Monster as Metaphor: John Allison, Webcomics Genius

Art by John Allison

Devoted and cultish readers extol John Allison as “a rare gem in the often hard-to-navigate web comic underbelly.” Though you may not presently be reading John Allison’s current endeavor, Bad Machinery, chances are that you are perhaps already familiar with him through his older works, Scary Go Round (2002-2009) or Bobbins (1998-2002), or as an artist/chum linked to through one or more of his contemporaries.

Fans of Jeffrey Rowland’s Overcompensating for example, will recognize Allison as “The Englishman” , a British gentleman of dubious distinction who  occasionally happens upon the scene to politely antagonize the regulars. Or, through Dumbrella Collective alum, R. Stevens, mastermind behind Diesel Sweeties and 8-bit illustrator of our charming editrixes here at Coilhouse. Maybe  even through one of the dynamic guest strips he has provided over the years to one of your long-time favourite web comic artists.

Marked by clever, peculiar dialogue, absurdist humor, dotty characters (and delightful ladies fashion!), mysterious happenings and hi-jinks, and a dense mythology (though compelling and completely addictive, to which  anyone who has begun to peek  through his archives can attest)  –  John Allison’s story-telling genius is unmistakable.  And  in a medium where visuals are the reason most viewers show up in the first place, the exquisitely charming, highly stylized art is “as big a draw as the comedy”.

Scary Go Round, “Bulgaria”

Described as “postmodern Brit horror”,  Allison’s previous comic, Scary Go Round followed the hapless denizens of Tackleford, a fictional British town beset by all manner of supernatural activity including, but not limited to: zombies, space owls, the devil, and portals to other dimensions.  Though Scary Go Round ended in 2009, a few of his beloved characters have moved on to Bad Machinery, which picks up in Tackleford 3 years later.  The focus is on an entirely new cast of sleuthing schoolchildren attending Griswald’s Grammar School, whose well-intentioned energies may be causing more problems than the mysteries they solve  – but they throw themselves into it all with much vigor and aplomb.

Bad Machinery Flyer Art for Thought Bubble

Coilhouse recently caught up with John Allison about his new endeavor; see below the cut for our Q&A in which John talks about the transition between old stories and new, the state of web comics today, and the meaning behind the monsters.

David J: “The Punches and the Kisses”

Setting the scene: it’s a balmy late afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, summer of 2010. An amazing feature opportunity has suddenly presented itself, bringing Zoetica and I together for an impromptu interview/photo shoot at the Standard Hotel— a populuxe wet-dream of a place with Jenny Holzer art and an imitation Calder mobile in its lobby. Our esteemed subject has agreed to meet us for a drink at the Googiegasmic 24/7 Restaurant on the ground floor.

Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

Later in the evening, he’ll ride an elevator up to the swanky retro Rooftop Bar to DJ a killer set of “hyper lounge” for the likes of Sasha Grey, Mildred Von, the director of Lip Service, Miyu Decay, Andy Ristaino, Courtney Riot, and a slew of soused software convention-goers. But for now, he’s holding court at our corner table, and he’s got Zo and me doubled over in helpless fits of laughter. As our cackling reaches a crescendo, fellow patrons look up from their $20 cheeseburgers in confusion. Perhaps this pale, slim, soft spoken and immaculately dressed Englishman with the barest hint of a smile on his face isn’t the instigator they expected. One thing’s for sure: David J Haskins surprised the hell out of us! Delightfully so.

David J in the lobby of the downtown LA Standard Hotel. Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

As Zo sets up her next shot, I sip my coffee and ask the man who wrote the lyrics for Bauhaus‘ seminal song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” if vampirism is, in fact, the secret to his youthful appearance. “I’m actually very wrinkled from the waist down,” he says. Hastily, I wipe up my spit take. “Don’t print that.” Zo insists that we should print that. “Oh, all right. You can print that.” A few minutes later, he launches into an anecdote about “the infamous pan-flute monkey” from Love and Rockets’ music video for ‘No New Tale to Tell’: “The handler put peanuts down all of the pipe shafts.” The idea being that the monkey would try to tip them out to eat and appear to be playing the flute. “Worked out pretty well. But when the little bugger wasn’t trying to get at the peanuts,” (David J’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper) “he was wanking. Endlessly. For hours. Hours and hours. And staring at us.” Zo does her best to keep the camera steady. “It was quite impressive, actually! And a little terrifying. No one wanted to go near the filthy thing.”

Giggle fits notwithstanding, professionalism prevails. Zo gets some great shots, and in of spite being uncharacteristically twitterpated (can’t be helped; I smoked my very first clove while listening to “Who Killed Mister Moonlight“), I’m able to nab an in-depth, thoughtful interview from a most multifaceted and influential progenitor of post-punk alternative culture.

David J, making mischief at the Standard Hotel’s 24/7 Restaurant. Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

It’s hard to know where to begin with you! The range and diversity of the creative projects you’ve been involved with for over the course of your career is astounding. In addition to being a musician and a lyricist, you’re a visual artist, playwright … and more recently, you’ve even gotten into screenwriting?
Just in the last year, yes. I embarked on that with a partner, Don C. Tyler, and we have a fantastic chemistry.  So far it’s going very well, it’s picking up. We have a couple of different scripts in the works. I am actually contracted not to talk about the subject matter of either of them, sorry, but I can tell you they’re tangentially connected. And yes, I’ve written some plays. I was going to say I just finished my second play, but really it’s the third, because initially, I got into writing for the stage after creating this 12-minute play about punk rock called Anarchy In The Gold Street Wimpy. It had never occurred me to write one before, but my publicist, Versa Manos, was friends with this theatre company in Atlanta, Georgia, called Dad’s Garage. They were looking for submissions for a theatrical presentation of short 12-minute plays based on the idea of punk rock. She suggested I should have a go at it, and so I did. I thought, well, I was there, after all. Going to shows in 1976, when punk rock was full-on.

“Living the American Nightmare”

Awww, jeez. Rest in peace, Pete Steele. (Sorry to get a bit morbid, guys. Then again, it is almost Dia de los Muertos.)

Living the American Nightmare “is an independently made documentary shot in HD directed by PawL BaZiLe.” Its main focus is Myke Hideous, the relatively obscure artist and lead singer of Empire Hideous and the Bronx Casket Company who briefly filled in as lead vocalist for the Misfits in the late nineties, long after its best-known frontman, Glenn Danzig, had left the band.

Through various accounts from Hideous, in addition to a series of interviews with a variety of veteran musicians, from Danzig and Steele to Ramones mastermind Arturo Vega to Sabbath drummer Bill Ward, LtAN “tells the story of what it costs working class people to be musicians, and the pitfalls of success with no payoff.”

Myke Hideous portrait by Kyle Cassidy.

Judging by its teaser and trailer, the mood of the entire film’s gloomy but empowering. “The sacrifice to make a living as an artist is incredible, and we have a strong cast of guests in this film to explain misconceptions and realities. We’ve spoken to everyone from independent bands still [of] high school age, to Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of famers.”

According to admin on its Facebook page, Living the American Nightmare should be out by this year’s end, or early next. Rock on, fellas. Keep us posted, please!

Stimulating Juxtapostions: The Art of John Coulthart

Yog-Sothoth, from The Haunter of the Dark

Discerning seekers of rare or obscure artists will eventually stumble upon John Coulthart’s Feuilleton at some point in their virtual journeys. An artist himself, and a blogger “of some repute”, his site is a veritable Holy Grail treasure collection of luminous paintings, ornate illustrations & woodcuts, and salty vintage photographs that run the gamut from fin de siecle European art magazines to antique occult bookplates to queer themed eye candy from a bygone era for which to titillate our salacious modern sensibilities. One with an interest in such things could literally lose hours perusing his archives. It is with the striking of a dazed and dreamy midnight hour, head filled with inspiration and amazing discoveries, that one realizes where the time has gone.

John is perhaps best known for his own striking and complex “genre-defying” artistry; working with various styles and media in his singular, chimeric aesthetic, he is a successful graphic designer for a variety of mediums including album covers, book covers comic books and graphic novels.

“As a comic artist John produced the Lord Horror series Reverbstorm with David Britton for Savoy Books, and received the dubious accolade of having an earlier Savoy title, Hard Core Horror 5, declared obscene in a British court of law. … His collection of HP Lovecraft adaptations and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions, was republished in 2006 by Creation Oneiros.

As a book designer and illustrator John continues to work for Savoy Books, and in 2003 designed the acclaimed Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts.

John’s work has been showcased via Rapid Eye, Critical Vision, Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror, EsoTerra, and the Channel 4 television series Banned in the UK.”

See below the cut for a Q&A in which John discusses fleeting fascinations, enduring enthusiasms, how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in his projects, and the mercurial nature of design.

Melora Creager: Sweet Sister Temperance

For nearly two decades, Rasputina has been rocking out with some of the most unlikely instruments (cellos and the occasional banjo or harpsichord) and in some of the most fanciful and restrictive attire (tightly laced corsets and hoopskirts). They have paved the way for experimental cellists to break away from the traditional classical strictures and move toward a much wider audience. Melora Creager, the mastermind and directress behind the formerly ladies-only Traveling Cello Society, has long held a passion for Victoriana and is an avid huntress through the more peculiar annals of history.

Her wonderful lyrics are often about marvelously obscure subjects such as Snail-Fever, meltable aliens, and the egg-races performed by Easter Islanders. Rasputina’s seventh full-length album, Sister Kinderhook, is stuffed with melancholy gems about the perils of ocean-faring and little girls raised in birdcages. The tone and sound of the record harkens back to early days of Thanks for the Ether, the band’s first groundbreaking album. I had the opportunity to catch up with Melora and company over migas and coffee in Austin. Rasputina’s traveling retinue included not only some delightful new band members (Daniel DeJesus and Melissa Bell), as well as Dawn Miceli, whose documentary about touring with the band, called “Under the Corset” came out this summer. The star of the show, however, was no doubt Melora’s adorable new baby, Ivy – who appears to be a human incarnation of a Kewpie doll. Doll artist and photographer Christy Kane made some lovely portraits of mother and daughter, which we are very pleased to include with this interview.

CH: Over the past 18 years, Rasputina has evolved musically, but has also remained totally true to a beautifully anachronistic aesthetic, and to an experimental sound that has engendered a very devoted fan-base. As directress and songwriter, you never seem to waver from what inspires you. Has it been a battle to lead such an uncompromisingly iconoclastic band through the wilds of an industry which is so increasingly concerned with accessibility?
MC: I’ve always had faith – that to be true to my ideas & taste would help me win in the end. Even if it’s a victory in honor only. But win & victory are battle terms, it’s true. A band is like sports. I’ve been at this so long, that I’ve seen many trends come and go. Sometimes Rasputina is lumped in with them, but these trends always pass away. I keep faith that my best efforts are beyond fashion. Rasputina started on a major label, has grown steadily smaller, and has gotten more and more fun as it shrinks. I was raised in the industry to try to make hits, to try to get on the radio. It took a few years to get that out of the back of my mind. Maybe 5 years ago, I started to be free of it. It’s funny though, because think of all the weird songs I’ve made- you’d never know I was attempting hits!

CH: Much of Rasputina’s inspiration appears to come from the hardworking and meticulous ladies of yore, who stitched and slaved away to create lasting things of beauty. You make and design the majority of your album covers and merchandise by hand, including the embroidery on the cover for your newest album, Sister Kinderhook. With the collapse of the traditional music industry as we know it, have you noticed more musicians getting motivated to be more DIY with their careers? What are your thoughts on the craft renaissance and the renewed appreciation for fancy handwork?
MC: With other musicians I talk to, of different levels of success, I don’t hear about labels anymore. Do they exist beyond Beyoncé? I really stay out of the whole music industry. I make my things as hand-made as possible. I use a cd manufacturer that’s here in my little town. I was looking through the craft magazine section at a book-store, and was shocked at how much material there was and how common advanced techniques are. That is a great thing that lots of people want to spend their time that way. I have heard that young people shun Facebook and prefer quilting & etc. Good.

Martin Millar’s Lycanthropian Soap Operas

Curse of the Wolf Girl, by Martin Millar / cover art by John Coulthart

“In London, Kalix is on her way to remedial college to try and improve her reading skills, Vex is going too, and Daniel is still pining over Moonglow. Yum Yum Sugary Snacks are refusing to rehearse, Dominil is getting annoyed and Decembrius is wondering what to do with himself. In Scotland, Markus, now thane of the Werewolf Clan, is wondering if he should tell his girlfriend about his habit of cross-dressing. Malveria, Queen of the Fire Elementals, and Thrix, Werewolf Enchantress, have some important fashion engagements coming up, but the werewolf hunters haven’t forgotten about them, and neither has Princess Kabachetka, Malveria’s deadly rival.”

The above is the author’s  own spirited synopsis of Curse of the Wolf Girl, a follow up to his previous effort Lonely Werewolf Girl, which introduces and follows the tale of  Kalix, the titular lonely werewolf girl, and a cast of gloriously oddball and yet remarkably compelling characters.  Their story – fraught with grunge and gore and violence galore, and underscored by a strange dark humor somehow both sly and ingenuous at once – makes for a gleefully irresistible read.

Martin Millar’s complex series – a veritable lycanthropian soap opera –  features said oddball characters, along with “multiple races, enchanting fashion trappings, business, family dynamics, music, sex, enduring love, romance, business, eating disorders, drug addiction, back-alley fights, epic battles, politics, and, most prominently, the contrary nature of werewolves”.

Millar has also authored The Good Fairies of New York, Suzy Led Zepplin and Me, and The Thraxas series (as Martin Scott) for which he won the World Fantasy Award in 2000.  See after the jump for our Q&A, in which he thoughtfully discusses past and present influences and future endeavors, while hitting The Sex Pistols, Jane Austen and T Rex in between.

Beatriz Martin Vidal: Between Dreams and Reality

First Encounter

A young girl in a scarlet hoodied romper stares gravely up into the heavily furred, ferociously fanged face of a black wolf.  A lesser creature might be shamed by the child’s frank gaze – her features set earnestly, courageously, eyes alight with curiosity, and perhaps, even compassion.

Is the wolf to be deterred by this sweet faced thing, obviously unafraid?  Will it stray from it’s monstrously predictable fairytale course?  No, it is not. Will not.  Cannot — after all, that is what it wolves do, isn’t it?

And before you can blink it has swallowed the girl whole.

But, wait…

Inventor/Sculptor Kim Beaton’s Weta Legs

Kim Beaton and her digitigrade leg extensions. Photo by Dionwrbear.

The booming film industry here in Wellington, New Zealand (a.k.a “Wellywood“) has attracted phenomenal talent from all over the world. Creatives come from as far away as Los Angeles, London, Johannesburg, Vancouver and Tokyo to work on films like District 9, Avatar, and the LotR series. One such transplant is Kim Beaton, a multi-talented artist/inventor from Seattle who was recently hired by Weta Workshop to do conceptual design work on the upcoming Hobbit films.

Kim is a vibrant, intensely focused person who always seems happiest when she has multiple projects in development: large scale sculptures, community arts outreach programs, armor design and production, you name it! She’s also an accomplished inventor. In fact, many of you may already be familiar with one of her patents– last summer, two YouTube videos were posted of Kim striding through downtown Seattle in a pair of startling, stilt-like “reverse leg” extensions. The clips quickly went viral.

Upon arriving here, Kim was encouraged by Richard Taylor (5-time Academy Award winner and co-owner/co-director of the Weta Companies) to continue honing the digilegs’ design in the workshop. After several months of development and fine-tuning, the company is selling Kim’s professional design, now christened Weta Legs, for $945 U.S. dollars a pair. From the official site: “Weta has made many pairs of digitigrade leg extensions in the past for stunt men and creature performers in the movies and on the stage, but this is the first time we can offer [this] leg to anyone.” In fact, it’s the first time any company has put a line of digilegs into mainstream production.

A heads up to performers, costumers, burners, party monsters, cosplayers, designers and filmmakers– this is big. I’ve had the opportunity to test Kim’s prototype myself. They’re incredible. They’re comfortable. They’re FUN. I mean, really, really fun. Watch this instructional video (featuring Kim and a woman who has never been in stilts or extensions of any kind before in her life) to hear and see a bit about why her particular adaptation of the digitigrade concept is so unique and easy to acclimate to wearing.

As far as I know, there’s nothing else remotely like them available on the market. It’s very exciting news for Kim, for her company, and best of all, for all of the non film industry folks out there who can finally own a pair of these. Recently, Kim spoke with me at length about the history of digilegs, as well as her past community collaborations and several other upcoming personal projects. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know this incredible woman and her work as much as I have.

Please describe the Weta Legs. What sets your invention apart from other kinds of stilts or leg extensions?
They have been called the Holy Grail of costuming. How do you build a device that will give a person the backward leg of a dog or horse? They are referred to by all sorts of names: digilegs, digitigrades, faun legs…

What does digitigrade mean?
A digitigrade is an animal that stands or walks on its digits, or toes. But this is not easy to say unless you like tongue twisters, so it was shortened to “digileg”. They’ve also been called “dog legs” or “reverse stilts”. Originally, we called them leg extensions, because they’re not really stilts, but we want to give them one name that is pretty easy to say. Hence, Weta Legs.

Harry Crosby’s Black Sun

Harry Crosby and unidentified woman, Four Arts Ball, Paris

“Yet it was precisely in his character … to invest all his loyalty and energy in magic: at first the approved magic of established religion; later the witchwork of poetry and sun worship; finally the black mass of violence” -Geoffrey Wolf, Author of Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby – self indulgent socialite, tortured poet, wealthy mystic …. a playboy who lived his life with reckless abandon – was a man both adored and reviled. He has been described by some as “a representative figure of the so-called Lost Generation”, the bohemian 1920s.

A godson of J.P. Morgan Jr., Harry was a Harvard graduate and a decorated war veteran, who had left school to become an ambulance driver in France with his upper-crust chums during World War I. He ended up with the Croix de Guerre for valor and, after a few frustrating years back in Boston, fled to Paris for the rest of his short life. Married in 1922 to Mary Phelps Jacob, known as “Caresse”, they lived the “ultimate Bohemian lives as poets, artists, and patrons in Paris in the 1920’s. To every adventure their answer was always ‘yes’.” Harry once sent a telegram from Paris to his father, the quintessential sober, patriarch, which read, “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life.”

While living and writing in Paris Harry Crosby founded The Black Sun Press, one of the “finest small presses of the twentieth century”.   In 1924, the Crosbys went public with their first book. The following year, they each published their first collections of verse. Harry commissioned Alastair – a “spectacularly camp” German creator of beautifully decadent and Gothic fantasies – to illustrate his second collection, Red Skeletons.  Soon they were issuing works by other writers, including Poe, James, Wilde, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence.

Color plate from Red Skeletons, by artist Alastair

On December 10, 1929, Harry was found in bed with a .25 caliber bullet hole in his right temple next to his mistress, the newly married Josephine Bigelow who had a matching hole in her left temple, in an apparent suicide pact. Harry’s toenails were painted red and strange symbols were tattooed between his shoulder blades and on the soles of his feet. A lover of dark mysteries to the last, he left no suicide note. London’s Daily Mirror speculated on psychological motives, while New York’s Daily News blamed poetry and passion: “Death itself had been the motive, others speculated, just as aspiring poet Harry’s life had been his greatest artwork.”

Coilhouse recently caught up with Erik Rodgers, founder of String and a Can Productions, and director of The Black Sun: The Life and Death of Harry Crosby, who provides his own insight into Harry Crosby’s strange, short life and speaks to what makes the man such a fascinating study.

Coilhouse: How did you come to decide Harry Crosby might make good material for a play – what it was about him or his life that inspired you, or what aspect of him you were hoping to shed more light on? How did you come across him to begin with?

Erik Rodgers: I actually came upon Caresse first, while developing a project on Salvador Dalí.  [My business partner] was intrigued by the idea of such an accomplished and independent female from that era, and started researching her life.   Of course as soon as she began reading about Caresse, she discovered Harry as well.  Their story captured her imagination, and she began relating to me some of the details as she read them. We both felt there was something vital and overlooked in their story, something that had been obscured by all the scandal and negative criticism.

Sculpting The Infinite With Kris Kuksi

Please welcome Ales Kot, a writer hailing from the igloos [or was it bear caverns?] of the Czech Republic and now residing in Angel City, USA. In early fall, agent Kot conducted an interview with apocalyptic sculptor Kris Kuksi. This interview was initially meant for Issue 04, but we’ve decided to publish it here instead, in order to give more print real estate to Kris’ incredible work.

Dharma Bovine

COILHOUSE: Your website biography opens with a Lord Byron’s quote: ”When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the world”. What’s your opinion on the current mass fascination with various visions of the apocalypse?
KRIS KUKSI: Mainly because we’re at a tipping point in humanity and I really wonder if we’re going to figure out how to save ourselves from such things as climate change, religious fanaticism, peak oil, and overpopulation. There is much to be learned from history – there are always cycles of growth, prosperity, decline and fall. Right now we have advanced more than ever before and yet we may be beginning to see indication of decline. There certainly is resistance to confronting it with how humanity has set up governments and education. There is a maze of laws and legislations to navigate in order to change things in the world. I believe there is always a dodging of responsibility when it comes down to saving this planet. Rome fell for many reasons and one of those reasons was its involvement in the Middle East, its attempt to conquer and colonize it, with subsequent economic deterioration as a result. Thereafter, barbaric invaders and the rise of religious changes further contributed towards the fall. Do we see parallels in history today? I think it’s obvious.

In the past, you’ve stated that humanity is a “silly, ongoing, short-term memory machine that fails to learn from the past”. What are your thoughts on ways to change this? Can the machine be repaired, and if so, how can it be done?
It certainly can and the word of the day is “choice”. We have all the power in our hands, minds, and might to educate and and learn and remember what history tells us. There is a decline in education in the industrial world because man has to answer to the machine before inquiry. We have based our lives on serving these machines of industry and forget to observe the results, which are those things that harm life on the planet in many ways.

Caravan Assault Apparatus