Nerdlocker Artist Interview: James Rheem Davis




GIANTSUMO is the brainchild of James Rheem Davis. JRD was born in San Francisco, CA and raised in the Bay Area, but now resides in Phoenix, AZ. He uses his full birth name, but is not a serial killer. He is neither a GIANT nor a SUMO, there are reasons behind it, but for now it is whatever you want it to be. He is just a very boring individual who enjoys movies, music and especially cookies. JRD has created designs and posters for a wide variety of bands in two distinct styles. His art has an inspiring twisted beauty that draws from a variety of influences, including MTV (When they played videos), horror films, and pop culture. Major influences include Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Frank Kozik, H.R. Giger, Dave Mckean, David Carson, Phil Hale and Kent Williams.

Nerdlocker (NL): Most know you as JRD, is that cool if I just refer to you as James for this interview?

James Rheem Davis (JRD): No problem, I’ve been called worse.

NL: I have to admit, I was just starting to get into the whole screen print thing and I got an e-mail from Matt Pennachi at Cinema Overdrive after signing up for his mailing list and it had your Leon: The Professional print for sale and I just caught one before they sold out. Then I grabbed one of your Evil Dead 2 prints from the Grosvenor Cinema and you handled the whole shipping and processing on that one. Do you often do all the shipping and processing on your own prints or do you farm it out to someone else?

JRD: It depends on each poster. Matt handles the shipping on most of the CO releases by himself, which can be overwhelming at times. He really doesn’t get the credit he deserves for taking care of everything. I handle most of my releases by myself too. We both strive to get the posters out to the customers asap. Although, sometimes things happen and you get behind a bit. I think for the most part, we’ve been very good at getting them out in a timely manner.

NL: I have never had any problems with getting a print in a timely manor from either one of you guys, and you are so right, Matt P. does not get the credit he deserves, the guy is a frickin’ machine! I have been speaking to Matt and I got something lined up for an interview with him in a few weeks, I know he is going to say the same thing about you. Okay now back to you: I read on your web page that you recently had been asked to be a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum regarding having some of your gig posters entered into the archive, how did that come about?

JRD: Yes, that was a great and unexpected honor. I just got an e-mail out of the blue from them requesting some of my work for their archives. I ended up sending them most of everything I’ve done and can send new stuff once it’s been created.

NL: That has got to be quite an honor man…I would totally have freaked out, I’m serious. I would have just came unglued, but again that’s why you are a professional artist and I just write about you. So how many pieces do you actually have in their catalog now?

JRD: Yes, very cool. I believe there’s over 80 posters, maybe more.

NL: How young where you when you first became interested in drawing and at what age did you start designing gig posters and movie posters?

JRD: I remember doing art since I was very young. My older brother was always drawing really cool stuff. I looked up to him and he has been a major influence on me not only as an artist, but as a human being. He’s a better illustrator than me, too. My younger brother was also very talented but lost interest as he got older.

NL: Are either of them working in the art world now or did they take the route of the corporate life?

JRD: My older brother works in the corporate art world. My younger brother is in a non-art field.

NL: I am curious as to your art style and I wanted to know do you do some of your stuff by hand or on a computer or do you scan it in and redraw? There are so many ways of doing artwork nowadays

JRD: It’s a combination of computer techniques. I do everything in Photoshop. There is photo manipulation with some drawing by hand in Photoshop, textures and fonts.

NL: You have such an amazing style for your gig prints and movie prints, I have heard it called “found art collaboration.” If you had to put a name to your style what would you call it?

JRD: A headache! Found art collaboration is good. I guess the best way to describe it would be to take multiple images and textures from different places. Then take bits and pieces from each of them to create one new image. Kinda’ like a mad scientist. If you’ve done it right, hopefully, people will think it was one image to begin with.

NL: Well be proud of what you call a headache, I thinks it’s what makes you YOU! It has created the JRD style. Your work is so much different then most, I kind of look at it as controlled chaos. How much influence do horror films, genre movies, exploitation movies and the pop culture craze play into your style?

JRD: Lots! I’ve always been drawn to dark, violent and weird things. I have an image folder on my desktop of all kinds of random photos, art and just bizarre things. I like to scan through them and see what pops out at me. It could be a layout idea, color palette or type idea. I’ll then do a bunch of thumbnails or layout doodles and let the idea evolve from there. Once that’s done, the challenge is bringing it to life.

NL: I can imagine what goes through your mind when you have an idea in your head about a print. It has got to be fun sketching ideas that come to you…the hard part is putting that on paper. I also read that this is not your full-time job, but given the opportunity do you believe you could produce enough work to support this as a full-time gig? And would you?

JRD: No, it’s not. My full-time job is non-art related. I used to make a full-time living off of my art, but now I’ve gotten lazy and I prefer to work on projects that interest me rather than have to do them to survive. I guess if the perfect art job presented itself, I would consider it.

NL: James, there was a time when you did a few posters for the Alamo Drafthouse in the early days, Black Christmas, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dawn of the Dead and The Lost Boys. You even did a triple-feature print for a QT fest back in early 2007. This was for the Alamo and not MONDO, correct?

JRD: Yes, the man, the myth, the legend known as Rob Jones was kind enough to give me an opportunity back then. I’m very proud to have been a part of their history. I’m not sure when the exact change happened from Alamo posters to MONDO posters, but it has been very inspiring to watch what they have become. I would love to work with MONDO again.

NL: MONDO is doing some amazing things here in Austin, Texas, I’m sure it wont be long before you are back in their rotation soon. I have seen some of your recent work and you are cranking out MONDO types of work. I’d like to see you do some more shows. Jay Shaw (Kingdom of Nonsense) and John Vogl (The Bungaloo) recently asked you to create a poster to honor Mr. Sidney Lumet for their upcoming ‘The Machines Are Winning – A Tribute To Sidney Lumet’ show. Would you be interested in more of those type of shows also?

JRD: Yes, Jay is part of 20 Eyes Collective which is a small art and design company started by Danny Miller, Matt, Jay and myself. We’re slowly working on some new and exciting projects. I think it’s safe to say we all love those types of art shows and there will be more in the future.

NL: I recently saw your Lost Boys framed up and in a buddy’s tattoo shop, I have to say it was a shit-ton bigger then I imagined it would be. Is most of your work done in 24″ x 36″ or 18″ x 24″?

JRD: Again, we can thank Rob Jones for that size. I’m pretty sure my Alamo posters were supposed to be 24″ x 36″ however, they ended up being a tad shorter at 24″ x 34″. Once I got involved with Cinema Overdrive, they were doing smaller posters and then I requested to do the larger size. Due to customer demand, the smaller 18″ x 24″ posters were also created. There really are no rules in terms of sizing. I think those sizes are popular because you can get standard frames for them at most frame stores. Custom framing can be really expensive, however, some of the results are amazing. I’m always blown away when someone sends me a picture of a poster I created framed and hanging in their home. It’s pretty fucking rad!

NL: I remember how cool it felt to send you a picture of my Robocop variant framed waiting for space to be hung in my tiny home. Unfortunately you are so right, custom framing is expensive at times so it sits in a standard 24″ x 36″ frame from Michaels, but sending you a picture of it, even in an el cheapo frame, now that’s fucking rad. What is your most cherished print of your personal collection?

JRD: Frank Kozik’s Soundgarden/Pearl Jam poster (2nd printing) and my Tyler Stout’s The Thing and Robocop metal variant. Frank was one of my inspirations in the rock art poster world. I was really drawn to his style and use of colors. I have other work by him, including his Nirvana poster which he was kind enough to sign for me back at the first Flatstock in S.F.

NL: You lucky bastard! You have two of my top ISOs. I love Tyler’s Robocop regular but the metal Robocop is the sickest print I have laid eyes on. I once got to see in person one of two Kill Bill metal variants. The original metal copy went to Quentin Tarantino as a present from his assistant. At the bottom it says: “Q HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND CONTINUED ADVENTURES. WITH LOVE, UNRULY JULIE.” Did you get a chance to see that in person yet?

JRD: No, I haven’t seen it, but I do have Tyler’s variant of it. I’m sure the metal version rules them all.

NL: You do screen prints, you do shirt designs for Fright Rags, and CD covers for bands. Is there anything else I’m missing?

JRD: I studied film making when I was younger and it’s something I always wanted to get back into. I’d like to address it this year, but may end up getting to it early next year. The problem is every time I set time aside for it, another art project comes up.

NL: That would be really cool to get into, I always wanted to dabble in film making or at least being in film. If you ever see the diner scene of the Simon Rumley blockbuster Red, White and Blue, you can see the top of my head in that scene for a nanosecond. But I would love to see some of your film work. I know you have done interviews before but what is one question you wish somebody would ask you but never has yet?

JRD: Where are the bodies?

NL: So…where are the Bodies? I had to ask. But seriously, down to the Nerdical questions. What is your favorite movie? I’m talking if you had someone saying, “Sorry, James, you can only pick one movie, this isn’t Redbox.” what would it be?

JRD: Man, that would suck! There are so many great movies out there. I’d go with…John Carpenter’s The Thing.

NL: DING DING DING YOU WIN! My second favorite movie of all time; Blade Runner being number one and Big Trouble in Little China being number three. I was a bit disappointed when they did a prequel to The Thing last year. I mean it wasn’t bad but it definitely wasn’t John Carpenter. What did you think?

JRD: I just e-mailed Tyler about the prequel not long ago. I had put it off when it came out on DVD. I didn’t want to watch it. As most of you know, Tyler is a huge Thing fan. I think it’s safe to say we had similar feelings about the prequel. I understand what they tried to do, but some things should be left alone. That’s really not a fair question. After I answered that, so many awesome films come to mind. You guys should do a movie poll on your site and break it down into different categories. Have people vote on their top five favorite films of all time, like action, horror, sci-fi, comedies, etc.

NL: We just started to do something sort-of like that but it’s a monthly thing called “Monthly Genre Recommendations.” Its pretty cool how we do it. We find a particular genre of movie we all agree on and write about a movie in that genre and in 300 words (give or take) try to convince you why you should see it…like how Blockbuster Video used to have a “Staff Recommendations” rack. Moving on to another Nerdy question: What is your favorite video game and are you a console guy, handheld or old-school stand-up video game guy?

JRD: I grew up on stand-up, Atari 2600 and Intellivision. Then it was Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Then it was on-line gaming shooters like Unreal Tournament. I was seriously addicted to that game. I would play it for six-to-eight hours a night back in the day. My girlfriend had to delete it off my computer and throw out my disc to get me to stop.

NL: Hell yeah! I was an Atari 2600 kid myself, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall, and all those versions of Tank and then of course I moved on to Nintendo, played Zelda until my fingers were bleeding. Nowadays the shit on PS3 and XBOX 360 looks so real it’s scary.

JRD: Yes, the games today are unbelievable. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

NL: What is your favorite comic book or comic book character and why? You can totally elaborate if you want to, man.

JRD: My favorite character is probably The Punisher. I had every issue, including his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-man. I liked the fact that all he wanted was to punish bad people and he wasn’t going to stop until someone killed him. That’s dedication. Unfortunately, I had to sell most of my collection. I also liked Elektra: Assassin. Smoking hot sai-wielding babe! Too bad they screwed up those movies. One of my favorite comics was the three-issue Hard Boiled by Frank Miller. The artwork by Geof Darrow blew me away. I still have my original copies.

NL: I dig The Punisher myself, oh and don’t get me started on Frank Miller. I just read somewhere that a Sin City sequel is a go for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Word around the camp fire is they are courting Mel Gibson to join Danny Trejo for the film. They are expected to begin production this summer at Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios here in Austin.

I have to say thank you for letting the world into the life of an artist as mysterious as his work at times. You are definitely an artist with a vision and it shows in your work James. I would like to thank you for your generous offer of an artist interview tradition here at Nerdlocker and giving away a few prints for our usual social media giveaway for the fans. And brother, you have plenty of fans.

Okay Nerds, James has kindly donated three separate giveaways for our social media contest. One winner will have a shot at a copy of the extremely rare The Princess Bride wood variant. One of only twelve copies in the world! He also will be giving away a copy of his NEW regular version of A Nightmare on Elm Street print as well as a copy of his Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer poster. That’s THREE chances to win Something! Stay tuned for details on the contest.

If you are interested in purchasing some of James Rheem Davis’ older work, go to his website Giant Sumo which James is neither of, but the name sounds so cool it makes you want to go there. Since James is also 1/4 part of 20 Eyes collective, that includes Jay Shaw, Danny miller and Matt Pennachi, be on the lookout for interviews with the rest of the collective soon.

You can also stay informed on James’s print drops, by signing up for his mailing list here. Just state in the e-mail that you want to be notified of his future print releases, and of course that Nerdlocker sent you! James is old school and handles all his print drops and shipping himself but I have never had to wait more then three days for a print from the guy; he is aces. Keep checking Nerdlocker for more giveaways and exclusive interviews!

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I grew up on Kung Fu theater movie weekends, a lot of Top Ramen Noodles, G.I. Joe's, Evil Knivels Stunt Cycle and Stretch Armstrong. My Movie reviews and Artist Interviews have been a regular around Follow me on Twitter @arainbolt. or email me