Doug Dobey's world turned upside down on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning in April.
"I was carrying my dog, walking downstairs and, all of a sudden, everything started spinning," says the self-described "hot shot freelance designer," a fixture within the city's music, media and commercial art scenes for more than 40 years. "Somehow I made it downstairs to my usual chair."
At first, he says that he waited for his 24-year-old daughter, Harper, to leave the house so that he could call an ambulance himself. "I didn't want to worry her... it's a male thing, a dad thing," he says. "But I finally had to say something."
"He told me, I think there's something wrong," recalls Harper, who lives with her dad near MacArthur Avenue in the North Side. "I need you to drive me to Retreat [Hospital]. I can't move the left side of my body."
The first thought was that Doug, 63, had suffered a mini-stroke. His left side was impaired with the arm barely functional. But over the course of several days, his situation got worse. "The physical therapy people would come in and he couldn't even stand up," Harper says. "It's a miracle that he's even walking right now."
The diagnosis was that an impaired carotid neck artery had caused a full-blown stroke. Two months later, after stays in eight different hospitals and rehab centers in and around Richmond and Petersburg -- and after undergoing an extensive carotid endarterectomy to repair the artery -- Dobey finally came back home to recuperate. And now the real work begins.
"The stroke affected the executive center of his brain," says David Lewis, Doug's college dorm-mate at Virginia Commonwealth University and the former lead singer of the band Mod Subs, one of the city's first punk groups. "I feel good about his chances for a full recovery, but he's got a long way to go."
And, with no previous health insurance, he's got a whole lot of expensive bills. Since the man has done design work in and around Richmond for years -- flyers, album covers, restaurant menus, corporate logos, magazine layouts, stickers -- Lewis thought it appropriate to ask for a little help from Doug's friends.
The result is an all-day benefit, "It's Time For... Da Perculator," slated for Saturday at Castleburg Brewery. The seven-hour event will bring together a whole host of Richmond musicians and creatives to help out -- and pay tribute to -- a guy who has, for years, set the area's visual style.
A Talented Designer
"Doug sort of defined a lot of the look of Richmond punk rock," says Mark Brown, former guitarist for the Good Guys. "He fine-tuned the fashion for a particular rock and roll scene." Brown has helped to assemble a local all-star lineup to perform at the benefit, including X Suckas (an X tribute band led by Ricky Tubb), Jimmy Catlett, Power Chordz, and Rikki Tikki. Brown will also participate in a Good Guys reunion that will pair them with their successor band, the Big Guys.
Two acts on the docket -- Beex and L'Amour, both fronted by Tom Applegate -- hold a nostalgic resonance for Dobey, a Connecticut-born, Annandale expatriate who arrived in Richmond in 1978 wearing a Members Only jacket and a Burt Reynolds 'stache. "I came to VCU as a product of Northern Virginia," he recalls. "The very first day I was here, I saw Sunset Lou and the Fabulous Daturas busking in Shafer Court and my mind was blown by that. That evening, I saw Beex and L'Amour playing at the Back Door. That's when I said, 'I like Richmond, I look forward to being here.'"
Dobey recalls that his first paid gig as a graphic designer was making a flyer for a Ramones concert at the VCU Gym-- their music was a gateway drug for him, he says. "Almost immediately, I got into the punk scene. If it had been ten years earlier, I would probably have been a radical hippie, or twenty years earlier I would have been hanging out with Beats. I just knew my path wasn't to be the standard suburban schlock."
"He made a lot of the Mod Subs flyers and handbills," remembers Lewis. "He was doing a lot of work with Russian lettering, kind of unique and kind of cool, and he would incorporate that into the Mod Subs' album cover."
To see samples of Dobey illustration work, go here.
Dale Brumfield is one of many who fondly recalls Dobey's design work for the seminal Richmond post-punk band, Honor Role, among others. "His work in the ‘80s was so good, so meticulous and so on-point," remarks the Throttle Magazine co-founder and author (Dobey has designed two of Brumfield's books, including the latest, "Closing the Slaughterhouse''). "It was still this underground punk style but executed so well. I mean, no one was coming close to the work he was doing. And then he made this leap from this underground punk rock aesthetic into the mainstream while still maintaining the unorthodoxy and uniqueness of his work. That's a rare thing, to go from the underground to the mainstream while still maintaining your identity."
In addition to “corporate work” for businesses like Deep Groove, Kuba Kuba and Saltbox Oyster Company, Brumfield also admires the stuff that Dobey has done on his own, just for kicks -- such as the pro-mask, pro-vaccine stickers and memes he produced during the COVID-19 lockdown, and his sardonic campaign to "Keep Richmond Sketchy." The man himself, who has wanted to be a graphic designer since the third grade, says that those kinds of projects are a cathartic release. "It's kind of like graffitti, I guess. It's the things that people need to hear that I need to say, whether they like it or not."
Charles McGuigan, the publisher of North of the James, will be showcasing Dobey on the cover of this month's issue, reprinting an archival feature written about Doug, who has been the designer for the newsprint publication on-and-off for 20 years. The issue will come complete with a barcode that links directly to Dobey's Go Fund Me page.
"He gave us our look," says McGuigan, who first met the budding designer in 1983 when they worked for Thalhimers. "I was a copywriter and he worked in production. His stuff was remarkable even back then." He calls his friend a "gifted graphic illustrator. His photo illustrations are fabulous. He learned old school in the days of cut-and-paste, waxing the sheets and pasting them up. I think that proved invaluable to him that he knew how to do it that way, so when he made the transition to digital, it was easy."
In addition to North of the James, Dobey has designed at various times for both Style Weekly and Richmond Magazine, but his first magazine work was for the scrappy indie magazine, ThroTTle, under the art direction of friend and fellow VCU Arts classmate Kelly Alder. "He just has this natural ability to depict things visually, whether it's with a drawing, cartoon or manipulating the type and photography," Alder, now a VCU professor, says. "Even though he doesn't draw very much, he's an excellent draftsman. It's just another thing that comes annoyingly easy for him."
A Man With Style
Doug's impeccable fashion sense has also resonated, he adds.
"I mean this in the best way possible: He has been as much a piece of art as the work he's produced. He knew how to present himself depending on what type of show he went to or how he wanted to appear. It's important to remember that Richmond was a very different city in the 1980s. It was so much smaller, so a person with a personality like Doug had a wider-reaching effect on everybody."
He says that, for Saturday's benefit, he and nearly thirty other area illustrators and designers have donated images for sale, from Tim Harris to Renee Stramel to Rey Alvarez of Bio Ritmo -- Dobey designed the salsa band's first 45 cover. "It's a really diverse group of artists and images," Alder adds. "And Uptown Printing has given us the printing of the works at a reduced rate so that most of the money will go to Doug."
Not long after his stroke, the Richmond Kickers sent a video get well message to Dobey, a longtime soccer fan and a leader in the club's booster group, the River City Red Army. The team is also donating a prize pack of $500 to the benefit.
"His mind is bright and sharp," says fellow Red Army member Page Hayes who, with husband Richard, set up a Go Fund Me page to help the Dobeys while Doug is unable to work. "We want to make sure we aren't eulogizing him with this or with the benefit," she says. "We want him to focus on his recovery and not worry about his bills."
The Go Fund Me campaign has raised, to date, more than $30,000.
"It's amazing the outpouring of support," says Hayes, also a graphic designer. "But maybe we shouldn't be surprised, considering he knows everybody and has worked with half the organizations in Richmond."
"I already knew I had a popular dad," Harper says of the support. "But so many people are coming out ... the music people, the soccer people, the art community. The past month has been so reassuring, and eye opening, and we are feeling just how much of a real home Richmond is for both of us. It's humbling."
Right now, she says that the biggest worry is that her dad will over-exert himself at Saturday's benefit, surrounded by the loud and raucous nurturing of old friends. "I think I'm going to have to be kind of a hard ass on everyone," she says. "I don't mind."
Doug wonders, with a mischievous smile, what he'll do when he hears live music again. "One thing that is screwed up is my impulse function .... I may charge the stage. Who knows?"
It's Time for Da Perculator - A Benefit for Doug Dobey will be at Castleburg Brewery on July 16. 3p.m. to 10 p.m. 1626 Ownby Ln. $10. castleburgbrewery.com. To access Doug Dobey's Go Fund Me page, click https://gofund.me/55465c13