Long before he worked with everyone from Mötley Crüe to Marilyn Manson and designed skate decks and high-end toys, graphic designer Jim Koch (pronounced cook) worked with his hands in another way—as a lumberjack. “I was buckin’ and haulin’ logs and I said, Fuck that! I want to draw,” he remembers of his teen logging years.
Koch traded in his ax for a sketchpad and pencil and began doodling cartoon figures of clowns. He became obsessed with them after watching Red Skelton, a clown who became famous in the ’40s for dressing like a hobo, and he later tattooed three vintage clowns on his biceps and forearm. Koch also names ’60s classic television (like The Addams Family and The Munsters) as inspiration for some of his other cool-but-creepy sketches, and he has a big Frankenstein heart, complete with stitches and bolts, tattooed on his chest.
Much of Koch’s design work features hot rod imagery, and he picked up his love of the art (thought not the racing) from his dad. “My dad built stock cars, so I grew up around the track,” he says, before explaining that he didn’t find track racing very exciting. “The races just go in circles,” he laughs. Instead, he rode BMX and skated, and eventually relocated to Hollywood, where the self-described metalhead dug into the rock scene and got his first tattoo of a “little heavy metal dude” on his triceps. He also began designing his own concert posters for bands he liked. The hair band scene caught wind of his talent, and Koch was commissioned by Ratt, Skid Row, and Poison to design album covers and T-shirts. Eventually, he bridged into screen printing for iconic ’90s brands like No Fear, Jetpilot, and Vince Neil’s line Bad Bones. Koch even designed album art for Vanilla Ice, who loved the project enough to get a tattoo of the album logo.
Koch recently completed a sleeve of gun-toting hillbillies, a headless chicken, and a “white trash girlfriend” hanging out of her trailer window, and he just got a tattoo of a toy monkey character inspired by the artist Gary Taxali. “I love the dynamic color of Guy Aitchison and the demonic style of Paul Booth. Chris Spriggs of Rage, here in Spokane, has done a lot of my tattoos,” says Koch from his Washington home. And as an artist himself, Koch knows to give a tattooer room to create. “I like to let them just go for it,” he says.