'zine Buddha

Local artist Brian Brooks watches his work go from sticky barroom floors to flying off international clothing racks

Emily is a preternatural 13-year-old misanthrope with Nico hair who, ironically, refuses to be corrupted by the mainstream. Perennially dressed in black, Emily carries a slingshot and has a cat name NeeChee. Emily's subtext of open-mouthed wonder at the stupidity that surrounds her is actually a rational response to the world's goings-on. Absurd, maybe, but paradoxically brilliant.

"Brian just really has worked hard at developing the styles of Emily so that it kind of still fit in Emily's world," says Mandana Towheady, Cosmic Debris' PR flack. "He experimented and it really worked. So it's all been Brian. We've been joking around about how (Brooks) broke Emily out of her box."

Brooks created the deceptively sweet Oopsy Daisy, which centers around the mishaps of a preteen girl and some of her peers. A pint-size tot in a florid aura embracing a world in which fake is real and cool is defined in corporate terms. Her moral indignations are realized in pithy quips that accompany various graphics ("Oops, I got busted," or "Oops, I used the f-word!" or "Oops, I killed a Princess" -- the latter was banned from a national chain store for its use of the word "killed").

Courtney Love is her biggest proponent and wears the merch with regularity. Then there's the title of Britney's latest sugar-slab, "Oops, I Did It Again." "She may have nicked that from Oopsy Daisy," Brooks says, laughing. "We don't know. But that record title kick-started national sales for Oopsy."

Brooks derails questions about the sarcasm behind Oopsy as much as he denies any philosophical conclusions to anything he does. He uses tricky double negatives: "There isn't nothing. I'm just trying to make somebody laugh. Just trying to get somebody to start word play and using it to exercise their brain so their mouths aren't always open in front of a TV screen.

"I'm able to be a lot more crazy with her than Emily," he continues. "The goofiest stuff can happen to her and the morals are harder to see."

Out soon on Chronicle Books will be a series of comic books based on the Emily and Oopsy Daisy characters. The Cartoon Network and Fox are reportedly ready to make offers for cartoon rights. The 300-plus national chain store Hot Topic is planning a huge back-to-school campaign centered around Emily.

Brooks understands that the essence of punk rock was never having to communicate in the world of corporate pros, an idea that would make Brooks and Cosmic Debris total sell-outs. But logoizing youth-culture for profit is no longer the death knell for street cred that it once was; the rise of hip-hop culture saw to that.

Growing up the middle of two brothers, Brooks spent most waking hours drawing. As a kid, his "mom would have to drag me to the other kid's houses. I would always just like to stay home and draw. I thought I owned my own company. I would make these dumb books and make promo copies of them. I would hand draw the stamp that said 'Promotional Use Only.'"

He moved from a private school, Brophy, to the public Central High after his freshman year and graduated in 1990. "After Brophy, the next year I was hanging out scaring the people I went to Brophy with, hanging right there in front of the canal," he says laughing. "I never really had artist friends in high school, it was more like the punks."

In 1993, after a couple years at Phoenix College, Brooks followed a high school pal to San Francisco, became somewhat lost and wound up at the San Francisco Art Institute studying graphic design. His old man, a local doctor, footed the schooling. He graduated three years later.

"The faculty and the students here saw the value of what he was doing and recognized his devotion to his work," says Larry Thomas, San Francisco Art Institute's dean of students, who remembers Brooks well. "So whether he planned it or not, it's interesting how his work has taken off."

"If I didn't get out of Phoenix," Brooks explains between a couple of burps, "I probably would've ended up downtown and be way sadder. It's just so sad there, the heat, the grocery stores. But on the other hand, I'm totally patriotic of Phoenix. I'm serious. I'll move back in four years and set up a food co-op on the shady side of Camelback Mountain."

Beneath Brooks' exterior there's a self-composer: a soft-spokenness masked with humor, sentences armed with laughter. Even if he were revealing his deepest secrets, you'd still sense reserve.

The Zen-like quality of his simplistic world now is continually disrupted by topical predicaments of a consumer-driven lifestyle. In other words, he's got money and will soon be stinking rich.

"It just means that'll I have nothing to do in 20 years because I will have purchased every record that I always wanted," he laughs.

Brooks typically works about 80 hours weekly and doesn't ever go out. He's too busy, he says, to oblige the whims of some girlfriend. He loathes sex, claims it makes him think of soft drinks. An ex-girlfriend of his says the experience of going out with Brooks was the strangest, weirdest time of her life.

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