Merch Masters of The Universe.
Recorded music may have largely gone digital over the last decade, but you can’t wear an MP3. Band merchandise is still cool, and whether your taste is Straight Outta Compton or Disney Frozen, there is something for everyone. I rolled down to Pacific Beach over Labor Day weekend and met with Rob Jones, Rob Acosta, and Colin Wick at Graphic Lab Tees.
What makes you different from all the other T-shirt shops?
Rob Jones: I had been doing corporate printing for over a decade and rarely got to work on jobs that are with local San Diego groups and bands. Now that I have my own facility, I want to focus on what is important to me, and that is supporting and growing the local scene. With my background in marketing and corporate printing, branding, and with the relationships I have with numerous vendors, we can get creative merch to set you apart from other bands while on tour. Also, since we have several large automatic screen print machines, your prints will look professional every time.
Did you learn from trial and error, learn with a mentor, or more of a mix of both?
RJ: Being in the corporate world for so long, and that was the trial and error part,… doing the band merch and Graphic Lab Tees that was more of a passion.
Rob Acosta: I agree with that.
RJ: Both Rob and I have been around the block a bit.
RA: With our regular jobs, it came to a point, you know, where we got bored. We wanted to do something interesting.
RJ: Graphic Lab Tees was an easy culmination of our talents.
RA: Yeah. It was low hanging fruit. It was an easy change over to this thing, because we were already doing it. We were just doing it for someone else. I was tired of making money for other people.
How can you spot a quality silk screen job from a poor one?
RJ: Oh, we are super print nerds man! You’re looking for opacity of ink…
RA: You don’t want to see little white fuzzies poking through black ink on a white shirt. But you don’t want that big flat patch of plastic on the front of your shirt either where it makes your nice white shirt all heavy and stuff. There’s gotta be a balance.
RJ: Nothing is worse than a heavy print. There’s about a hundred screen printers in San Diego. We run automatic presses. Most screen printers have manual presses. Those are the guys who grab the squeegee and pull it themselves. We don’t leave a whole lot up to human fatigue or error. Once we dial it in and the operator gets it looking good, all of our shirts look good.
One other thing is, a lot of screen printing, it’s an art verse a science. Do you have good vector artwork? Did the artist, did they build it with screen printing in mind? Or did they build it on their computer with digital graphics in mind? We see this all the time. We work designers and it’s like, this looks awesome when you print it out on paper or if you look at on the computer screen…
RA: Because it’s heavily rendered. Lots of shading, lots of shadows, lighting, but that doesn’t transfer to screen printing so well.
RJ: … where if you build it for screen printing it can look phenomenal!
RA: Right. You can have all those cool shades, and highlights and all that other stuff. If the artist knows this going in, you can get some really great results on the print.
RJ: That and we love our press operators. They’ve been working our machines for thirteen years. Our guys are good!
Who are some bands you’ve worked with?
RJ: Nukem, Under the Stone, Weight of the Sun, Convent, Draconis, Cypress Hill, Symbolic, Chanauk, Studio West, Back to Bassics studio, DarkGlass, Bass San Diego, Effects Boutique, Red Witch.
Rob Jones, can you tell me about the new shop?
RJ: Yeah it’s uh, down off the Sports Arena. We uh, we’ve gone down from five presses down to three presses, so it’s taken production down from 15,000 units down to 8,000 units today. But we still have all of our embroidery capabilities there. And soon it’s gonna be something you can come tour. Because a lot of people, this is the thing I’ve always loved doing Chris, is taking people to come nerd out with me. I’ve loved the show “How it’s Made”, y’know. So the people who are in production and manufacturing, that’s why it’s always so nice to have the facilities like, grab you by the hand and say “Here’s actually how you print shirts.” There’s no easy button here, you get to see us burn strings and push ink through squeegees and mesh, that’s the fun part.
Cool, um, any funny stories with working with anybody? I’ve said bands, but we’ll expand that to any celebrity or bands or creative persons.
RJ: Yeah yeah, I’ve got all sorts of stories for you.
RJ: Lemme’ go with funny here…can you think of any funny ones Robert?
It can be the funny ‘haha’ or funny ‘fuck that guy!’
RA: Alright, well there’s the pirate thing, there’s Rupal…
RJ: Oh yeah, of course there’s Rupal.
Okay well there you go, that’s funny enough there.
RJ: Ru’s actually a fantastic client, uh and so, we do a lot of custom t-shirts for Rupal, and Rupal’s other talent. Ru’s got a whole team of people that we get to do apparel for. So some of our prints get to be pretty interesting.
He has a whole team?
RJ: Yea, so some of the artwork we get from Rupal and Rupal’s team, it’s pretty phenomenal. Did you ever see the one of the guy, it was all booty, with the little gold booty shorts?
RA: No I didn’t see that one.
RJ: That was probably our most ridiculous one.
RA: I saw the first one.
RJ: With Ru on the front, with pink lips?
RA: Yeah, that was cool.
RJ: So yeah, Rupal is a really fun client. I get to do a lot of printing for Darkglass. Darkglass is an effects tooler out of Finland, and their artwork is stellar!
RA: Yeah, they have a guy from India right?
Chris: He’s good enough to have one name?
RA: Yeah, he’s one of those guys.
RJ: He is.
Not many people can pull that off.
RJ: His artwork is, if you get online and watch it, it’s really great, so here’s all the Atento stuff. I actually brought this shirt with me so you can see it. But he built this for screenprint, and you can tell because… And I washed this shirt already a bazillion times, I apologize… But you can see how well it breaks out. So this guy does sick work. Uhm, Lamb of God just wore this on the Kimmel show.
RA: Is that the photo with Pierce Brosnan?
Have you guys worked with Lamb of God directly ever?
RA: No, not directly, not with Lamb of God.
RJ: The really cool thing is that we get to ship to famous people weekly because of this Darkglass connection.
So Darkglass is your client who handles other people?
Yep, so we handle stuff that gets sent to Mastadon, Cannibal Corpse.
I know those guys over at Good Fight Entertainment. Do you guys work with them?
RJ: Nuh uh
Good Fight is, they’re.. (Rob Jones shows the photo of Lamb of God with actor Pierce Brosnan.)
RJ: Gosh, that guy is so cool
Chris: There they are, that is cool.
RJ: Yeah so that’s always the fun thing Chris, we get to see our shirts all over the place. So you know, one morning they’re on the press, and the next week there it is it’s on TV, it’s on the stage, it’s everywhere, man?
I made that!
RA: Yea, Ewoking Dead was on that Kendra show.
RJ: Her husband Lamar?
RA: I don’t know who he is, some football or basketball player he was wearing the shirt in the episode, and like my sister law saw the show and she was like “oh my god!” and she sent me a snapchat.
RJ: Yeah we just had our shirts on a Tesla commercial, there’s just all sorts of weird stuff.
So how do you come up with ideas for your shirts?
RJ: That’s a good question. So we get our artwork 3 different ways. The best way is that Rob and I sit down, and we go hey, ‘here’s an idea’. I usually have some half-cocked idea that I text him in the middle of the night.
RA: Yeah cause he’s just brush your teeth or wash the dishes or something.
RJ: Yeah that shit always happens! And he goes, “Idea’s good, we just gotta wash it out a little bit”. So then we’ll try and figure out what the funny is behind it or where’s the subtly, and then he’ll draw. The next one is we have a couple of artists who are a part of the team. We got one guy out in London, his name is Rob Wood, another Rob. He goes by the handle Cu3ik.
Yeah, and then we have Joe Wight out of Texas. Joe is one of our more famous artists just because of our Ewoking Dead shirt. That’s his design. We’ve done…that’s important because we printed damn near a quarter of a million of those shirts. So that’s the shirt we see most everywhere. It was included in one of LootCrate’s boxes. Do you know who LootCrate is? They’re a subscription service.
They do like, geek and gamer subscription things. So you pay a subscription fee, they fill it with crap and then they send it to you.
They still do that!?
RJ: Yeah and they do a lot of it, man.
Do you remember an old company called the Concrete Corner by chance? You’re bass player, maybe you knew this one. They sent out a CD, right when CDs were new, right around ‘91, ‘93, all the underground metal bands coming up.
Both: Aww, cool!
Do you guys remember that?
RJ: I have never heard of that.
RA: Yeah, that seems like a Columbia House for metal.
But yeah, you’d get signed up, and this was, of course, all pencil and paper back in the day.
RJ: Hell yeah!
And then every once a month they’d send you a CD called the Concrete Corner.
RA: I love it, that’s great! That needs to come back.
RJ: Well no, the subscription boxes, they’re rife, I mean we get people hitting us up every week with a new subscription box idea. I mean we just had one that people are gonna do an anime box potentially. We have one that’s just for women that are nerdy, that we’re working on right now….
Here’s a dress that we’re prototyping right now for that women’s only nerd box.
Thats cool, a little Optimus Prime dress.
RJ: So yeah, you know it’s one of those things where there’s so many good business ideas, it’s just a matter of trying to flush them off. Here’s that picture of Rob and Greg (Nicotero). So Greg, not only is he the producer of the Walking Dead, he’s also a special effects guru. He worked on Friday the 13th, Alien, what else he work on…
West Craven just passed.
RJ: Yeah…yeah, well I mean any movie or TV show especially lately that needed any practical gore was probably him.
Okay, actually, I’ve seen most of those. A lot of those.
RA: Yeah, you’ve probably seen at least two movies he worked on.
More than that!
The Gray. Some people didn’t like that, I thought it was pretty decent.
RA: Oh, the wolf movie?
Yeah, Piranha 3D, the first remake, that was WAY better than the second one. They actually got it funny on the first one, they knew what they were doing. The second one came in and they put a lot more tits in, and it just was not as funny.
RA: Yeah, it wasn’t as funny. They were leaning on the special effects.
RJ: I really liked Grindhouse.
Grindhouse was good.
RJ: Serenity, I mean that’s, it’s my favorite TV show, and you know they tried to wrap it up in a movie.
Ah, that’s gonna change everything.
RJ: Oh yeah, it’s, this effects guy has been around for a while.
Rob (Acosta), I read in your bio that you prefer the Christopher Reeve Superman. A lot of people didn’t like Return of Superman, but I thought it was pretty good. I also Man of Steel was one of the best movies of 2013. Why do you think so many prefer Reeves’ Superman over the others?
RA: I’ve got a perfect explanation for that.
I’m waiting, let’s go!
RA: The reason why is because back in the day, writers had to write. It’s as simple as that. They had to write and they had to create compelling characters because, y’know, they couldn’t rely on special effects, and they couldn’t rely on… when they’re writing, they’re writing this scene, they go “Ehh, Superman does something – Post production!” They actually had to think about it on the page before it went into post-production, before that production. So they had to figure out motivation as to why, y’know, something happened here, to get to here, to get to here. And it along the way you had to reveal this character, and you’re having to learn to love it. And, Henry Caville, or whatever his name is, the new Superman, there was none of that. And again, you don’t want to tell the whole origin story over and over again but they did it anyway. Just like they did with Nolan’s Batman, they pulled the origin story thing. And even though everybody already knows the origin, they still told it. But, the difference between the new, the Zach Snyder Superman and Nolan’s Batman, is that he actually spent a good majority of the movie developing the character again. It’s not just, “Here’s the origin really quick in a flashback and we’re good”. Which is kind of what I felt Man of Steel did. I like the Brandon Rolph movie because y’know, it hearkened back to the O’Donnor flicks, y’know, because it was a direct, it was a direct sequel of the second movie. Y’know, and everything soaked in in the original special, why does everybody like the Reeves Superman, because you got to know Christopher Reeve. You got to know Clark Kent, and then you, and they spent more time with Clark Kent than Superman, and if you actually, if you count the minutes, you see more Clark! And, he did an amazing job, because it wasn’t like he just put on glasses or anything and still behaved the way he behaved, it was…he, his whole body language changed, his personality changed, just the mannerisms, the way he pronounced words, everything was different. He was Clark Kent, and then he was Superman. It wasn’t, y’know, a good looking dude who puts on wireframes and everybody believes it. I find that a tougher sell. And I believed in the Kevin Smith script, one of the things he wrote about was, here’s Lois Lane, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter who’s got into insane stuff, and she’s got nose to nose with Clark Kent and she can’t tell it’s Superman? It’s insulting, it’s insulting to the viewer, and so that’s, that’s one of those things that I think Snyder did right, because like, she’s gonna need, she’s gonna need to have, she’s not gonna know Superman’s identity just yet. That’s…and I like the spectacle.
That’s, that’s a mouthful. I’m gonna have to send that to my transcriber for that. (<333)
RA: Haha sorry!
Did you read the original Kevin Smith script?
RA: Yes, a long time ago.
So, will there be any Thanagarian Snare Beast inspired art coming out of Graphic Lab Tees anytime soon?
RA: Haha! I don’t know. I don’t think so. Thanagarians, they’re a completely different race than the Kryptonians if you want to get specific. They were from the Hawk people.
What about you Rob Jones, why do people like the Reeves Superman?
RJ: Well, the short answer is nostalgia. I grew up with him.
RJ: Our fans love us. They mean the world to us.
Check out Graphic Lab Tees at: http://www.graphiclabtees.com
Copyright © 2015. C. Lougeay
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