niedziela, 22 kwietnia 2012

Interview with Jonathan Wojcik - writer, cartoonist and creator of The Insidious Bogleech

Hello and welcome all English-using readers after a short hiatus. As You may suspect, I'm back with the  fresh interview for You. And it's a chat with very unique creator. You may know him from ultrapopular comedy website Cracked or from Tv Tropes (he's also operating under the alias Scythemantis), but if You don't know the name Jonathan Wojcik or You only associate word "bogleech" with bloodsucking creature from some dirty pond, it's about time to discover the world of creepy, cool and crazy creatures that my guest is creating on his very fun and full of diverse content personal site.

Jonathan Wojcik loves bugs (and since that term is not exactly precise, please assume that it means not only insects, but also worms, parasitic life forms, undersea critters, snails, spiders and all other kind of things small, spineless and strange looking). Jonathan Wojcik also loves monsters. All kind of them - from video game creatures to the weird spirits of Japanese folklore. But Jonathan not only loves them - he has immense knowledge about everything biology and monster-related and he likes to share it and also uses it as the basis of his own artistic creations. Oh, and everything he does is filled with bizarre imagery, eccentric and absurdistic humor, shout outs to all kinds of tasty popculture works and... healthy (or unhealthy, depending on Your preferences) dose of body horror, mutations and all the kinds of creepy crawlers.

On his site, The Insidious Bogleech, You'll find the vast and still updated article section - divided between articles about biology and Monster Reviews, which take the reader on tour through all kinds of fantastic creatures in popculture. Then there is Mortasheen - his advanced project of creating a world based on Pokemon genre conventions (and setting of the future RPG game), but darker and perhaps a little disturbing for some, but also fun and very imaginative. You'll also find pretty cool, funny in the inteligent way webcomic and collection of strange cartoons made in Flash. And many more - Jonathan does a lot of things and all of them are really cool and interesting for every nerd that loves horror, strange creatures and weird stuff. There is purposefully lame creepypasta collection (and it's worth to note that Jonathan created one of the most know stupid creepypastas of the Internet - TEH DAY OF ALL TEH BLOD), the massive archive of retro video game monster sprites, store where You can buy for example the geniune and literal Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book, and.... well, it is best to see for Yourdself. And all the things mentioned are really worth Your time and interest, I guarantee that.

So we're past introductions and on to the main dish - the interview with creator himself!

Loose auto-depiction of Jonathan Wojcik

Hello and welcome to the Net is Nerdy guest corner. So let’s start with the first question. Sorta back to the basics one. When I observe Your all diverse work presented on and other sites, I can see clearly that You have two main passions – fictional and mythological monsters of many kinds (but those more deformed and unusual, I guess) and creations of nature – insects, parasites, microorganisms and other kinds of invertebrate life forms. But I wonder – what was first? Love for the monsters or love for the real creatures that most people consider odd or disgusting? Or maybe those fascinations developed simultaneously?

It was definitely simultaneous, I just loved any sort of creature as a child, and can remember referring to all fictional ones as “critters.” I wanted to know as many of them as possible. I'd buy books about animals and books about mythology, I'd watch movies like Star Wars and Labyrinth and try to draw every single monster and alien that went by.

I was never specifically drawn to things people find creepy; I actually didn't even know that most people disliked insects or spiders until I started going to school, and it really shocked me. It still does!

You are also a massive fan of body horror, clearly. Its present in Your comics (You’ve even, out of humorous self-awareness, pointed out that Your comics are all the same, because nearly always some gross mutation of human – and not only human – body pops out from one of characters J), albeit mostly in absurd and eccentric humor context, but You like it in darker and more horrorish creations as well, as evidenced by things presented in Your horror and monster-related articles, such as Halloween specials. I’m very curious – what in Your opinion makes people fascinated with gruesome transformations of their own biological form? Is this simply the case of alternative aesthetic preferences, in vein of “freaky is fun/interesting” or something more?

I think it plays on the most primal fears in the human mind. Nobody wants their own body to turn on them, or be stricken with a disease nobody can cure or even identify. At the same time though, deviations from the norm can be fun and exciting. Mutant monsters tend to be sympathetic and cool to a lot of people because they're something unique and different, but at the same time, not everybody would want to be in their position. The same can be seen in real people like the “elephant man” and the modern “tree man,” who are almost celebrities for their horrific but amazing afflictions.

Most of the things You do have educational purpose in addition to just delivering creepy entertainment. One can find this undercurrent in Your comics and cartoons (they’re filled with popculture, biology, science and similar references, so merely to enjoy them people need to have some knowledge and, well, think), as well as in Your articles. But don’t You think sharing knowledge online, in Internet-friendly style, can be tricky? Let’s take the x-of-something list form – so popular on Internet. Sure, lots of interesting stuff can be shown that way and people may want to know more about the listed things – I, for example, learned many things from seemingly purely humorous Cracked and actually enjoyed digging deeper for more. But nearly as often I’m reading the list quickly, thinking “yeah, that’s pretty cool” and then I move on without giving it more thought. Do You think absorption of educational elements by online readers can be in lots of cases really shallow, only mindless procrastination?

That's just how it goes with information in general...we forget a lot of things, but we retain a lot of others if they strike the right chord with us. People are exposed to a huge volume of new facts these days, but I think in the long run it only stands to expand our overall awareness of how cool the world is, even when we keep moving on to more and more information.

The Monster Review and variety section of Your site can take the reader on the really awesome tour through diverse examples of creepiness, from video games to old cartoons, from Junji Ito to Dungeons & Dragons. You’re clearly well-versed in everything that is gruesome, disturbing and haunting in popculture. So I wonder – if You were to shrink Your favorite creepy stuff to just, for example, five works/artists, what would be Your choice? What are the most important to You or simply the best creepy works out there?

Just for myself, Dungeons & Dragons, The Real Ghostbusters, the art of Norman Saunders, Gegege no Kitarou, and Junji Ito. As far as creepy things go, those probably influenced my art the most, but there are others with not as creepy of a vibe as well; Star Wars was hugely important to me as a child, and Pokemon became a big inspiration later. It'd be really hard to narrow everything down completely.

Let’s move to Mortasheen – one of the most known things You’ve created. One thing is very interesting for me. Mortasheen is a creepy, horror-filled spin on “mon” genre of anime/video games, mostly on Pokemon. But You did interesting change of this genre conventions, which are present even in deconstructions and gruesome takes on “mon” formula. Most of them, even depressingly dark like Narutaru or grotesque and bloody for sake of pastiche, like Pokethulu, maintain the human trainer/servant creature balance in one way or another. In Your world, the “trainers” are as much deformed, unhuman and weird as the creatures they’re using (as pretty much whole Mortasheen world is like that). How did You came up with this idea?

I'm naturally biased enough towards monsters that I honestly didn't even think about it, it's just how I think of everything. Even when I come up with human or human-like characters I tend to give them a lot of nonhuman elements; I think my only completely human character is Dan, in my old flash cartoons, but he's kind of creepy anyway.

When browsing the monster gallery of Mortasheen, one can easily see that in terms of monster design You are all for originality and creativity, with good results. The same may be said about Your preferences in fictional and folklore monsters, as well as in bugs and other real life creatures. On the other hand, nothing is 100% original and most of the monsters will be based on something – for example on those animals You write a lots about. In Your opinion, what are the key factors that contribute to the designing of a well-done, original monster, maintaining the balance between inspiration and creativity?

When you break it down into its barest details, any given concept – a monster, a person, a world – starts out a pastiche of things the creator has seen before. The key is just taking things that you like and finding ways to combine them into something that feels new and different, but still carries the appeal of its components.

I think the most important element of a design, however, is personality. Even if the basic concept is something everybody is familiar with, the personality it conveys can make a world of difference. Just look at vampires; it became a tired, cartoon stereotype for vampires to look and act like Bela Lugosi's Dracula, but it was only imitated that much because, at one time, it was brand new. He brought a personality to vampires that audiences hadn't seen at the time, even though they had seen plenty of other vampires.

Mortasheen world is the place where lots of monsters and life forms are created artificially, with organic or semi-organic constructions in the mons roster. Are You interested in biology – growing artificial life forms, bioimplants and biomodification, genetic manipulation and such – or is it only a element of popculture incorporated into Your setting just for entertainment, like alien vampires or undead creatures?

Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to see mankind create new life forms. I get excited every time I hear about new developments in biotechnology; human-animal hybrid embryos, robots controlled by living tissue cultures...I have no ethical qualms with any of it, I'm eager to see how far it goes in my lifetime. With any luck, maybe I'll live to see this kind of technology cure world hunger, repair the environment or put an end to cancer....or allow me to upload my mind into a giant mechanical spider, anyway.

You also own and expand a vast collection of monster sprites from various retro video games. How much time You spend on playing them, because judging from the sheer amount of pixilated boogeymen You present, I would say a lot? And since we are talking about old gaming stuff – recently there are more and more people looking back to 8-bit and 16-bit era of video games and taking the aesthetic, mechanics and classic look to make their own works and art. Do You think that nostalgic retro gaming style can be considered the universal “language” of older generation of Internet users, one that is widely recognized and utilized?

It was so time consuming, I actually stopped doing it a few years back...I think the last game I tried to collect sprites from was in 2008, and in a computer crash I lost all my progress. Now I prefer to devote that time to my own original ideas, but people still love the sprite pages and I have plans to one day update and improve them. 

As a child I loved the worlds and creatures in video games much more than the games themselves, and used to dream of designing my own one day...though I still haven't had that opportunity, it's become easier than ever for people to make their own original games and I'm glad gamers still appreciate such a wide variety of artistic styles. People have realized that what really makes a good game is fun and imagination, not just life-like graphics and production values.

You’re pretty known on Tv Tropes, and You’re to extent active user… sorry, should I say Troper? Clearly featuring Mortasheen on Tv Tropes also helped to promote it – hell, I’ve found Your works that way! ;) How had You found this peculiar wiki site and what do You thing is the appeal of recognizing and making catalogue of common elements of fiction? And do You think that kind of site can be good for promoting Your work? After all seeing his own creation being broken down to base parts and showed to the world as example of some trick used many times before can be sometimes not too pleasant for the creator, I suppose…

I don't remember how I first discovered Tv's kind of hard not to stumble upon it if you're a fan of just about anything, but I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it. You can learn so many new things and see old favorites through new eyes, but you also run into a lot of entries apparently written by lunatics, and it's a notorious time waster. I don't think there's anything wrong with breaking works down into common themes really; I even discovered some new series through the tropes people assigned to my ideas.

And one last question, one that must be asked, because the interview will be published on Polish blog. The surname “Wojcik” definitely sounds familiar, so I reckon You have Polish roots, correct?

Yes, but so many generations back that I'm not entirely sure if I have any Polish blood left in me or not! It's a cool name to have in the states, even if most people I meet have difficulty pronouncing it. One person thought it was pronounced “Woz-ni-ak,” so I've used that once or twice as an alias.

Thanks for the interview, it surely turned out very interesting and it was my pleasure! And may Your works spread even more awesomeness and love for everything disturbingly beautiful in the future! 

Thank you! They were all really fun questions that had me thinking pretty hard on my answers!


And, for all interested in Jonathan's work, some useful links:

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