Mika Diana & Heather Benjamin
1: What would you say were your influences as a youth?
MD: When I was seven, my dad got me ugly stickers. These were stickers in a pack with gum. Monsters in the cards, also horror head tattoos... I would put these all over my body, haha. I started drawing monsters and asked my dad if I could draw monsters and send them in to be made. And I loved the 25-cent rubber bats and bugs. I had all kinds of slime, a toy slime with worms, slime with eye balls, and a rubber life-sized human brain that when you squeezed it green slime oozed out of the bottom.
In school I was fond of art class, so my mom enrolled me in after school art classes. Whatever the assignment, I would go in a morbid direction it seemed. One project was to go to Lake Seneca in the town of Geneva, NY, where I was born. The assignment was to collect items off the shore to place in a collage. All the students picked up shells, but I noticed the shore littered with broken glass made smooth by the water—also bottle caps and soda and/or beer can pull tabs—and I collected these items, even a tiny 2-inch long dead fish. Back in the classroom, we took our items and placed them in a cut-off bottom of a plastic half gallon milk jug. I put my litter and dead fish in, then we poured plaster on top and placed a wire hoop on back for hanging. When the plaster dried, we discarded the milk jug bottom and hung up our sculptures. Mine started to smell bad as the fishy dried up.
When I was nine, in 1979 we moved to Florida. I was in the middle of the fourth grade. I didn’t adjust well to school. Each teacher had their own paddle, many reinforced with duct tape. I also saw lots of racism. But I did enjoy the beach. At 12, I became a fan of the pre-code horror comics. About a year later, I discovered underground comics sold by mail; I signed that I was 18 but I wasn’t. By high school I was drawing my own comics with gross out and funny themes, passing them around the class. I made friends with three guys on the wrestling team. Each day they wanted to see new comics, and since everyone knew they were my friends I never got bullied.
2. Do you feel like your art was sent in a certain direction at some point?
HB: As a kid, the thing that really got me drawing at first was Sailor Moon... I drew a bit before that, but I got really obsessive around age 8, making fan art for Sailor Moon and copying all the manga. I think that carried over into my work today a lot. I felt serious about art all through high school but didn’t have any real direction with it until my second year of art school, when I was going through a very lonely and rough breakup and feeling very bitter and not fucking anybody, and started making all this work about celibacy through drawing people fucking and having a terrible time, trying to show how stupid I felt that it was, how stupid and futile I felt that intimacy was. Ever since then, it’s sort of changed a bit, but mostly stayed along those same themes... sort of satirizing sexuality, and with a huge emphasis on loneliness and shame. I still haven’t stopped making work about that. It’s been about six years since then.
3: Did you have any pets as a child? How about now, any strange, funny things happen with an animals or insects, visits to zoo, etc...?
MD: My dad would tell me and my sister that he had turtles, fish, dogs, cats, and hamsters, and more, and they were too much trouble, so he wouldn’t allow us to have any. By age 13, I had seen a tarantula at the pet shop and begged enough so that at Christmas time I got a box, and in it was a fake tarantula, but then it moved. Well, turned out it was a tarantula finger puppet, and he made a hole in bottom of the box to wiggle it, fooling me for a moment. But then he had another box with a real tarantula. I named it Cuddles. It would eat little lizards that we could catch outside in Florida. Kids around the neighborhood would catch lizards and bring them over to see it feed. It lived for about three years, and when it died I cried for days. This was my first experience with death. I had a funeral and all. I later had hamsters, but it just wasn’t the same.
HB: I didn’t have any pets growing up. The only time I remember anything like that was when my mom took me to the supermarket and we got some snails from the seafood section, live, and brought them home in a yogurt container. And I just kept them in that yogurt container, until they died, which I think was only a few days later. This one time in high school, I was sleeping on the floor of an unused classroom during a free period and woke up with one of those huge million-legged big millipede things between my tits... It was horrible. I jumped up and shook around until it fell out of my shirt. So disgusting. Oh I also fell off a horse when I was about six. No serious injuries though. Actually, I guess I probably wouldn’t remember if there were? One time I was asleep on a construction site under a bush in downtown Boston waiting for the first train from South Station with nowhere to go... I woke up with a skunk staring me right in the eyeballs, probably a foot from my face. We made intense eye contact for a while and then it moseyed off. Narrow escape.
4: Do you listen to anything when you draw? Music, or radio, or talk, or just silence?
MD: For a bit I was into listening to punk music while drawing. I had turned 18 and got my first car, bought a tape player—this was before CDs. I liked to go to a record and tape store called Peaches, an early chain. The drive there went past an old long-closed-down orange grove—these used to be all over. Well the orange trees were still there, a couple football fields of them, and when the orange blossoms bloomed you could smell the sweet orange fragrance. I liked the early Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedy’s, many others. I was going to concerts at that time, saw Nirvana before they were known—they were the last band and all but me and a couple others stayed to see them. I saw G.G. Allen play in Orlando and he got mad when people ran out the door after he shit on the floor and started throwing it. He was nude and covered in his own blood and chased people as they ran out, throwing bar stools, which brought cops who arrested the whole band for being nude. The club was closed down and became an Indian restaurant. I saw Sonic Youth a few times, Butthole Surfers, Gwar, Skinny Puppy, Red Hot Chili Peppers. I went with my younger brother who was a fan of Guns N' Roses to one of their shows, saw Slayer, Megadeath, Alice in Chains and Anthrax in one concert—crazy how many different bands I saw back then—so I would blast this music and draw. Later I started to get crappy comedy albums at yard sales and flea markets. When I was younger my grandparents were obsessed with Redd Foxx and would play bits of jokes for my parents who tried to cover my ears; I found them all. As a 14-year-old I had discovered Blowfly and his dirty songs, so I kept listening to that. But as I got older, like 20-21, I got in the habit of watching the TV news. In Florida, the stations would compete to be the most shocking. Nightly reports of murders, rapes, children being molested and even killed by catholic priests. Talk about serial killers was rampant.
HB: I used to listen to music very regularly while drawing, but lately I’ve been more into either drawing in silence, or listening to talk. I have been making my way through all the back episodes of Ghost to Ghost with Art Bell. There is something great about listening to ghost stories while drawing, but also to find someone with the perfect soothing voice to keep me company through hours of sitting at my desk. I love Art Bell’s voice. I also used to listen to the best show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling, every Tuesday while working, which I have done for years, and still listen to the back-episodes a lot. His voice was great, too, but that show ended a couple months ago. I keep meaning to try audiobooks, but haven’t yet. I used to really like just listening to music while drawing, but for some reason in the past year it’s felt sort of distracting to me, like I can get too caught up in my own thoughts and my brain going a mile a minute, and I’m not just focusing on what I’m working on. When I’m listening to talk, it feels more streamlined or something—like because half my brain is focused on what the person is saying, the other half can just focus on what I’m drawing, and there’s no room for anything else, and that feels really good.
5: Do you ever have moments where you feel shame or embarrassment about making graphic, hyper-sexual, and violent work?
HB: Pretty much never. I never really have second thoughts about what I’m drawing, or the graphic or violent or sexual nature of it, in a negative way, except for this one time, my freshman year of college, I was home at my folks’ house over a winter break, and my parents had gone out of town, so I had a party at their house. The next morning I was super hungover and sat on my front stoop smoking a cigarette—it was a rollie. I didn’t think anything of it. A couple years later I had dropped out of school and was living in Brooklyn and talked to my dad on the phone. He told me that the night before there was some loud high school party in the house behind them and he and my mom couldn’t sleep, so he went down there to ask them to keep it down since it was pretty late. I guess as he was walking down there, my shitty jock-dad, golfer next door neighbor followed him down there, and as my dad was trying to talk to the people having the party, jock-dad was like, “DON’T LISTEN TO THIS GUY! HIS DAUGHTER’S A DRUG ADDICT!” I guess this dude was watching me through his window when I was rolling/smoking a cigarette on the porch and thought I was smoking weed. And he took pictures of me through the window; he showed them to my dad. Then he said I was also a pervert, and he had looked me up online and “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR DAUGHTER DRAWS, IT’S SICK,” blah blah blah. So when my dad told me that, I definitely felt a lot of shame. I like my dad, I don’t want him to have to deal with that. So at that time I was kind of like, wow, I wish I wasn’t putting my parents through this, with this kind of reputation, or something. But jock-dad was right, I am a pervert. Anyway, both my parents knew already, for a while at that point, the nature of the stuff I was drawing, and just didn’t really say anything about it... so that was an embarrassing time. Now they are fine with it. My mom reads my blog and sends me emails when she sees a drawing she likes. Sometimes that feels weird, since usually the girl will be like stabbing herself in a pool of menstrual blood or something, but I think it’s nice.
MD: When I was drawing my boiled angel #1, my grandad from Kentucky was visiting. He was a tobacco farmer and raised cattle. So I was drawing a woman with naked breasts and she had a big eyeball hanging out and Grandpa looked over my shoulder a bit then said, boy son, you really can draw those tits and eyeballs. I realized how cool he was about stuff, he then told me when he was a teen they had little books of nude photos of women and a man with a cigar, there would be a close-up of his face holding the cigar next to her pussy, they would just call them fuck books. I use to like visiting his farm for summers when I was young. Also when I had to go to court I didn’t like the idea of my art being looked at by those that didn’t appreciate it; this art and the boiled angel books were made for a specific, special audience.
6: Have you had a nightmare that you never forgot?
HB: I’ve had some crazy dreams, but the one that really sticks out is this nightmare I had three or four years ago. I was living in this really small, windowless room, and had “lofted” my bed—which was really just a big pile of furniture I’d found on the street with my mattress stuck on top of it—so I had to climb up the pulled-out dresser drawers to get up there, and in the mornings I just jumped out onto the floor, like five feet. Anyways, I woke up in the morning for work during one day in the summer, and jumped out of bed, and just landed flat on my face. My legs wouldn’t hold me, they were super charlie horsed, like I had just run ten miles the day before. But I hadn’t!! I was literally in so much physical pain, from my thighs down to my calves, that I had to hold onto the wall to get down the hallway and couldn’t ride my bike to work like I usually did, just sort of waddled there pathetically and had to lower myself in and out of chairs all day, putting my weight on my arms. About halfway through my workday I had this crazy flashback, and realized I’d had this horrible nightmare. The first part I remembered was this really graphic scene—I guess it was a sort of really dramatic us-versus-them dream—and the bad guys had won, and they had captured one of my good friends, and were just really slowly, brutally beheading him in front of me, like sawing through his neck with a blunt knife. When they finally had finished, I had this clear image of one of them holding his head up from a fistful of hair, dangling it in front of me with all the sawed flesh curling up and my friend’s eyes still moving, mouth slightly open. It was horrific. Anyway, I had that memory, and I realized I’d had this horrible, horrible nightmare. I didn’t connect that with my leg pains until later that night when I was talking to a friend about it and she told me she’d had a similar experience where she’d had a horrifying stressful dream and woke up with different parts of her body hurting. I guess it just means I was clenching my muscles so hard all night that they were sore for over 24 hours afterward. I’d never had that physical of a reaction to a dream before. Incidentally, I definitely have a “thing” about beheading; I’m not too disturbed generally by graphic violence, but that’s the thing that really gets me, and sneaks up out of my subconscious in ways like that... I have a hunch that it’s because back in like 2001/2002, right after September 11th, I was in seventh grade, and was sort of over-cognitive about everything, and kept asking myself why I wasn’t “feeling” what was happening as much as everyone else was, why it wasn’t hitting me as traumatically. So I decided I needed to “feel” something about it, and in those sort of weird early-ish days of the internet, it was oddly easy to find kind of disturbing, uncensored graphic content—not that it isn’t now, I guess, but I feel like things of that nature can be a little more obscured these days. But anyways, I just looked up all the videos of hostages being beheaded by terrorist groups and watched probably like ten of them in a row... at age 11. It still didn’t really make me feel much—I think at that age I just couldn’t really wrap my mind around it—but those images really stuck with me.
MD: I used to have many nightmares when I was a child. Monsters chasing me, giant killer bugs. I must have been seven, and it was storming out, and I dreamt I saw evil elves peeking into the second floor window. I screamed for my mom and she hung a big beach towel over the window, but it had a cartoon kind of print on it of a sailor, so when I fell asleep I saw the sailor coming in the window all mean-looking. I had a dream many times in those early years that I was falling from an airplane or tall building. My stomach would have that feeling of falling, like on a roller coaster, and I would wake up right before hitting the ground, and it felt like I was bouncing on the bed as I woke. Some nights I would have to sleep in bed with my mom and dad, and when I looked up at the dark ceiling I saw colored shapes that kept switching around and turning into new things like a baby carriage. I asked mom if she saw them too; she didn’t. When I was eight we moved to Florida from New York, were I was born. We were starting a new life in Florida since my mom was from there, and it was warm. I remember the last dream I had in New York state. My dad woke my at 5 a.m. to leave, the moving truck was full and the family car in tow. Well, I fell back asleep, and I was suddenly hanging upside down from my legs, and on each side of me was a big bat also hanging upside down from their feet. A man’s face came out of a little dude and said a rhyme along the lines of, “You must push a button next to a bat. If you pick the wrong one, you will fall.” I pressed a button next to one of the two bats, and the bar holding my legs vanished and I fell, screaming. I woke and my dad said, ”Let’s go to Florida.” As I got older my dreams got more sexual at times. Strange dreams of twisted people and creatures screwing. I once dreamt I was mad at mom and she was looking at me through a window, and I lightly hit the window, shattering it, sending glass shards in my mom’s face—it was horrible.
6: What would your dream job be with your art?
HB: Oh man, I can think of a lot of dream jobs that are totally out of reach for me. The first one that comes to mind is designing shoes, but I don’t really have any interest in learning how to actually construct them, or any sort of engineering skills. I would just want to be able to spend all day drawing the most fantastical shoes I can think of, and have other people make them. Never going to happen. I guess the same could go for clothes. I think it would be fun to design things; I’ve always had a bit of an interest in apparel design, but not enough to pursue it any further than making things for myself every once in a while. My dream job in general doesn’t have much to do with art, aside from that it would make it really easy for me to work on my drawings all the time: I wish I could just open a junk shop and have that be sustainable. It would be the greatest junk shop ever. I wish I could just travel around and pick things from estate sales and flea markets and then curate the ultimate junk shop. Then I could just hang out in there, and draw all day, and listen to records and hang out with the other junk hoarders who come in, and take pleasure in my perfectly curated trash. I wish.
MD: My dream art job is to work on public service announcements that inform the public about evils, such as a power company over-charging, corrupt government, pollution, but I would hope that people would actually pay attention to them. I do relate to the dream of having a cool junk shop. I have had a long-time hobby of collecting junk, trinkets, strange dolls, and figurines. I used to find items on the curb on garbage day. If an old person cleaned out the attic or died, all their junk would end up on the curb, and I would find some nice items. Once I found a taxidermy buffalo head, probably originally from above the bar in an old saloon out west. I have also sold items on weekends at the Mustang drive-in theater. They used to have a flea market on weekend mornings—a whole strange crowd of regular sellers and buyers there. One guy would walk around shirtless with tattoos above his nipples. One said "sweet" and the other "sour." III