'Gumballhead the Cat' comic from The Chicago Reader (2005).

Rob Syers is an American cartoonist, who co-founded the Chicago-based independent noise rock label SKiN GRAFT Records. The label's roots lay in the SKiN GRAFT Comix imprint that Syers and fellow art student Mark Fischer had set up in St. Louis as part of the punk subculture. By 1991, the comics they and other enthusiasts created were added as inserts within the sleeves of various musical singles and albums. Syers' best known comic character is Gumballhead the Cat, who appeared in comic strips and served as the mascot for Chicago noise-rock group Mount Shasta and a special beer by the Three Floyds Brewery.

Early life
While in high school in St. Charles, about 30 minutes west from downtown St. Louis, Missouri, Rob Syers took an independent art class in which the pupils could choose their own artistic assignment for one semester. Together with fellow students Mark Fischer and Allen Goeddey, he made a punk comic book, called 'SKiN GRAFT Comix' (1986), which was printed by Fischer's grandfather. Since the latter knew somebody who still owed him a favor, he actually managed to print 500 copies. Syers and Fischer sold half of them to their fellow pupils. The rest were sold at comic stores, comic conventions and punk concerts.

'Confused' and 'White Monkey God', two DIY zines by Rob Syers on the SKiN GRAFT Comix imprint.

Encouraged by friends and other sympathizers, Syers and Fischer kept making new punk rock comics in the following years, publishing them in self-made fanzines under their SKiN GRAFT Comics imprint. Besides making new issues of 'SKiN GRAFT Comix', Fisher and Syers released new titles based on one character. Syers for instance created 'White Monkey God', 'Art Hetero', 'Confused' and 'Caffeine Uber Mensch', as well as the photo collage comix 'Motherfuckers' and 'Your Dicks Too Short To Fuck With God', while Fischer's DIY comics included 'The Kidz', 'Happy-Pig Funnies', 'Saddam Hussein's Smooth Words' and 'Curious'. The SKiN GRAFT team was joined by several other artists, who all produced their own mini-comix, including Jeff Bentle, Paul Nitsche, Todd Fischer, Sonny Rosenberg and Los Bros Graft.

For their SKiN GRAFT Comix, Fischer and Syers also interviewed bands like The Accused and Fugazi. They additionally organized annual comic "jams", during which cartoonists made chain stories, each trying to continue a story from the point a previous artist had left it. In 1991, the comics publisher Caliber Press released a SKiN GRAFT comic book for worldwide distribution. The two issues produced became the best selling titles of Caliber's entire Iconografix line, and featured stories and art by Mark Fischer, Rob Syers, Jeff Bentle and Paul Nitsche.

SKiN GRAFT Records
In 1992, Rob Syers and Mark Fischer brought their SKiN GRAFT imprint from St. Louis to Chicago, tying their self-published comix to a mix of complex, aggressive and often humorous music from bands like Dazzling Killmen, Mount Shasta and the Flying Luttenbachers. While attending the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois, Syers and Fischer did another comic as part of a school project, only this time as an insert to a 7'' music single. So SKiN GRAFT Comix became SKiN GRAFT Records, and their first release was the Split 7" Single, a joint release by Skin Graft and Sluggo Records, containing songs by both Dazzling Killmen and Mother's Day. Their comic book for Dazzling Killmen's next single 'Medicine Me' (1993) contained the comic story 'Fall Down Stand Up' by Rob Syers, as well as 'Mourning Cloak' by Paul Nitsche and four untitled pages drawn by Mark Fischer.

In the following years, SKiN GRAFT Records brought out many singles and albums by punk, noise and experimental rock bands. Their catalog included bands from both the USA (Mount Shasta, Fruitcake, Mama Tick, Brise-Glace, Shorty, Cheer-Accident, High On Fire, Ruins) and Japan (Melt-Banana, Space Streakings, Zeni Geva, UFO Or Die). Starting in 1995, they also released compilation albums with covers of AC/DC songs under the 'Sides' banner. Since they deemed comedy important they marketed the music on the label as "no wave", a pun on "new wave", but quite some music journalists took the term seriously. Syers, Fischer and their cartoonists were involved with most of the production and art design. Many of the albums and singles released by SKiN GRAFT have mini-comic inserts. Besides Syers and Fischer, the contributing cartoonists to SKiN GRAFT Records releases were Todd Fischer, Los Bros Graft, Paul Nitsche, Kame Bazooka, Nobtack Koike, Haruo Ishihara, Dan Grzeca, Matt Taylor, Sonny Rosenberg, Jeff Bentle, Rich Bott, Bruce Adams, Mark Shippy, Kurt Kiesel, Yamatsuka Eye, Sears & Fish and Maximillion Koons.

Gumballhead the Cat on the sleeve of Mount Shasta's 1994 'Put the Creep on' album.

Gumballhead the Cat
Between 1992 and 2005, comics and designs by Syers himself appeared on releases by Mount Shasta, Fruitcake, Mama Tick, Zeni Geva, Brise-Glace, Sears & Fish, Cheer-Accident and other groups. His most notable association was with the Chicago noise-rock group Mount Shasta, who used his character Gumballhead the Cat as mascot on their single and LP record sleeves. Syers had first created Gumballhead in 1991, basing the character on his ex-girlfriend's cat and then featuring him in crude three-panel comic strips. At the School of the Art Institute, he began using the character on his paintings, giving him his striking bright yellow color.

Gumballhead, a bastard feline who drinks, smokes, stabs and crashes planes, appeared prominently on the inner and outer sleeves of the Mount Shasta records 'Put The Creep On' (1994) and 'Who's The Hottie?' (1995), as well as the single 'Nodule' (1993). In 2003, after Mount Shasta had broken up, Rob Syers collaborated with the Chicago indie rock band Cheer-Accident to release 'Gumballhead the Cat', a CD and comic book set on the SKiN GRAFT Records label. In 2005, Syers worked with Mark Fischer again on writing and drawing a weekly color comic starring 'Gummbalhead the Cat' for The Chicago Reader.

After that, the Three Floyds Brewery from Munster, Indiana, launched their "Gumballhead Beer" line, a smooth, citrusy wheat beer brewed with Amarillo hops. For the labels, Rob Syers placed his cat character in a variety of memorable environments: Gumballhead as Cosmonaut, Gumballhead fighting aliens, Gumballhead as Roman Warrior, etc. Since 12 January 2017, Rob Syers has been posting weekly 'Gumballhead the Cat' comics on gumballheadthecat.com.

'Persons Unknown' episode #39, published on gumballheadthecat.com.



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