THE BELL CURVE: Is Pedro Bell, a.k.a. Captain Draw, the pop world's first rock-cartoonist critic? Or is he this city's leading rock graphic artist, having designed more than 20 pop record covers? Actually, Bell is both. Best known for his album-cover work for George Clinton and Funkadelic, Bell has emerged as a unique pop critic/satirist, whose cartoon-style reviews run regularly in the Village Voice and other publications. Though Bell's sassy black slang and comic imagination owes a big debt to Clinton, he's equally influenced by such pop-culture totems as Frank Zappa, Tom Wolfe and Ed (Big Daddy) Roth. (See for yourself: Bell's reviews of the new George Harrison and Stevie Wonder albums accompany this piece.)
"Back in college, I was inspired by Abbie Hoffman, who advised in 'Steal This Book' that you get a lot of free records by acting like a reviewer," explained Bell, whose "styling" look included a black beret and Day-Glo trench coat, equipped with a gun belt full of colored pens. "Then it just seemed more original to do the reviews as a graphic, cartoon thing. It let me do more flame-throwing satire by using the artist's pen instead of the typewriter."
The Voice called Bell after spotting one of his Clinton album covers. He's easy to find--he drums up business by stashing his home phone number somewhere in each cartoon. Bell doesn't pull any punches--here's his take on the current state of black music:
"It's brain-dead right now--too many Indians, not enough chiefs. You've got Prince, who's No. 1--no one's even close--Cameo and Clinton, when he's in action. Everyone else is either into imitations--like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who just do Prince's sound--or marketing and packaging, like Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson. Terence Trent D'Arby--he's just Michael Jackson in dreads. What happens is that when the music gets segmented, it gets stagnated. So we need someone new to come along who has the kind of style that messes up the program."
Bell is trying to shake things up himself. As he puts it: "One stroke action is obsolete. This is the Splank Decade--you got to stretch out into different areas." With that in mind, Bell is working on a film script, a computer-graphics cartoon strip ("Larry Lazer's High-Tech Follies") and a TV pilot, which he described as being about a guy who's "a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Mr. T."
Bell's next scheduled album project--the cover of the new Tackheads album, "Lifestyles of the Roach and Famous," due out early next year on Warner Bros. Records. His other covers will also be on display at Santa Monica's MAG Gallery, which will unveil an album-cover art exhibit on Dec. 15.
And what popsters would Bell like to skewer next? He says he'd love to have a shot at Bon Jovi ("They're not metal, they're aluminum") or Barry White, whose comeback Bell impishly described as "the return of the big sound."