Musician Develops D.I.Y. and Punk-inspired Little Monster Printing
By Tim Anderl
For a music fan, there are few better feelings than pulling on a shirt emblazoned with the name of a beloved band, or hanging a nice screen-printed poster in your living space. Road warrior and The Story Changes drummer, Chris Popadak, sees this experience play out first hand while working the merchandise table at hundreds of tour dates each year. During the rare occasions he is home, Popadak operates Little Monster Printing, a screen printing business delivering pristine and colorful merchandise – including shirts, posters, hooded sweatshirts, patches and more – for a variety of bands and clients. I caught up with Popadak recently, discussing his skill sets, favorite clients, and the importance of screen-printing to punk rock. Here’s what he had to say.
When did you become interested in screen-printing?
My first introduction came from the Nickelodeon show SK8 TV in the 90s. I remember a visit to the Powell Peralta shop and they showed boards and wheels being printed. Never knew anything about it until that moment. As a young adult I started playing in bands and I definitely paid more attention to it. That’s where my love for it was born. (Chris “Poppy” Popadak)
Are you self-taught or was this a skill you acquired as a result of some mentoring or class?
I owe all of my basic knowledge to Gretta Smak from the Dirty Socialites. She showed me how to expose screens and we used to print all of our bands’ merchandise in our kitchen. Very do-it-yourself, very varied results, but the basics were learned there. Later I made the jump to using professional grade supplies and equipment. I had a few friends I would write to, or check blogs and websites, but it was very trial and error when it came to the actual printing and setting up the job. [CP]
When did you begin doing this as a small business?
I started taking on clients, other than my own bands, around 2002 or 2003 and then made the jump to register with the state as a small business about five or six years ago, I think. It’s just me, printing each shirt or poster one at a time. [CP]
Where did the “Little Monster” moniker come from?
Well I have a 10 year old son and when he was much younger I always called him my little monster. I wanted to name it after him. [CP]
Where is your work space?
I just recently moved the operation into the Front St. Warehouse. It’s allowing me the space to grow if I choose to and basically to have a more comfortable working environment. [CP]
What do you do to prepare for and execute a job?
Most of my preparation starts off with ordering the garments or paper, and then working with the client to make sure the art is print-ready. When that is in order, I print the art on films and expose the screens. I put the screens on the press, mix up the inks, run some test prints and then start the run. [CP]
Did you start out doing one-color items and graduate to more difficult multi-color pieces?
Yes, most of my prints for the first few years were one-color prints. I built a pretty crude but functional press that I worked on. A year or so later my boss at the Pizza Factory talked to me about printing shirts for our shop, so we worked out a trade and I got my four color press and jumped right into multi-colored prints. Trying something I had not done before was definitely a scary process, but I learned a lot that way. [CP]
Are there any challenges that you’d like to try your hand at in the future?
I want to do some four-color process prints on paper, and my friend Tim Krug took this photo of Dayton years ago that I love. I have the colors separated and ready to go. It’s one of those things that I know has to be perfect or else the print won’t turn out correctly, so taking my time will be key. I want to practice it, though, so if a client does approach me with a job like that I will know I’ll be able to produce it for them. [CP]
How does the business lend itself to your transient, touring musician lifestyle?
It has very positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that I’ve met a lot of my clients on the road. I talk to a lot of bands and ask about their merch and the prices they pay. The negative aspect is that I’ve had to turn down a lot of jobs due to being on the road. Or having clients push their deadlines forward or back to match up with my schedule, which in turn always seems to have me printing right before a tour to get all of the orders out. [CP]
You’ve had a pretty diverse roster of clients — from bands, to wedding reception invites, to the West Virginia Film Festival. How do your clients find you? Who have been your favorites to work with?
Most of my work comes from word of mouth. My friend Tommy from Minneapolis sent so much work my way a few years ago. When a new band popped up, he sent them my way. It’s still that way, which is great because I don’t do a lot of advertising. Jason Goad is one of my favorite clients. He’s an amazing artist and he designs with the printer in mind. Seeing his work come together is inspiring. I also love working with the Buffalo Killers. I’ve known Zach and Andrew for about 18 years now, and I’m honored to be printing their stuff. Also, my friend Jason Novak who runs Robbed the Bank Records has been a super cool guy to print for. He’s given me some really cool projects. [CP]
Do you believe that screen-printing is an intrinsic part of the punk subculture?
Very much so. Bands rely heavily on their merch, and almost every item they offer can be, or is, screen-printed. It’s been a way for bands to get their message out without saying a word. It’s also something that anyone can do, so in keeping with the DIY aspect of punk, a lot of kids just get the materials and start doing it on their own. [CP]
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.