Creative director, designer, DJ, Loverboy, Guylie Manogue: Trevor Beattie meets John Brock

The Drum's guest editor Trevor Beattie continues his series of interviews with a fascinating group of fearless and provocative individuals.

John Brock is a one-off. And in keeping with all of my featured guests, he’s also very difficult to categorise. JB is the very model of a modern major creative talent: extravagant in his work yet self-effacing in person. Unafraid of pushing style boundaries, but the least pushy person you’re ever likely to meet. He’s as happy creating a unique new font in watercolours as he is producing a ground-breaking magazine from the ground up.

He is also entirely responsible for the remarkable art direction and styling of this beautiful issue of The Drum. And because JB would never say so himself, I’ll say it for him: It’s the best she’s ever looked...

Trevor Beattie: Let’s start with the short and sweet. See if you can answer these first three questions in three words or less...

TB: Who are you?

John Brock (JB): Still finding out.

TB: Why are you?

JB: Create smiles everywhere.

TB: What the bloody hell do you think you’re up to?

JB: I don’t know!

TB: For me, it was Muhammad Ali and Bowie. For you, I get the distinct impression it is Kylie, Kylie and possibly Kylie. Explain the influence La Minogue has had on you. And talk us through who Guylie Manogue is when she’s at home...

JB: I am such a massive Kylie Minogue fan – but I think just about everyone who knows me knows that! The thing about Kylie is that she is a true creative chameleon and, I think, a terribly under-appreciated one at that. I can relate to her on so many levels.

Growing up in the 80s I think it was impossible to not be listening to Kylie or watching her on Neighbours! I’ve followed her career from about the age of three and remember playing her second album at a pretend prom I was staging with my sister’s Barbie dolls. She always felt like an older cousin to me and her music has got me through many dark times. I promise you, if you ever need cheering up, pop some Kylie on!

‘Guylie Manogue’, on the other hand, is my latest creation. Guylie is my gender-fuck tribute to Kylie, who would do everything Kylie wouldn’t be seen dead doing. Guylie is a mess. A sincere mess.

Francois Sagat for Loverboy issue one - shot by Greg Bailey photography

TB: Full disclosure. You spent your formative years at the fledgling BMB. What lessons did you learn in those early days that you’d like to pass on?

JB: That it really is all about the work. If you’re a career climber or someone with a massive ego that needs stroking or you want to do fuck all work but get all the plaudits, you need to get out and get a grip. I have little time for people who have no ambition, drive, determination or desire to help others. I always think we are being paid to do a job and do it well. Clients don’t care if you’re going to win an award or make a name for yourself (as a designer/producer/copywriter whatever) in the advertising industry!

A lot of people don’t live in the ‘here and now’ and are constantly worrying about what they can get out of something and I think that makes the work suffer. Of course with ambition comes the vision of looking forward, but it’s a different approach that I am referring to… it’s a paced approach and one that doesn’t trample over the ambitions of others. We are all in this together and embracing a hand held out instead of batting it away is the way to move forward! I also believe that if you love something, you do it for the love of doing it, not for the love of the applause after.

TB: Time is becoming a vanishing resource, yet the crafting of ideas is vital. How do you handle being stretched for time, all the time? Is panic ever an option?

JB: I just do it. My desktop wallpaper says ‘get shit done’. I thrive on panic, I think. When the shit hits the fan you have to turn it out. And if it goes wrong, you learn something and won’t do it again. But my dad always told me ‘a wise man learns from the mistakes of others’ and I think we could all use that advice.

TB: The magazine Loverboy is your pride (pun intended) and joy. It’s clear how much care and work goes into the project, particularly from a design point of view. How on earth do you find the time to do it?

JB: I make the time! It’s one of my true loves.

I believe in it 100 per cent and I am so passionate about its success. Loverboy was set up by my journalist friend Michael Turnbull (son of John Turnbull, the celebrated creative director and author). He came to me with this concept for a new queer lifestyle title he wanted to start up after constantly being knocked back by publishers about his ideas for features or interviews (‘who would want Janice Dickinson as an Agony Aunt? Who wouldn’t!’). When he told me what he wanted to do, I knew I had to be involved.

There is something I like about working on underdog and overlooked projects (and people) – I see the most opportunity in them to punch us all in the balls when we are not looking... which is what legendary work does! And who doesn’t want to create work that is remembered? It was the perfect opportunity to do something different in the queer publishing arena and we did, and continue to do so. The other great thing about it is its content is so inclusive – it’s not at all like the mainstream queer lifestyle titles out there that constantly celebrate the celebrated and forget that people are interested in more than if that soap star is gay or not or has a six pack. I highly recommend people pick up a copy!

TB: Many of my heroes expressed themselves through created identities. How important is identity to you, especially in the workplace?

JB: Identity is incredibly important to me and trying to understand yourself and find your place in the world takes years, but I always knew that I wanted to be a designer. Or an artist. Coming from an illustration background makes my approach to design more open-minded and narrative driven.

I like to tell a good story.

Life gives us the opportunity to create an identity for ourselves but the key really is to be your true authentic self. I think being respectful of others, being helpful and always being available is the most important thing. Time is a precious gift and it means a lot to people.

"Do it for the love of doing it, not for the applause after." 

TB: Spinning Around or Can’t Get You Out Of My Head?

JB: Spinning Around, without question! I know Can’t Get You Out of My Head was written by one of my heroes, Cathy Dennis, but Spinning Around is such an amazing song (and written by Paula Abdul)!

It has a special place in my heart because I was in the audience of a Saturday morning TV show watching Kylie perform it live when I was told to stand back from the fan in front of the stage as ‘we don’t want you getting splattered all over Kylie’. I turned around to the security guy and said ‘babe, that’s the best way to go out!’

TB: Fame or fortune?

JB: I think I’d opt for fortune as it comes in many forms. Fame is something that scares me. Some people dream of being papped falling out of a cab at 3am covering their faces weakly with their hand. That doesn’t interest me in the slightest.

TB: Daddy or chips?

JB: In the words of Marilyn, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’.

TB: Labyrinth or Moulin Rouge?

JB: Even though Kylie was The Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge I grew up with Labyrinth – I have the action figures and watched it on DVD in every language over and over so it has to be Labyrinth! The soundtrack was amazing and Jim Henson was a genius.

TB: Who would you most like to influence?

JB: I would like to have a positive influence on everyone I encounter and that’s not always easy. I’d rather inspire than influence.

Influencing people is pretty much the daily job of a designer so I think inspiring others would be much more rewarding. We all get something out of it then!

TB: What’s your greatest ambition?

JB: I want to become successful at what I do but I have this burning desire to help others around me to be successful too. I get great pleasure from seeing others succeed and achieve.

TB: If I gave you a (return) ticket to space, would you go? And if so, where to..?

JB: I would totally go and I would want to go to Saturn.

When I was a kid my grandad bought me a toy robot from his ‘man in the market’ in Brixton and the screen on the robot’s tummy had this picture of Saturn on it. Since then I have always been obsessed with Saturn and always thought about skating round her rings one day like I was Judy Jetson or something.

You can find John Brock on Twitter @kidofspid or at www.johnbrockdesign.com.

Loverboy magazine is available to buy online in digital and physical editions.

This piece was first published in The Drum's Advertising Week special issue, guest-edited by BMB co-founder Trevor Beattie.

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