This East Village artist eyes reviving comic strip while also looking back on covering Ramones albums and ‘High Times’

John Holmstrom in his East Village apartment, holding a tote bag with a reproduction of one of his Punk magazine covers. (Photos by Bob Krasner)

BY BOB KRASNER | John Holmstrom’s been there, done that and he’s still here — specifically, in the East Village, where he has resided in the same apartment for over 40 years.

The artist — notable for his role as a founding editor of Punk magazine and as the artist whose work graces the covers of the Ramones classic albums “Rocket to Russia” and “Road to Ruin” — has seen a lot of changes but is still glad to be in the neighborhood where it all happened.

“The first time I came to New York was in 1969,” he recalled. “We came to see Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys at the Fillmore East.”

From then on, Holmstrom “loved NYC and always wanted to live here.” He made the move from Connecticut in 1972, when he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts.

“I lived in eight different places from 1972 to 1977,” he recalled. Among those memorable residences was a luxury building on the Upper East Side with paper thin walls, a place on East 24th Street that was the site of a fire, a spot on East 3rd Street that was conveniently located across from the Hell’s Angels headquarters and an even more agreeable location above Stromboli Pizza, where he unfortunately could not afford the $145 a month rent.

John Holmstrom in his East Village apartment.

After couch-surfing for a bit, he ended up in a storefront at 10th Avenue and 30th Street, living and working with Legs McNeill and Ged Dunn to create Punk magazine, the now legendary publication that was the first devoted to the music scene that was thriving at CBGB’s on the Bowery.

“If the Ramones were still here, they’d be filling Madison Square Garden,” he mused. “But back then they weren’t drawing big crowds. Talking Heads was considered a novelty act when they started. Blondie brought in the most people.”

And Punk magazine was not exactly bringing in a lot of cash.

“I never made any money from Punk. In the 3 1/2 years in print, we lost money,” he admitted. “The book (a recent hardcover retrospective) lost money too, even though it’s almost sold out.”

Holmstrom was actually supporting himself with a steady gig doing a comic strip for Bananas magazine, where his editor was Jovial Bob Stine (now known as RL Stine, of “Goosebumps” fame).

John Holmstrom freaking out in the Metropolis Vintage dressing room, which is filled with his artwork

Luckily his friend, Deerfrance, was giving up her apartment on East 10th Street. Holmstrom thought, “This will be a nice place to stay for a year.” At this point, he had some cash from doing the “Rocket to Russia” LP cover, so he could afford the move.

But things began to change in the real estate situation.

“It used to be that people would move when it was time to paint the apartment, but in 1979, apartments got scarce,” he said.

And the 80s were rough on the block too. There were always pot dealers there, but the influx of cocaine dealers changed the scene. Galleries closed, and there was at least one fatal shooting.

The block where all four original members of the Velvet Underground once lived became less desirable, but Holmstrom stayed put.

“At one point we had a crack den upstairs and a shooting gallery down the hall,” he said, “and when the dealers went crazy shooting off fireworks, you didn’t go outside.”

As the years went by, Holmstrom worked with, among others, The Village Voice, Heavy Metal and High Times, where he went from managing editor to president and publisher (he left in 2000).

Despite lapsed Japanese licensing deals and movie options that never came to fruition, he remains optimistic about new projects.

Aid McSpade, John Holmstrom with the dressing room door at Metropolis Vintage

Nowadays, Holmstrom is working on reviving “Hep Cat,” the comic strip that he and his buddy Aid McSpade created for High Times magazine back in the day. Metropolis Vintage recently celebrated the launch of the new “Hep Cat” t-shirts with a party at their new space at 803 Broadway, which is adorned with a logo created by Holmstrom and a dressing room that features his artwork, wall-to-wall.

Metropolis owner Richard Colligan began his relationship with the artist five years ago, when Holmstrom submitted a design for the logo.

“We looked at a number of different ideas, and John’s was the best,” said Colligan, “and we knew his stuff would be great in the dressing room.”

Having sold his archives to Yale a few years back, Holmstrom is assured a place in history – something that he does not take lightly, especially when it comes to his place of residence.

“This is the most amazing neighborhood!” he exclaimed. “There’s a greater appreciation of history here. When you think about all the great things that happened here — it’s amazing.”

Although there are plenty of places that he misses, such as Free Being Records (the site of the first Ramones record signing) and Paul’s Lounge (where he hung out with Joey Ramone), “I’m pretty happy here at this point,” he concluded.

John’s show at the 72 Gallery, “All The Stuff I Did With The Ramones” ends on Oct. 18. For more information, visit 72gallery.com or johnholmstrom.com.