Nowadays, when he's not working as a janitor, the delicate-looking Gibson shows his love for music in a different way. He sits hunched over a desk in the basement of an old house with creaky floors, making fliers and CD covers for local bands. Gibson's so tall he has to duck beneath exposed pipes on the way to his subterranean studio. He has a tendency to flail his arms when talking about office supplies and letters. (Did you know that if you're cutting out letters for a collage and you can't find a j, you can always just use an upside down f?). He wears oversized V-neck sweaters and, sometimes, a studious pair of wire-rimmed glasses. It's hard to imagine him emptying loads of trash or boldly eliminating rank odors, but he doesn't mind the work. In fact, his day job feeds his art -- in more ways than one. First, it puts food on his table. Second, it provides him with art supplies. After all, people throw away an awful lot of paper.
Gibson's work first caught my attention back in December at Recycled Sounds on Main. It was an Old Canes and Namelessnumberheadman flier depicting strange, cartoonish figures printed over rows of typewritten gibberish on lined notebook paper. Everything about the flier was unique -- the paper it was printed on, the collage style, the illustrations, the nonflashy color scheme (mostly composed of the primaries). Toner from a broken fax machine had given the flier's edges a faded quality reminiscent of old movies on aging celluloid.
People tend to see flier art without trying. It just appears in front of them while they're out buying a record or grabbing a cup of coffee. Flier art is humble and unassuming; there's no one standing near a wine-and-cheese table waiting to catch viewers' reactions. The least a flier can do is provide useful information: when and where a band is playing next, maybe who the opening act will be, and occasionally (though rarely) whether there will be a cover charge at the door.
Fliers occasionally surprise, though. Before Molly Murphy moved to Lawrence, she drew clever and often disturbing little scenes for bands like the now-defunct Oscar Edison Jones. Music fans were unexpectedly awestruck by images of a woman tied to a bed by strands of her own hair, or of a crying horse stumbling out of a melancholy cowgirl's mouth. These days, Peregrine Honig's fliers for bands like the Malachy Papers, TJ Dovebelly and Mr. Marco's V7 can be fun discoveries on trips to YJ's Snack Bar at 18th and Wyandotte, where snack lovers might pick up simple images printed on recipe cards and little brown paper bags, which are stacked casually on the window sill.
When I saw Gibson's flier at Recycled Sounds in December, I wanted to know who had made it. But the flier told me only about the show. It hinted at the identity of its maker, though, with an unobtrusive stamp that read "DJG."
A few weeks passed before I noticed another flier with the DJG stamp -- this one advertising an Elevator Division show. It was on graph paper, with the sides cut into curves, and legs and arms rubber-stamped to the paper in pinwheel formations. From far away, it just looked like snowflakes in red and blue ink. The flier didn't try to attract attention with brightly colored paper (fuchsia is a favorite among local promoters) or with a big font size (a ploy that works on nobody). In a flurry of 8-inch-by-10-inch pages cut at perfect right angles, the Elevator Division's flier stood out.
The people working behind the counter at Recycled Sounds that day weren't able to tell me what "DJG" stood for. But Elevator Division's Web site thanked DJG for all the band art, and guitarist James Hoskins put me in touch with Gibson. He had been going to school at Southwest Missouri State University and had offered to do the band's design work one night after a show in Springfield.
Gibson often prints his fliers on hand-cut graph paper -- filler paper from weekly planners thrown in the trash cans that he empties at work. The images are simple and bold, giant collages that Gibson scans into a computer and prints on the graph paper. A man with a head made of photocopied text shoves a battleship into his mouth. Women cut out of slick 1970s fashion magazines devour handfuls of old black-and-white illustrations of men. An impossibly long-legged man rolls out a rope ladder that, on careful inspection, has rungs made of tinier, horizontal men.
But unlike artists whose work draws recognition in galleries, Gibson remains fairly anonymous. People see his art in passing, and not everyone stops to look at it. "Some people may find it to be visual clutter, hanging on poles or whatever," he admits. "I'm kind of trying to fix that, I guess."
There's nothing cluttered about Gibson's craftsmanship. He studied design and illustration at SMSU, inspired after a design book literally fell on his feet at the library. So he's aware of formal design concepts -- and enthralled by design history. Books displaying the innovations of Lester Beall, Robert Rauschenberg and newcomers like Chris Ware line his studio shelves. He takes down book after book, eagerly pointing out his favorite images: the Minolta logo, the movie poster for The Shining, the simple blue-bell-in-circle logo Southwestern Bell used until recently. Images that, like his own, are seen by many but consciously noted by few.
Although he describes various aspects of his work using art-school lingo (when a utility pole grows out of a man's neck -- where his head ought to be -- that's substitution), Gibson's process comes down to having fun and solving problems, like a kid putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
He has, for example, individually spray-painted 250 cardboard CD covers for an Elevator Division album. And he's punched holes on the top layer of a Laredo CD cover, the holes exactly fitting the spots where the typed letters of the band's name appear on the layer underneath. He's taken a knife into Kinko's so he could photocopy the knife directly onto paper. He's picked out cool cereal boxes to transform into promotional material and scanned in drawings that he doodled on a napkin with his eyes closed during a particularly boring dinner out.
"It's nice to be able to come to my hideaway and do these things," he says. "It gets me by. If I didn't have it, I'd probably just come home and watch TV or something. I'm cheap entertainment -- my own entertainment."
Gibson's employers know that he takes their trash home because he always asks permission, but they don't have any idea what he does with it. Nobody's asked. "I'm just the weird janitor guy," he says.