It was Jan. 18, 1991, the day the Gulf War broke out. In San Diego, the Pannikin coffeehouses had sent a memo to its employees saying they were not to engage customers in politics.
“But we had to do something,” recalls then-employee and burgeoning illustrator, Craig Haskett.
So Haskett took to the Encinitas store's chalkboard, using negative space to recreate a newspaper photo of Saddam Hussein.
The caption read: “Some people need decaf.”
Employees and customers laughed. More importantly, Pannikin managers laughed and urged him to do more, which he obliged-Schwarzenegger as “The Terminator,” blue and green nudes, devil-tailed vixens, etc. Pannikin hired him to decorate all of their chalkboards for their San Diego stores.
At the peak, Haskett says, he was designing boards for 25 to 30 San Diego cafes. He began charging $15 per hour. By the end it was $75, and he received more than $400 for a few projects.
“Everyone insisted that I was ‘that one guy.' I even thought about legally changing my name to ‘That One Guy' because I rarely signed them,” he laughs.
When he did sign them, he scrawled “Scrojo,” a nickname taken from his high school punk band, Scrotum Joe.
Scrojo's first break came at age 12 when he was hired by the now-defunct Entertainer to do a comic strip. “I could barely draw,” he recalls. “It was about a cat, and my editor didn't want me compared with Heathcliff and Garfield, so he [asked] me to do a comic about a bartender.”
Once a month, the pre-teen was getting paid $10 a shot to imagine what life was like for a bartender. Twenty-three years later, Scrojo has become the resident artist for the Belly Up Tavern and is quickly rising to the elite ranks of rock poster artists.
Scrojo initially developed his style-a cross between what he calls “cartoon for style” and the bold minimalism of early 20th century propaganda posters-through his exposure to the Southern California surf and skate culture, especially cartoonist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Surfer magazine graphic artist, Rick Griffin.
While working at the Pannikin, he met John Dahl, owner of Encinitas-based company, Wax Research. Dahl had developed a new formula for surf wax and wanted Scrojo to do the artwork.
“He just let me go loose, and at the time I was really into the
EC Horror comics,” Scrojo recalls. “So it was basically this warped knockoff on the Crypt Keeper that... was hand-drawn because I didn't know how to use computers at the time. The wax took off... but everyone was getting very hyped up over this funky, hand-drawn label that had nothing to do with surfing but worked for the top-selling surf wax in the world.”
Scrojo received $50 for the art that would define Sticky Bumps-the product that finally usurped Dr. Zoggs as the de facto name in surf wax. Dahl became a good friend, helping Scrojo through economic flats.
“The surf industry is this real small, inbred family,” Scrojo explains.
With two other artists he created a company called CIA (Collective Independent Artists), and for two years did “really well” in the surf and skate industry, creating t-shirts for surf companies like Quicksilver, Gotcha, Rip Curl, Life's a Beach and skate brands like Tum Yeto, Planet Earth and Tracker Trucks.
L.A.-based punk label Epitaph Records hired Scrojo to design a commercial skate deck for their annual “Punk-O-Rama Tour.” The artist didn't think much about it until this September, when he and his wife were in Seattle visiting the Experience Music Project museum.
“It's a great museum, and they had this little corner dedicated to skate punk,” he recalls. “And I'm like ‘Wow, skate punk-cool.' So I'm looking around... and there's my deck hanging in the museum.”
That was one of two self-realizing days for Scrojo. The other was when he pulled up next to a car at a street light in Encinitas.
“There was a guy wearing a ‘Say-Ow' cap, holding a Miracles mug that had the logo I did for them and wearing a surf T-shirt for Life's a Beach that I had done,” he recalls (Srojo off-handedly created the ‘Say-Ow' logo, which he calls “horrific”).
“I started laughing, looking at this guy. He flipped me off, which made me laugh more. I'm thinking, ‘I'm sorry I bummed your day out, but you don't know that I touched your life three times today.'”
Nowadays, the only time Scrojo serves coffee is to his wife at home. He's a full-time artist, commissioned for 10 posters a month for the Belly Up. To pay the rest of the bills, he does everything from “designs for toothpick holders to illustrations for transvestite porn sites.”
Legendary rock poster artist Frank Koznik has become a fan, befriending Scrojo in the past few months and working to get him more recognition. Another fan is Paul Grushkin, who compiled the book “The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk,” which is still in print after 15 years. The book's second edition, which will be released next November and focuses on modern rock posters, will feature “at least 30” of Scrojo's designs.
“Paul was there in the Filmore days in the '60s... he wrote the bible on poster art,” Srojo explains. “He said there's never really been a time like this in poster art where all the artists are getting along and supporting each other.”
Scrojo and a few L.A.-based artists will embody that comraderie in March, when they travel in a rented Winnebego to exhibit at South-by-Southwest, the annual music industry confab in Austin.
And when a North County surfer buys a bar of wax, later throwing on a T-shirt and attending a show at the Belly Up Tavern, Scrojo will have touched his life three times that day.