Daniel Johnston is an American singer/songwriter and artist. He is one of the best-known "outsider" musicians, whose music lacks professionalism but makes up for it in heart-felt authenticity. Johnston suffers from schizophrenia and manic depression, which makes him mentally highly unstable. Compared with other amateur singers, however, he is a very capable guitarist, pianist and a talented songwriter. His lyrics are touching and he has an ear for writing catchy sing-a-long melodies. He was born in Sacramento, California in 1961, and raised in West Virginia. He showed an interest in art and music while in high school and began recording music in his parents' home in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s he started selling and handing out these tape recordings to people in his new hometown Austin, Texas. All these tapes have bad audio quality and unwanted background noises. Some are about his personal obsessions, such as The Beatles, Jesus Christ, 'Casper the Friendly Little Ghost' and 'Captain America'. Other deal with more universal emotions, such as lovesickness, rejection, alienation and despair. Everything is performed with a child-like naivité, so intimate at times that it's sometimes borderline embarrassing. Yet, above it all his quality song craft and sincere performances shine through.
Throughout the 1980s Johnston gained a cult following among alternative musicians. He got more media attention and MTV even created a special around him in 1985. Several of his cassette albums, such as 'Songs About Pain' (1980), 'Hi, How Are You?' (1983) and 'Yip/Jump Music' (1983), later received a proper CD release and are now seen as classics. By the 1990s Johnston received more public attention when Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt baring the art work from 'Hi How Are You?' during their Nevermind tour. Cobain also placed 'Yip/Jump Music' on number 35 in his personal Album 100. Apart from Cobain, Johnston was also praised by musicians such as Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, Beck, Eels, M. Ward, Bright Eyes, Sparklehorse, Jad Fair, fIREHOSE, Mercury Rev, The Butthole Surfers, Lana Del Rey, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips, who have all covered songs by him. Other celebrity fans are Johnny Depp, David Bowie, Norah Jones and Matt Groening. The latter also appeared in the 2005 documentary 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston', about Johnston's career and personal life. Despite his unstable mental state and frequently being institutionalized Johnston managed to build up a very productive musical career.
Apart from music Johnston also shares a huge love for comics, particularly those starring Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's creation 'Captain America', as well as Harvey Comics. At the age of eight he started drawing comics of his own. Some were about his cat, other based on the Bible or fan fiction about Captain America, King Kong, Godzilla or Casper the Friendly Little Ghost. They were typically superhero stories, where good battles evil. Johnston gave them the title 'Cool Comics Presents'. The boy also doodled in his school books and Bible lesson books. He kept personal notebooks where he scribbled down cartoons, comics, poems, lyrics and diary entries. Some pages have images from magazines and comic books pasted upon them. During puberty drawing helped him get over his depressions. One of them was 'High School Band', where he expressed his feelings about becoming a trumpeter in his high school band. The two-page story ends with a cut-out image from a 'Casper' comic strip, where the little ghost buys a guitar. Many of Johnston's early graphical work can be found in Tarssa Yazdani and Don Goede's book 'The Life, Art & Music of Daniel Johnston' (2009).
After high school Johnston attended art classes at the East Liverpool, Ohio branch of Kent State University. He tried to get a college degree in this field too, but his mental problems put a stop to that. Johnston acknowledged that he actually moved to Austin, Texas, because of its thriving underground comix scene. A self-made artist in every way he also illustrated most of his own album covers. In 1990 he drew a special promotional comic featuring himself and his signature character, Jeremiah the frog, which was inspired by the amphibian in Three Dog Night's hit song 'Joy The World'. The comic advertised his then recent album '1990'. In 1997 Johnston gave permission to long-time admirers Ron English and Jack Medicine to make a crossover comic with him, as part of the Hyperjinx Tricycle project.
While Johnston's artwork has been exhibited in London, New York, Liverpool and Sacramento it took until March 2012 before he published a complete comic book of his own: 'Space Ducks - An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness'. The story features an anthropomorphic duck, General Duck, who battles Satan in a sci-fi adventure. The book was released through BOOM! Studios and combined with a compilation CD of the same name.
When Matt Groening hosted the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in 2010 he invited Johnston to be one of the performing acts and drew a flyer featuring a caricature of him. Spanish comics artist Ricardo Cavolo drew a comic strip homage to Johnston in 2013. Other cartoonists who are fan of Johnston's music are Kamagurka and Kim Duchateau.