February 12, 2009

MY LIFE IN T-SHIRTS

For most of my life the common T-shirt has been the ideal way to conceal my un-tan-able torso while announcing my personal interests to everyone within proximity of my pectorals. The inability to part with outdated and deteriorated T-shirts has emerged as a modern male stereotype. This behavior is also the mark of contemporary nerdiness. Therefore I, being both male and nerd (with a liberal dash of obsessive and archivist tendencies), have predictively kept a multitude of yesteryear's T-shirts.

Rarely have I ever actively gone T-shirt shopping; the shirts have always seemed to come to me. Because of the chance nature of these acquisitions, my backlog of shirts plots out a certain cross section of my life. Almost every garment contains a distinct memory, most of which are fun to recall. And so, what follows is every graphic T-shirt that has managed to remain under my care. Perhaps this collection is one third or even one fifth of my life's total tees (it seems like it's always the favorites that meet an early doom), but here are the survivors, pit stains and all...


CHILDHOOD

What's On It: Donkey Kong Junior, the sequel to one of the most popular video arcade games of all time
Year: 1982
Price: Unknown
Acquired From:
Wal-Mart
The Story: I loved the game. I saw the shirt. I begged the mom.
Fit: In its prime it was just right
Current Status: Retired (maybe my son will wear it in a couple years)

What's On It: The logo from Starcade, a television game show in which contestants played video games for prizes
Acquired From: JMP Enterprises
Year: 1983
Price: Free
The Story: I wrote about the legendary origins of this shirt here. To sum it up, I was the official vice president of the nation's first Starcade fan club.
Fit: It was a bit too small even when I was a kid
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: The pop band Toto
Acquired From: Barnhill Arena, Fayetteville, AR
Year: 1985
Price: $20
The Story: This was the first real concert I ever attended. I recall being amazed yet alarmed by the sheer loudness. I'd never felt music through my stomach before. The opening act was John Parr, singer of Naughty, Naughty and Man in Motion (St. Elmo's Fire). My dad had slipped me an extra twenty bucks as "emergency money." I learned that fashion emergencies don't count.
Fit: Looked good at the time
Current Status: Retired (size restrictions)


What's On It: Max Headroom peddling Coca-Cola
Acquired From: A sixth grade classmate
Year: 1985
Price: Free
The Story: The same kid who's mom took me to the Toto show (Boyd Atterberry where are you?) gave me this one, probably during the same weekend. His dad was a Coca-Cola delivery man, thus the promotional freebie. Thinking back, that was also the weekend I bought Journey- Escape on cassette, and we watched the forbidden Terror in the Aisles thanks to their enormous satellite dish. Man, we were reaching near-toxic levels of 80s consumption.
Fit: It was a bit too small when I got it
Current Status: Retired


TEENHOOD
Throughout childhood I dabbled in the art of T-shirt wearing, but around the time I hit junior high it elevated into a lifestyle. That's when I took notice of a crop of movie characters who, in addition to being hilarious, seemed to posses an endless supply of offbeat T-shirts, or at least enough to wear a new one in each scene. This crew included Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) from Real Genius, Stiles from Teen Wolf and Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. I decided that emulating these visionaries would be my key to greatness. (I am wildly thankful that Found Item Clothing currently offers replicas of nearly all of these movie tees.)

I wanted my shirts to become a defining characteristic of who I was, which really wasn't such a bad idea for an eighth grader. I'd still rather be "the guy with all the wacky shirts," as opposed to "the guy with the bowl cut and oily skin." So I did my school shopping at the mall gift shops and came away with a solid two-weeks-worth of novelty tees. Most referenced vintage pop culture— Gumby, Snoopy and The Little Rascals (Miami Rascals instead of Miami Vice– Pure hilarity!), and none of them survived high school. By the tenth grade I sought shirts that were beyond the buying range of my peers and so I turned to concerts, carnivals, and mail order for my fashion needs...

What's On It: An unlicensed smiley face with a bullet hole through its forehead, not to be confused with that other bloody smiley face.
Acquired From: Geisner Legion of Metal, a catalog for the headbanging set that advertised in Hit Parader and the like.
Year: 1988
Price: $14
The Story: The first time I saw this design I thought "That's just terrible." and "Is nothing sacred?" then I saw Slash of Guns 'N Roses wearing it and I thought "I need one."
Fit: Awkward, big neck hole with tiny sleeves
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Logo from David Lynch's groundbreaking television show Twin Peaks (You always have to put the word "groundbreaking" before Twin Peaks. It's the law.)
Acquired From: Columbia House Music Club
Year: 1990
Price: $30
The Story: Columbia House (known then as "the 10 tapes for a penny" place) proved to be another practical way to beat my small town shopping limitations. In addition to my "Selection of the Month" card, their monthly envelope was stuffed with many pop culturous fliers— a virtual head shop of goodies. I saw the picture of the shirt and knew where I needed to send thirty of my allowance dollars (plus shipping and handling.) For a middle class teen in the early nineties that was a lot to pay, but it turned out to be well worth it...
1. It allowed me to flirt with artistic snobbery given that my teachers were more interested in the show than my buddies.
2. I met my good friend Andrew in college because he saw me wearing it.
3. The shirt's quality is phenomenal. The graphic is still pristine and I've been wearing it regularly every winter for the last eighteen years.
Fit: Perfect
Current Status: Heavy rotation


What's On It: The rock band The Black Crowes
Acquired From: Memphis in May Concert
Year: 1991
Price: $25
The Story: I hadn't been to a rock 'n roll show since Toto so I jumped at the chance to trek to Memphis with my friend Henry to see this new "Alternative Rock" band. Not only did I enjoy the show, I bested my personal records for both standing in the same place the longest, and longest time without going to the bathroom.

This is when the term "paper thin" entered my T-shirt vocabulary. Ironically, at twenty-five bucks this was also the most I'd ever paid for one. It seemed like a rip-off until I discovered its power to attract the attention of the ladies. I guess concerts seemed especially novel and exciting at that age.
Fit: The neck was always stretched out.
Current Status: Retired (Now that I'm married I'd best not wear this little babe magnet.)


What's On It: Official slogan for Maalox, an over-the-counter antacid
Acquired From: A high school (and current) friend
Year: 1991
Price: Free
The Story: The same friend who took me to the Black Crowes show gave me this one, probably a couple weekends later. His dad was a doctor, thus the promotional freebie. Are you getting how this perfectly echoes the Toto/Max Headroom shirts? I just noticed that myself.

This shirt has never failed to get good reactions. A number of people have actually said to me in a disgusted tone... "Doesn't that mean you have diarrhea?" The answer is no, it's an antacid. But I'm entertained by their implications that I would voluntarily announce this, and that I should be ashamed to do so.
Fit: More torso girth than necessary
Current Status: Retired (too many stains. No, not diarrhea.)


What's On It: The number "91" short for the year I graduated high school
Acquired From: My high school
Year: I can't remember
Price: Free
The Story: This was the first time I was called upon as a T-shirt artist. Mad Magazine's Sergio Aragon├ęs was my inspiration. I threw in a lot of inside gags and I recall having to explain every detail of the illustration to the guidance councilor to prove that I hadn't slipped in anything inappropriate. (I hadn't.) As soon as I received the printed shirt, I realized that I should have made the line work on the numbers bolder. Aside from that I was just proud to see my work on my classmates' chests. (I'm resisting the urge to elaborate.)
Fit: The sleeves were too short.
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: An unofficial parody of Bart Simpson
Acquired From: The Tontitown Annual Grape Festival
Year: 1991
Price: Free
The Story: As a rabid new Simpsons fan, I was intrigued by the news stories about bootleg Simpsons outerwear cropping up nationwide. I suppose that "hot, new property"+"easy to draw" amounted to the tremendous black market response. But since shady street vendors are usually a big city amenity, it seemed that yet again my rural lifestyle was denying me another of life's joys.

Then one summer's day I found myself at a small time carnival staring at a wall covered with African American Barts! Even his name had been changed to reflect his race– Bart Blackman. My delight was interrupted by the cruel realization that these treasures were not for sale, rather they were awarded only to those with the dexterity to successfully shoot a free throw into a basketball hoop. Not just any hoop; closer inspection revealed that these goals had been unscrupulously shaped into narrow ovals– an illusion that could only be detected by standing directly to the side of the booth.

Armed with twenty one-dollar bills, I approached the podium, poised for a challenge. Now, you may be shocked to learn this, but I've never been the athletic type. Oh, I could whip you at Double Dribble for the NES, but the ball I held in my hand was definitely not made of pixels.
My first attempt: I self-consciously tossed the ball in the direction of the crooked hoop... SWOOSH! I scored. Somehow I scored!! I stood there flabbergasted as the carnie coughed up my new favorite shirt.

But from my victory there emerged a new trial– how would I go about wearing Mr. Blackman's fowl remark among my family and teachers? The answer came in the form of a carefully cut piece of masking tape. On it I wrote the letters "CK" in my best Comic Sans and stuck it on top of the offending double L's. I smugly walked among school faculty with the cleverly concealed swear.

Though it represented a personal triumph in both sport and creativity, I only wore the shirt a couple times due to its odd cut and the work required to hide the "Hell."
Fit: Horrible, the torso is mammoth-sized and too long; the cut is strange at the bottom. It fit more like a girls night shirt. It very well may be one.
Current Status: Retired


COLLEGE YEARS
What follows is evidence that my college-era free time was vastly dictated by my love of music. I enjoyed chasing after area performances (which usually meant two to seven hour drives), performing for my fellow students, and organizing live music events. Wearing concert tees helped bridge the gaps between the shows and the midnight CD release parties. Eventually I learned that it's impossible to voluntarily part with these shirts; there are a number of reasons for this...
1. They serve as souvenirs, not unlike my snow globe from San Francisco or my sombrero-shaped ashtray from South of the Border in South Carolina.
2. Before the advent of the web, these shirts were the rarest of commodities. If I saw a friend wearing something from a recent show I knew I had zero hope of ever owning one too.
3. I'm an obsessive freak who scarcely throws anything away.

The other type of shirt that I can't discard are the ones that feature my own artwork. I keep them for the same reason I still have boxes of my childhood drawings. The truth is, I'm not at all fond of most of my own T-shirt designs. Nearly all of them were scrawled with a Sharpie well before I'd figured out the principles of decent design. Anyway, be prepared for a disproportionate amount of homegrown and rock 'n roll garb...


What's On It: The California Dorm, a dormitory on my college campus
Acquired From: California Dorm resident assistant
Year: 1992
Price: Free
The Story: This was my second T-shirt gig. I wasn't really thinking in T-shirt terms when I drew it; it's not a concept that you can get while glancing at someone in the cafeteria. Actually there's no real getting it even upon lengthy inspection. It's just these two mundane scenes of 1950s dorm life (proving my early love of "retro"). I was proud of the extremely subdued rule-breaking depicted, like the pet bird in the room and the after hours visit from the guys. It was intended to be very dry and unusual. I remember seeing people wearing these, but I still wonder if they actually liked them.
Fit: Pretty good
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Alt-rock band Eugenius
Acquired From: IKON night club- Tulsa, OK
Year: 1992
Price: $10
The Story: I got into these guys because I had read that Kurt Cobain was a big fan. (Which reminds me– all of my Nirvana shirts are MIA.) I was surprised to hear they were playing in a nearby Techno-Industrial joint with Mudhoney, Supersuckers and Rev. Horton Heat. Enough of my friends went that we were able to almost completely suppress the annoying moshers and crowd surfers, making it a very pleasant show.
Fit: A bit too stocky
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Noise rock band Sonic Youth
Acquired From: Agora Ballroom- Dallas, TX
Year: 1992
Price: $15
The Story: A wildly entertaining yet uneventful show doesn't really make for an interesting story. The real drama occurred at the raucous college after party. I'm referring to the inner struggle I faced upon discovering a set of vintage Mego brand KISS dolls, positioned in defiling poses on a table next to the exit of a trashed apartment. Should I free them from their unappreciative (and inebriated) master? After clutching them for a time, I triumphed over my temptation. And so, as I type this poor Peter, Paul, and Gene are still out there somewhere in the clutches of some middle aged pervert. This seems appropriate now.

I will also note that this show was my introduction to Pavement, a band who would soon have quite an impact on my T-shirt collection.
Fit: It's way big, but this was quite acceptable back in the day.
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Logo for the film Weekend at Bernie's 2
Acquired From: Ridiculously huge night club complex in Texas (possibly called Club Chaos)
Year: 1993
Price: Free
The Story: That was the year I halfheartedly hitched my spring break wagon to a pack of friends who were bound for South Padre Island, which I found to be a poor man's Daytona beach. As we cruised a street that was gridlocked with teenagers, a radio ad came on promoting one of the many night spots in town. The guy announced that the first one thousand people through the door will get a free T-shirt.
"In other words, everyone gets a shirt." I quipped.

Their sad marketing efforts must have worked because hours later the vanload of my friends and I were standing in the shirt line. A hostess tossed us our swag and informed us of how lucky we were since she was down to the last few shirts. This sure didn't sound right, but later it was broadcast that over seven thousand kids had shown up that night. That's like the population of some horrible, hedonistic small town.

Oh, the shirt. It's seriously amazing, yes? When I first got it I laughed at its pure perfection—that film, the cheapo one-color logo, and oh, what a color! I remember commenting on how it would be even cooler to wear in about a decade. Thirteen years later I put this theory to the test as I wore it around the San Diego Comic Con. Fellow geeks went out of their way to congratulate me on my fashion achievement. One lady in the movie biz asked me if I had worked on the film.
Fit: Almost too short
Current Status: I've mowed in it too much. After some careful bleaching I'll wear it on special occasions.


What's On It: The Blue Party 5, a local annual dance party
Acquired From: My friend Dean, the host
Year: 1994
Price: Free
The Story: Remember the whole Sun and Moon trend in the early nineties? This tee was perfectly aligned with the times (there's a Sun on the front, as illustrated by a friend of mine). I never minded that imagery. It was far better than the "country" cows, ducks, and hearts of the late 80s.
Fit: Slightly too big
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Indie rock band Pavement
Acquired From: The Masquerade- Atlanta, GA
Year: 1994
Price: $10
The Story: After the Sonic Youth show (a few shirts above) I snatched up the Pavement discography and fell into deep fandom. Thanks to my girlfriend (now my wife), I found myself at another concert, armed with extensive knowledge of Pavement's comprehensive track list.

While the opening act was still playing I approached the merchandise vendor to ensure maximum selection. I grew very excited when I saw the choices. While obscure, ironic and senseless shirt graphics are all over the web now, these designs were real standouts at the time. Due to my new roll as super fan I would need both T-shirt varieties. In addition to these I was shopping for a couple of my pals who had sent shirt money along with me.

As the salesman was loading me down with gear, I caught the glare of a thin guy sitting in a folding chair behind the table, suckling a beer. His was a look of pure disapproval, followed by a full blown slow motion head shake. I smiled meekly thinking he might be joking, but he continued the judgment. I walked away wondering if he frowned on the volume of my purchase; maybe he thought I was reselling stuff or something. Or maybe he was just a jerk.

A half hour later that same curmudgeon behind the table appeared on the stage where he played guitar and sang for the next couple hours. I had been unaware that it was Pavement front man, Stephen Malkmus, because none of their albums contained coherent band photos, and the only time I'd seen them was on stage nearly two years prior. So, had he been scorning me because someone buying so many shirts should at least be able to recognize the lead singer? Maybe. But future after-show encounters would teach me that he can indeed be sort of a jerk.
Fit: Not bad
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Indie rock band Pavement
Acquired From: The Masquerade- Atlanta, GA
Year: 1994
Price: $10
The Story: See above.
Fit: Just right
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: The face of Peter Brady of The Brady Bunch
Acquired From: Hasting's music shop
Year: 1994
Price: Around $17
The Story: I grew up a Brady Bunch fan so I wore this in the same spirit that the students of today wear Thundercats logos.

One time I had this on while checking in to a hotel. As I filled out the paperwork the clerk behind the desk literally squealed. I looked up and she was pointing at my shirt. "Oh, my god! You're him, aren't you?!"
I told her the truth, but now I wonder if I should have just gone along with it and saved her the cringe moment.
Fit: Baggy
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: More Pavement
Acquired From: IKON club- Tulsa, OK
Year: 1994
Price: $10
The Story: I've found this shirt to be a real conversation starter among strangers due to the bits of German text on it. A number of bilinguals have enjoyed translating it to me with various results.
Fit: Pretty good to smallish
Current Status: Active


What's On It: Tower of Terror, a ride at Disney/MGM Studios theme park
Acquired From: Disney/MGM studios by way of my girlfriend
Year: 1994
Price: Free
The Story: My future wife went to DisneyWorld and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.
Fit: A size too large (I must have seemed especially muscular in her eyes.)
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: "Christmas with Dean" an annual Christmas party hosted by my friend
Acquired From: Dean
Year: 1994
Price: Free
The Story: I agreed to do up another shirt for my pal and roommate of the time, Dean, in honor of his latest shindig. After a lengthy and frustrating illustrating session I still wasn't able to reach his lofty standards. Just before leaving the room, I indignantly scribbled out a disgruntled snowman and told him that it truthfully depicted what a Christmas with Dean was really like. Somehow Dean snuck the drawing from my pad and had the image made into the official shirt, which he revealed to me on the night of the party.
Fit: Very good
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Pearl Jam logo on a strange cartoonish bomb
Acquired From: The Pyramid- Memphis, TN
Year: 1994
Price: $30
The Story: A friend of a friend claimed that he could score us free tickets to a Pearl Jam concert in Memphis since his dad was a fire chief in Oklahoma City. It didn't make sense to me either. Ferociously skeptical, I brought along plenty of cash for admission. Hours before the show we waited in a parking lot as the chief's son negotiated inside the venue. He finally emerged to say that he had good news and bad news.
"The bad news is– we all got free tickets."
"The good news is– we got backstage passes too."
I'll still don't understand this strange phenomenon, but I celebrated by using my would-be ticket money for this deluxe thermal garment with embroidered logo.

(Even stranger than our good fortune was the fact that once I was backstage I encountered my house mate among the small group of fellow fans. I didn't even know he was going. It seems he bumped into the band's drummer at his hotel and he made a phone call. I tell ya, something good was going on with that gig.)
Fit: Good (of course)
Current Status: Available when extra warmth is needed


What's On It: The Thing that Bands Play At, a campus event at my college
Acquired From: Student council representative
Year: 1994
Price: Free
The Story: The show was called "The Thing..." so naturally I thought "from outer space" and the B-movie look was inevitable. With this shirt I learned a valuable "you can't always trust the printer" lesson. My written notes and verbal instructions weren't enough to convince the guy not to print the stuff outside of the black border. Some patrons said they liked it that way; I still consider it ruined.
Fit: A bit large
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: The Blue Party 5, an annual dance party
Acquired From: My friend Dean
Year: 1995
Price: Free
The Story: Another of my donated designs. When you surround yourself with action figures it's just a matter of time before they start showing up in your work. I still like the concept, but it sort of gets lost in this format.
Fit: Fine back then, too big for my tastes now
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: [Jon Spencer] Blues Explosion
Acquired From: A warehouse in Oklahoma City
Year: 1995
Price: $10
The Story: The original scheduled venue for this show was off limits due to the recent Oklahoma City bombing, so we congregated in a dingy warehouse where electricity was spotty. It all amounted to a very surreal experience.

Over the years, at least two people have asked me what "Blue Sex Poison" is.
Fit: Very good
Current Status: semi-retired, falling apart


What's On It: [Jon Spencer] Blues Explosion
Acquired From: A warehouse in Oklahoma City
Year: 1995
Price: $10
The Story: Purchased at the same show mentioned above. The ten dollar shirts are hard to pass up.
Fit: None too shabby
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Boss Hogg (A rock band formed by Jon Spencer and his wife)
Acquired From: Unknown music venue in Oklahoma City
Year: 1995
Price: $10
The Story: While a mosh pit doesn't seem like a very romantic place, protecting your best girl from crazed slam dancers for two solid hours is pure chivalry.
Fit: Fine
Current Status: Retired (holes have formed on the graphic)


What's On It: Siloampalooza 3, a local music event that I organized
Acquired From: Screen printing shop
Year: 1995
Price: Free
The Story: Sort of my own version of a Wacky Package, only executed far crappier.
Fit: Worn large on purpose
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Weezer the rock band
Acquired From: Trees- Dallas, TX
Year: 1995
Price: $25
The Story: The riff on the Van Halen logo, the outspoken yet pacifistic statement on back, and the ringer sleeves all amounted to a shirt that I loved to wear.
By this time I had learned that if you stay long enough after a show there's a decent chance you'll get to meet the band. It worked in this case and my friends and I had Rivers and company all to ourselves for nearly a half hour; the conversation even got a bit weighty at times. I gave each member a vintage Star Wars action figure before we parted ways.
Fit: Near perfect
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Logo for the band Letters to Cleo done up like AC/DC
Acquired From: Unknown venue in Kansas City
Year: 1995
Price: around $15
The Story: Like the Weezer shirt, this is where my love of Wacky Packages and music somehow overlap. I just noticed that it's a double case of alt rockers poking fun at the all but toppled Metal genre.

My stay-and-meet-the-band trick worked again. Speaking of ironic takes on Heavy Metal, before the Cleo show I had picked up a videotape about the band RATT from a clearance bin, and for some reason I asked singer Kay Hanley to sign it. She agreed, and it makes a perfect companion piece to the shirt...

Fit: Flappy by today's standards
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Bazooka Joe and his bubblegum
Acquired From: VFW thrift store- Jonesboro, GA
Year: I found it in 1995, date of origin unknown
Price: Two or three bucks
The Story: I was so thrilled to find this. They're everywhere now, but vintage brand logos had yet to boom as a trend, and ringer tees were scarce.
I'll never know, but I'd like to think that some kid mailed in a ton of Bazooka Joe comics for this tee.
Current Status: Retired due to staining
Fit: Excellent


What's On It: Swivel Cherry, my college band
Acquired From: Local screen printing shop
Year: 1995
Price: Free
The Story: This was a last minute throw-together but we'd always wanted to see our band on a T-shirt (at least I did) and the time seemed right, so there it is. It's another of my lackluster creations, but it does demonstrate my longstanding affinity for cheap novelties and wacky, misaligned lettering.
Fit: Ay-Okay
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: "Here It Is" sign from the Jackrabbit Trading Post
Acquired From: Jackrabbit Trading Post- Joseph City, AZ
Year: 1996
Price: I think around $12
The Story: Weary of the standard spring break destinations, my gang and I wisely chose to drive Route 66 to Las Vegas. This epic trip marked the first time I'd ever taken time to stop at the many offbeat attractions of the mother road. Its giant fiberglass rabbit and its wide array of souvenirs made the Jackrabbit an instant favorite. It's proceeded by miles of signs that declare the simple yet tantalizing phrase "Here it is," so anticipation is soaring by the time you arrive.
Fit: Exceptional
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Siloampalooza 4, a local music event that I organized
Acquired From: Local print shop
Year: 1996
Price: Free
The Story: This time around I simply stole a graphic from the box of one of my favorite knick-knacks, the Martian Popping Thing. It's interesting for me to see my fascination with novelties percolating through this project. Eventually it would overtake my creative life.
Fit: Just fine
Current Status: Retired


POST COLLEGE


What's On It: The Thing that Bands Play At 2
Acquired From: Student council representative
Year: 1996
Price: Free
The Story: The event was a sequel, and so was the shirt. This time the Thing was more powerful and had grown a second head. And this time I drew outside the border on purpose.
Fit: big-ish
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- Controversial Negro
Acquired From: Matador Records by way of the US Postal Service
Year: 1997
Price: Free
The Story: Matador Records held a contest in which entrants submitted a mini-essay (100 words or less) on the subject of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. My recollection of one of their live shows (see previous shirts) won me this tee, an LP and a video tape.
Fit: Pretty good for an XL
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: A fuchsia guy pulling his own head from his body
Acquired From: My friend Tim
Year: 1997
Price: Free
The Story: Tim, a high school friend of mine, commissioned me to illustrate about a half dozen T-shirts for his new business venture— a mail-order shirt shop. A portion of the shirts were dedicated to images of standard big-eyed aliens. He advertised these in UFO Magazine. (And I'm still honored to have ever impacted the pages of said publication.) The rest were inspired by the extreme-ology of the No Fear brand. Thus the character above who is so adrenalized that he has resorted to removing his own head as an ultimate expression of lunacy.

The bulk of Tim's catalog were his own creations, and I am telling you now that if you read only one T-shirt catalog in the next decade, do yourself an Xtreme favor and make it this one. I've come to describe Tim as possessing an Ed Wood-esque type of genius. He set out to imitate a beloved genre, but in the process he made some wholly unexpected creative decisions that only his mind could conjure, and the outcome is entirely original. They don't all make perfect sense, but when has that ever been a prerequisite for art?

Tim, if you're reading this, I've been quoting these shirts for over a decade. Sometimes I have the urge to just blurt out "Imagination Restrained By Reality!" And who isn't "Subject To An Overpowering Emotion?"
"Condition or Fact: Go beyond what is unusual." And you did.
Fit: Pretty decent
Current Status: I wore this around the house until my son was born


What's On It: Siloampalooza 5, a local music event that I organized
Acquired From: Local screen printing shop
Year: 1997
Price: Free
The Story: Another piece of my work, another step down the pathway of mail order novelty obsession.
Fit: Exceptional
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: Indie rock band Pavement
Acquired From: Diamond Ballroom- Oklahoma City, OK
Year: 1997
Price: $12
The Story: Pavement + Skeleton dancing with lady = Purchase
Fit: Not quite shabby
Current Status: Retired


What's On It: The upgraded version of a Christmas party that my friend(s) hosted
Acquired From: Dean
Year: 1997
Price: Free
The Story: I wish you knew these guys so that you could marvel at the likenesses.
Current Status: Retired
Fit: Too much torso material


What's On It: Atari logo
Acquired From: JCPenny
Year: 1998
Price: around $11
The Story: I wish I could go back and tell my childhood self... "Someday you and all the other kids of the world will grow up, and you will be the ones creating, selling and buying products. And your generation will finally produce all the toys, movies and stuff that you are wishing for right now. A Transformers movie? A Freddy Krueger action figure? An Atari shirt? They will all be yours.
Oh, and you know those arcade games you like so much? Let me tell you about this thing called an emulator..."
Current Status: In light rotation (due to tear caused by a dog bite)
Fit: Inferior to Intelevision T-shirts no doubt


What's On It: Heavy metal band Cinderella
Acquired From: A thrift store by way of my wife
Year: 1998
Price: Free
The Story: I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self... "Someday you will meet a girl that you like so much you will get married to her. And you will take this girl to see that band Cinderella that you admire so much now." (I wouldn't mention how at the time of the show they weren't still churning out hit songs.) "And you will get the band's autograph after the show. And when you go back home— well, you're married so— you know. And months later this amazing girl will buy you an old Cinderella T-shirt at a thrift store and give it to you to commemorate the good time you both had."
Had I known about all this, I could have endured high school so much better.
Current Status: Retired
Fit: On the small side


What's On It: Indie rock band Pavement
Acquired From: My friend Andrew
Year: 1998
Price: Can't remember
The Story: I've always appreciated how this one looks more like a prom invitation than a rock tee.
Current Status: On it's last leg due to rapidly developing pit holes
Fit: Beautiful


What's On It: Snopes.com "Urban Legends"
Acquired From: ebay
Year: 1998
Price: Around $15 I think
The Story: It seems weird to own a ten year old shirt from a web site— weird and astoundingly geeky. When I discovered snopes.com I was genuinely alarmed at how much misinformation I had been indoctrinated with in my lifetime. I swiftly became an avid user of the site and their message board. As is often the case with message boards, the subject of a T-shirt arose and one of the resident artists met the challenge. As an agent of truth, I needed one.
Current Status: Retired
Fit: A bit tree trunk-ish


What's On It: Battle of the Planets
Acquired From: My sister-in-law
Year: 1999
Price: Free
The Story: Tired of accumulating cool shirts from television industry trade shows? I can help.
Current Status: Retired mostly
Fit: A bit massive


What's On It: Indie rock band Sebadoh
Acquired From: Unknown venue in St. Louis, MO
Year: 1999
Price: Under $15
The Story: My friend Jamey and I had somehow become heads of our own households so we decided to take a mini road trip that would recapture some college age unruliness. The beautiful noise of Sebadoh abused our eardrums until we realized that domestic life isn't so bad.
Current Status: Retired
Fit: Very good


What's On It: Fossil brand as the Night Owl Motel
Acquired From: Fossil Outlet Shop- Branson, MO
Year: 2001
Price: $10
The Story: Name brands disguised as phony (and often vintage looking) establishments, products and sports teams became a staple for so many retailers this decade (Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, etc.). Best I can tell, Fossil invented this. And in my opinion they remain the masters.

The first time I spotted the trend I bought a pile of shirts (several can be seen below) Again, there's almost a Wacky Packages vibe going on, but this particular line nailed me because the wonderful images played off of such fun (and yes, retro) subject matter like bowling, motels, pancakes, and a even a faux taffy shop. The Night Owl Motel is one of my favorite shirts of all time.
Current Status: In limited use (due to large bleach spots on back)
Fit: Near ultimate


What's On It: Fossil brand as the Secret of the Sea Taffy Factory
Acquired From: Fossil Outlet Shop- Branson, MO
Year: 2001
Price: $10
The Story: See above
Current Status: Mostly used as an undershirt
Fit: Good


What's On It: Fossil brand as the Flap Jack Pancake House
Acquired From: Fossil Outlet Shop- Branson, MO
Year: 2001
Price: $10
The Story: See above
Current Status: Retired
Fit: Arm holes are too large


What's On It: Fossil Brand as Bob's Lanes
Acquired From: Fossil Outlet Shop- Branson, MO
Year: 2001
Price: $10
The Story: See above
Current Status: Active
Fit: Superb


What's On It: Fossil Brand "Bowling- Fun to Spare!"
Acquired From: Fossil Outlet Shop- Branson, MO
Year: 2001
Price: $10
The Story: See above
Current Status: Used as a smock
Fit: Average


What's On It: Macromedia DEVCON 2002, a web developer's convention
Acquired From: DEVCON- Orlando, FL
Year: 2002
Price: Free
The Story: This is one of the few conference tees that I haven't given to good will. Its long sleeves make it versatile and now I enjoy its obsolescence. Ironically, I've found that if you want shirts that are horribly designed, go to a design conference.
Current Status: Occasional use
Fit: Comfy


What's On It: The Mars Volta, a rock band
Acquired From: Clunk Music Hall- Fayetteville, AR
Year: 2002
Price: $10
The Story: It seems like The Mars Volta was filling up arenas within a few months of the band's inception. (It helped that their former incarnation, At the Drive-In, had a raging fan base, myself included.) In the wee sliver of time before their transformation into monsters of rock they inexplicably appeared in a tiny venue right in my own backyard. Seeing a performance of that caliber in such an intimate setting, and only a handful of miles from my own bed remains one of my most cherished musical experiences.
Current Status: Active
Fit: Almost too small, but good


What's On It: The Strokes, a rock band
Acquired From: The Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center– Oklahoma City
Year: 2002
Price: $22
The Story: The sight of this one riled up memories of my old Toto shirt, so I just had to complete the circle. Yet again we have a sort of rock and roll Wacky Package as The Strokes play off the Magna cigarettes logo.
Current Status: Active
Fit: Great


MY THIRTIES


What's On It: A three dimensional Frankenstein mask based on an old vac-u-form design
Acquired From: Target
Year: 2003
Price: Can't remember
The Story: I wrote more than you could ever care to know about this particular Target Halloween promotional campaign here.
Current Status: Special occasion only
Fit: Poor


What's On It: Secret Fun Spot logo
Acquired From: Materials came from Wal-Mart
Year: 2003
Price: Cost of materials
The Story: I wanted to see what a Secret Fun Spot shirt might look like, so I made this one with that printable iron-on stuff.
Current Status: Occasional undershirt
Fit: So-so


What's On It: A moon monster. This is a replica of one of the shirts that the main character wears in the short film Flip.
Acquired From: Cafepress.com
Price: About $10
Year: 2004
The Story: My friends and I made these shirts to promote our film at various film festivals including one at Comic Con '04. These sold out quick, but I still cringe at the fact that we put our url on the back (Spooklightproductions.com) which cut the coolness factor in half. Stupid.. stupid! The image comes from a vintage window decal produced by a wonderful defunct company called Impko. He's called the "Moon Loon."
Current Status: Active
Fit: Just right


What's On It: The Shock Monster. Another replica of a shirt from Flip.
Acquired From: Cafepress.com
Year: 2004
Price: About $10
The Story: The art comes from an old mask advertisement which appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The mask was manufactured by Topstone and sold through The Captain Company.
Current Status: Work shirt
Fit: Not so great




Me (center) in the role of Christmas Ape

What's On It: Christmas Ape Loves You
Acquired From: Materials came from Wal-Mart
Year: 2004
Price: Cost of materials
The Story: There was a four year stint when my friends and I decided to liven up our local Christmas parade by entering our own nonsensical floats. One year I brought an obscure Simpsons gag to life when I dressed as Christmas Ape. I was referencing the line...
"Hi! I'm Troy Maclure. You might remember me from such films as Christmas Ape, and Christmas Ape Goes To Summer Camp."

Each time I've donned the Christmas Ape suit his T-shirt has become more soiled with real bananas and general filth. I make a point not to wash it because it's befitting to his character; not unlike Borat and his nasty unwashed suit.

The ape graphic is from an old Johnson Smith ad for a gorilla mask (with real hair). The font is Hobo. I use it every chance I can get.
Current Status: Occasional use (with ape suit)
Fit: Well, especially over the suit


What's On It: Revenge of the Robot Beast poster, a fictitious vintage B-movie that was referenced in the short film Flip
Acquired From: Cafepress.com
Year: 2004
Price: Around $10
The Story: Another in the series of shirts to promote our short film. Kyle Henry painted the gorgeous illustration.
Fit: Decent
Current Status: Undershirt


What's On It: Vintage Sprite logo
Acquired From: Target
Year: 2005
Price: Free
The Story: My wonderful wife picked this up for me after I'd commented on it during a Target run. The vintage logo trend may be played out, but I'm quite thankful I can walk into a "big box" store and still find artwork as beautiful as this.
Current Status: Active
Fit: Excellent


What's On It: Eighties Child design
Acquired From: Threadless.com headquarters- Chicago, IL
Year: 2005
Price: $10
The Story: I had the opportunity to attend the HOW Magazine design conference in Chicago that year. If you go in for the deluxe package you take a tour of local design houses and to my delight SkinnyCorp/Threadless happened to be one of them. (Another favorite, Coudal was on the circuit as well.) I enjoyed bypassing their web site and choosing a design straight from the maze of shelves. This one by Multiple Moorby seemed most appropriate.
Current Status: Active
Fit: Better than average


What's On It: Logo and vintage artwork from S.S. Adams, the Prank and Magic company that I design for
Acquired From: Materials came from Wal-Mart
Year: 2006
Price: Cost of materials
The Story: I was peddling my S.S. Adams book at the San Diego Comic Con in '06 so I thought I'd make my own Adams T-shirt. This line of thinking is similar to the way an adolescent girl might craft her own shirt to wear to band camp. The art is from a vintage promotional sign. I ruled the whole convention!
Current Status: Rarely worn
Fit: Not bad


What's On It: Vintage Cocoa Puffs artwork
Acquired From: Wal-Mart
Year: 2006
Price: $10
The Story: I was trying to recapture the success of my Sprite shirt when I bought this one. Maybe it was the color or the fit, but my purchase proved to be a failure.
Fit: Bulky
Current Status: Donated



What's On It: Flap Jack Toys logo
Acquired From: Mike Becker, founder of Flapjack toys (not to mention FunKo)
Year: 2006
Price: Free
The Story: Soon after my friend Mike sold FunKo, the Wacky Wobbler company, he found that he still yearned for the business of fun. Flapjack Toys is his way of keeping one foot in the toy box. During Comic Con '06 I was one of his booth monkeys and for that I received this spook-ilicious shirt.
Fit: You could do a lot worse
Current Status: Active


What's On It: The Madness of Mission 6 by Travis Pitts
Acquired From: My wife via Threadless.com
Year: 2008
Price: Free
The Story: In case you didn't notice, this is a brilliant interpretation of Pac-Man. I wrote about it last year and my wonderful wife picked it up for our anniversary. Note to bloggers: Always cast your wishes into the pages of your blog. It's amazing how many of mine have been granted this way.
Fit: Right on
Current Status: Active


What's On It: The 2009 Watchmen movie logo
Acquired From: 2008 San Diego Comic Con
Year: 2008
Price: Free
The Story: This was a freebie for the thousands attending the Watchmen panel discussion. As I exited the room, I turned to find Paul Scheer of Human Giant trotting beside me...

He was sporting enough to hold this pose for about thirty seconds while my camera refused to work.


Note that he is wearing The Madness of Mission 6 shirt– my most recent acquisition at the time! This must prove some sort of cosmic significance in the realm of T-shirts.
Fit: Near Mint- Mint
Current Status: Active


What's On Them: "Approved by the Council of Monsters" and "Less Talk, More Monkey"
Acquired From: Archie McPhee's novelty shop- Seattle, WA by way of the US Postal Service
Year: 2008
Price: Free
The Story: After a decade of admiring the wares of Archie McPhee, last year destiny intervened and I tangled paths with longtime McPhee man, David Wahl, who helped bring their recent book to life, and who generously sent me this excellent apparel.
Fit: Gift horses are always a perfect fit.
Current Status: These stand as the most recent T-shirt acquisitions of my life.

______________

So there they are. My assortment is more akin to a living organism that grows and mutates on my back as opposed to a carefully curated collection. However, if I were hand picking my T-shirts, I would consult these places...

Found Item Clothing- reproductions of shirts worn by movie characters
Worn Free -reproduction vintage T-shirts that were worn by famous folks
James Lillis -pop culture inspired designer
80s Tees
Threadless
Directors as Heavy Metal logos


Supplemental reading:
Stuff White People Like #84
Vintage Aficionado

20 comments:

wagner israel cilio iii said...

BEST. POST. EVER.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. This has been one of my favorites. I purposely took my time reading it and soaking in the stories of each aquisition over the course of 4 hours. I was happy to relive some of the same stories I've heard before. No matter how many times I heard the RATT/Letters to CLeo story I always enjoy it. Well done post.
I envy this collection as mine is no where near this master class. I continue to defend my ragged and beloved t-shirst from my wife who seems intent on dishonoring me into ditching them, which we both know can never happen. Back to the Future, Pixies, clockwork orange and king kong may be ragged, too big (or small) or otherwise unwearable but I can not part with them anymore than I could part with my own blood.

Yes that likeness looks very much like Brady as I remember him.

Smith

Anonymous said...

I am just going to post a link to your "diary" in my blog... It will be alot more effective. Many out loud chuckles were elicited, especially the "Stupid....stupid!" comment about your .url inclusion.

John Rozum said...

Even better than your life in birthday cakes. My wife periodically comes across my box of retired t-shirts and suggests that they move to the trash.

Now that we are moving back to the East Coast, she thought it was a good time to make this suggestion again. Seeing no other way out, I pointed out that they'd make great padding for some of our fragile items, and so far they've lived to see another day.

I just have to be sure to be the one to unpack all the boxes full of items they're protecting.

Jimmy J said...

Whoa. Anyone who can map out their life with t-shirts is a friend of ours. You might just be able to pull some of those diarrhea* stained t-shirts our of retirement. Check our ultimate vintage t-shirt stain removal guide.


*May not actually be diarrhea.

Anthony said...

these are really great. as someone who was printing t-shirts for the preceding 6 months, i appreciate how incredibly low the print is on your childhood shirts.

i also laughed really hard about the brady shirt story. why would you wear a shirt with your own face on it?

really really great.

Kirk D. said...

isreal- thanks! and "best meeting a reader/commenter at a party ever" to you.

smith- Hearing about your battle to keep your shirts I now understand why you have turned to tattoos.

anonymous- thanks! Yes, a diary indeed. After I wrote this, I found it interesting that a post about t-shirts turned out to be one of my most personal yet.

john- Ha! funny you mention that because these very shirts served as packing material during my last move. I was pleased with my own resourcefulness, but in your case it was even more brilliant!

jimmy- what a great resource! Not just the post, but the whole blog. I'm adding mention of it to the post.

anthony- good observation; the kiddie iron ons were nearly belly level.

I laughed at your face on shirt comment and then I remembered that Peter Mayhew walks around with a huge picture of Chewbacca on his jacket. Which isn't quite the same but still.

Monster-Maniac said...

Christmas Ape: Scary & unbelievably awesome.

TulsaTV said...

I once had a special T-shirt made at Annex Mall here in Tulsa with the words "YOUR NAME HERE" on the front.

The joke (in my mind) was that you would see products in cheapo mail order catalogs with "YOUR NAME HERE", indicating that you should duly personalize the item.

I figured the shirt would be a laff riot, in as much as I just went for the generic phrase.

But as much as I wore it around, no one ever said a single word to me about it.

The moral of the story seemed to be that you need to strongly cue people as to the desired reaction. (E.g., cute puppies or I'm with stupid-->)

Maybe people looked at it and thought I was a stalker in search of an object, I don't know. But everyone certainly kept their own counsel.

Custom Tees said...

Never seen such wonderful post ever:

cube said...

So, did you acquire any cool stuff from Comic Con 2009? Just curious.

Kirk D. said...

cube- I didn't go this year. Sounds like it would have been worth it just to see Flynn's arcade from the upcoming Tron movie.

tulsa tv- somehow I had missed your t-shirt bit. I like that.. misuse for the sake of humor. I know I would have enjoyed seeing it out and about. thanks for sharing.

Jamey Clayberg said...

Dude how did i miss this? Classic

Anonymous said...

very poor selection of t-shirts, just awful. pavement? coca cola? WFT! they ALL suck!

LuKeys said...

Hey, congratulations for your collection ! We both seem to love ToTo and Twin Peaks, actually i dunno if you still love them but you used to ... so i was wondering if there was any connection ! :) greetings from Italy

L

Kirk D. said...

LuKeys- I still think Twin Peaks is amazing and I do have some Toto in my itunes library. Great stuff is timeless! : )

josage85 said...

Hey there, by any chance is that Sebadoh t-shirt up for sale? Anyone please help. Here is my email josecynic1@yahoo.com

Kirk D. said...

Hi Joe,
If I decide to part with the Sebadoh shirt I'll certainly let you know.

C. Elam said...

I've been reading your blog archives the last few days, and am struck by how well you managed to convey your love for your wife through an entry about old t-shirts.

Sir, I salute you.

Kirk D. said...

Ha, thanks Chris I take that as a high compliment! It's nice to know that someone is digging around the ol' fun blog.