By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The last monster comes to life in the wee hours of the morning. Stefan Bucher squirts a dab of black ink onto paper. He hits it with a blast of compressed air. Twists the paper here and there. Soon, he sees it. A jawbone. He starts to draw. The splotch of ink grows wings, a ruffly tail. A beak like a toucan’s protrudes — yellow, gargantuan, perverse. Then a reptile eye. Within seconds, all the monster trademarks are in place.
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
Seeing daylight: Nighttime monster maker Stefan Bucher
For the past year, Bucher has videotaped himself drawing monsters. The videos, 199 of them, are archived on his Web site, dailymonster.com. This new toucan-beaked critter, Monster 200, is the last of the “daily” monsters for a while. They’ll be going on hiatus while Bucher develops their cousins into an animated TV segment for 2009’s rebooted Electric Company on PBS. His work is also collected in the book 100 Days of Monsters.
As the sun sets, Bucher stretches, like he’s just completed a 10K run around the sleepy out-pocket of Pasadena where he lives and works. His studio is situated in what he calls “the retirement community,” because lots of old people live there (he’s 34) and there is a general air of lassitude about the place, with fountains and gentle slopes of perfectly trimmed grass, like the suburban subdivision in that X Files episode where the mutant garbage creature lumbers up at night from the sewers to kill people who don’t comply with neighborhood-association rules. Bucher would get killed for sure. He keeps a squadron of flamingos up around the house “to secure the perimeter.”
Some of Bucher’s monsters are happy. Some are sad. Others are crustaceans. The last 60 or so all but demanded extravagant footwear. This very last one spells out “Thank you” with its wings in semaphore. Certain monsters are superstars. Like the Christmas monster with five mouths, each of which sings. Bucher recorded himself in a closet singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”: “eleven boils for lancing!”
The monsters take 15 minutes to a half-hour each to draw. It’s the shoes that take up the bulk of the time. Also the teeth.
“Oh, then they got gums,” Bucher says, “really healthy black gums.” After a few moments of staring and turning the paper here and there, he’ll see something in the ink that would make a great nostril. Then again, there are blots where he doesn’t see anything at all.
A monster leaks across the page, its belly swollen with ink. Bucher draws each monster upside down, facing the camera mounted on his desk. His viewers are 4-year-olds. Or 30-year-olds. Or seniors. There’s a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. Moms report that the sound of the black felt-tip marker scratching on paper lulls babies to sleep.
“The puddle thinks that the world was created for it because it fits into the hole perfectly,” is how Bucher explains the act of seeing monsters in the drop of ink.
Around the time Bucher posted monster No. 3 on the Web, someone asked, “What is it called?”
“I don’t know,” Bucher wrote back. “You tell me.”
People wrote in stories about the monsters and constructed interconnected narratives around them. The monsters are Rorschach blots for Bucher, but they also become Rorschach blots for his viewers. People see what they are predisposed to see.
“Good Lord!” writes one viewer, “That’s no monster! That’s my Uncle Jaques! He’s 61, lives in Northern Minnesota, has a house-painting business, chain-smokes and drinks Old Milwaukee.”
“I knew it,” writes someone else. “My dad’s eyebrow has finally walked off on its own.”Birth of the LA Weekly Cover Monster
What kind of guy draws a monster every day? Bucher leads a lifestyle that some might classify as monstrous. Or, at the very least, vampiric. When the rest of the city is sleeping, he is drawing, from midnight to 4 a.m. He reasons, “Drawing is a monastic activity, on a straight line from illuminating manuscripts. Drawing a monster a day every day for 100 consecutive days? It becomes a stamina question.”
Bucher’s monastery, though, is open to the world, and people complain if no monster appears on time. It’s their morning coffee or lunch break.
For a while, his days consisted of a triangle he walked between his desk, classes at Art Center and Ralphs. Now, it’s more of a line: from his desk ... to Ralphs. He draws. He gets up to buy a salad at 1:30 a.m. from the 24-hour grocery store. He goes home. He draws some more.
“Oh yeah, Linda, Roxanne, Felipe and Joe,” he says of the grocery clerks, “I gave them all copies of the book. I’ve been going there for 15 years. They are the meaningful relationships in my life, the checkers at Ralphs.”
Then there’s the thing with the numbers. “I’m almost at 344 of them. The monsters, I mean. Everything has to be in multiples of 344.”
His studio is located at the intersection of the 134 and 210 freeways (which add up to 344). When he goes to the gas station, he has to fill his tank so the total stops at a palindromic number, like $34.43.
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