Scumbags and Superstars is an alt-culture boutique in Bushwick that specializes in t-shirts, hats, patches, and other assorted collectibles of cartoon fiends. They opened in 2012 and quickly became square-one in the tiny NYC low-brow scene. Last year, however, the store came under fire for their official logo: a skull wearing an Indian headdress and a Nazi Iron Cross, which owner George Rosa declared to the media a pure design, free from past ideologies. (You can guess how well that went over.) Despite it all, Rosa remains devoted to a distinct aesthetic that is otherwise missing in our city. Ephemera sat down recently with him to discuss monsters, slime and goo, and what they mean to 21st century New Yorkers. (Brian Chidester)

Brian Chidester: First of all, let me just say, I love low-brow art. And I know I shouldn’t be surprised by anything these days, but I admit, you’re store surprised the crap out of me. What is a low-brow emporium doing in the midst of so much new-wave culture here?

George Rosa: My biggest motivation to open the shop was for that reason. There aren’t that many places like this still left in NYC. All the little rock shops that used to be in the Village and on St. Marks have been closing slowly over time. And I didn’t see anyone taking the torch.

BC: How did you get into monsters, finks, and slime?

GR: I grew up in the ’80s and was an only child. As a kid I loved playing with Madballs, Boglins, Mad Scientist toys… basically anything that had to do with slime or gross shit. And I lived on cartoons, but when I watched cartoons, I always liked the villains better and, as a kid, I remember getting pissed off that the good guys won every time. Also I really liked Freddy Krueger and Jason. Their movies and just the characters themselves were amazing to me. So monsters, horror, and gross shit were just something I gravitated to and it has always stuck with me.

Scumbags and Superstars does a variety of patches like this appropriation of the '80s monster toy brand, Mad Balls

Scumbags and Superstars does a variety of patches, like this appropriation of the ’80s monster toy brand, Madballs.

BC: I can think of only a handful of low-brow artists and collectors in NYC: Nychos Smith, Buff Monster, Weird Luke. From your POV, is it a bigger community? Or do you mostly collect and sell wares that come from outside NYC?

GR: I’m a big art and monster toy collector and have been for many years, so I wanted my shop and the brand to be more known for our artwork and design aesthetics. Most companies nowadays just want to brand a name and a logo. I’ve always been drawn to very graphically over-the-top stuff. So when it came time to open the shop, I wanted a place where weirdos like me could come and hang out. I didn’t want some minimal, pretentious, fancy store. We make all of our own clothing and accessories at the shop. No other brands. But we have tons of vintage toys and collectibles for sale, as well as lots of weird shit from my collection on display.

BC: What do you look for in illustration?

GR: I’m extremely picky. When it comes to illustrators, their line work is the main thing for me. I am attracted to bold heavy lines, like to the old comic style of Jack Kirby or R. Crumb, and I mostly gravitate to black and white. 

BC: How did you get into this style of art.

GR: Like we were saying before, I was into weird shit when I was a little kid in the ’80s. In the ’90s, I started writing graffiti and skateboarding. Graffiti was what inspired me to push my art honestly. I was a big fan of Barry McGee back then. He was one the first artists that motivated me to do better quality stuff and start drawing more. So I guess graffiti is what really got me serious about art.

BC: So you make art yourself?

GR: I always have. I do all the design stuff for the brand. But I usually don’t do too many of the drawings for the graphics. I prefer to have illustrators we work with handle those. I generally come up with the concepts and/or do some preliminary concept sketches and have the artists send me progress photos to make sure we are on the same page. The artists we work with are always rad and it’s usually a fairly easy back and forth process to finalize the designs.

Custom Scumbags and Superstars tees by Benjamin Lande and Sexual Youkai.

Custom Scumbags and Superstars tees by Benjamin Lande and Sexual Youkai.

BC: Who are some of the artists you work with?

GR: Sexual Youkai has been with us for over three years now I think. His work is amazing and he has a very bold style. He’s from England but lives in Japan. We have never met face to face. Another artist we have worked with alot is Benjamin Lande. He lives in Atlanta and is a super rad illustrator. He has a very classic style which suites the brand well. Also we have been working a lot with a young artist named Keith Caves. Keith lives in Pittsburg and is only like 20 or 21, but his skill level is high for such a young guy. He honestly reminds me of a young R. Crumb.

BC: And you show original sketches and prints at the shop too, right?

GR: That’s one of the benefits of having Scumbags and Superstars: we get to curate and display artists that we like. We would rather work with underground weirdo artists than most mainstream guys. I think that talent is more important than hype and all the people that we work with have tons of talent and skill.

BC: Any favorite past artists?

GR: Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Walt Disney.

BC: Why is this type of art important? What can people take away from it?

GR: We get messages all the time from customers, thanking us for making weird shit. We make clothing for everyone to enjoy… stuff that isn’t pretentious… just good graphics and classic designs that evoke a visceral response. Our goal is to make fun stuff that people are stoked to wear. 

BC: What is one collectible that you want but don’t have in your collection yet?

GR: A mummified alien body. If you have one for sale or trade, hit me up.

Drawing by nu-fink artist Keith Caves.

Drawing by nu-fink artist Keith Caves.