Published on July 24th, 2022


Sampling the work of Vernon James “Bad Love” is like free-falling into a Wonderland hosted by Vincent Price. There are burlesque Siamese twins sporting ’20s bobs, the Frankenstein bride as a high-strung comics diva, Bettie Page rocker chicks and scream queens like we haven’t seen since Poison Ivy of The Cramps.

Yet James, through his homegrown graphics shop Bad Love Design, also pushes beyond the horror-babe branding. Prints declaring “Tax the Churches,” ‘’Keep Seeking Knowledge” and “Columbus Didn’t Discover Shit” embed provocative social messaging into a midcentury style for artwork that anyone (even his girlfriend) would own.

Vernon “Bad Love” is this month’s PureHoney spotlight artist and the the poster artist for the upcoming edition of Bumblefest, PureHoney’s annual live music party in downtown West Palm Beach. It’s a match made in retro-indie Shangri-la: James’ artwork is an amalgam of childhood cartoons, cult film references and go-go visuals that more than lives up to its tagline: “bizarre, playful, loud comic, erotic, and macabre.”

In an interview, the native of Detroit says that his interest in art started in childhood and he set his sights on becoming an animator. But a career in cels would have to wait: In his teens, James instead jumped headlong into music, teaching himself guitar and upright bass. His bands played everything from folk to Halloween songs, and when James took up art and design (which he also taught himself) he brought his musical sensibility with him.

Asked what he’s inspired by — fire up your search engines — James drops references deeper than Elvira’s neckline: ’40s jazz album covers designed by Jim Flora; the midcentury cartoon canon of Hanna-Barbera, the output of the UPA animation studio that created Mr. Magoo. All these, and many more, provide a wealth of line and color influences that James incorporates into his very stylized, often duotone pieces. Add his fondness for horror hosts (Vampira, John Zacherle) and William Castle movies (“The Tingler,” “House on Haunted Hill”), and James is producing somehow familiar but one-of-a-kind work.

Not surprisingly, James loves Halloween, and has made multiple pieces to prove it. He sees it as an opportunity for people to celebrate being themselves: “There is no pressure whatsoever. It’s all about whatever you’re into and you can be anything you want with no judgment.” Although he used to dress up as a member of Kiss — and once as Tim Curry’s cross-dressing mad scientist, Frank-N-Furter, from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — he doesn’t go all out for the occasion anymore. There’s no need, as he points out, when you “dress weird everyday.” A self-identified “classy goth,” James gives a nod to David Lynch for his fashion sense and Eraserhead for his electric hairstyle.

Another noteworthy aspect of James’ work is its medium ambiguity — a design choice that was carefully cultivated through experimentation and the “trial-by-fire” nature of being self-taught. From pen and ink designs scanned into a computer, James segued to drawing in Photoshop. When he was able to afford a tablet and iPad, he found he had the tools to be more deliberate and precise in achieving the finished but still very hand-made, individualized look he wanted for many of his pieces.

James is preparing to move to Nashville to restart his musical career — a project he says is made possible by his livelihood as an artist. He feels like he’s making headway with the music, but is not ready to put it out there just yet. Among the works that might, or might not, find their way into wider world is an “industrial musical” set 60 years into the future that James says he’s already written. In the meantime, he’s keeping his Instagram followers delighted and paying customers happy with a variety of prints, tarot decks, stickers, lapel pens and more in a style that returns our visual past to us as an offbeat pleasure.

@badlovedesign   |  by Veronica Inberg

Tickets On Sale NOW!  5PM HAPPY HOUR and bands begin at 6pm! View the schedule over at BUMBLEFEST.COM