What's Looking Back at You?
By Mike Fitzpatrick (The Wrapper Magazine,issue #226)
Let's have a show of hands: Is there anyone here who has not made the creepiest face they could, standing in front of a mirror? I have, but it's probably easier for me than most. One of my best friends in grammar school could make the most incredibly hideous faces ever seen on a human head. Thing is, she actually turned out to be quite pretty.
It seems we've always had a fascination for the unusual visage. The first stick figure drawn in dirt probably had it's tongue sticking out and an arrow through it's head.
I guess every monster movie, magazine or set of cards has, at it's core, that same fascination with the strange or grotesque.
Over the years, there have been only a few card sets with a focus on monstrous faces. The earliest depictions of this kind, that I'm aware of, appeared in the "Terror Monster" series in 1963. Of the 64 first series cards, 9 were sketchy drawings depicting generic monster types. These were followed a couple of years later by the first "Ugly Stickers". These were a mix of full creature and head shots and this formula was repeated again in the '73 and '76 releases. More recently (Is 1999 recent any more?) the two series of "Morbid Monsters"were a lot of fun.
Being a monster card collector myself, I'm always happy to see something new come along to fill the void . Especially if it's an art set. Arriving any day now will be the latest release from Kurt Kuersteiner's Monsterwax.
It's called Monsterfaces, and it will include a 72 card set with enough strangeness
to satisfy the most "died"-in-the-wool monster fan. According to Kurt, each box (limited to 166 total) will contain about three base sets. In addition, there will be one sketch/signature card with an original color
sketch from Monsterfaces creator Frank Russo. One Monsterwax Metal card which is a one-of-a-kind print plate. One artist DNA card - just the kind of frighteningly innovative extra we've come to expect from
Monsterwax. Also included will be one Prize Card which will be redeemable for Frank's comics, T-shirts with images from the card set and even original art. With only 166 boxes being produced, a box purchase would have a pretty good chance of netting something really cool. There may also be a couple of promo cards to inform and delight.
I was pleased to receive an early review set which contained most of the above mentioned card items. I've also seen scans of the box which is a colorful, eye-grabbing piece of work. The front of each card has a single face. The first thing I noticed were the vibrant colors used in both the illustrations and the "psychedelic" backgrounds. These images are "edgier" than any of the previously mentioned art sets. New York artist Frank Russo painted most of these faces as 8 ½ X 11 pieces and "put them on digitally recreated backgrounds to give them some extra pop". I'll say! Each of these has a very distinct feel to it, ranging from cartoony to really creepy. To be honest, even the cartoony faces are a bit creepy... and I mean that in a good way. Each "monster face" is titled with an appropriate name. The backs are a whole other thing. Each of these "pen and ink comic strips" is a starkly complex piece. It should be said that some of these are definitely adult oriented material. Think "underground" comics and you'll be in the ballpark. These don't relate directly to the faces on the front but will certainly give you an eye-full.
I was fortunate to catch up (via email) with Frank and I asked him a bit about the cards and other things
Q -Frank, how did you get together with Kurt at Monsterwax?
"I had already done a few cards and was considering my options. I knew that [major company name] was not for me. After talking with Kurt I knew Monsterwax was the way to go. He is really down to earth and trustworthy. I would rather go with a company who cares about producing quality product than with a huge conglomerate that holds money before integrity."
Q - I have the stylized MF logo from your website as my desktop (my initials). What do the letters actually stand for?
"That would be Martina and Frank. My wife and I are MF Gallery. We have an art gallery in NYC's lower east side where we show the work of lesser known talent, along with some of the "low grow scenes" biggest names."
Q - Are you into collecting trading cards?
"Oh hell yeah. Still do Garbage Patch Kids, Wacky Packages, Kiss, some Star Wars"
Q - How about horror movies?
"Absolutely I'm obsessed with them. I favor the late 60s and 70s stuff, both Foreign and American.
Q - The backs of the Monsterfaces cards are like comic book panels. Were these done to relate specifically to the characters depicted on the fronts?
"Not specifically, but you might see a few. It's like it's own universe. That's not to say it's a small [universe], but you might see some one more than once. It just depends on where the spotlight is, if you get my meaning."
Q - A few of these comic strips are pretty racy. Are you worried that some people may be put off by this?
"I certainly don't want to upset anyone. I think if someone thinks of me as a fascist or a caveman or something, that it says a lot about them. But I'm certainly not [like that]. Quentin Tarantino said something like "there is no they" in reference to, like a dominating social public opinion about one's art."
Q - When you look at a wood panel door or wallpaper print, do you see bizarre images and if so, have they ever translated to your artwork?
"If something is a vague interpretation, like ink blots, it's all subconscious. I've always been aware of that so I don't think I've ever derived something directly from a wood panel. I have seen some f'd up stuff in wood panels before. I did a lot of that in grade school. The teacher would be talking about who knows what, and I would be in another world completely. It's being an [artist] that allows me to invite others to share this world with me. I've always imagined it as building a doorway. The more I create, the more my fantasy world becomes accessible to others.
Sharing these thing brings me inner piece and I hope to make others happy with it."
Well... if anyone's looking for me, I'll be in front of a mirror, practicing some of these faces. Somebody stop me.
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