The DAILY MONSTER
The Daily Monsters happened somewhat by chance. The first one appeared to me in a vision one afternoon, as I was driving along the long, curving ramp from the eastbound 10 freeway to the 110. It was coiled around my arm, and smiled at me. This was remarkable to me, as I’m not usually a “vision” kind of guy, nor do I drink or do drugs. Also, I’m not sure if visions usually come with instructions, but I knew right away how to draw this guy. (That I had to draw him was a given.)
Specifically, I saw that the eyes would come from the circle doodles that I’d been using on the ink & circumstance column, and that the body would be the blown ink from the 344 Flowers poster. And of course, there are echoes of the brilliant Ralph Steadman in all of this, too. (Needless to say, I’m a fan!)
The first Monsters I drew that day I assembled from a number of ink blots that I pasted together on paper or in the computer. Most were a little bit fearsome, some were bedraggled, and they were definitely a bit abstract. They were also fun to build, so I just kept at it and created about 50 characters over the next few weeks. I gathered them in a book I called Upstairs Neighbors and set out to find a publisher for them. If you like, you can read about that process here.
The short version is that publishers sometimes take a long time to make up their minds about a proposal, and that I get bored quickly. I needed something to keep myself entertained. I started a blog, titled “344 Loves You.” This was at the end of 2006, and all the cool kids had blogs. I started by posting about my various design projects, including the Upstairs Neighbors book, but I found it hard to keep posting something every day. There are only so many interesting things that happen on any given day, and this was before Facebook and Twitter expanded the definition of what constitutes post-worthy content.
There I was. Bored, waiting for answers from publishers, with a shortage of postable material, and wanting to draw more. At this point I remembered a comment from Ze Frank, who had seen me on stage at a HOW conference a few months earlier, caught up at an unfortunate creative jam conducted in the style of a Japanese game show. The moderator shot me with a squirt gun, because I was spending too much time thinking about a response. You get the idea. Afterwards Ze told me, “They should’ve just put a camera on you and let you draw. All I wanted was to watch you draw.”
OK then. I’d film myself drawing something new every day. Done. I’d figure out what I’d draw along the way. I had a great name picked out for the project, too: The Daily Doodle. So great was this name that about 20 other sites were already using it. Miraculously, the name nobody was using was “The Daily Monster.” Which also solved the problem of what I’d draw every day. Good stuff!
I set up the camera and drew the first Daily Monster on November 18th, 2006. Looking back there’s a strange, unconscious leap that happened. Where the Upstairs Neighbors were quite dark, often angry, and very heavy on the ink splatter, the Monsters were pretty happy right from the first one. Even thinking about it with some perspective a few years later, I’m not sure why that was. My circumstances hadn’t changed, and I can’t point to any particular event between one and the other that would explain the shift. I suppose I was simply done making angry drawings for the time being.
Monster 01 is a happy monster. Where did the shoes come from? He needed something to balance the beak.
Which brings me to a question I sometimes get from people checking out the characters: Do the Monsters reflect the mood I’m in when I’m drawing them? The answer is: Sometimes, but usually they don’t. If anything, it’s sometimes the opposite. When I’m feeling particularly down or frustrated it can be nice to draw some really giddy characters. Conversely, being happy myself can lead to some of the finer angry personalities. The majority of the Monsters are anxious and neurotic, and for that, any of my moods will do. There I draw from a deep reservoir.
After I had posted the first drawing, nothing much happened. I just kept posting, getting maybe 200 views a day. Which was about what I’d had on the blog anyway. I certainly wasn’t advertising the series. Even though I immediately loved the process, I wasn’t at all sure how long I’d stay interested in doing this.
I officially renamed the blog “The Daily Monster” exactly a month after I started posting the drawings.
After the first week I noticed a big spike in the numbers. Suddenly, I had about 1,200 viewers a day. Armin & Bryony at SpeakUp had posted a link, as had Alissa Walker who was then at UnBeige. Around this time people started asking questions: What’s this Monster called? What does it eat? What bands does it like? In a moment that we’ll call brilliance now, but that was certainly fortuitous laziness, I replied, “You tell me! I’m just here for the drawings.” With that, people started posting answers, then they posted little story snippets. On Daily Monster 10, a gentleman from Britain, Simon Darwell-Taylor, sent in the first real tale, Ze Frank posted a link on his site, and with that the floodgates opened.
For 100 days, I posted a Daily Monster every single day. No breaks for weekends or holidays. And each day, I could follow the sunrise around the world by the comments and stories that appeared on the site. It was a sight to see. Some people would pop in for a few days, write beautiful things, and then vanish for weeks, or forever. A few regulars would egg each other on with exquisite corpse stories. Others started slow, found their groove, and then ran through the entire series with me. Sam Berkes was one of these. He later went back to write stories for the first Monsters he’d initially missed just to complete the set. I can’t say enough about the amazing people who wrote in, but they get their own entry.
With all this creative energy gathering around my little drawings there was never a question of stopping. It was way too much fun! In fact, the Monsters are really the only drawings I love making—compared to all the others, which I love having made. With the others, I have an image in my mind, and then I get to watch my hands slowly degrade that ideal image into something that’s just… real. It’s a little heartbreak each time. It keeps me learning, so the frustration isn’t without its use, but it still sucks. With the Monsters I don’t start with an image in my mind. Everything comes from the blot in that moment, and much of it flows from my hands. When I see the Monster emerge, I see it for the first time, and I get to be surprised and delighted. Which is a nice change of pace.
The banner as of June 30th, 2007. The daily posts were done. There was time for frills.
Over the years I’ve tried making Monsters to order, and it’s never worked. I say they get cranky, but it just doesn’t suit the process. When I need a particular Monster for a particular purpose I just keep drawing until the right one comes through.
During the initial run I discovered a whole bunch of fun things. Looking back, it’s surprising how many were there right from the first one. For example, I hand-lettered the opening title and the number of each Monster upside down and in reverse. This was done for no other reason than to show off. Later I’d start drawing the whole character upside down, too. Again, just because I could. (It’s not that hard.) Right from the first Monster, high heels were also a feature. And then there’s the time lapse factor, of course.
As I was saying: Heels. (I got the shape for the mouth by blowing ink around a piece of Scotch tape.)
I knew Ze wanted to watch me draw, but maybe not for as long as each drawing would take. It might be meditative, but it’d probably just be a little boring. I’d always love watching my amazing drawing teacher Norm Schureman draw beautiful things with great assurance and at amazing speeds. That was a sexy thing to witness. I wanted that for the Monsters, so I cheated and compressed the clips.
Because I didn’t know about fancy things like Adobe After Effects then, I cobbled together a time lapse process in Quicktime Pro. I’d copy the whole clip, cut the file in half, then pasted the whole footage to scale, halving the length. I’d export that into a new clip, then do it again and again until the whole thing was down to a minute. I experimented with fewer steps, but that had a tendency to really mess up the audio. This was 640x480 pixel footage from my old Sony point-and-shoot photo camera, but it picked up the noise of the markers beautifully in ways that the later, better equipment didn’t. By time lapsing it the way I did, it came out as a beautiful scratchy noise that sounds like the beating of insect wings. It’s one of my favorite parts of the clips. (If you have a fussy newborn, show them the Monsters. They can’t really process the sensory input, and it puts them in a sort of standby mode. Try it!)
Norm also had a real ethos about not hiding your mistakes. No pre-drawing with pencils. We always had to go straight to ink, and I stuck to that with these pieces. Nothing is edited out. I tried to stay away from White Out as much as possible, and wherever I did bring it in, you can see me use it in the video. I don’t know why that’s important, but it is.
Incorporating my mistakes instead of hiding them led me to drawing extra bits as I was filming and then hiding them under a monster’s shell. Look at Daily Monster 74’s secret cargo.
I also discovered animation. First I dabbled with stop motion. After it was fully drawn, Monster 10 blinked by means of Sharpie eyelids spliced manually in Quicktime Pro. Monster 24 did a little high-kick. (I cut out the leg and moved it.) Right around there, a fan of the drawings sent me an animated version of Monster 62, which introduced me to the application Anime Studio. It’s a quirky little program, but it really opened things up for me, and I still use it today. (Even though I should’ve learned Flash long ago.) Each day the animated sequence at the end of the clip got a little bit more elaborate. As each Monster emerged spontaneously from its ink blot, so did the animation come from the Monster as it appeared. The characters just suggested how they wanted to move.
As much fun as all of this was, it was also the reason I put a long stop to the series after the first 100 Daily Monsters. The first Monster took five minutes to draw, and a half hour to process and post. Monster 100 took a half hour to draw, and about 12 hours to animate and process. Which was A-OK by me, but I was also answering dozens of posts each day, and more importantly, I still had clients that wanted to get their jobs done on time. It was too much for me to handle then.
The banner as of April 1st, 2008. What was it with me and that earthy background color? It seemed modern to me then, but now just seems drab.
It’s funny how separate the Monsters can seem from the rest of my work. I still get an occasional e-mail from somebody telling me, “Hey, did you know that there’s another Stefan Bucher who makes monster drawings?” or “There’s a designer with your name. Have you seen his stuff?” Yeah, I heard about that guy. There’s also a really cool photographer, but he actually is a different guy. He’s in Switzerland, he was born a year to the day before me, and we’re connected on LinkedIn or Facebook, but we’re not buddies or anything. Might be a territorial thing. He got Europe in the displaced twin divorce.
After the first 100 days I took about six weeks off from the Monsters, then did a few months of Weekly Monsters that ended with even more elaborately animated sequences. Some of them even have dialogue! Some sing! Most of this happens in the middle of the night. What my neighbors think of me, I don’t really want to know.
The banner today. With a note that “Daily Monster” is my very own registered trademark now. It’s true!
Later I went back to Daily Monsters going up to No. 200, which were followed by a few special event Monsters, and ultimately by the Daily Monster Papers—Monster drawings that I didn’t film. They’re just scans. Which cheats you of watching the creature take shape, but makes for better drawings. There are over 200 of those now, too. Between that and illustrations I did for posters, magazines, catalog covers and for a major car company there are well over 500 characters now. And I’m not done with the Daily Monsters yet.