System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan takes a break from Ozzfest to tell EW's Clark Collis about the comic-book illustraters who worked on his custom set

By Clark Collis
August 08, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
John Dolmyan with drum kit: Courtesy Greg Waterman

Guitars have long come in all shapes, sizes, and decorative designs. Drum kits? Not so much. But three years ago System of a Down skinsman and comic-book nut John Dolmayan decided to play Fairy Godmother to this Cinderella of rock instruments by getting some of his favorite artists to decorate his 10-piece kit. We talked to him about the project, the prog-metallers’ current headlining stint at Ozzfest (dates through Aug. 13), and the future of the band.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the idea of people illustrating the kit?
JOHN DOLMAYAN: I’ve been a tremendous comic-book fan since I was about 12 years old. By my early 20s I was spending $70 a week, and I was only earning $150. Eventually I started setting up at comic-book conventions and selling my old books. I discovered I had a knack for it, so I started going into business, and that’s what I did for six or seven years before the band got signed. So I was pretty well known in the comics industry. Fast forward to three years ago, when I had the idea of, like, Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to have some of favorite artists actually draw on the drums that I play?

Could you give us a quick tour of what’s actually on the kit?
Simon Bisley did the Incredible Hulk and The Thing. Kevin Eastman did the Ninja Turtles, which is what he’s famous for. Art Adams did a bunch of women fighting robots and Godzilla. Tim Vigil did basically a pornographic demon getting b—- by a demoness.

Well, that’s something to look at when your guitarist is taking a solo.
JD: Yeah, there you go. Ha! But it came out amazing. It really is a beautiful piece of art.

Of course, unlike normal comics, it’s hard to read it while you’re in the john.
With drums, it’s a little tougher, yeah. Especially as I have a pretty big drum set.

Is it true that you have a collection of 4 million comics?
Well, I’ve got over 5 and a half million comics right now, and I’ll probably have about 20 million comics in a year’s time. But it’s not really a collection. The reason I’m accumulating all these books is I’m starting an Internet-based comic-book company called That’ll be up in November 2007, probably.

When you have kids, will you let them get their grubby mitts on your classic comics?
Probably not on the classics. Because I have comics that are worth up to $100,000. So I don’t know if I’m gonna want them messing around with those books.

You’re playing the kit at Ozzfest. Have you told your roadies to be very, very, very, very careful with it?
I made it very clear how important the drum set is, let’s put it that way. I value the drum set at over $150,000, based on what the artists would get if they were commissioned to do these pieces.

Is anyone else allowed to play it? I’m flashing on Christopher Guest telling Rob Reiner not even to look at one of his guitars in Spinal Tap.
Yeah, I don’t mind if someone plays it. The art is not on the heads. They can’t pick it up and move it! But they can play it. No, much as I love Spinal Tap, that’s not the vibe I’m going with.

And you’re going to keep the set?
Yeah, that kit is mine. I’m planning to do a book on it, on the artists, on System of a Down. And I’m gonna donate all the proceeds to charity. But the kit’s not going anywhere.

Illustrated percussion instruments aside, what can fans coming to Ozzfest expect?
Well, this is going to be the last tour for a while. We’re taking some time off after this — probably a year to two years, maybe a little bit more — just to do our own projects. So we have a lot of energy and joy on that stage right now, espectially since we know we’re not going to be playing together for a while.

This is your fourth Ozzfest. What advice would you give to Ozz-virgins?
Pace yourself. It opens at, like, 8 in the morning and it goes until 10, 11 at night. So pace yourself. Don’t get too drunk, because you might miss the whole day.

Finally, what superpower would you like to have?
Wow, that’s a good question. There’s so many good ones. Flying, of course, is amazing. But Wolverine can heal himself… See, this is where we get into the nerd section.

I don’t mean to be rude, but if you were worried about looking like a nerd, you probably shouldn’t have had your drum kit illustrated.
Ha! Yeah, I know. It just brings it home…