When Pop Art Meets Pop: 11 Great Collaborations

From R. Crumb and Janis Joplin to Jamie Hewlett and Gorillaz and beyond

The Spanish illustrator and comic artist Joan Cornellà’s work is notorious for its absurdist dark comedy. Babies get dumped in garbage bins, cartoonish murder is an absolute joy, and bodily fluids are never what they seem at first glance. But while Cornellà’s extreme tastes place him outside of the comic world’s mainstream, he's found a surprising home in rock music: His first foray into album artwork arrives on the cover of Wilco’s forthcoming Schmilco, with a reworked Cornellà comic from 2015. The artist joins a long line of comic illustrators whose work has graced album covers, from Charles Burns’s creepy iconography for Iggy Pop’s Brick by Brick to Jamie Hewlett’s animations for Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project. Here, we run down some of the best.

Charles Burns x Iggy Pop

Before Burns was the published author of creepy graphic novels like Black Hole and Big Baby, he drew for Sub Pop’s fanzine and contributed to MTV’s Liquid Television with the show Dog Boy. But in recent years, he’s drawn iconic album artwork like Iggy Pop’s Brick by Brick, Will Oldham’s Garden of Evil, and much more. “Virgin didn’t have to ask me twice,” said Burns in an interview about designing Brick by Brick. “Basically they were like, ‘Do a cover, show it to Iggy, and if he likes it, we’re done.’ ... Iggy was very nice and normal and it just so happened Allen Ginsberg was visiting when I showed up. So we all sat around and looked at the cover. Iggy laughed and I took that as a yes.”

Leah Hayes x Ryan Adams

In addition to writing and illustrating comics and novels like Not Funny Ha-Ha and Holy Moly, Leah Hayes is also a songwriter herself, performing in the band Scary Mansion. Her illustrations covered a beautiful alternative version of Ryan Adams’s album Cardinology, which also included a comic book insert.

Lynda Barry x Neko Case and Kelly Hogan

Neko Case has been an outspoken fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, whose works Cruddy and The Greatest of Marlys are darkly funny coming-of-age narratives. “I think I identify with Lynda Barry, and Sherman Alexie as well, because they’re really good at explaining what it’s like to be poor growing up in Washington state, which is a very specific thing,” Case said in an interview. “And they don’t forget that it’s super funny to be poor, but it’s not a badge of honor.” For Case and Kelly Hogan’s one-off comedy single “These Aren’t the Droids,” Barry did the alien-themed artwork.

Jason Jägel x MF Doom

Jason Jägel has done artwork for a few of the shadowy rapper MF Doom’s albums, such as Mm...Food and the Operation: Doomsday boxset, as well as some album artwork for Madlib. “The album covers are a symptom of my desire to get closer to these history-shattering artists who are living and creating now,” Jägel said in an interview with Juxtapoz. “Incidentally, I make more unpublished, fictional album covers than I do published ones. They’re for my pretend world.” Jägel’s father, interestingly enough, is John Jägel, a studio artist who designed album covers for Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.

Esther Pearl Watson x Bully

Nashville-based band Bully (fronted by Alicia Bognanno) are noted indie comic fans. Their collaged Feels Like album cover was done by Esther Pearl Watson, whose hilarious comic strip Unlovable, about an awkward teen girl in the 1980s, ran in Bust and was recently published as a collection. Bully has also enlisted cartoonist Michael DeForge to design their “Milkman/Faceblind” 7" sleeve, and their tour merch was drawn by Hellen Jo.

Daniel Clowes x The Supersuckers

Eightball illustrator and author of novels like Ghost World and Wilson has illustrated covers for bands like Yo La Tengo, Urge Overkill, and Thee Headcoats, and had worked with many Sub Pop artists. He also animated a music video for The Ramones. But while musicians seem fond of Clowes’s work, he doesn’t really seem to care about them, often saying in interviews that he did not even listen to the records he was assigned to illustrate. An interviewer once asked Clowes: “You once called your indie rock readers ‘the most fickle audience that ever existed,’ and complained that ‘none of them are really interested in comics anymore.’ Do you feel abandoned by this audience?” “No,” Clowes replied. “I was actually glad to be rid of them. Having an audience like that made me really uncomfortable.”

Tony Millionaire x They Might Be Giants

Tony Millionaire (the pseudonym of cartoonist Scott Richardson) has notably drawn fanciful, richly illustrated album covers for artists They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello, and The Grateful Dead, in addition to publishing his comic series Maakies and Sock Monkey. He’s also illustrated many musicians for magazines. Millionaire got the They Might Be Giants gig by knowing the bandmates before they were famous, having been friends with John Linnell. “There are many bands that I love and have loved, so I know how important it is to hit just the right tone with the artwork,” Millionaire said in an interview. “I did get fired from a Simon & Garfunkel cover because I couldn’t get it groovy enough! Ha!”

Jamie Hewlett x Gorillaz

The creator of the iconic strip Tank Girl, Jamie Hewlett has been a frequent collaborator with musicians for years. He illustrated a comic strip for Pulp and illustrated album covers for bands like Senseless Things and Mindless Self Indulgence. But his most extensive musical collaboration is designing Damon Albarn’s “virtual band,” Gorillaz. The cartoon band was a commentary on the visuals of contemporary pop stardom and channels like MTV (hey, thanks, dudes!). Albarn and Hewlett would also go on to collaborate on the opera Monkey: Journey to the West and artwork for the band The Good, the Bad, & the Queen.

Maren Karlson x Dark Times

The Berlin-based comic artist and unabashed music fan Maren Karlson has designed posters and merch for bands like Priests and Porches, but her fantastic album covers for the Norwegian punk band Dark Times are some of her best music-related comic work.

Jaime Hernandez x Indigo Girls

Hernandez’s long-running comic book series Love and Rockets borrows heavily from the ’80s California hardcore scene, and the artist started out drawing covers for bands like Ill Repute and Dr. Know. Since then, he’s illustrated dozens of album covers for artists like Lung Leg, 7 Year Bitch, and Indigo Girls.

Robert Crumb x Big Brother and the Holding Company

American folk cartoonist R. Crumb is a musician himself (he led a sort-of ragtime band called R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders), and his favorite music, particularly 1930s jazz, country, and blues music, informs a lot of his art. But his first taste designing album covers was for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills record. “Janis [Joplin] used to come around, smoke pot, talk about the comics,” he said of the assignment, which was just a simple work-for-hire set up by the record company. “She was nice.” He then went on to design album covers for old jazz and folk records from Yazoo Records as well as create art for bands like The Grateful Dead. His album cover artwork collection is so prolific that he published an official collection a few years ago.