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Kill the Engine

An Interview with Travis Millard

He gave me five bucks to do this.
Photo by Mike Aho

Next Friday my buddy Travis Millard and I are doing an art show in Kansas City at Escapist. I'm pretty sure next week's column will be about the trip/show, so I thought I'd preface that column with a quick interview with Travis. Well, that's not the only reason I'm interviewing him. I'm also interviewing him because he's one of my favorite artists and humans ever, and because he gave me five bucks to do this.


VICE: You made the cover for the new Dinosaur Jr. album. How'd that happen?
Travis Millard: I got an email from their manager asking if I was interested in discussing art for their new record, which resulted in about 20 minutes of quiet personal geeking out before responding. He said it was a tight deadline and there was no direction art-wise, so I showed him a handful of drawings from the drawer and they picked a few the next day. Everything else was a week long blur and trying to forget about it for the following months before the release. It just feels like the guitar rock heavens shined a fortunate light on me to do a record for a band I've loved for decades and now I have a reason to hug them even tighter.

What words of advice would you give to the art children of the world who dream of designing album covers for their rock and roll heroes?
Every record cover I've been able to do has come together as a serendipitous result of engaging in what I'm into and sharing that through printmaking, zine-making or just being there. To the art children of the world, I would hope that they all find a path through their own multi-colored rainbow of success in a highly awesome way.

I'm sure you get this question a lot from the younger generation, but what advice would you give to somebody who wants to become a full-time artist?
There's no one way to do it. Everyone just has to hoe their own road to making it happen however they feel works best. I think patience is a big part of it. Things never seem to move at the speed of your ambition, but as you keep working and exploring new projects, the rest eventually catches up somehow. You also get used to peaks and valleys, and keeping yourself working whether or not someone is looking. How long has it been since you've had a "real job"?
I moved to LA in 2003 and sort of stumbled into a job pouring beer at a bar called Little Joy in Echo Park. It was a reason to get me out of the house a few nights a week, get very drunk, and make a few dollars. I had to quit though because it was too much fun. Care to share with younger art kids the type of sacrifices you make by not participating in the 9 to 5 world?
Well the mailman can be the the only person you truly look forward to seeing every day. You become acutely aware of how fast the bread is molding. The fridge seems hot. Email is slow. The cat's on your desk. But in other ways, you enter a beautiful vortex of total freedom.


Got any tips for living cheap in order to sustain the bohemian artist lifestyle?
How do you feel about eating out of the trash? Not that I eat out of the trash… just wondering how far you're open to going. At this point in your career, do you have the luxury of only working on commercial projects that you're truly interested in, or do you take work where you can get it?
I've learned along the way how to tell when a project seems like trouble, so I'm better at saying no if doesn't feel right. I usually find a way to enjoy every project though. Some are more fun than others, but I've been lucky to work on a variety of interesting things that don't suck much of my soul. What's the most embarrassing art-related project you've worked on? Please don't say Bueno…
I was asked to do a graphic for a fashion show at my high school, but everything I was drawing at the time was naturally drugged-out and super bizarre. I made an attempt at drawing what I thought was a realistic-looking, stylish model. I thought it was passable, but it was actually very distorted and just horrifying. They printed it anyway because they didn't want to hurt my feelings. It was not well-received. Do you consider yourself an artist? An illustrator? A cartoonist? Or do you even see or care about the differences between the genres?
I've probably used all three to describe what I do to someone when they ask. I think it all just comes down to drawing practice and however someone wants to categorize that is fine with me. Do you fully participate in the LA lifestyle? Do you ever consider moving somewhere cheaper or do you think your location helps with your business?
I dabble in the LA lifestyle a bit. I don't make it to the beach much, but like knowing it's there. Usually I just slink around the neighborhood. There's a lot happening here though and it's inspiring to know it's just down the road. Being around has opened up opportunities I might not have come across living somewhere else, but I think you can pretty much do what you want from anywhere. Briefly describe your cats.
Technically, we only have one cat called Nern and he is a small indoor/outdoor panther with a bloodlust for smaller creatures. There's also several other drifter groupies that never seem to leave the porch. Sylvio is scared of his own shadow and has a heart attack if you look at him sideways but is a constant lurker. Roffrey is an overly friendly, outspoken mess who always finds a way to horribly injure himself the day before we leave for a trip. Paco, Roo, Slick, Fender, Morton, and Rise also make occasional appearances.


What are you working on right now? Anything weird?
A few years ago we were cleaning out my grandparents basement and came across a couple stories my mom wrote at 8 years old, and a few poems she wrote at age 6. I've been slowly trying to illustrate them all. I did the poems last year, and have been tackling the stories recently. The stories are pretty hilarious and it's been fun to expand on them visually. Plus collaborating with my mom as a child folds time in a way that makes it click for me.

If somebody gave you half a million dollars to execute the most badass project of your career, what would that look like?
I would probably buy a huge sheet of expensive paper, blast out an epic drawing and blow the rest of the money eating at restaurants. Got any kind of retirement plan in place? Any big hail mary type of projects you hope see the light of day? Syndicated cartoon series? Bestselling graphic novels? Feature length Hollywood blockbuster animated film? Barry McGee style art world status?
No big retirement plans. All of those options sound good though. I'll start getting to work on that list and let you know how it goes. To see more of Travis' work, visit his website at or follow him on Instagram @theotherfudge.

Previously - I Finally Got an iPhone