MICHAEL BUKOWSKI "Visionary of the Unspeakable"

By Dr. Abner Mality

All artists seek to bring to life things that cannot be put strictly into words. But Michael Bukowski takes it to a different level. His quest is to illustrate the unknowable and the indescribable, things which haven't properly been put into words. He is embarked on a project to draw every weird creature found in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft and his literary friends.

Mr. Bukowski is not merely illustrating the "big guns" of the Mythos like Cthulhu himself but every single weird creature, no matter how obscure or minor. This is a mighty task, especially since Lovecraft's descriptions of his monsters are so vague and indistinct. It's a task Michael relishes and his body of work is already of prodigious size.

He also does macabre and fantastic illustrations for bands and his art has graced many an album cover. You can check out his incredible body of work at Last Chance Illustrations and the Yog-Blogsoth blog.

What motivates a man to delve into the unnameable and unspeakable? Read on and learn more, O seekers of darkness...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Which interest came first in your life…art or monsters?

MICHAEL BUKOWSKI: I'd say they both arose simultaneously. I was enamored with sharks and dinosaurs as a kid and owned lots of books on both subjects. I also would draw from those book religiously. I don't know if you would count dinosaurs and sharks as monsters but I do. It was a short jump from the natural monsters to the movie monster versions of both: Jaws and Godzilla.

WC: Was your love of horror illustration something you had to hide? Or was it encouraged and nurtured by others?

MB: I was really lucky. My mom was super supportive and would always buy me colored pencils, crayons and notebooks when I was really young and then sketch pads and mechanical pencils when I was older. My uncle would always buy me art supplies for holidays as well.

WC: What story or movie started your obsession with Lovecraft and associated authors?

MB: It wasn't a story actually. It was Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be"! I was obsessed with that song and the mythology it referenced. I later found out it was inspired by HPL and read The Best Of H.P.Lovecraft (Del Rey) with the sick Michael Whelan cover (that Obituary later used for Cause Of Death) and was hooked! I was really drawn to the bizarre creatures in his stories but most of all by the interconnectivity. Even as a kid, I got a kick out of it when the Necronomicon was mentioned in multiple stories or a great old one or creature popped up over and over.

WC: What led to your decision to illustrate every weird creature described in the Cthulhu mythos? Is it a project you will ever finish or will it forever be unattainable?

MB: Well, it started on a trip to Edinburgh with my little brother. I was rereading "At the Mountains Of Madness" (my personal favorite) and was trying to figure out what the Elder Things looked like. The description of them is three paragraphs long and filled with anatomical minutia. So, I pulled out a pocket sketch book and started doodling. Later, I saw other people's versions of them, and was like, "Oh, that's cool but not how I interpreted that description."

It still wasn't a "project" at that point, but a few months later I was rereading "The Dream-Quest "and came across the names Wamp and Voonith. I looked those up those creatures and couldn't find any illustrations. I kept thinking that there are tons of depictions of Cthulhu and the Great Race but no one pays attention to these really obscure monsters in the mythos. That's when I came up with the idea. Originally, it wasn't even to do everything. It was just to do some of the more obscure deities and creatures. I had a show in Philly that was 20 drawings and a proto-type of what would become my Illustro Obscurum zines. I had so much fun doing it, I decided to start a blog where I posted them and drew them all. And I've been working on it ever since.

As far as if it will ever end...It's possible. My original goal was to just do the creatures HPL named or described and I'm almost done with that. There are seven deities, one Great Old One and two creatures left on that list. In an effort to include other cool creatures and writers, I've started doing two separate kinds of posts. I do birthday posts (where I'll draw a creature from a story by someone who's contributed to Weird Fiction and that I really like on their birthday) and the Nyarlathotep posts (the idea behind that is HPL stated that Nyarlathotep has a thousand forms, so I asked modern authors to write a brief description of what they imagine it to look like and then I illustrate it).

WC: What is the chief difficulty in bringing the creatures of the Mythos to life? Many of them are vaguely described…deliberately!

MB: That's not the difficult part, that's the fun part! I love sitting there trying to figure out what parts of what go where or how do I illustrate this concept in my style.

WC: Is there one artist that influenced you more than any other in your work?

MB: No, but there are a lot of artists I like. Dan Seagrave, Ed Repka, Charles Burns, Geof Darrow, Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, Alan Brown, Skinner, Sam Heimer, Jeanne D'Angelo, Jenn Woodall, Nick Gucker, Trevor Henderson, Justin Gray, Liz Prince, Paul Romano, Jeremy Hush, James Groman, Dilek Baykara to name a few.

WC:I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but in the late 70’s there was a book called “Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials” where Wayne Barlowe tried to do authentic illustrations of various aliens. Your work reminds me of his. Do you know of the book?

MB: I LOVE Wayne Barlowe. I own the Guide To Extraterrestrials, Guide To Fantasy, Inferno and Alien Life!

WC: Is there one creature you’ve drawn that you consider your favorite? And why?

MB: this point I've don over 300 drawings so it's hard to say. I'm almost always psyched on what I've just drawn and tend to only see the flaws in my old work. So, the weeks worth of monsters I did for Ramsey Campbell's birthday are my favorites right now. In a year though, I'll probably want to throw them away. That's why there are so many redrawings on my blog.

WC: You also draw a lot of beings from ancient mythology. Which mythology inspires you the most?

MB: Well, that was basically because I thought to myself "I did say EVERY god HPL mentioned" and Anubis is certainly a god. Not only that but I was getting a bit tired of drawing amorphous tentacled monstrosities and the Old World Gods were a welcome break from that. Since then, I've learned a lot about world mythology. Lovecraft was super into the Greek/Roman pantheon but he also tapped into Inuit, Aboriginal, Norse and Biblical mythologies.

WC: Do you think man is losing touch with his mythological roots in this technological age?

MB: I don't know. I think that maybe the technological age is causing people to flee back to their mythological roots.

WC: Have you ever done any album or CD covers? Or been asked to illustrate a comic?

MB: No comics, but I actually did  and still do record covers for bands. Mostly punk and hardcore bands.

WC: Is there one subject you haven’t portrayed yet that you would be dying to take a crack at?

MB: I want to draw Humbaba really badly. He's a giant from Sumerian mythology that has intestines for a face! HPL never mentions him though, but I mayyyyy have found a way to shoe horn him into the mythos :)

WC: I understand you are quite the metal fan. Who are some of your favorite bands?

MB: Yeah, my dad was really into metal and got me into Metallica and Iron Maiden when I was SUPER young. Then when I got into high school I started discovering heavier stuff. I was a huge death metal fan. I tended to gravitate towards stuff with cool art. If it had a Dan Seagrave cover I was there. Monstrosity, Gorguts, Benediction, Hypocrisy. I was also into Cannibal Corpse because, fuck...Vince Locke is amazing. Nowadays, I've been really into Bitch, Lizzies, SubRosa, Magic Circle, Cardinal Wyrm, Bölzer, Blaze Of Perdition and Huntress.

WC:  Do you play music or have any activities outside of the artistic work?

MB: I don't play music. I do really like to travel, though. I've been to every continent. I like going to weird festivals around the world or traveling to see weird dead stuff (ossuaries, relics, incorruptibles, mummies).

WC: What’s your opinion of today’s horror? Does it hold a candle to the old masters like Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith?

MB: Right now, there's kind of a Weird Fiction/Horror Fiction revival. If not in popularity, then in quality. Authors like Laird Barron, Molly Tanzer, Gemma Files, Scott Nicolay, Simon Strantzas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Orrin Grey, John Langan, have all been writing amazing stuff. And I think it not only holds a candle to but sometimes outshines the 30's Weird Tales crew. If for nothing else then that they've retained the bleak nihilism but excised the creepy racism and sexism.

WC: Do you have any other projects in mind outside of horror/mythological illustration?

MB: Well, I still do freelance illustration but I'm more excited that I've also started putting out zines by my friends (who are amazing artists) that are based on other Horror/Weird Fiction authors.

The first one was Alan Brown's "I See A Shadow Coming" that was based on the work of M.R. James. The second is going to be an as-of-yet unnamed zine by Jeanne D'Angelo based on the horror stories of Nikolai Gogol and the third will be another as-of-yet unnamed zine by Sam Heimer based on The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.

I'm also working on a Ramsey Campbell themed volume of Illustro Obscurum that will be available at NecronomiCon this year. As well as a collaboration project with Jason McKittrick based around Nyarlathotep.

WC: If you could ask any 3 people from history to dinner, who would they be?

MB: Hecate, Circe and Isis. I don't care if they're not real.

WC. What would be your advice to any aspiring artist of the strange?

MB: It's very hard to make a living doing this. So do it because you love it and if you love it don't wait to make a ton of money. I would still be doing this if no one followed by blog or my instagram.