” That’s my point. He’s not a Nazi, he’s just a soldier taking orders for the sake of his family and countrymen. At some point, the moral relativism of his actions hit him:

I feel like I have to go to lengths to explain this. It’s like the individually good policemen who get swept up in an office culture of racism and violence. It’s like the U.S. soldier who slaughters a whole village because his lieutenant ordered him to. It’s like the stormtroopers on the Death Star who don’t realize why Luke and Han murdered them for their clothes… so it goes. Most villains don’t know they’re the baddies until they realize they are. Are we good? Do you get it? Cool, moving on.

I imported the reference in Manga Studio and drew the character.

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From there, I plotted and drew the “swan” Chinese translation in Adobe Illustrator. For the rest of the text, I had to download a bunch of Chinese fonts and play around with different distressing methods to find the right to match to the English. I thought about also drawing the informational text, but there’s a lot of subtleties in Chinese characters. I wanted to make sure I actually had the name of the club and city on my poster, not something that might accidentally translate as “poo poo duck penis.”

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I ran this poster concurrently with my “Keep Calm… They Live” art print, another fine pseudo-political piece about uniformed violence. It helped dictate the colors and the necessity to run my first ever gig poster that wasn’t on tan paper. Shudder! I used a metallic red ink that we formulated in-house at Monolith Press and I was quite pleased with the results.

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I added one color to the Swans poster to differentiate the feathers and to make a color over-lay. I’m super stoked on this limited 60-numbered edition and I hope you are, too… at least enough to pick one up from my shop and hang it in your home. Then you can have fun explaining why there’s a German World War 2 infantryman with broken chicken wings crying on your wall.

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