Crazy But Proud : The Story of Suicidal Tendencies Artist Ric Clayton
By Tony Rettman
April 16, 2018
In its nascent days, the American Hardcore Punk scene birthed itself as an immediate culture. With a rambunctious sound and independent spirit, the music attracted a generation of kids who were looking to be a part of something that was legitimately edgy and wholly all its own. But as quickly as the scene formed, an overall orthodoxy seeped its way into the proceedings which deemed it trite to many who were first drawn to it. Right around the time things began to go awry with the music, a band from the grotty seaside town of Venice, California, appeared on the scene with a debut album which gave a glimmer of hope that maybe not all was lost so early on in the genre’s life span.
When Suicidal Tendencies released their twelve song album on the Frontier record label in 1983, not only did they come off like an anomaly due to not being afraid to showcase their non-punk influences of Black Sabbath and other heavy music from the previous decade, but by not presenting themselves in the standard Hardcore Punk style of leather jackets, shaved heads, and anarchy symbols. Adorned in their neighborhoods’ traditional gangster dress style of Pendleton button-ups, tank tops, and Dickies, the band made their presence known by adhering to one of the cardinal rules of punk:
But perhaps the biggest factor in their impact was the cover of that record. Made up from a collection of photographs taken by the bands’ manager and producer Glen E. Friedman, the jacket displayed an army of fans and friends sporting hand-drawn shirts showing support for their ‘hood heroes. The artwork on the shirts was crude in its intent, but sophisticated in its approach. And much like the band themselves, it gave homage to Venice by using the graffiti style many gangs threw up on walls in the area. It was both disturbing and alluring; the very essence of punk rock itself. The majority of the shirts presented were drawn by Ric Clayton, a Venice native, and the man synonymous with the menacing imagery associated with the band that is now in their thirty-seventh year of existence.
When asked what inspired him to draw these images, Clayton responds back plainly, “I’ve always liked drawing skulls. I don’t know why.” For the duration of our phone conversation, this is the way Clayton speaks about himself, his time in the Southern California punk scene and the art he creates: unpretentious and blunt—the true sign of a natural talent. “When I was a kid, I was always getting kicked out of schools for two things: fighting and drawing graffiti on everything. Eventually, the graffiti part worked out for me.”
Clayton grew up in the early skate and surf scene of Venice in the late ‘70s mythicized in the 2001 documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Trailing behind the likes of Tony Alva, Jim Muir, and the late Jay Adams—whom he was closest to in age by being four years younger—Ric was a firsthand witness as this tough group of kids flipped skateboarding from its puka shell quaintness into the denim-driven aggression which fueled the sport throughout the ‘80s. He was also on hand for their transformation into punk rock.