Famed Punk Artist Winston Smith Unveils 'Calexit' Comic-Con Cover (Exclusive)

Smith, who created album covers for the Dead Kennedys and Green Day, is lending his talents to the first issue of Black Mask Studio's upcoming political thriller.
Courtesy of Art Attack/©WinstonSmith.com (2017)

Next month, it's time for California to leave the United States of America.

That's the premise behind Black Mask Studios' Calexit, a new comic book series written by Matteo Pizzolo with art by Amancay Nahuelpan. The series — originally scheduled for a May release before being pushed to July — centers on the aftermath of California's succession from the U.S., and what that means to people inside and outside the state. To celebrate the series' launch, Black Mask will put out an exclusive cover for San Diego Comic-Con, illustrated by celebrated punk surrealist Winston Smith, which Heat Vision debuts above.

The series, Pizzolo told Heat Vision, "should read as a gut-punch, but also optimistic." A war story set in an America that mirrors today's reality, the writer explained, the series is "about California being forced to secede after taking a principled stance against a tyrannical President and refusing to deport immigrants, proclaiming itself a Sanctuary State. But before that can erupt into a second American civil war, California goes to war with itself. And our characters are pulled into the maelstrom, families torn apart as they make horrible sacrifices to defend one another."

Citing inspirations as diverse as Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta comic series and Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Pizzolo said that Calexit intends to avoid the dystopian gloom that might seem to come with the territory.

"Our initial approach was to portray everyday life with a fascist overlay, but more and more it's beginning to seem like a visual representation of what so many Americans currently feel," he said. "And that gives us a greater responsibility to not wallow in the dystopia but to focus on the cracks in that fascist overlay where the light shines out of our characters, because it's when we don't feel safe that we most need to take care of one another, and that's one of the things our characters learn on their journey."

The series will be promoted by a three stage signing tour, called the Calexit: Comics Change The World Tour, starting with a Californian tour before a Pacific Coast Sister Cities tour in Tijuana, Oregon and Washington, and finally a "Red State Tour" this fall. Ahead of that, of course, is San Diego Comic-Con next month — and the exclusive Comic-Con variant cover for the series' first issue by none other than Winston Smith, the artist most famous for his Dead Kennedys album covers and illustrations for Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

"In collaborating with Black Mask Studios I wanted to select compositions I’d created over the years that reflected the essence of the drama and societal absurdities brought to light in the Calexit series," Smith said in a statement to Heat Vision. "My hand-cut collage piece cover entitled 'Art Attack' features a host of obedient conformists saluting the new regime while the stalwart rebels do their utmost to counter their advance. In this image the people in the foreground represent the independent-minded artists, creatives and free-thinkers for which California is so well known. The fluffy kitties and paint-by-number state-approved, 'canned art' represent the tyrannical status quo (Beanie Babies over Rembrandt), ruthlessly stamping out their opposition and flooding over the borders to sweep away the last vestige of resistance."  

He continued, "The image speaks to the depressing triumph of shlock over heartfelt creativity. (Note that among the artists and their palettes, there is a 'still life' bowl of fruit — containing hand grenades. Food for thought …) The fighting men in the foreground also put one in mind of the fierce resistance fighters of the Spanish Civil War, a period of bravery and sacrifice as catastrophic as the Peasants Revolt and as tragic as the Children’s Crusade."

Talking about the series as a whole, Smith said, "As you pore over the pages of Calexit keep telling yourself 'It can’t happen here' — but it already is happening here. Which is why the emergence of this publication is so timely. It’s half-'warning of a possible future' and half-'spot-on reflection of the present.' All within the realm of possibilities for our nation, just as it is already a daily reality for millions round the globe suffering under totalitarian regimes and fascist states caught in a tail spin of corruption, incompetence and criminality. Immerse yourself in the world of Calexit. Follow its many and varied characters through their struggles. You will immediately recognize the power of the Ideas and conflicts it deals with. Surrender to the power of an idea. Calexit may already be an idea who’s time has come."

The first issue of Calexit will be available digitally and in comic book stores July 12.

Here's a closer look: