Autumn 2006

Shock tactics: Bazooka

Though inspired by UK punk, the Bazooka collective’s violent, sexy graphics spoke in a French accent

There is a traditional story of punk graphic design. It begins with ‘great men’ like Jamie Reid (with the Sex Pistols) and Malcolm Garrett (the Buzzcocks), detours to take in the lesser men who designed for the indie label explosion, and ends up with post-punk, typically symbolised by Peter Saville (New Order, etc.). As a narrative, it’s certainly ‘designery’ and geographically contained (visual anarchy in the UK). The trouble is, it has been re-told so many times, there is a danger of boredom setting in. B-dum, as punks used to say, b-dum…

There are other stories: no less spectacular, but often ignored for understandable reasons, and one such originates in France, and concerns the exploits of a bunch of graphic revolutionnaires calling themselves ‘Bazooka’ – a mixed-sex collective. They had their own handle on the punk aesthetic, and came up with a look – or rather series of looks – that matched anything by Reid, Garrett et al. in terms of inventiveness and visceral impact.

Their influence spread to the UK and US thanks to a handful of devoted fans. One of these was Andy Johnson (then calling himself ‘Andy Dog’), who went on to pioneer a different kind of post-punk design for the Some Bizzare [sic] label – more about him in a moment. What follows, then, is a Gallic-flavoured twist on events, and a belated ‘salut!’ to some forgotten combatants in the graphic design punk rock wars.

Who were Bazooka? They came together in an art school in Rouen in 1974, coalescing around the splendidly named Kiki and Loulou Picasso (real names: Christian Chapiron and Jean-Louis Dupré). Other collective members comprised Olivia Télé Clavel (aka Olivia Clavel), Bananar (aka Bernard Vidal), Lulu Larsen (aka Philippe Renault), along with invited artists such as Philippe Bailly, Bruno Richard, Jean Rouzeau and Pascal Doury. Art school was the place they came into contact with ideas from both fine art and graphic design – especially Dadaism and neo-Dadaism – but it was also where they learned how to print their own material. Other inspirations included student recreational reading matter such as satirical monthly Hara Kiri and American underground comics. Very quickly they were experimenting as a group with putting out self-published zines, and an us-against-the-world mentality was taking shape. [...]