Interview: Artist Jason Atomic Talks "Satanic Mojo"

Jason Atomic is an artist with a life-long dedication to underground culture. Always seeking new ways to document his strange and wonderful interactions, Jason’s latest work comes in the form of “Satanic Mojo,” an ambitious multi-part project that explores the impact of black magic on pop culture. The first installment of “Satanic Mojo” is a 36-page comix collaboration influenced by the occult revolution of the 1960s, a project that is currently being crowd-funded on Indiegogo. I’m proud to say that I’m a backer, and just in case “60s Satanism Comix” isn’t enough of an elevator pitch for you, Jason took some time out to go into detail about how “Satanic Mojo” came into existence and share details about what can be expected from the project.

TK: Your upcoming project “Satanic Mojo” is in many ways a tribute to the dark side of 1960s counterculture. Why do you think there’s been such a resurgence in interest in this period in recent years?

JA: The fact that political correctness has gone so far that it turns back on itself and becomes repressive (no boobies on Facebook and so on), could be stimulating an interest in the more lurid elements of pop culture. In the swinging 60s people really appreciated the freedoms they had fought for, and I think that’s why their expression of that freedom seems so nostalgic to us now.

Or maybe it’s just the Aeon of Horus/Age of Aquarius kicking in?

Art from “Satanic Mojo”

It’s like everything has gone hippie anyway. It’s all Organic, ethical and fair trade, Hipster t-shirt brands, local produce, farmers markets, Occupy, Free Pussy Riot! These would all have been considered ‘hippie’ things in the 80s and 90s, yet now they are seen as not only common sense, but even fashionable/aspirational.

People who want to “re-educate” punks in Malaysia or “kill the gays” in Uganda get grilled and shamed online; oppressive regimes are on the defensive. It’s all getting a bit “brothers and sisters, fight the power!”

TK: How did “Satanic Mojo” wind up as a comix project as opposed to, say, a film or a series of paintings? Did the idea suggest itself naturally, or did it emerge over the course of conversations/living life?

JA: My first idea was to make un-dipped LSD blotter sheet prints, but the drug issue seems to be quite controversial, e.g. amongst straight-edge orthodox Satanists – and also crowd-funding websites…

I established the chronology of Legend of Satanic Mojo within my own lifetime—1967 to present—and am producing facsimile ephemera from key points along that timeline. The late 60s and early 70s can be summed up, for me, by things such as black light posters, underground comix, schlocky horror, rock music and associated paraphernalia.

Art from “Satanic Mojo”

I’ve done comix before and I like it that this format allows you to have special effects with no budget. But I also am putting together a team of artists, photographers, film makers, musicians and writers to collaborate on future endeavours.

TK: You’re collaborating with a number of amazing fellow artists to create “Satanic Mojo” comix, including Shaky Kane of the remarkable and surreal Image title “Bulletproof Coffin” and 2000ad vet Garry Leach. Can you tell me a little about how you came to work with this team?

JA: I met Shaky through contributing fan-art to his comic. I sent him some paintings I’d done of The Coffin Fly and he asked me if I’d mind them being used in the comic (they appear decorating the stairwell of Golden Nugget Publications).

Shaky Kane artwork from “Satanic Mojo”

“Bulletproof Coffin” by Shaky and writer David Hine is twisted metafiction where the characters in the comic are comic readers who become the characters they read bout and seek salvation in the form of the creators of the comic who themselves are now characters.

With my art having already been absorbed into Shaky’s metafictional world, it seemed a logical step to include him in mine. I asked him how it could be that he was contributing to an underground comic in San Francisco in 1969 and he explained that after he and David Hine had sold their characters to “Big 2 Comics” he had ended up in a studio above a Chinese laundry on Bleecker Streer where he self-published religious and pornographic tracts. Satanic Mojo Comix came out of that studio.

Garry Leach, I met through Orbital Comics in London’s West End. Orbital has a good gallery space where I have curated several exhibitions, including a couple of Halloween shows that I co-curated with Garry. He has an amazing collection of vintage comic art so we would mix that up with contemporary artwork inspired by comics and pop culture.

I also have on board a couple of excellent artists from the American underground scene, Paul Lyons and Dennis Franklin, both of whom worked on an excellent publication called “Monster” and which I thoroughly recommend.

TK: Legendary Coven vocalist Jinx Dawson designed the official “Satanic Mojo” sigil, and I have a hard time coming up with a more perfect representation of half cheeky/half serious occult pop culture. How did this collaboration arise?

JA: Jinx is a fascinating character; she is credited with introducing the sign of the horned hand to the rock scene back in the late 60s! So I wanted to write her into my story. I’d love to say we have this special connection, but truth be told I found her on EBay.

In late 2011, I started plotting a Satanic Mojo logo design. Initially I considered something akin to a black metal band logo, because the idea of something that is unreadable to the uninitiated is literally occult (i.e. hidden), but I didn’t want such a specific reference to limit the scope of the project.

So anyway, while researching the band Coven, the digital trail led me to Jinx’s EBay store where I discovered that she sells, amongst other things, hand-crafted bespoke sigils and spells.

Satanic Mojo sigil by Jinx Dawson

Jinx’s sigils have the same feel as those traditionally associated with the demons of the Goetia, so here was the perfect solution to my logo conundrum. Having a sigil designed and charged by a practicing witch with a seminal influence on the Satanic side of pop culture was the flame that lit the fuse of Satanic Mojo.

TK: The figures of Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey and Charles Manson loom large in “Satanic Mojo.” Controversial not just in mainstream society, these individuals are divisive in the underground as well. While Crowley and LaVey have their adherents, others see them more as “egotists” than as “spiritual seekers.” Similarly, while Manson is seen by many as a homicidal madman, others are captivated by his charismatic, wild-eyed persona. What do these men represent to you?

JA: I have the most respect for LaVey—for his plain speech, humanistic common sense, and dedication to his vision. I don’t really know what else to say about Anton LaVey except read his books!

Crowley seems to be more of a prankster, writing with codes, in-jokes, cryptic wordplay; upsetting the apple cart, shocking the po-faced English establishment. His frankness about drug use and publication of pornographic fantasy certainly paved the way for some of the freedoms we now take for granted (and are in danger of losing).

Art from “Satanic Mojo”

Manson is the scapegoat for the demolition of the Love Generation. He shows how dangerous freedom can be, and as such is a great tool for those who would oppress us. The idea that someone can combine “Stranger in a Strange Land,” The Book of Revelations and The Beatles’ “White Album” to found a doomsday cult is a wonderful argument for censorship. But I think the real reason people hated Manson so much is that he was the “American Nightmare”—a reflection of the country that spawned him, and people don’t want to look in that particular fun-house mirror.

TK: One aspect of your portfolio is your highly expressive life drawings of contemporary alternative artists, musicians and cultural figures. What attracts you to your subjects? In what ways does drawing these people in-person become part of the final art piece?

JA: What attracts me is honesty, originality, passion, dedication, obsession… not so much popularity or financial success. I think anyone can learn some technical tricks and take advantage of a cultural zeitgeist.
The ones who interest me are often outsiders, but they are all people who live and breathe their art, people who would not be able to do anything else if they wanted to.

When I work I am obsessed with authenticity; I have to work from life or it isn’t real for me. A painting of a photograph, for example, is not a portrait of the person in the photograph, it is a representation of a 2D abstraction of that person.

So it then becomes my mission to manipulate events in a way that will allow me to cross paths with my subject (e.g. before my 2008 visit to NYC I contacted Sucklord and Rammellzee and respectfully requested they pose for my Favourite Artists series).

Portrait of  Rammellzee by Jason Atomic

Everything is documented in my sketchbooks and diaries—rituals conducted, degrees of separation, favours called in, jobs booked, whatever I consider appropriate. There is usually a wealth of supporting material, sometimes even collaborations—all of which I consider part of the work.

TK: Among your many accomplishments, you hold the “un-offical World land speed record for portraiture,” a feat documented on film and viewable on YouTube. Can you tell me how this came about, and what it was like to undertake the project?

JA: Like too many things in my life, it bubbled up out of the subconscious in what I thought was quite a flippant…

To cut a long story short, I visited the National Portrait Gallery one day and was handed one of those audience response cards. One of the questions was what would increase my future enjoyment of the gallery, so I said “being booked to come and do a live sketching performance” (I’d already been doing similar things in clubs and galleries around the world). To my surprise, they called me up the next day and asked me to come in and explain myself. The issue of speed came up (I can get a good likeness of my subject in seconds), so we decided to try and set a record. I did 42 full-length, life-size, clean line portraits in one hour (which I think averages out at about 45 seconds each). It was amazing, the nearest I’ve ever come to playing sport. The whole thing was filmed by my pal Alex Snelling. Sadly, Guinness refused to make it official; apparently they can’t count portraits because they can’t define what one is (even at the National Portrait Gallery!).

TK: I’ve been enjoying looking at your sketchbook and all the on-the-spot drawings. Would it be fair to call you a documentarian, or maybe even a counterculture anthropologist?

JA: Yes, I resemble those remarks.

In the way that David Attenborough looks at nature, how the creatures of the natural world interact, how they are related, their evolutions and migrations etc., so am I interested in street fashion, youth tribes, underground culture, secret societies and so on.  I love to see how ideas warp and change over time or as they travel around the world.

Jason Atomic sketches on-the-spot

For example, when I first moved to London in the 1980s I was heavily into the Goth scene, as we move into the 90s most UK Goths had devolved into shabby hippie/metal throwbacks, and the cool kids were into Acid House.

Then I moved to Tokyo where the cool kids were into hip hop and jazz, but on a street level the Gothic Lolita scene was just starting to emerge. I took to that like a duck to water, of course. At one point I could barely walk down the street without ending up in a style mag (a twisted version of my look even came back to haunt me as the Shinigami in Death Note).

The GothLoli look has now reanimated the international Goth scene and crossed over into mainstream fashion.

Now cosplay is massive, geeks are cool and trendy people go to comic conventions … It is all just fascinating to me.

TK: I get a great feeling of energy and improvisation when looking at your work.  How did you develop this style of creating art?

JA: My style of drawing emerged through a game we used to play as bored teenagers. “Drawing Without Looking” we called it, the idea being that if you stare at the subject while you draw you can catch an incredible likeness hidden within a scribble.

If you look at an eye and then look down and draw an eye, you are working from memory at that point, not life.

So something about that approach made sense to me. It was almost like I was discovering the signature of their secret name or something… it’s difficult to explain, but it just seems more real, more authentic; you don’t just get a likeness, you get an ambience, an idea of mood and movement, you can tell if the artist or model (or both) is drunk, for example.

When it comes to colouring I feel quite impetuous, I want things done quickly and prefer the random accident to laboured technique, so I will literally throw and splash the paint on the canvas, let it dribble and bleed.

Often, when I visit a new town of country, I won’t even take a sketchbook or art materials along with me, but instead rely upon whatever I can find at hand, pens stolen from wherever there are pens – I don’t even think about it, my hand will find a pen and I’ll start drawing, no one ever challenged me beyond that point… I’ll buy kiddies’ drawing books from the 100 yen store, or just draw on flyers, train tickets or whatever rubbish is available. Ephemera adds flavour to the documentary nature.

See more of Jason Atomic’s work:

Night Angel [1990]

Night Angel [1990]Many movie-watchers react with surprise that there are thirteen installments in the “Witchcraft” franchise, a direct-to-video mainstay of VHS rental outlets during the 1990s. How many stories are there to tell about big-haired, heavily-eye-shadowed witches who be sexin’? More baffling still is the profusion of other, not-“Witchcraft”-affiliated movies that are cast from the same mold. Sitting at the crossroads between slasher flicks and Skinemax softcore, these movies efficiently delivered boobs and blood to adolescents and adolescents-at-heart. Today, they’re best appreciated for the way they evoke nostalgic “don’t let Mom know I’ve snuck into the den to watch titty movies” frissons.

All of this backstory explains why I was so surprised with the delight I experienced while watching “Night Angel,” a 1990 movie about… well, a big-haired, heavily-eye-shadowed witch who be sexin’.  BUT! If there’s one thing we’ve learned about genre movies, it’s that they’re all the same except for the things that make them slightly, ethereally different from one another.

Let’s discuss!

SIREN is a wildly popular fashion magazine, a fact we know because we are told as much and which flies in the face of its appearance as a black-and-white SKIN TWO knock-off. The magazine is largely staffed by horny young heterosexual men (just like all wildly popular fashion magazines, aber natürlich), with the exception of lesbian editrix Rita (Karen Black) and a handful of, you know, office assistants and secretaries (girls are so cute when they pretend to work!). Unfortunately for our jolly crew of couture-hawking morons, a recently-resurrected demoness named Lilith sets her sights on spreading her evil gospel of sexy evil through the vehicle of modeling. Photographer Craig (played by Linden Ashby who some of you might recognize as Johnny Cage from the first “Mortal Kombat” flick) senses something is amiss after his colleagues turn up dead and Lilith assumes increasing control over SIREN’s staff. It becomes apparent that it’s up to Craig, his New-Age galpal Kirstie, and a cringingly-poorly scripted African-American hoodoo worker to stop Lilith from unleashing a new world order of darkness (and boobs, and sex).

Night Angel [1990]
“We need to talk about all the beige, Craig.” 

“Night Angel” is a remarkably efficient nudity and sex delivery vehicle–the viewer is granted the first glimpse of full-frontal nudity before the five-minute marker. There’s no attempt made to convince the viewer that this is anything BUT a remarkably efficient nudity and sex delivery vehicle, in fact. Lilith’s method of gaining power over humans is to seduce them–men and women alike–into steamy sexual interludes. Actress Isa Jank sighs, moans and grinds her way through a series of conquests, many of which end with the grisly extraction of the seducee’s heart through his ribcage (if you’re into that, y’know–hey, no judgments). To the undiscerning, these may be erotic indeed, but I kept being distracted by leaps of logic (easily explained away with MAGIC!) like… how did that hotel lobby remain free of people, including employees, for the duration of the tryst? Why didn’t that dude’s wife wake up while he was banging a demoness in his marital bed? I suppose I’m the kind of person who concerns herself with niceties of reality when boobs are onscreen, which says depressing things about me.

Night Angel [1990]
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Tastemakers of SIREN Magazine.

Perhaps the most fascinating screen presence in the film comes in the form of the fashions sported by the allegedly-sophisticated alleged-aesthetes that populate the story. Outfits seem chosen at random from a stage magician’s costume trunk. In one scene, berets seem to be de rigueur, sported by each character from editor to receptionist to photographer. Characters in outsize blazers in all the colors of the rainbow poke fun of a woman in some sort of haute couture outfit, even though they’re supposed to be on the cutting edge of style. Is this script-writing ineptitude or a sly commentary on the mercurial nature of the fashion industry?*

*SPOILER: It’s more than likely ineptitude.

Night Angel [1990]

The effects work is pretty rubbery and entertaining throughout, with a decent amount of gore and some nifty demon transformations. In a movie that banks so much of its thrill-dollar on sex scenes, it’s nice to see some attention paid to the “horror” elements.

Night Angel [1990]
Oh yeah, and then this happens.

In the manner of many softcore thrillers of this period, cheesy late-80s pop infuses every scene, giving the impression that these years were characterized by wall-to-wall synthesized horn sections pumping out of unseen boom boxes. The movie’s central track, a rock number titled “Siren’s Burning,” is belted by a familiar-sounding baritone voice that I kept thinking sounded just like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. But how would Screamin’ Jay come to be involved in a softcore horror flick?  The answer is a resounding YES–that distinctive vocalist on the “Night Angel” soundtrack does indeed come from Saint Screamin’ of Jay, providing a beautiful bow on the gift that is this film.

Night Angel [1990]

I feel like I’ve learned some lessons from “Night Angel” (other than the obvious “do not fuck the devil-woman” thing). Treasure can lie in unexpected places, including early 90s/late 80s softcore. Rubbery demons are joy. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins will totally sing your movie’s theme song, because he has a jillion kids to feed. In short, thank you “Night Angel” for being a part of my life–you were a great way to spend 90 minutes.

Check out more images from “Night Angel” in the Flickr set.