The NEW No Starch Death Metal T-Shirt
Here's a bit about our new Death Metal Tee:
THE SHIRT MAKER
Next Level Apparel
The same painstaking attention to detail that goes into the making of our books goes into the making of our merch. We sampled nearly two dozen shirts before we landed on Next Level Apparel’s premium ringspun cotton crew.
The term ringspun was coined from the innovative way it’s manufactured – a process of continuously spinning, twisting, and thinning the cotton into long, super-soft strands. These compact threads produce a strong and durable material, free from the rough texture of standard raw cotton.
Not only do these tees look good and feel good, they come from a good company. That’s important to us, too. Next Level Apparel is known for its emphasis on social responsibility (aka sustainable and ethical business practices). They’re committed to ensuring fair labor practices, humane supply-chain conditions, and responsible sourcing. On the environmental and community do-gooder fronts, they’re partnered with City of Hope, providing T-shirts for fundraising events, and they have shrunk their impact on the planet, reducing fabric waste by 1.5 million pounds. Put it simply, there's a lot to love about this tee – even before we make it our own.
THE SCREEN PRINTER
Since its humble beginnings out of a Bernal Heights utility room in 1976, to today’s roomy industrial space (and attached art gallery) in SoMa, screen printer Babylon Burning has become an ink-stained institution in San Francisco. Their loyal clientele includes hundreds of local businesses, nonprofits, and tech companies and, of course, us. As the city’s oldest screen printer, they've survived bubbles, busts, recessions, earthquakes, and major social changes. But one thing that’s stayed the same is the printing process itself, which is still done almost completely manually.
Screen printing is a method of printing graphics on a T-shirt using thick inks that lay on top of the fabric rather than soaking into the material. Here’s how it works: The negative of a chosen design is printed onto a screen – a thin mesh that looks similar to a window screen on a house, stretched tightly over a frame. Once set correctly, the screen goes onto a metal prong of the press (picture a 12-armed metal beast from a sci-fi movie), and is lowered on top of a tee. As thick ink is rolled over the screen, only the areas where the design has been printed allow it to slip through onto the fabric. The ink then sets on the shirt as it dries.
Sure, there are quicker ways to get a graphic on a shirt, but nothing looks better than an old-school screen print.
Wear one of our intricate “death metal” logo designs, and be prepared for people to stop you in the street to ask about the band on your shirt. That’s no accident. The artist is Rick Reese, a well-known West Coast freelance illustrator who counts among his biggest influences “Pushead,” famous for his skateboard graphics in the 80s, as well as doing artwork for bands like the Misfits, Metallica and Kool Keith.
After he finished his latest drawing for us, we wanted to ask Rick a few questions about his iconic work for No Starch Press and learn more about its inception and the process that goes into making such eye-popping designs.
NSP: Where did your inspiration for the death-metal spin on our logo come from?
RR: I have to hand the inspiration for the T-shirts to Bill (Pollock, NSP founder). I don't know if he did some sleuthing online and found out I do merch for touring bands, or that I'm in a band of my own, but he just asked if I was interested and able to do this kind of art, and I said I absolutely was and would love to do it.
NSP: What about the illustrations themselves?
RR: The drawings are inspired by countless death-metal posters and art that I've seen over the years (and done myself in the past). I do work for bands as well, but rarely in this exact style. A big part of this style's charm – or gore – is the over-the-top amount of detail it contains, and the opportunity it affords to really get lost in the minutia. It’s also become a sort of cliché in death metal to have this extremely stylized type that is, in most cases, illegible. I love this sort of art, and I love drawing it.
NSP: Did you find it odd to be doing such a graphic, gory design for a book publisher?
RR: I think the fact that it’s for a book publisher makes it even more appealing, honestly. It doesn't look like your typical corporate merch. When I wear the first shirt we did, people mistake it for a band shirt all the time – which gives me a chance to tell them about No Starch. It’s so over the top that most people can't help but smile and react to it, and I think the fact that it's for a book publisher adds to the appeal.
NSP: What's your illustration process? How do you go from a blank slate to the finished image that gets put on the tees?
RR: First I do a lot of looking to get inspired. I look at old Pushead work and other illustrators I admire. I also dig through tattoo books. I actually have a folder full of skull and goat-horn photos on my computer from all this research. When I die and they confiscate my computer it'll be an odd moment for someone to discover that folder! I have drawn this type of thing many times and I'm actually an illustration professor at Cal State Long Beach, which comes with a need to know about anatomy, etc., so I can teach it.
Anyway, all that info and research and practice is swimming around in my head until I start. I usually draw it rough and fast with pencil first, send it to Bill for comments, then I make any adjustments it needs, and tighten up the drawing before I "ink" it traditionally with brushes and pens on paper. After the drawing is inked, it’s a black-line drawing on white paper, which I scan (into my computer) and change into a white drawing on black for the final T-shirt design. That’s followed by taking some time in Photoshop to get it to read correctly.
NSP: Our readers love these shirts, always asking when the next one is coming out. Given the nature of our fanbase, do you think there's an overlap between hacker culture and the horror-punk/death-metal aesthetic?
RR: I absolutely feel like there is a connection between "hacker culture" and punk/metal culture. I am still in a punk band because, for one, it's cathartic, but it's also subversive in its rejection of commodification, consumerism, and corporate culture. The people that I knew growing up that were into punk, or horror, or the metal scene were always on the periphery – and also happened to be the people that I most admired for their intelligence and talents. They were either not able to fit into the standard molds awaiting them as adults, or refused to be put into them.
In underground music there is a real DIY ethos: If nobody is going to help me, I'll do it myself. I feel hackers are obviously the same in many ways, and easily relate to punk/metal because we are cut from the same cloth. They go it alone many times, and do it themselves because they want to. We speak truth to power, and when we're not permitted to speak we hold up a mirror and make them take a hard look at themselves. That’s why I think countercultures, like the ones these shirts represent, are the most important agents of change.