Ken Harrison 9 a.m., Feb. 25
Local Album Cover Artists Clift & Geo, plus Rock Painter Ken Meyer Jr, and Concert Security Wars: Battle of the Bouncers
Psychotic Waltz artist, Cartoon Rock, and Insecurity: local firms fight (and sue) for their right to bounce you!
Psychotic Waltz artist, Cartoon Rock, and Insecurity: local firms fight (and sue) for their right to bounce you!
1 – So Psychotic: Interviews with local album cover painters and cartoonists Mike Clift (Psychotic Waltz, Tipper Gore’s Comics & Stories) and Geo (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes cartoon)
2 – [Paint]Brushes With Fame: Painter Ken Meyer, Jr. figured out a surefire way to get backstage and hang out with his musical heroes…
3 – Battle of the Bouncers: Local firms fight for their right to bounce
Artist Mike Clift has drawn gory, zombie-heavy record covers for bands like GutRot, Nocturnus, DiamondHead, and Skinlab. He’s probably best known for his sleeve artwork for long-gone locals Psychotic Waltz, whose drummer Norm Leggio now runs Blue Meannie Records. “I used to put my phone number on my flyers, and I got a call about doing [Psychotic Waltz] artwork. They also contacted the infamous artist Pushead, but luckily my design beat his out.”
Clift’s artwork for the cover of PW’s 1990 album A Social Grace paid $250. “They made a bunch of T-shirts, stickers, even a billboard…I charged $500 for the cover of [1992’s] Into the Everflow, and that became my standard price for several years.”
Clift toured Europe with Psychotic Waltz in 1993, receiving equal billing (and equal pay, $100 weekly plus per diem). “I was introduced as a sixth member and doing a lightshow backdrop of cued film clips that I synched up to the songs with a 16mm projector, two slide projectors with four carousels, and a 26-inch ten-speed wheel with colored gels and blockers, so I could do dissolves with the slides. Buddy would introduce me as part of the band…I signed autographs with them, and I even spotted a Psychotic Sun or Red Jester cover tattoo every now and then. Amazing, the power that band had over there. People would follow us from gig to gig, give us HUGE Dutch buds, they’d wave banners; very supportive.”
“I was able to live in Germany for a year, milking it for all it was worth, and thereby got turned on to tattooing from selling my paintings at tattoo conventions. I was literally traveling with a roll of canvas on my back, with a pack full of paints and brushes. I did quite a bit of work over there, 275 paintings and hundreds of little touristy postcards that I would sell wherever I went, little drawings of the place I was in, stuff like that. I was earning my daily bread, and setting up shows and viewings through my contacts as I merrily gallivanting around Northern Europe.”
His work for Psychotic Waltz led to wearing many different career caps. “I worked on the PW stage show and new shirt and merchandise designs, plus I had my own silkscreening business, I was doing covers for Diamondhead and Disbelief, plus I was selling art to a record company in Germany that would use it for their bands. It was a sort of kick for me to find my art in foreign record stores, though some of the bands were stinkers. For the most part, I was earning a living from my art, and that’s all that really mattered to me.”
He says his declining profile after Psychotic Waltz split in the late ‘90s resulted in some imaginative rumors. “Please tell people I didn’t die trapped beneath a German castle, nor have I OD'd on heroin. The sh-t you hear after being gone awhile.”
He describes how he went from Psychotic Waltz covers to drawing the comic book Tipper Gore’s Comics and Stories for Todd Loren’s Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics. “I met Todd in 1989 through a guy named Vinnie, who worked in Todd's rock merchandise mail order business, and Todd and I hit it off. His sexual orientation may've played a part in this, as I was young and cute at the time, but he showed a real enthusiasm for my art and told me about his upcoming horror comics that he planned to do, specifically to piss off Tipper Gore.”
“I was all for it, man. I was stoked, because all this was hitting at the same time as Psychotic Waltz for me. He offered me 80 dollars per page, and we wrote the stories together and met quite a bit at his place, or he'd take me out to eat and stuff. He was living in the UTC area back then, and he got kinda weird at home, showing me his safe. He was paying me cash as I turned in each page of artwork, and one time he tricked me into watching a porno tape - yikes! - but please do not think I’m trying to disparage Todd. He was one of the sweetest guys, and very polite and apologetic when he noticed my discomfort. I am so grateful to Providence that he and I connected and had that time. He had a huge hand in launching my career; He licensed a line of t-shirts of my work, he let me do the horror comics, and he brokered a couple painting sales for me. He was awesome. I was bummed when his death occurred.” Loren’s June 1992 murder in Hillcrest remains unsolved.
“These days, I charge $100 an hour for tattoos. I’ve tattooed some Psychotic Waltz imagery on my cousin, but most band tats I do are usually Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, AFI, [and] bands with distinctive artwork and logos.”
“After nearly 20 years of being a metal artist,” says Clift, “I have quite a few stories. One is about Alice in Chains at the Bacchanal...lets just say it involved the late Layne Staley, dope, and a coat hanger.”
Fairfield Fats Band guitarist George Davis is probably best known by his artistic AKA, Geo, longtime local concert poster artist whose style has become synonymous with hard rock shows. “I began by doing a banner many years ago for a high school friend,” he says, “Stephen Pearcy, for his band Mickey Ratt, which later became Ratt. I dabbled a bit with art, but didn't get real serious until the Fairfield Fats Band…that's where I first started doing flyers for parties and shows, and then friends started asking me to design logos and posters for their bands too. ”
Davis is also known for Fox’s TV cartoon Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1990 – 1992), for which he produced animation at Sorrento Valley-based American Film Technologies, alongside Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel, Image cartoonist Jeromy Cox (whose Vampyrates comic features Shambles guitarist Kevin Donaker Ring), and others. “It was the first ‘paperless’ animation studio,” says Davis. “All the storyboards, music and sound stuff was done in L.A., but the animation was done down here.” The original Tomato movies were filmed locally and featured early film appearances of George Clooney and TV “millionaire” Rick Rockwell.
Davis cites Fillmore concert posters and the underground comics of Rick Griffin as early inspirations (“Okay, and maybe my first Playboy magazine"). “When I started doing posters and flyers,” he says, “it was mostly metal shows, which is stuff that I totally get. Drawing hot chicks, demons, skulls, barbarians, wizards, and dragons? It doesn't get any better than that!”
“When a show is coming up,” he says, “I think about the theme, style or vibe of the band I'm doing. I want to create something that kind of tells a story, or leaves an impression of what kind of show you can expect.” A gallery of Geo’s poster art can be seen at myspace.com/tikigeo.
2 – [PAINT]BRUSHES WITH FAME: HE PAINTS ROCK STARS
Illustrator Ken Meyer Jr. illustrates trading cards for role-playing games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire, the Masquerade. "I don't even play those games," he says. "I don't know if I lack the brainpower or just don't have the time it takes to get into it."
Meyer's work often utilizes collage overlays, paste-on photos, and digital enhancement, resulting in a pop art style that Midnight Marquee magazine described as "LSD Realism."
“I've been reading comics since I was a kid, and that is where I first started to learn how to draw, by first tracing from them in my grandmother's kitchen. I still read many comics, but they have drifted in subject matter from the superheroes of my youth to more alternative fare such as Cerebus, Strangers in Paradise, Kabuki, Preacher and others.”
Somewhat surprisingly, in light of his accomplished technique, Meyer wasn't classically trained in art. “I went to a college that happened to be close to home, and my major was art, but I was a crappy student. I didn't pay attention."
After college, he ended up in Las Vegas, working for a government contractor doing training materials like slides, diagrams, and cartoons. "It was out in the middle of nowhere, supposedly right across from Area 51. You had to have a secret clearance for the job." After a year in the desert, his job brought him to San Diego where he freelanced after hours, drawing for independent comic books like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and mass-market Marvel comics such as Ghost Rider and the sci-fi anthology Open Space.
Around 1992 Meyer started creating illustrations for local-based Axcess magazine, "even though they didn't pay anything...I just did it for the exposure and to paint neat subjects like Tori Amos and guys like Burt Ward from the old Batman show."
He next did a long run of fully painted comic book covers for Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics, most notably for the flagship title Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics (which I wrote and edited at the time).
This job led to his not-for-profit portraits of musicians. "When I started bringing the paintings to get backstage [it was because] I don't want to be just another faceless guy who meets someone and says, 'Gee, I really like your music.' I want to be remembered for giving them something unique, and maybe they sign something in return for me. It's also a way to make professional connections, in case anything will come out of it that gets me work.”
"Don Mclean was coming to town, and I did [drawings of] him. I was the club early and just by chance he walked out the door and almost ran into me. I said, 'I have these paintings I want to give to you,' and he looked at them and liked them a lot. I had some song lyrics as part of one painting, Masters of War, which is actually a Dylan song, but I didn't know it then. He didn't act offended, though."
His portrait of Sting, however, did not get him anywhere near the star's dressing room. "He was too big at the time, but a roadie took a print of the painting back to him and brought it back to me, autographed."
Meyer also failed to connect with U2 or Springsteen but did meet Tori Amos.
"Tori Amos was touring for her second album...She played I think at Sound FX, where the Bacchanal used to be. I hung around, talked to the tour manager, and he let me go backstage after the show to give her the painting. I remember she was very nice to me. She said she liked the piece an awful lot, and I had a print copy of the painting that she signed for me. There were other people waiting to see her, so we only talked for a few minutes."
Amos welcomed Meyer backstage again about two years later. "I ended up meeting the art director who was doing her tour programs, and that resulted in me getting my art into her next tour book. I did a piece [which was] part digital and part what I call analog. It started as a big painting that I scanned into the computer and added a bunch of effects to - Polaroids stuck over it, answering machine tape and stuff, kind of collaged on there." Meyer was paid for this piece.
"I used paintings to get backstage for Elvis Costello twice. He was really gracious. The first time, back in about 1983, it was after the show and he was pretty quiet, he wasn't talking that much. He said he liked [the painting] but acted a little standoffish.”
“The second time we met…I got a picture with him, something I never used to do because it seemed like such a fawning, geeky, fan kind of thing to do. Now I look back and [I] wish I'd been taking them all along."
Other successful backstage forays have allowed Meyer to meet performers like Bruce Cockburn…
…Loudon Wainwright III, and Todd Rundgren. "Rundgren was a little cold. He was touring for the A Cappella album with about 15 singers behind him, with no instruments. After the show, they were all heading for a bowling alley, they were all into it big-time, and I could tell he was a lot more anxious to bowl than talk to me.”
"The painting I gave to Loudon Wainwright [III] was kind of personal because I [based it] on a photo of him, from one of his albums, with his sister when were just kids. He really seemed appreciative and said he wanted to give it to her as a present. I've since met with the ol' Loudo again after a show, and he said she loved it. That's what I mean creating and giving away something special, especially when it ends up moving someone like that whose music has moved me so much."
Getting paid for his art became more of a priority once Meyer married. "I took a chance and quit my job to do freelance artwork at home for an eight-month period after our first baby was born. We didn't want to put her in day care right away...It went okay, she wasn't too mobile that first year, so I could handle her. It was an effort to line up work though. I did a lot of art for game companies like White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast.
After 2000, Meyer's workload included many front covers and interior drawings for locally-published Computer Edge magazine. In addition, several recording artists have commissioned paying work for him. But he says, "I'm not getting so much work on the side that I'm ready to quit my day job," he says.
His work for various goth-style role-playing games and online games like Everquest have earned him a following among the darkly dressed. "The ones into vampire stuff are surprised when they see me. They expect me to be dark and gothic'] because of the artwork, But I'm such a regular-looking guy. And they usually say I'm a lot older than they expected."
Meyer's next day job involved designing "texture maps, which are, in this case, sets of clothing for characters - leather outfits, chain mail outfits, and plate armor outfits for each character," for Internet role-playing games for a division of Sony called Verant, based in the Miramar area and best known for their popular Everquest game.
"I've never been into games, but they do amazing work, whole detailed worlds and characters that are thought our right down to the ecology and the science. It's very precise - you have no idea how hard it is, just getting a suit of chain mail to fully wrap around a 3-D moving figure.”
He recently relocated with his family to Georgia, on the east coast. “At the moment, I'm working on my MFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, having already gotten my BFA in Illustration…Summa Cum Laude, for those that are counting. I hope to teach at the college level when I am done, unless an incredible job drops in my lap.”
“However, my lap is ready, so don't hesitate, big time CEOs out there!”
(Photos & art courtesy www.kenmeyerjr.com)
3 - Local Firms Fight for Rights to Bounce You
Your average concertgoer rarely pays much attention to event security. Most of what they do goes on out of our view, at least if they’re doing their job right. Sure, it’s nice to know they’re around, just in case someone falls down, something blows up or all hell breaks loose. If you ask them nicely, they can even help wrest your seat back from surly trespassers.
However, unless you’re trying to do something you’re not supposed to do, such as take pictures, smoke dope, sneak in, stage dive, expose your naughty bits, or fight with fellow patrons, you’ve not likely worried much about the (usually) big guys (and sometimes gals) standing (or prowling) around (or behind, or overhead, or sometimes beneath the stage risers…) .
Two newer firms, Omni and Elite Show Services, were initially run by former Staffpro employees who chose to go head to head with their previous bosses, vying for their own slices of the San Diego event pie. The competition and rivalry has been, at times, as messy and bruising as any mosh pit encounter, especially between Staffpro and Elite.
“I was locked out of my office. When I showed up for work, I was not allowed into my office by security guards.” Kontopuls would go on to purchase, along with his brother, a small existing security company called Elite. Within a short time, he transformed Elite into Staffpro’s main competitor in the local security game.
I asked Kontopuls what prompted his initial departure/ousting from Staffpro. “I had huge philosophical differences with my partner [Cory Meredith] about how the company should be run, from an operational and ethical standpoint. I also felt that having the majority ownership in Los Angeles wasn’t serving my San Diego clients properly. The San Diego branch was in total disarray.”
At that time, Kontopuls’ office was at the Convention Center. “I was kind of exiled there, put out to pasture for the most part. He [Meredith] just wanted me out of the way, and once they did that, the company started falling apart. The concert, hotel and the entertainment divisions.”
Subsequent to his departure, Kontopuls fired the first legal salvo. “The advice from my attorney was to initiate a lawsuit for breach of my employment contract. I was a stockholder in the company, so there was also a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit. I didn’t have any income, they cut off my paycheck, and I was pretty much left sitting with what I had in my savings account.”
“I filed for unemployment, and Staffpro basically lied to the unemployment people as to what the circumstances were. They said I quit to start my own company, and I said I was locked out. At that point, my future was uncertain because I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Kontopuls’ contribution to Staffpro’s growth and success is a major point in the suit he filed against Staffpro at El Cajon Superior Court. “I acquired 90% of the San Diego business for the company, like the Convention Center and Bill Silva Presents.”
Kontopuls’ relationship with Silva, in fact, predated his employment with Staffpro. “I brought Bill Silva along when I went to work for Cory at Event. I’m the one who negotiated everything, went to all the meetings.”
When asked about that lucrative Silva contract, Staffpro General Manager Hugh Kollar told me “I don’t know if he [Kontopuls] was the guy or if it was Cory Meredith. As I understand it, Cory was the one who started the company, and Gus just happened to be the guy who worked for Cory down there.”
After Kontopuls left Staffpro, Kollar moved from Orange County to San Diego, to bring the branch “solid, stable management.”
Kollar did acknowledge to me that Kontopuls had “a great deal of savvy and knowledge about our operations” and that Staffpro was “concerned with the prospect of him [Kontopuls] using those trade secrets in a rival operation.”
Kontopuls is emphatic in his claim that Staffpro made it impossible for him to get work from other security firms. “I went to talk to a couple of companies about working for them, and they treated me like I was radioactive. Cory was telling people that anybody who hired me was going to get sued, because he pretty much had an exclusive on my life.”
“It’s all in the contacts,” said Kollar at Staffpro, “and when someone has the contacts, they’ve got the inside track on getting the job. If someone else is signing your paycheck while you get those contacts, how fair is it to try and take that business with you when you start up a competing company?”
Kontopuls said that going into business for himself became his only option, and several Staffpro employees came over to his new company along with him, including Director Of Operations Brian Mulder. Many of the guards at Staffpro were initially willing to work for Elite as well, some quitting Staffpro to do so, but Kontopuls said this caused Staffpro to throw another roadblock in his way.
“They did file a lawsuit against me, to try and shut me down but they were unsuccessful,” said Kontopuls. Court papers show that Staffpro attempted to place a temporary emergency injunction against Elite, forbidding them from conducting unfairly competitive business. The injunction was filed just days before the start of the baseball season.
“The judge just looked at them and laughed,” said Kontopuls. “He said their case had no merit, ‘take it to court and fight like adults instead of trying to shut this guy down on the eve of his first big event’.”
“Absolutely. They actually sent supervisors out to the Pacific Beach Block Party, which was one of the first events I did. They had their supervisors tell people ‘If you don’t quit and walk off the post right now, you’re fired from Staffpro.’ Then they’d allow their employees to work for other companies, just not mine. If they called and said they wanted to work for Omni at Street Scene, or something like that, they were allowed to do it, but if they asked to work for Elite, they’d get a no.”
Kollar did indeed back up Kontopuls assertion, but only somewhat. “Sure, Omni and I are friendly competitors. We communicate and we talk, we help each other.”
In fact, Staffpro and Omni were subcontracting work back and forth at the time. When Staffpro manned a local U2 concert, several Omni employees were hired for the evening. Omni put several Staffpro employees on the payroll to help with at least one San Diego Street Scene.
About the exclusivity agreement Staffpro employees were required to sign, Kollar admitted to me “Yes, that did happen. Because of the situation that existed at that time, Staffpro was forced to do that. There was a lot of company information being taken.”
Though Kollar could not be more specific about the information he was referring to (“I don’t think that’s important now”), he did say that he didn’t support the decision.
“The management didn’t feel that it was healthy to let people work for other companies. But, the day I went down there, that changed.”
Kollar said he instituted a policy making it clear that Staffpro employees were welcome to also work for other security companies, if they wish. “In fact, I encourage it. We don’t have a problem. A lot of these guys are part timers trying to make some extra money, and we’re not going to stop them from making ends meet.”
Kontopuls laughed off Kollar’s statement, and said this hasn’t been the case. “Not at all. I’ve never heard of a letter being circulated saying that the policy has been dismissed. I still talk to people who say they’d love to do some work for me, but they know they’ll get fired from Staffpro if they do.”
When asked about his own relationship with Omni, the other Staffpro spin-off, Kontopuls didn’t exactly scramble for superlatives.
“They have their little niche. They do small club shows and they do Street Scene. Omni did refer some work [to us] during the Republican Convention and, I don’t want to get into details but I’ll never conduct business with those guys again. They’re just a competitor, as far as I’m concerned.”
Much of Elite’s eventual ascendance was attributable, said Kontopuls, to the operational differences between his company and Staffpro.
“We really stress the customer service aspect of the industry, and we treat the fans as guests of the event instead of going in there with a Nazi stormtrooper attitude. We’re not attracting your basic, I don’t want to say thug, but you know the kind of guy who can lift a ton but can’t spell it? We only hire about one in eight people who walk in our door.”
He added that Elite employees take a four hour customer service class, several hours of first aid and CPR certification, and particular attention is paid to training in alcohol awareness. “I tried to do this [at Staffpro] but was unsuccessful at it.”
What, in his opinion, most set Elite apart from his main competitor? “I’d say the honesty and integrity of senior management. And the fact that we’re locally owned and operated.”
When I relayed those quotes to Kollar, he wanted it known that Staffpro’s people receive much the same orientation. “They’re trained in techniques of alcohol management. They’re supervised, they know what to look for. One of my competitors once said that if you pay your people peanuts, you get monkeys. I don’t believe that. I believe if you supervise your people, treat them good, they’ll provide a good service for you.”
Kollar confirmed that. “There’s plenty of work in San Diego for everyone,” he said, with a thoroughly convinced (if not entirely convincing) tone of finality. “As long as supervisors are loyal and do what they’re supposed to do, it’s not that big a deal.”
Another competitor entered the local Bouncer Wars in 2000. XL Staffing And Security has around 220 staffers dressed to the nines and working around town at about two dozen venues, including On Broadway (the company’s first client), Aubergine, Stingaree, Ole Madrid, and 94th Aero Squadron.
Last year, XL became involved in a proposed reality TV show about the firm. Footage was shot at Mardi Gras and several clubs downtown from February 19th through the 21st of ’07. XL Staffing And Security owner Joe Mackey told the Reader “[The show will] mostly focus on our staff, and how they command in suits and ties instead of windbreakers and tattoos. As far as patrons go, we’re still working out how the releases [to appear] will go…people being confronted or asked to leave will probably end up in the show, provided they sign the release.”
Mackey says his family-owned company owns a portion of the program, along with MTV/VH1 producer Rob Cohen. “I wanted to make sure I get something close to final say over what airs. I don’t want them to shoot three months’ of tape and then they accidentally catch someone doing some little thing wrong and that’s the whole show.”
Before the reality show deal was signed, Mackey says several other TV programmers expressed interest in working with XL.
“Court TV contacted us about doing a show. ‘Wife Swap’ wanted to have one of our female guards do a show for them…around ten percent of our staff is female. Fremantle Media, who do American Idol, they wanted us to do a show called ‘Bounced,’ where every episode ends with someone getting physically booted from someplace. We told them that’s not what we’re about.”
“I didn’t want to handle a bunch of thugs…our staffers specialize in communication, not intimidation. They go through forty hours of training covering everything from powers to arrest, club drug awareness, verbal Jujitsu, handcuff training, CPR and first aid, and there are monthly classes that are mandatory to attend. We do background checks going back ten years with the Department Of Justice and the FBI and, before they’re hired, we do a psychological profile to ensure they’re not prone to violence.”
XL Staffing and Security reported earning over four million dollars in 2005. More recent figures were, at this writing, unavailable.