I ran into Rocky Varela in the parking lot of scionLAB, the auto-sponsored event space in the alley behind 19th and Locust. His Bob Berdella shirt just begged for an explanation, which, of course, is the point.
Varela, it turns out, designed the shirt to promote a movie about the Kansas City killer, Berdella, set to premiere September 10th at Screenland. His friends Bill Taft and Paul South, co-producers of the film, needed help with design work, so Varela jumped on board.
Varela's already experienced his share of negative feedback on the shirt, which could be read by some as a glorification of the local flea-market-vendor-turned-murderer, who tortured and killed half a dozen men before he was caught in 1988. Berdella died in prison in 1992.
"We've had some feedback from people who have acquaintences who are related to the victims, and it hasn't been pretty," Varela says. The image on the shirt is of the actor who plays Berdella in the film, not the killer himself, Varela adds. "You have to take it for what it is. (Making a movie) was bound to happen...We wanted to make a straight-up, B-rated, underground movie that really puts Bob out there as an icon, and branding him, just like Ted Bundy or Richard Ramirez."
Taking a cue from design king Shepard Fairey, Varela also made this sticker: