Holmstrom has always been a prominent figure to us
whenever we trace the roots of punk rock and punk in
general. Many roads lead to
PUNK MAGAZINE, which JH
created in late 1975 and published in 1976. To us at
ramonesmania.com, it remains the bible of punk (old
Holmstrom was also the artist chosen for the back cover of
the album Rocket to Russia, the pinhead on the rocket, and
the front cover of Road to Ruin, one of the most reproduced
images of the Ramones ever.
John Holmstrom a few questions...
Starting PUNK MAGAZINE...why would you even dare in those
days, knowing Seventeen Magazine and those other cheeze
magazines dominated the day for kids. What were you
Actually there were a lot more cool magazines around back in
the 1960s and '70s. The underground newspapers and comics
books had just disappeared a few years before, CREEM
magazine and National Lampoon were going strong, amazing
comics stuff was being published in France, and the hottest,
top-selling magazine was Hustler--when they were at their
How did the Rocket To Russia art by you come to be in terms
of the relationship w/the band, and the idea...during a real
actual cold-war no less?
Things were fine between Johnny and Joey back then, as far
as I could tell... Oh, wait--you mean the Cold War between
the US and the USSR!!!
The whole Rocket to Russia thing came about when Johnny
asked me to come up with some ideas for the inner sleeve.
I did it on spec. We set up a photo shoot with Roberta for
"Teenage Lobotomy" at Joey's loft based on an idea he had.
He wanted a dinner setting with some raw brains on a plate.
Turns out it sounded like a better idea than it looked in
black and white... And I asked Bobby London to do some
sketches and I did a bunch.
I showed Johnny a layout with all these different,
multimedia images for the songs and he said, "We want you do
do all of the songs as drawings." I was flabbergasted. Then
he said, "Can you finish them in three days?"
I'm a slow illustrator--which is why I found it impossible
to make a good living at it--but said "Sure, no problem."
Somehow I got the inside sleeve done. Johnny and the rest of
the band liked them, and then he asked me to draw the back
cover. He described the concept--a pinhead riding a rocket
with the cartoon world map. He even described many of the
details he wanted to see on the map, like the capitol
building in Washington D.C. and the Empire State Building in
NYC. Again, they needed it like, the next day.
The artwork now hangs in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.
Which issue of
PUNK MAGAZINE was your all-time favorite and why?
My favorite issue is Punk number 15: Mutant Monster Beach
Party. It took us a year to write it, and about six months
to shoot it. Then it took about three months to letter and
lay out. It was a lot of work.
For anyone who doesn't know, this was the surf-movie/photo
comic that starred Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol
and Peter Wolf, and co-starred half of the New York City
scene. For instance, we got John Cale to appear in a scene
when we ran into him at a bar called the Pirate's Cove where
he was drinking. Edie "The Egg Lady" Massey from John
Waters' movies agreed to appear in it after Legs and I
appeared as Special Guests at the First Annual World Sleaze
Convention, where she was the Guest of Honor. She was so
inspired that she started her own punk rock band. Lester
Bangs, Bob Gruen, Tish and Snooky, Mary Harron, Scott and
Stu-Boy from the Dictators, and so many others appeared in
Peter Wolf was the best, though. He bugged me for months to
be in a photo comic (which we like to call "fumetti" after
the Italian word--Fellini got his start directing them).
When he showed up he really got into the part. He was one of
the best actors we ever had.
to you after PUNK MAGAZINE folded? In the 80'S
and more misery... I freelanced, published some fanzines
(Comical Funnies and Stop!), and tried to find a way to
bring Punk magazine back. I tried a book, I tried a movie...
Nothing worked. The 1980s were so horrible.
You were at High Times Magazine in the 80's. Did you get
incredible weed or what? Damn - PUNK then HIGH TIMES
began working there in 1976. The founder was a big fan of
Punk and a good friend. But, again... The 1980s... Uggghhh.
I can't talk about it anymore. Can't we talk about something
that's more fun?
Last one on this...How did the High Times Magazine gig come
about for you? That seems like the coolest segway possible.
Back in the
mid-to-late 1980s, the editor wanted to make it cool, and
had all these ideas for a garage rock revival that would be
spear-headed by High Times. it seemed like a natural.
a few clubs featuring garage rock like the Lismar Lounge and
The Mind's Eye, garage bands like The Chesterfield Kings,
the Lyres, The Treaks and the Fuzztones were getting a lot
of attention, there was a lot of excitement. Then it all
kind of fell apart.
What did you
do after High Times ended for you, in the early-to-mid 90's
No, I was
there until 2000. Then I tried to republish Punk magazine.
Is PUNK today,
as a kind of pop-culture now, a sellout or still alive and
All of the
Evolved or ass-backwards?
What is now
called "punk-pop" or "pop-punk" is basically an evolution of
what we used to call "power pop." There were a few power pop
bands at CBGBs in the old days: The Marbles, Milk 'N'
Cookies, The Poppees... Even the Ramones were considered
power pop by some people. Their sound was definitely based
on pop and they even played ballads, unlike most punk bands
I would be disheartened if all you had out there was bad
pop-punk but in fact, most great punk rock bands ware never
recognized. Think about it. The Stooges were considered a
joke in the 1970s, it's a minor miracle they play to arena
crowds now. The Velvets never sold records. The New York
Dolls bombed. The Ramones never enjoyed mass appeal. The
Misfits never made it big. D-generation were supposed to be
big, they never got past the club stage. I could name dozens
more but you get the idea.
On the other hand, how many lame bands can I name that made
it big and sold millions of records? That's easy, right?
"Popular" doesn't mean "good." In fact it's almost always
the opposite. Most people have atrocious taste in music.
meets punk; and I mean punk rock music/bands and punk
culture in general. What do think about that as far as like,
has it been good? Where can it be better on the net for punk
Punk rock, since it's a small phenomenon that doesn't depend
on shopping malls and MTV to sell CDs, will probably benefit
more from the internet than some other forms of music. I
like the fact I can learn a lot about a new band that
someone tells me about by visiting their Website.
Since the Web is always evolving, it's difficult to say
where it can get better. Of course, what would be better for
everyone is a system where artists and musicians can make
money from their work! But I am not sure if that can ever
We must ask
ya' John, what do think about the way the Ramones came
through it all, through punk, through the times that evolved
around them, and finally the accolades that came to them
I think it's
great, of course? I was one of the first big fans of the
band. I went to see them at CBGB's when there was nobody
bothering to sit in the tables near the stage--when we
interviewed them for Punk, we were all alone at the first
table stage center. Nobody else was near us. So of course
it's been exciting to watch the band evolve through all of
its changes, and it's been gratifying that at the end of
their careers they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame and that they're recognized as one of the greatest
bands of all time.
Well, the big
question for us, what's up with PUNK MAGAZINE today and am I
going to be able to renew my original subscription finally
after 25 years?
to start selling subscriptions in a few months, and to have
the first new issue out before the summer. Lots of exciting
things have been happening, it all seems to be coming
together after all these years and all the struggles.
Great John. We
look forward to it!