Jeremy Wheeler has been a fixture in both the rock ‘n’ roll and pop art scenes in Southeast Michigan since moving to Ann Arbor around the turn of the century. He first came to local prominence as co-founder and coordinator of THE BANG!, a series of wild dance parties (for which, FULL DISCLOSURE, this writer worked for several years during his own formative time in Ann Arbor), but it’s his talent as a graphic designer and cartoonist that’s been parlayed into a career.
Wheeler’s art explodes with bright, often blacklight-friendly colors, Frank Miller-esque high contrast, and bold, wild lettering ripped straight from a 1970s iron-on decal. This clean, impactful style has led Wheeler to create gig posters for John Carpenter, Ty Segall, the Sword, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (to name a few), as well as tons of art and design for Esquire, Death Waltz Recordings, Frightfest Originals, and many others besides.
WHAT CAME FIRST: ART OR ROCK ‘N’ ROLL?
JEREMY WHEELER: Jaws came first. I have a distinct memory of my family asking me what Quint was spitting up when he got chomped, and me saying “Ketchup!” Does that count as art? Hell yes, it does. All Jaws movies are art (as are the novelizations for 2 and 4)!
As for printed art, comics came first. My brother (artist GRIMBRO) was seven years older than me, so I grew up on right-off-the-rack, prime cut Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. I guess you could say that Sienkiewicz was my intro to rock and roll, ’cause New Mutants was punk rock all the way.
It didn’t hurt that my brother was also big into the Damned at the time, so he and my sis had to shut me up when, at age eight, I ran around the house singing “Jet Boy! Jet Girl!” at full volume! Ooh yeah, that wasn’t good.
INSPIRATIONS, YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Again, Sienkiewicz and Miller. They’ve been lifelong inspirations. Sin City changed the way I ink, and Bill changed my brain.
As for today, Sienkiewicz is still up there. Francesco Francavilla continually blows me away. We share a mutual love for ink washes and warm colors; but more than that, his storytelling chops are top notch. His Black Beetle series got me amped about comics again.
Poster-wise, I got a lotta respect for the Domaradzki brothers. Ivan Minsloff’s gig poster output is really impressive, as well.
ANALOG VS. DIGITAL
It’s a mix… If I were on a grocery shelf, I’d be the Big Mix box. Last year, I was nearly one hundred percent iPad Pro, using Procreate and Astropad Studio; but then Inktober came around and I started drawing on bristol again, which was a blast. People love buying those originals, too! I’m sitting on way too much OG art, man.
It all depends on the project. Digital is making it far too easy to feel like you’re doing it traditionally—and it definitely speeds things up—but there’s no original art when it’s all done.
The Bang! is a super-fun, outrageous dance party started in 2001 by fellow Michigan artist (and Blast Points Star Wars Podcast co-host) Jason Gibner and I. It’s DJed purely by mixtapes we make, so it’s all analog, blown-out sound with the occasional awkward silence between songs… but we make it an event.
We have a crew that decks out the bar with decorations and outrageous shit. Later, we eat pizza in the green room while people show up and get confused by the black mass ceremonies and Mötley Crüe jams that make up the first thirty minutes of each party. They come dressed up; then later on they get down. We blast rock, R&B, hip-hop, disco, Britpop, and Tom Jones at them… and everybody has a good time.
We’ve done over 150 parties, and I’ve made posters for each and every one. A lot of the imagery and ideas for those posters come from cult films and 1970s advertising. A ton of them were done in very little time, but I’m happy with just about all of them. A few I wish would just go away, but so it goes when you make a ton of stuff. It can’t be sunny all the time.
MITTEN STATE LIVING
Living in Michigan has made me DIY to the point that I have a catalog of work that’s mainly done for myself. Bands notoriously skip our area. Our hometown bar had a starved budget for too many years, so our college rock town isn’t one anymore.
It’s harder to get noticed nationally, but the web has evened that out a bit. Still, it’s not like I go to the bar and randomly rub elbows with art directors. You’ve got to hustle harder to be your own advocate, and years of hustling has made me sleepy.
I was working steadily for Esquire for a bit; and after a while, the editor was like, “we should get drinks,” and I was like, “I live in Michigan!”
MEETING HEROES: JOHN CARPENTER:
J-Carp is the best. There’s no one like him. He’s a 70-year-old rock star. He smells like “I don’t give a fuck.” That’s him, 24 hours a day. No fucks for days. He’s earned it. His handshake feels like, “I’d rather be playing video games.”
BIG VS. SMALL
I’m a maximalist who’s slowly appreciating minimal shit, so I guess at this point [I’d be more into] something large. Something impactful, but also something calm.
I’ve gotten a lot more into nature art; I think my New York roots have finally been overtaken by the Great Lakes. I could drown someone with my mountain of flyers, zines, comics, posters… but all of that is momentary. The bigger something is, the more you have to look at it; the more permanent it is. I dig that.
DARING TO DREAM
I saw the Pixies in the front row when I was 14 years old. Trompe le Monde had just come out. I was an impressionable idiot whose heart exploded for Kim Deal, and whose ears were seared by Joey’s unearthly guitar shrieks. Even though I don’t see them as the same band now (my heart will always be with Kim), I’d really love to try and create something for them that harkens back to their longtime designer, Vaughan Oliver.
I don’t get the mountain of new Pixies prints with robots destroying cities or toads playing harps or whatever the fuck the gig poster artists are making. For me, the Pixies look should be mysterious, obtuse… and fucking weird and arty. I’m not gonna draw a barbarian battling a space octopus if I’m doing a Pixies poster, alright? Why would you? I care about them too much to impose my style on them.
Jack Kirby doesn’t scream REM. Coop doesn’t scream Brainiac. My art doesn’t scream at a lot of bands out there… but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t pull it off.
WHO’S THE BEST MUPPET?