As the guitarist with L.A. punk vets Bad Religion since their 1980 formation, Brett Gurewitz knows all about just how effective and incendiary subversive art can be. They’ve written a number of songs covering social issues, they contributed a song to Fat Mike (of NOFX)’s Rock Against Bush album, they performed at L7’s pro-choice event in ’93 — Bad Religion have let the world know exactly where they stand, to their enormous credit.
Meanwhile, as the founder of celebrated punk label Epitaph Records, Gurewitz also knows how to run a business, and run it successfully. Add the fact that he’s a fan of comic books and it’s a no-brainer that, when presented with the opportunity to work with Matteo Pizzolo co-founding Black Mask Studios, he was going to grab it with two hands.
“Matt and I met socially through our wives,” Gurewitz says. “Our wives were in prenatal yoga class together when they were pregnant. When our children were born, we were hanging out together all the time. We had a lot in common. He was an old New York hardcore kid, and obviously I have my L.A. hardcore and punk-rock background. So we had a lot of that in common, and we were both into sci-fi and comics, and so when we get together on these family outings with the toddlers, me and Matt would always gravitate to each other.”
When Pizzolo created Occupy Comics around the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gurewitz was intrigued; because of his own businesses, he realized that he could help.
“I was not a comic book publisher, but I have a record company and I have another company called Kings Road, which does music merchandise and direct-to-customer business,” Gurewitz says. “I thought, well, maybe I can help out. We know how to ship ones and twos of collectible vinyl to people all over the world. It can’t be that much different doing it with comic books. As it turns out, there’s a lot of commonalities between the comic book business and the indie record business. It costs about the same to make a comic book, it takes about the same amount of time, it’s a similar niche customer. So anyway, learning about the business from Matt, I sort of fell into having an understanding of it very naturally.”
The two started working together, with Gurewitz’s Kings Road shipping out Occupy Comics. For the musician, it was fun and a cause he could get behind. He was proud doing it, plus the experiment was a success. So Gurewitz brought up the idea of doing it again, more regularly, with other books. That was the genesis of Black Mask.
Day-to-day, Pizzolo is the operational partner, while Gurewitz provides back-office support, financing, creative direction, strategy and business affairs. But Gurewitz reads the comic books, and he enjoys the fact that there’s a shared ethos of social justice between Black Mask and Bad Religion/Epitaph.
“Part of Black Mask’s mission is to empower diverse creators,” he says. “Epitaph started as a punk rock label, and part of what punk rock is about is transgressing and challenging social norms for the betterment of society. Even more than that, a big value of mine is being artist-friendly and, in the case of comic books, being creator-friendly. Not just friendly but sharing ownership of the art with the creators and artists. Epitaph as a punk label was one of the first labels to promote this ‘artist first’ concept, way back in the late ’80s. We’ve always done that.”
Gurewitz has a number of favorite titles within the Black Mask arsenal, with Ballistic (written by Adam Egypt Mortimer with art by Darick Robertson) up there among them.
“I’m a sci-fi nerd, and it was the first book we ever put out,” he says. “I love the concept because it’s so bonkers. It’s about a dystopian future where bio-tech has run amok and appliances have consciousness. There’s a wannabe bank robber and his sidekick, who’s a drug-addicted gun. They’re buddies, and sort of anti-heroes. I love that one.”
Gurewitz also enjoys Space Riders, We Can Never Go Home Again and Kim & Kim among the Black Mask titles. Outside of that, he’s long been a fan of dark comic titles such as The Watchmen and the Dark Knight series. Meanwhile, he has real affection for the many comic book movies that Marvel and DC in particular have been dishing out for the past decade or so.
“I honestly loved a lot of them,” he says. “I guess I will risk being accused of being a philistine here, but I like blockbusters made for 16-year-olds, and I go and see all of them. In my defense, my wife enjoys them too, so we go together. I lucked out in marrying somebody with an equally pedestrian love of film. I loved the new Avengers: Infinity War — I thought it was fantastic. Of the Deadpool movies, I thought the first was phenomenal. I’m a huge fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. All of them are flawed, none of them are perfect, but I loved Wonder Woman. I thought Black Panther was an important film, if flawed also.”
Gurewitz won’t be at San Diego Comic-Con this year — he’ll be out of the country — but he's happy that there’s a strong Black Mask presence at the event. Meanwhile, he’ll be continuing to inform and educate with his band. Bad Religion just put out a single called “The Kids Are Alt-Right.”
“It’s a scathing indictment of the conservative youth movement,” Gurewitz says. “And we have a brilliant lyrics video done by a young Spanish artist named Antoni Sendra (aka Podenco) — he’s a phenomenal visual artist. We’re writing for a new album, recording this fall or late summer. No release date announced yet, but we should have an album’s worth of ‘Fuck Trump’ songs pretty soon. It’s exactly what we need.”
And whatever medium he’s working with, that’s exactly what we’ll get.