Frank Kozik is an American designer and illustrator based in San Fransisco. Getting his start making flyers for underground acts like Butthole Surfers in weirdo 80’s Austin, Kozik’s is best known for his iconic poster and album art for groups like The Melvins and Sonic Youth. With the rise in popularity of grunge, Kozik’s signature combination of bold type and cartoon lunacy became a paramount aesthetic of the 90’s, attracting high paying clients that allowed Kozik to start his own label Man’s Ruin Records. With a punk rock ethos and pop art sensibility, Kozik has continued to balance commercial work with his own independent enterprises- making cool shit for people to look at and buy.
You grew up in Spain during the last decade of the Franco regime. What was your experience of that as a child?
Well, My mother was well-to-do. Being in a police state is if you're part of the ruling class could be quite pleasant for a child. There was no worry of crime, we played in the streets with no problem, summers on the beach. I lived this idealized, almost Victorian childhood. 
Were you exposed to a lot of art?
I lived in Toledo and Madrid, which is basically living inside classical art. Toledo is a preserved medieval city, and every public building is filled with art from the Roman ages until the 19th century I would just go to the Prado every day -- it was free for kids -- wandering around and looking at paintings.
So how did you get into pop culture?
When I got older, I left the country a few times to spent time with my father in England and the United States. I started reading books and getting exposure to ideas from outside. When I was about 14, the opportunity came up to leave and live in the States with my dad.
What did  your parents do?
My mother married a succession of wealthy men. My father was an alcoholic Air Force sergeant.  I spent most of my childhood with my mother, with the occasional journeys to spend time with my dad, which got more frequent as I got older.
What was your dad like?
My dad was kind of like a Good-time Charlie-  just chasing tail, not an intellectual person at all. He was the son of a city worker, got drafted, was in Korea and never had any higher education. He was a bright guy, but he had no outlet so he became a raging alcoholic. 
So you liked the states?
Yeah man! You have to understand that I grew up in a place that it really mattered who your grandparents were. It was still a daily topic of all conversation, the division of families of the war and ideologies- It permeated all of society. Very classist, very prejudiced, very judgmental, very programmed. It was fucked. I happened to have a liberal brain. I had a creative brain. 
What happened when you got to the states?
I went to school for a year before I dropped out and got a job in a hamburger stand. I bought a car,  had an apartment, smoked pot, got laid. Life was good. 
How did you end up serving in the Air Force?
I got in some trouble, and it was my way out. When I went in I aced their tests so they just asked me what I wanted to do. I told them I would do whatever had the longest school. I went to technical training schools for almost two years and then the last two years, I was in Austin, where there was nothing to do except hang out.
Do you feel like you got anything out of the Air Force?
The military was good for me because when I went in, I didn't know how to do anything. If you do get some technical training, and you pay attention to it, they will teach you a methodology to achieve goals and  troubleshoot problems, to analyze systems and stuff. I still apply a lot of those methods today to what I do.
So no college?
I didn't finish high school. I took the equivalency thing but no college. Any liberal arts education I have, I've done for myself. I like to read a lot and study, so that's never been a problem.
How did you come to leave the air force?
By the time my enlistment was up  I had made a lot of friends in Austin.  I was part of the local music scene,  had a girlfriend, a cool place to live downtown. So I just didn't re-enlist, and I just stayed in Austin. 
What was the music scene like?
The music scene was amazing. It had a good dozen or so ever-changing spots to see all kinds of music ranging from Cosmic Cowboy-type music to punk and New Wave, to weird and whatever. For two bucks you could see a show, and everybody went. A lot of stuff was going on and living was easy. That's why so much stuff came out of Austin in those years.
What were some of your favorite Austin bands?
I was a big Butthole Surfers fan. Scratch Acid was an amazing band. The Dicks were really great. I would say those three bands were my favorites.
Did a lot of touring bands come through?
Every band that toured would stop in Austin to do a performance, because it was like a little oasis stop between the East Coast and the West Coast. There was like no place else those bands could go in the middle of the country. That's why I had a good career because I would do all of the posters for the bands doing one small show in Austin on their way somewhere else. 
How did you start doing flyers?
Before I did posters I had been doing some mail art and had this marginal correspondence going on with this group in Portland called the Art Maggots. Well, a couple of the Art Maggots moved down to Austin and rented a jam house. I started hanging out with them, drawing comics and nonsense guerrilla street art stuff.  They would xerox it and put it up around town. At some point a local band or two were like, "Hey, we really like these posters that you guys are doing. Will you do a poster for our band?"
So you started getting commissions?
I just started off doing little flyers for local bands which kind of turned into doing T-shirt designs for businesses, which turned into more posters for bigger clubs and bigger bands.
What were the early aesthetic influence for your first posters?
It was this weird mix of new wave shit I'd seen, some of the European heavy metal comic book artists; the industrial research publications were a big influence on me. Eventually my work became more colorful wackier and more fun.
Were you always drawing from the beginning?
Not really. When I started corresponding with thesepunk rock people they were drawing stuff and it got competitive. I trained myself to do everything.
How long was it until it was a viable business?
I didn't start making a living off of strictly my own, self-produced imagery until 1991. I quit my last job in 1987, but what I did was basically commercial work: "We want you to draw an elephant on a surfboard with a margarita" That's what paid the bills. I still do it today. 
1991 was also the same year you moved to San Fran Sisco. What drove you there?
No reason. I was bored of Austin. I did end up doing well here,  and I've been here ever since.
You did a lot of commercial work in the 90’s, right? 
I had tons of it. All the big companies, they wanted to sell to kids -- grunge was the hot new thing in 1993, 1994. Subsequently for the next three or four years, I got an assload of commercial jobs from Nike, beer companies, clothing companies, alcohol companies, tobacco companies, people that wanted to sell shit to kids. I happily took them all.
Can you speak a bit about your approach to commercial work?
I'm reasonable. They hire me to solve a problem. I'll ask them what they want, the physical parameters and the deadline.  I ask them to reference any previous work of mine that they want me to sort of dive off of. I also ask "Is there anything you don't want to see?" Like, you hate snakes -- you would be surprised, because a lot of times, they'll get pissed. It's like, "Don't you know the guy was in a plane wreck. You can't have planes."
Sounds pretty reasonable.
It's never adversarial. My job is not to cause the clients a problem, which is why I've gotten a lot of work over the years-  word gets out. I'm doing it for money so I don't want to be problematic and agonize over the panel- I can do that on my own dime. They need something to help sell their product or their image. They trust me to solve their problem, and to do the best job possible. Since you can never really tell if advertising works in good ways, what really matters is making the client happy.
And this doesn’t have to threaten your creative work?
You can still have a weird career and be an artist, because nobody cares that you did an ad campaign a month later. This commercial work allowed me to do things like start Man’s Ruin Records. We put out 212 records that otherwise would not have been produced.
How did Man’s Ruin start?
I was doing really well financially, and felt an obligation to pay back my scene. I also had a lot of friends in bands that were always complaining that "no one would put out our record." Or, "they want to come in and produce all the songs and tell us what to do." or "no one will put out vinyl."  And these were all Bands that I liked.
So you started putting stuff out?
Well, what I liked doing was silk-screening album covers. So I told my artists: we'll make a budget. You record whatever you want to do. I won't tell you what to record. You don't tell me how to design the package, and we'll just put out something that's real, and it will be a 50-50 profit split between future publishing. Completely cool punk rock square deal, I can pay back all my friends whose bands that I loved, whose posters gave me a career.
How did it go?
It went great until I started doing CDs. Bands wanted to make money so we did CD’s and that got really big. I had to hire a bunch of people, and had this big elaborate distribution system. Then, one day, Sony Distribution went bankrupt and left everybody holding the bag. When they went out of business, they owed me  $1.5 million, which I never got a penny off. The month we shut down the label was our biggest sales month ever but no one was ever going to pay us for those sales. I pulled the plug on it and walked away. 
Was Man's Ruin your first brand that you were running independently?
Pretty much. It was consistent logo work and concepts. There was several genres of music we were releasing. Each genre had its own conceptual/art approach to the packaging. We did a lot of promotional events, a lot of showcases. It was a hard sell at the time but now I get people emailing me offering $2000 for a 7” that was 7 bucks. The label was a critical success, but because of the distribution collapse and the advent of online it was a commercial failure. I applied those lessons to the current brand I have with the toys. 
How did you get involved with collectible toys?
I've been collecting toys forever, since the 80s. Then the mid-90s, when I went to Japan, I would see this little bounty hunter toy around. It was a punk rock version of the Captain Crunch character. I was like, "This is the coolest thing ever. What is this? Who makes this?"
What was his name? 
Hikaru. We went over to his little store, and it turned out he collected my posters, so we hit it off. I had developed this Labbit character in the interim because I was obsessed with Hello Kitty, and he made my first toy in Japan. I ended up making toys in Japan for a few years, bringing stuff back to the states. Nobody cared, but I thought it was cool. Then in 2004, Kid Robot opened up over here and we started working together. It dramatically blew up for four or five years, peaking around 2008 or 2009. Now it's plateaued a lot online; a lot of my competition is gone, so I have a really stable market niche.
Do you feel like you’ve had any influences that have remained consistent over your career?
You know where it all comes from? I would see shit that I thought was cool, and would try to copy it. The shit I thought was cool and tried to copy changed over time. I don't think I ever developed anything innovative or new.
This reminds me of something you said in a previous interview about artists finding a context.    
If you want to be any sort of creative person, you have a world to fit into. Because if you're just out there on your own, no one's going to discover you. You have to meet like-minded people. You have to form social and business relationships with a group of people where your efforts add value to the group experience. Then they will want to include you, and you'll be rewarded with recognition, or money, or whatever it is that you want. You can have fame, you can have notoriety, you can get a paycheck. But none of that happens in a vacuum.