skulling with the morbid angel

“secretly important men”; a severe intensity that dissolved into a vanishing…

Art Chantry (

This strange little comic is a sort of trifecta of mad genius. Drawn by the inimitable Blair Wilson and written by the exquisitely peculiar Wilum Pugmire as an homage to (stephen) Jesse Bernstein’s skull. It’s one of those things I have held onto for over 20 years. I still dunno what it’s about.

Blair Wilson is one of those artists I first encountered at the Rocket. For instance, we had a “calendar page” image we needed to be created. It was an odd combination of talents that both somehow made sense together – Garth Brooks and Gwar. Somehow they both seemed like they needed to be together hi-lighting the calendar-of-events poster/panel in the center spread. So, we figgered we’d just hire Blair to draw an image of “Gwarth Brooks” for us. It turned out typically twisted/brilliant. A classic.

Blair is one of those guys who is incredibly reserved and shy. He wears thick ‘coke bottle’ glasses. If you’ve ever examined his work closely, you’ll see why. There are a number of illustrators out there that work in styles so detailed and miniscule that they are beginning to ruin their eyesight with strain – Robert Williams, Joe Coleman and (i imagine) Blair Wilson.

AC:i distinctly remember the very first time i saw his stuff. i sat and stared at it in disbelief. how the hell does he do that!?!

If you look real closely at his work, you’ll see he loves to use these crazy gradated ‘lozenge’ shapes as shading and sculpting . He DRAWS that . It’s not a photoshop filter or some other trick. It’s all DRAWN BY HAND! And he works rather small, too. So, feast your eyes upon his genius and don’t go blind, ya hear?

Wilum Pugmire is one of those fascinating characters that you really have to get to know to truly appreciate the scope of his mad genius. I mean, how many people do you know that worked as a professional vampire for 13 years, huh? I once had the pleasure of accompanying Wilum (along with ashliegh talbot) to a local Halloween haunted house. Wilum came in full”count pugsley” drag and he was really something to see. When he encountered the other ‘professional’ monsters in the haunted house, they immediately fell into talking shop – try to imagine a vampire and a frankenstein monster discussing make up products.

---Wilum Pugmire's has posted an update about his upcoming mass collection of fiction from Centipede Press: Jerad and I are putting the finishing touches on the omnibus of my best weird fiction, THE TANGLED MUSE. The book will be an extremely limited edition of 150 copies and it is going to look wonderful, we've chosen some great artwork, black and white and color. I believe the book will be available in October, and will be signed by S. T. Joshi and myself.---- click image for more...

Wilum “hopfrog” Pugmire is a writer/prose artist who has been anthologized by the likes of Poppy Z. Brite and even Stephen King. His work is widely published and anthologized, especially in the lovecraftian underground. He’s also a punk chronicler and publisher of “Punk Lust” the NW ‘zine of goth/punk/scenster creative anthology.

He’s also lives a full time of punk/”goth” drag (actually not a very accurate description). Just walking down the street with Wilum is an experience in itself. It’s an insane combination of awe and abuse. People who see hi

nnot restrain some sort of reaction – either a gasp of surprise or (more likely) a catcall or some sort of verbal abuse. To watch Wilum (who lives this way 24/7 all his life) handle this onslaught is like watching some sort morbid angel deftly tossing aside the remarks and then brilliantly returning with his own (if he can be bothered). The result is that he instantly wins over his detractors. Even the macho construction workers begin to admire the guy.

January 1992 #312 My Dead Goldfish Sumi Ink on Paper 11"x17" Poem by Hal Sirowitz Art by Blair Wilson click image for more...

Wilum has somehow transformed his entire person into possibly his highest artistic achievement. Check out his little films he makes on his facebook™ page to begin to understand my interest in this man and his work.

And, last but not least, Jesse Bernstein, the extraordinary mad poet laureate of Seattle underground culture. For decades he was a Seattle fixture, lurking around the edges of the punk scene, drifting in and out and back in again into the art and theater and writing bohemian circles. He spent so much time in various hospitals and prisons with his assortment of addictions and mental health conditions that he was virtually a lay doctor. He could talk to and befriend literally ANYONE. His circle of friends could include people from the highest and lowest levels of society simultaneously and effortlessly.

The first time I saw Jesse perform (i believe) it was the time he put a live mouse in his mouth and then did a reading of his poetry (no animals were harmed – outside of jesse himself). The first time I met Jesse, it was in the infamous Western Coffee Shop. He came up into my face, all his broken teeth and intense bugging eyeballs (and oversized glasses) and his rasping snarling voice. He stuck his face a few inches from mine and started saying, “CHANTRY! I’ve been wanting to talk to you….” Then he went on (and on and on and on) into a litany of observations and suggestions and corrections concerning my life. Man! I knew who he was (how could you not?) But, WOW! He scared the shit out of me.

---As grunge ruled the roast at Sub Pop (and briefly the music world) this record truly stood out as something different and something special held in amongst so much long hair and fuzz. So many scenes have a person like Steven Jesse Bernstein and it is because they need them. Bernstein was regarded the Beat writer poet of the scene and he certainly had an output to match such a title. He was friends with William S. Burroughs and had a history of depression. It was probably this sad reality that saw him taking his own life at the age of 40 by stabbing himself in the throat. Released on April fool’s day in 1992 the original concept of Prison was to be a live recording of a reading made by Bernstein at the State Penitentiary Special Offender unit in Monroe, Washington in the style of Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison album. Unfortunately in the end the results were not necessarily usable so Steve Fisk was brought in to finish off the project using a method of scoring the recordings with jazz and ambient samples. In the end the record sounds better than its intention. Sadly the record was only partially complete when Bernstein took his life in October 1991. ---click image for more...

The funny thing was that he was right in everything he said. His observations were exquisitely accurate. His suggestions insightful. Wise. He knew more about what I was doing than I did. And it was my very first “talk” with him. After that, whenever we encountered each other, we went through another of those intense wild conversations – profoundly disturbing and insightful and POOF, he was gone.

That was Jesse’s style – severe intensity and then vanish. He would suddenly enter your life, give you something precious – his thoughts, a poem, a personal possession, his time – to protect and cherish and then he’d disappear in a puff of smoke. Then some months later, there he would be again, checking on what he left behind, sharing another little precious slice of his life with you (you lucky devil.)

Jesse suicided in (when? i forget, really) ’90, maybe? It’s been said that the grunge era was bracketed by two suicides – Jesse’s at the beginning and Curt’s at the end. Jesse was truly the godfather of grunge. Without his personal style and determination and pathos, it’s doubtful the heart and soul of what was ‘grunge’ would have been the same. Bruce Pavitt has often said that the single record he ever released on sub pop that he was most proudest of was the Jesse Bernstein LP, “Prison”.

(there is a new movie making the rounds right now about he life and work of Jesse Bernstein. I highly recommend you check it out. it’s called “I am secretly an important man.” It’s initially screening in the northwest in various private showings. keep an eye out for it.)

Jesse was close with the artist Ashliegh Talnbot. One of the things Jesse told Ashliegh was that he wanted her to have his skull after he died. When he finally gave up and managed to suicide (there had been many many prior attempts over the decades) He slit his throat. now, this was a man with guns and a near professional knowledge of the human medical construct. He could have used a dozen different infallible and less troubling techniques to kill himself. Yet, he cut his own throat. He was probably protecting his skull so that Ashliegh could still have it intact (a very morbid but typical jesse ploy.) He was cremated,.

So, this piece of prose, written my Ashliegh Talbot’s cherished friend Wilum Pugmire and illustrated by the disturbingly brilliant Blair Wilson is an homage to Jesse’s skull and everything that meant.

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One Response to skulling with the morbid angel

  1. Girlfriend, I’ve never been anthologized by Stephen King!
    “Skull” was inspir’d by “Face” — I wanted to write of Jesse’s facelessness and investigate the debris within his skullspace.
    That day I spent with you and Ashleigh in Sesqua Valley, climbing that sinister mountain path on which I lost my plastic vampire fangs, remains one of my happiest memories.

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