Punk Comics History, Part 2:
Shawn Kerri’s Not at Oki Dogs

December 18th, 2010 by

An Appreciation by Janelle Hessig
from the Punk Comics Issue of
MRR magazine

There are generally three revelations that people experience when first discovering Shawn Kerri:

1. The first one is that a lot of your favorite early punk art is all drawn by the same person. I had them safety-pinned to the back of my jacket and so did you. The Germs mohawk skull busting out of the circle? Shawn Kerri. The Circle Jerks skanking guy? Shawn Kerri. The names of other artists from the same era have endured — Pettibon, Pushead, Mad Marc Rude — but, for some reason, Shawn Kerri remains more obscure. She was as prolific as these other more notorious artists and, for me personally, her art resonated more with the things that I like best about punk — action, humor, and being a fucked up kid. So, why isn’t Shawn more well known? One possible contributing factor to her lack of recognition could be that she didn’t fight tooth and nail over copyrights. Around 1986, when the Circle Jerks began pining for mainstream success, their agent and record label decided that they owned the rights to the skanking kid image and shouldn’t pay Shawn. Rather than deal with legal battles and mangled friendships, she just let it go and signed the rights over to Keith Morris. The current day skank kid is a bastardized commercial version of her original art.

2. The second revelation is that Shawn Kerri is not a dude. Born Shawn Maureen Fitzgerald in 1958 near San Diego, Shawn Kerri was a part of the late ’70s, early ’80s Southern California punk scene. During the same period that she was drawing punk flyers and publishing a fanzine called Rude Situation (with one-time boyfriend, Mad Marc Rude), she was also contributing regularly to a multitude of magazines and underground comic anthologies. Among notable publications like (Mad magazine posers) CRACKED magazine, Hustler, and early Last Gasp titles like Cocaine Comics and Commies from Mars, she most consistently contributed to the seminal hot rod and humor magazine CARtoons. During their first meeting, CARtoons’ editor, Dennis Elferson, initially tried to send Shawn Kerri away at the door due to her lacking the Y chromosome needed to draw hot rods. But one look at her outstanding portfolio shut his mouth. Not only was she skilled at drawing muscle cars, she was also into driving them and owned a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air (which she used to drive her band The Dinettes to the infamous Western Front festival at the Deaf Club in San Francisco in 1979).

Comics, punk, and cars — all heavily dude-dominated domain and Shawn Kerri ruled them all with her superior art. Although her drawing style is actually kind of conventional in certain ways, with her use of hard black lines and anatomically straightforward characters, her drawings still convey the rawness and wild vibe of some looser, more stylized cartoonists. This is due in part to dynamic posing and the frenetic details that always make her comics come alive with chaos, violence, and fun, like a gutterbound Jack Davis, but it’s also due to something more intangible, an essential genuineness.

3. The third realization is that Shawn Kerri is dead. No, wait — she’s alive! No, sorry, she’s dead. No, wait … There has been decades worth of chatter about whether or not Shawn Kerri is dead, with people on either side of the debate swearing first or second hand knowledge one way or the other. Spread all willy nilly across the internet, there are people who claim she OD’d in the late ’90s (including credible sources like her former CARtoons colleague, George Trosley) and then there are alleged sightings of her like she’s a goddamn Bigfoot, people claiming to have hung out with her on the beach and so forth. On the Gig Posters message board, one thorough-as-a-motherfucker Nancy Drew wannabe claims to have searched the US Social Security death database in ’09 and did not find a Shawn Fitzgerald or a Shawn Kerri listed as deceased. Of all of these accounts, the one that rings the most true to my ears is from Carl Schneider, who did a magazine called Black Market and is currently making a documentary about Mad Marc Rude. Apparently, Carl went to Shawn Kerri’s mother’s house around 2004 and found Shawn there. The story is that she is battling horrible health issues—the most serious being severe brain damage from a spill down the stairs and that she is not really there any more and can scarcely communicate. Is it true or just another Bigfoot footprint? I say it’s probably true, although it would be nice to believe otherwise.

I don’t know that there is anything I could say to do appropriate justice to her legacy. There are a lot of other stories to dig up about Shawn Kerri that I haven’t even touched on — including her working on boats, being a junkie, and a story from Fucked Up & Photocopied where she pulled a sword out of her trunk to fight some skinheads. Extreme rumors are the hallmark of a bone fide bad ass and among all of the stories about her, it’s only right that Shawn Kerri should have the last word here:

“I’ve never gotten the same thrill out of having one of my cartoons printed in a magazine as much as seeing one of my old fliers — something I did for a punk gig the week before — laying in the gutter. Seeing it all mashed and dirty thrilled me, because that was how I was living, too. It looked exactly like my life.”

—from Paul Grushkin’s Art of Rock book

8 responses to “Punk Comics History, Part 2:
Shawn Kerri’s Not at Oki Dogs”

18 12 2010
Dk (17:18:39) :

Hearing about what went down over Kerri’s skanking kid artwork really leaves me sea green sick. I never knew about that story and think it’s beyond fucked up. She showed a tremendous amount of character and substance to do what she did despite the fact that it was her artwork they wanted to capitalize on with the record. I hope her health improves and that more recognize her awesome talent, especially for creating something for the love rather than for money. Shawn Kerri – your artwork rules. I realize to some that might come off as an understatement.

30 12 2010
TKO (00:04:38) :

Circle Jerks artwork was legendary. I was unhappy to hear that story. As for the fliers – that’s such a great thought and sentiment. Best wishes for her, whatever form that takes.

26 02 2011
Bobby Lane (20:27:47) :

It is true that Shawn was alive back in 2004 when Carl went to look for her.I sent him there having run into her in Pacific Beach.She was still very self aware and communicative when I spoke with her,she just had very little short term memory.I saw her many times that year when I was working at the beach and she couldn’t remember me from one week to the next.But she could tell stories about the old days.She saw me wearing a Black Flag shirt and struck up a conversation with me about the band and their singer,who she described as her friend,a very intelligent young man who she used to have long conversations with about many different things.So she signed over the rights she said because she valued their friendship more than any money she might make.Shawn was true to her school,and in the end that is worth more than any money that might be made selling the petrified artifacts of a long ago youth movement that still lives in spirit,not in any memento of that time.

24 07 2012
Carl Schneider (20:50:01) :

I can confirm what Bobby Lane stated. I’m working on a documentary about Marc Rude, Shawn Kerri and Marc were close friends in the late 70’s – early 80’s, which is why I wanted to interview her. I had heard rumors she had passed away, however Bobby was able to get me her phone number. I met up with her at her mom’s house in Pacific Beach, and though life had taken it’s toll on Shawn, she was very much alive.

12 08 2015
Jeff (18:17:19) :

I was (still am, actually) a long time die-hard Shawn Kerri fan. I used to be an avid reader of CarToons magazine, and her contributions were the first pages I flipped to. If she happened to not be featured that month, I was always disappointed. One of my personal dreams is to have an original Shawn Kerri hanging on my wall. Just to hear people say “Who’s that by?” to which I would reply “WHO’S THAT BY?!? That’s a SHAWN KERRI ORIGINAL!!!” Ahh, if only. To this day I scrounge garage sales looking for abandoned or forgotten CarToons magazines, mostly for her artwork. But also because I love CarToons.

Shawn, don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but if you do…thanks. You still have fans out here who love what you’ve created. You are one in a million. Love always – a fan.

18 12 2015
Sean Wilkinson (03:53:59) :

I saw a lot of Shawn Kerri’s artwork when my brother and I collected and hoarded CARtoons Magazine in the very late ’70s, up into the ’80s, to the closing of the magazine. Although I’ve never been a professional illustrator, I did and still do draw a lot for my own entertainment and challenge, and modeled some of my hand after Kerri (for character models) and George Trosley (for automobiles).

I truly hope she is alive and doing very well wherever she may be. One of the things I lament is the relatively short lifespan of CARtoons compared to MAD and Cracked. I suppose a niche market made up of muscle car aficionados contributed to it petering out, but when it was alive, it was unsurpassed car comedy.

All the best wishes to Shawn, from Sean.

1 02 2017
Georg (23:39:08) :

She created the Social Distortion skelly.

20 08 2017
Dennis Franklin (09:54:12) :

Shawn Kerri always made my head spin when I would read CarToons as a kid. She is definitely one of the reasons I decided to keep drawing. This is a wealth of information on this genius. Thank you!! She truly is one of the greats and it sounds like she is also a phenomonal human being from all of the words written here. I forgot all about The Hell Comes To Your House Part 2 album cover she did until I was reminded of it today. That album cover is definitely one of my favorite illustrations of all time. Unreal skills. Hails Shawn Kerri and thank you! @CorpseCollision

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