"I hope that there continues to be a thriving species of comics that deals in more substantive and subversive adult content as showcased in the alternative and/or underground comic movement and an interest and support in that sort of sequential art."
Paul Lapusan: Creepy & Grotesque Art
Paul Lapusan is an artist living and working in Saint Louis, MO. He graduated from and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Saint Louis University in 2011. His work has been featured and/or won awards/honorable mention in shows at Saint Louis University, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Clayton Art Fair, and Koken Art Factory. He has designed promotional and set materials for the Saint Louis University production of Bat Boy the Musical, and the Peabody Opera House production of American Idiot. His primary focus is pen and ink drawing done with a rapidograph pen, however he also works with water color and sculpture.
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What experiences have triggered your ideas most frequently?
I’d say it’s the everyday quotidian experiences I have with modern society that inform and trigger my ideas the most. Specifically the irritation and outrage that is generated in me in reaction to authority figures, bosses, excessively loud, obnoxious commercials broadcasted on television, corporate graffiti and spam plastered everywhere (i.e. adverts, billboards and so on). The sharp, eye-piercing nature of florescent lighting that is virtually omnipresent in every store, workplace, school, etc. The forced and staged modes of communication that certain politicians employ in an attempt to maintain their seeming-legitimacy, e.g. pres. Obama’s mechanical “business man” speech patterns with the obvious occasional folksy deviation. The low-quality, fluffy, popcorn-laced commodified dreck regularly cranked out by Hollywood that is passed off as film art. An economic system that allows vast amounts of perfectly consumable food to be squandered because it fails to fulfill its mission as an exchange value (i.e. not sold for a profit in the market) and thus is wasted as an edible use value in the face of much poverty and food insecurity (Could you imagine anything more insane? Thanks capitalism!). There’s plenty of annoying and irritating features of the corporate mono-culture we currently inhabit that can fuel and inspire creativity (not to mention the reverse effect of crushing/stifling one’s creative impulses). The absurdity and irrationality of advanced-capitalist American society is legion and formidable.
"Counterculture means a manner of operating in your daily life and/or holding and expressing ideas that counter or are contrary to the standard mainstream culture that is cultivated, normalized, entrenched and perpetuated by the capitalist establishment." (Artwork © by Paul Lapusan)
What characterize Paul Lapusan’s artwork?
Who is this Paul Lapusan of which you speak and how can I most effectively avoid him?!? He sounds like a creep… *cue canned laughter* …But seriously I’d say my work has a general creepy, occasionally grotesque, intense, kinetic quality. I’ve always been attracted to the darker, not-so-cutesy, psychotic mode of cartooning and doodling. The animated cartoon Ren and Stimpy had a huge influence on me as a 90’s kid brought up on cable TV. The kinetic quality is the result of the heavy use of lines and cross-hatching which conveys a sense of movement.
What has been the relationship between music & literature in your life and art?
Well, there certainly is some sort of connection between my musical taste and my aesthetic. I was brought up watching the film adaptation of the Who’s rock opera Tommy directed by Ken Russell. That flick is a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears. It’s rich with psychedelic eye candy and religious symbolism. That had a major influence on my taste in art. Later on during my high school years I found myself attracted to punk rock which had its own fast-paced, gritty, rebellious and in your face quality that I couldn’t resist all of which has a certain continuity with my general perspective and disposition. As for literature I’ve been immersed in radical leftist, i.e. socialist and anarchist, readings since my mid-college years and that definitely plays a role in shaping my art. I’ve been compiling notes and short little essays and rants here and there that I plan on translating into drawing and/or comic book format. As of late I’ve been working on a pretty ambitious comic project entitled ‘A 9/11 Thought Experiment’ that deals with US imperialism in South America, Chile, Salvador Allende and President Nixon. I’m currently in the throes of struggling to complete that. So, yes, I’ve had to consult the historical and documentary record in preparation for composing essay style comic pieces. Long term projects I have in mind are graphic novel adaptations of the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark, Upton Sinclair’s the Jungle, and possibly a re-imagining of Pinocchio that would shift the focus of the story to the Geppetto character.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of comic?
I hope that there continues to be a thriving species of comics that deals in more substantive and subversive adult content as showcased in the alternative and/or underground comic movement and an interest and support in that sort of sequential art. I hope that comics continue to be accessible in tangible format. There’s something much more charming and satisfying about having a physical comic in the grip of your own two hands that you can feel and smell.
Sure the internet is good for sharing info and reaching a wider audience but I’d prefer to read comics without staring at a computer screen or tablet.
Artwork © by Paul Lapusan / Andy Warhol
What do you miss most nowadays from the comic of past?
I miss the standard old format of comics composed of a simple glossy multi-color cover with black and white newsprint innards. Take a look at Mad Magazine. I remember Mad Mag in the 90’s still printed in that format and then slowly but surely the corporate adverts found their way into the publication, then they started making color strips a regular feature with the disgusting glossy pages. *shudders* There’s nothing more satisfying than coming across back issues of Mad Mag from the 90’s or prior thereto in used media stores. I’ve got a collection of old Mads that predate my birth as well as the collection I accumulated during my youth. I know the question said ‘comic’ but Mad Mag is more or less a humor comic and originally was presented in traditional comic book format. That first issue of Mad is really iconic. I highly recommend tracking down a reprint of the original ‘Tales Calculated to Drive You...Mad’ featuring the vertical subtitle, "Humor in a Jugular Vein" if you haven’t seen it yet. I just like older styles of character design and comic booking in general. You can find some contemporary artists that have a sharp grasp of that retro style of drawing that to me is a definitive characteristic of ‘real’ comics, namely Dan Clowes comes to mind. Newer mainstream super hero comics generally look terrible to me. They’ll have a decent piece of art composed for the cover to lure you in, then the art on the inside pages are subpar or the coloring is really obviously digi-coloring and oversaturated where it resembles a crappy Michael Bay movie or something. I’ll take an older DC or Marvel over any of the newer stuff merely for the aesthetic alone, putting to the side the writing and storytelling.
What do you learn about yourself from the underground culture and what does counterculture mean to you?
I learn that there is a whole subculture of like minded people that share a natural contrarian or rebellious disposition. And it’s really pleasing to know that there are other people out there that hold a more or less similar perspective as your own especially when you feel like a marginalized alien weirdo amongst more common types that occupy the dominant agenda-setting culture. Seriously, sometimes I feel as though I was dropped off from some alien planet. It’s pretty depressing. Counterculture means a manner of operating in your daily life and/or holding and expressing ideas that counter or are contrary to the standard mainstream culture that is cultivated, normalized, entrenched and perpetuated by the capitalist establishment.
"I’d like to go back to Vincent van Gogh’s day when he was in his prime and ask him what he’d think of becoming a pop culture icon after his death, loved by many as the clichéd eccentric artist, transformed into an art supplies brand/logo, and last but not least that his paintings would not only sell but for insane amounts of money." (Photo: Paul Lapusan in his studio)
What are the lines that connect the legacy of counterculture comics of 60s with the new generation of artists?
Well, that’s a semi daunting question that might require more knowledge than I possess of the current scene in order to provide an adequate answer. Allow me to preface my answer… my main interests as far as the undergrounds of the heyday are concerned are R. Crumb’s groundbreaking work, his comrade Spain Rodriguez’s work and then the comics written by Harvey Pekar (RIP to Spain and Pekar). I’m particularly obsessed with Daniel Clowes of the second generation of alternative comic artists. Clowes’ earlier work in Eightball is phenomenal and his newer work is very subtle, mature and thoughtful. I’ve enjoyed a bit of Peter Bagge’s Hate as well. Jim Woodring’s illustration is outstanding. Joan Cornellà is quite possibly the best artist of the internet humor meme age which regularly makes the rounds on FB. I'm very jealous of his work. I love the snarky bitterness. So, to attempt to answer the question, I’d say that my general impression is that the line that draws continuity between the early undergrounds and the newer generation is a philosophical approach to art making, i.e. a radical dedication to total creative and artistic freedom and expression. Not holding back and letting the id loose unfettered by any societal pressures to wreak havoc on the page, in the panels and through the text. A general spirit of brutal honesty and radical freedom seems to characterize the entirety of underground comix.
If you could change one thing in the comic world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Only one…?! This might be boring but bring back the older paper on which they print the comics and eliminate the glossy paper. No more glossy pages. They’re banned. Thus spake Paulathustra!
What is the impact of comic (and general of art) to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications? Self-portrait © by Paul Lapusan
Well, it’s difficult to objectively measure the precise impact that comics in particular and art in general has on racial politics, governmental politics and socio-cultural affairs. However, I think one can safely say that art has the capacity to convey political and other messages on a very gut, visceral, immediate level. I think comics especially at their best are really effective in leaving a lasting impression on the reader as they are communicated not only through typically simple wording and text (though not necessarily) but through simplified cartoon drawing that is instantly relatable and intuitively understandable to the common, lay person. In a short documentary entitled Nostalgia and Paranoia (that is up on YouTube if you’re interested) Daniel Clowes said something to the effect that this is what he likes about the comic book medium. That it has a democratic quality in that any literate person can pick it up and enjoy it. You don't have to be part of the bourgeois vanguard of contemporary/post-modern art and decipher the enigmatic concept that could be expressed in simple every day monosyllables. It can be waxed poetic but it need not be in order to be rendered coherent. It speaks for itself so to speak. The undergrounds especially are like the punk rock of the comics world.
What has made you laugh from Freak Brothers stories and what touched (emotionally) you from Wizard of Oz?
Honesty is the best policy and to that extent I think I should be totally honest. I haven’t read much of the Freak Brothers comics. I’m familiar with the general idea of the characters; I’ve read a little about them in my study of the undergrounds and have come across some of the artwork. It looks amusing and I’d like to take the time to read some of it eventually. Is my comix street cred null and void now...? As for the Wizard of Oz, my first exposure to the story was the movie which I think is pretty standard. It’s just a really classic story with a distinct character arch, fun and iconic side characters, very quotable lines and memorable performances. I’m still curious as to how Buddy Ebsen would have done as the Tinman. (Kids, please stay away from the toxic paint. I’m looking at you potential huffers. *disappointed stare*). The movie is the equivalent of a warm cuddly blanket. It wasn’t until more recently that I looked into the original children’s book the Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It has a lot of interesting differences and characters not present in the film adaptation not to mention great illustrations. I’m especially partial to the armless Hammer-head creatures. They are quarrelsome and territorial in nature and use their projectile, spring loaded heads to ward off intruders from their land. A couple years back I produced a larger scale illustration that I consciously set out to do in the style of art nouveau. I specifically made it for a local Wiz of Oz themed art show. I figured the show would be dominated by Judy Garland and imagery derived from the movie so I went back to the original source material for my inspiration. I made two separate versions of it. A black and white pen and ink piece and a multi-colored water color piece. They came out pretty nice. They are both currently collecting dust at home.
"Later on during my high school years I found myself attracted to punk rock which had its own fast-paced, gritty, rebellious and in your face quality that I couldn’t resist all of which has a certain continuity with my general perspective and disposition." (Artwork © by Paul Lapusan / Krishna)
Where would you really want to go via a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?
I’d like to go back to Vincent van Gogh’s day when he was in his prime and ask him what he’d think of becoming a pop culture icon after his death, loved by many as the clichéd eccentric artist, transformed into an art supplies brand/logo, and last but not least that his paintings would not only sell but for insane amounts of money. I wonder how this news might’ve intensified his insanity. I think it would be neat to have my portrait done by Van Gogh as well. So, I’d bring that back from the past.
How you would spend a day with Warhol?
Ugh... Do I have to? I mean, sure, he produced some striking and memorable pieces but I’m not sure if I’d want to spend any time with him (or his insufferable cult of personality for that matter). Warhol, as an individual personality, came off as pure bourgeois scum. No thanks.
What would you say to Karl Marx?
I’m not sure I’d be able to squeeze out any words. I’d be in awe and silenced by his general daunting and intimidating presence especially his big beautiful bushy beard and his penetrating, piercing, dark hypnotic eyes. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have much to say other than asking him what his thoughts/analysis of the trajectory of the capitalist mode production after his death. I’d especially like to ask his opinion and analysis of Lenin, Stalin and the USSR. Perhaps over a beer or two as a social lubricant to calm my nerves in the presence of such a powerful mind.
What would you like to ask Buddha?
I’d be silent and concentrate my mind on the present moment.
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