[This interview took place at a local eatery, Toppers, in Longview, WA, on April 2nd, 2016. —RFY]
Richard F. Yates: This is the 2nd of April, 2016. I’m interviewing Michael King, who is the founder and, I guess, the primary creative mind behind Bonemill D-Signs. So today, as this is part of the 25th anniversary of Bonemill, we are going to ask a few questions of Mike and see what it is that has put him on the path that he is trodding. The first, of course, is: How did you start screen-printing in general? How did you start doing screen-printing?
Michael King: Well, it would have been back in 1991. A girlfriend I was living with at the time applied for a graphic artist job at a screen-print shop, and I was kind of between jobs at the time, so I went and applied, too, and I got the job.
R: [Laughs] So instead of the girlfriend, you got it?
R: So you got the job instead of the girlfriend, and that would have been in ’91.
R: Okay, next! What was the initiating spark that convinced you to start the Bonemill line?
M: Wow! I don’t know if it was a single spark. Because…
R: Well, if not a spark, what were the circumstances around how you started?
M: Okay, circumstances. I was working in the screen-print shop, and I was doing art for other customers, and I began to think it would be cool to put my own artwork on screen and print things for sale and distribute them to the world, you know? I had high ambitions at the time.
R: Do you have art training? Or how did you come to drawing and art in general?
M: I remember starting drawing when I was like four or five, and some of my earliest memories of drawing were Star Trek spaceships, and then I would modify them. I would add extra nacelles, and you know, I would make my own spaceships and race cars. I would draw like funny cars and Hot Wheels.
R: Interestingly, this leads right into my next question, which is: What have been some of the most important influences on Bonemill, on your art-design style, on your content?
M: Wow… Okay, so art style, I think, if we boil it down to the simplest factors, would be probably comic books, and that was because when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I hooked up with some friends and we started role-playing superheroes. The RPG kind of thing with paper and pencils and dice, because computers hadn’t been invented yet.
M: And since I was the guy who could draw, everybody wanted me to draw their character, and so I ended up drawings everybody’s character, and we’d have like these huge groups of superheroes that would have tons of characters from the Marvel Universe. Like I would draw Havoc and Cyclops and Binary, just all these characters. During that is kind of when I just fell into this style, you know, because that’s what I was doing all the time.
R: Any other influences, do you think? Maybe the content?
M: Oh content, yeah. That would be… Industrial music is a big, huge, factor. New wave, but more industrial I think, because at the time that I was discovering industrial music, I was at a certain age, and I’ve always been attracted to music that was…abnormal.
M: That’s the best way to put it. Aside from the early 80s when you could hear great new wave stuff on the radio, aside from that, I really don’t have much tolerance for pop music, in general. I mean, there’s, occasionally, a good song that I like, and I think, “Do I have a fever? No, I really like it.”
M: So I was really attracted to this kind of counter-culture, mechanized, electronic music. It just struck a chord with me. Because, you know, maybe at that age I was feeling isolation, too, and so when you’re in that, you embrace things that you think may exemplify the isolation. “Nobody else likes this stuff. I like it.”
R: It’s actually really funny because here’s my next question: You have art, music, movies, fashion, comics, toys…industrial music, all this stuff; do you believe that all of these things intertwine into what you might call a “culture,” or do they at least overlap and feed off of each other for you specifically?
M: I would think, yeah, the latter is where they overlap, and the product that comes out at the end is more of a synthesis of all the factors. I wanted to also touch on science fiction, primarily movies and t.v., for me. I mean, I have read some, but I’m not really a huge reader. I have read some classics, like Fahrenheit 451 and Martian Chronicles, but sci-fi, I don’t know why… Well, I think because when I was little, we were watching Star Trek. And here’s this ship, and as a kid, you watch it and it’s just a reality. Somewhere this ship exists and these guys are doing this thing, right? So I don’t know if that was a factor.
R: And that makes sense. If you look at your artwork, there’s a lot of science fiction themes throughout. Robots…
R: Robots and cyborgs and… I don’t remember too many cyborgs in the original, but I do know Data later on, but okay, you’ve got, certainly the industrial elements, certainly science fiction, comic book art, but you don’t think these things work together as a whole outside of you. You just kind of cherry-pick the things you like? Because if you think about Dementia* and some of these other theme nights that they have in Portland and some of these other places, you see the people wearing science fiction t-shirts at a goth night or an industrial night. I know this isn’t your group, particularly…
M: Right. It’s hard to separate because each person, as an individual, syphons everything from around them, and that all factors into their perception of the world and reality, right? And if you’re an artist, you take those perceptions and you create with them. Wouldn’t you? Because after you see something or after you hear something, you can’t un-see or un-hear it. It affects you, whether you’re willing to admit it or not.
R: Right. Well, and you mentioned isolation, so that means you were spending a lot of time by yourself watching these things and by yourself listening to these musics and stuff.
M: Well for example, the movie Blade Runner, I remember watching that with somebody, but I don’t remember anything about the other person I was watching it with at the time. It was…the reality of the movie itself was so immersive that… I don’t know. I can’t even explain how it affected me. I mean, Blade Runner is a big one, huge!
R: It’s an interesting point. I’ve seen a lot of movies with people, and I don’t very often remember their reaction. I remember my reaction, but I don’t remember theirs… Okay! Here’s another question for you: What other types of art do you do besides screen-printing?
M: Oh! I enjoy writing. I’ve just recently started again,** but I’ve always like it. Even in high school, I remember writing and wanting to write a lot. As a matter of fact, I would go around and no matter where I was I would look at things and sit there and try to figure out, “How would I describe that? How does it look?” And I would do these little exercises on how to describe something. So I like writing, obviously I draw, and I also build model kits, which could be an art form. I paint figures…
R: Not to jump too far, but the modeling, really, if you’re an artist and you’re drawing and you’re painting and you’re screen-printing, you’re putting things together anyway, so I wonder if that modeling helps you kind of break down different things and see how they go together, how they fit together.
M: You know, I’ve never really thought of it that way, but probably, yeah. I know that building models and stuff has given me appreciable skills because when you approach a situation, you want to look at the components and kind of assess how it should go together, and it helps you to realize that there are steps in a process. You have to do A and B before you can do C and D. So I think I owe a lot to that because it also gives you patience to go through those steps, even though at the time I may not have had a lot of patience because, you know, you’re a kid and you just want to build it and play with it.
R: [Laughs] Right. Okay, so you have mentioned to me that you have a bit of a musical past as well. Are you still interested in that? I know you’ve DJed and I know you’ve been in bands, so how much of those do you still enjoy?
M: Well, I still really enjoy DJing because it’s cool to play something, play some music that means something to you or that you really like, and have other people respond in a similar fashion, because it’s like being on stage when you’re acting…oh acting! That’s another thing I do. When you’re on stage acting, there is a connection and an interaction between you and the audience…if you’re doing it properly.
R: I know, but tell the people listening or reading, what types of acting have you done?
M: On the stage, my first real, what I would call “professional,” even though I wasn’t paid for it, was Count Dracula. It was something way beyond just like high school or that kind play.
R: And that was L.C.C.?***
R: Do you remember when that was?
R: ‘93…so just two or three years ago.
M: Yeah [laughs], and then I didn’t do another play until ’95, and there for a while I was doing one like every two years. And I don’t know if it was just to give myself kind of a break… Dracula was such an awesome experience, my first time on a real, big stage with adult actors, and the set was phenomenal. The set was just amazing, and I was so spoiled, my next play there was hardly any set and I was like, “Wow. This is the same thing?” But it was fun. And yeah, so I’ve done several plays, and I was actually a professional actor in the last one in 2005 when I was in Jacob Marley’s Nightmare…no, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. I played a kind of a mystical creature called a bogle, which is kind of a little fairy, imp kind of guy, and I was influencing Jacob Marley to turn his life around, and thus help my character to escape, too.
R: And then you’ve done…didn’t you do, wasn’t it Halloweentown?
M: Yeah, I was an extra in Halloweentown for the Disney Channel. It was filmed in St. Helens, and that was ’98.
R: And then the webisode?
M: Yeah, Lady Wasteland.
R: Yeah, it was like a post-apocalyptic…
M: Yeah, unfortunately, I was only in the first episode. Got shot and killed, but that was fun, and it was totally different. I mean, you do anything that’s for t.v. or filmed, it’s totally different than acting on stage. A lot of sitting around and waiting for your turn to do stuff, but it was still cool.
R: Okay, but if you’ve done all these different things, I’m sure they’ve all kind of influenced your designs over time…
R: So out of all these things in your 25 years of Bonemill, do you have any favorites? And then, also, what do you think the oldest one is that you’re still printing, you’re still using, today?
M: Wow… The oldest one that I had printed in 1991 and I recently reprinted, I think in 2004, was “Bone Finger.”
R: “Bone Finger.” Can you describe that for people who…or maybe you can get me an image of it, if you have an image you can email me.
M: Oh yeah, I can hook you up!
R: Okay, cool.
M: It’s kind of a skull face with gnarly teeth. It’s very punk-ish, it’s more punk. As a matter of fact, I did the original drawings for it and I called it “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!”**** So it’s this skeletal head with the jawbone attached, glowing eyes, pupils in the hollow sockets, and just kind of gnarly skin clenched tightly over the skull, and a big kind of, you know, Alien Sex Fiend, Skinny Puppy, Cure sort of whacked out hair job, and it’s flipping you the finger. And it’s been kind of a popular one. Not so much anymore, these days. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s right next to all these cool, newer designs that I have more skill, and I can make them look snazzier getting printed. A favorite…
R: Yeah, but for favorites…
M: It’s tough because at each point, when you’re making something, you really want to make that one, you know.
R: So I guess, if you want to make it a little more easy, which ones have been the most popular, the biggest sellers, or the ones that people ask for the most?
M: The biggest seller would be my “You Are Here” design. It’s a big space, black shirt with white gears of all varying sizes, so you’ve got this field of white gears, all different sizes, and then there’s little red lettering at the bottom that says, “You Are Here,” with a red arrow pointing to a really tiny red gear.
R: Oh, yeah…
M: That was a hugely popular one. I reprinted some in 2000 and… What was that? I guess it was 2007.
M: I think that was when Convergence 13***** was in Portland, and I was vending there, and that was like my first big, official thing, you know. Because it cost me like over $300 bucks, for a weekend, to vend. So it was a big, official thing for me, and Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly were going to be there, and so I kind of felt at that point, “Step up my game!” That’s when I bought the Elephant, so I could hall all of my massive stuff.
R: The Elephant. [Laughs]
M: Yeah, the Honda Element.
R: It’s a vehicle! Okay, here is kind of my last series of questions.
R: When you started Bonemill, did you imagine you’d still be doing it 25 years later?
M: Honestly, not really. I mean, you kind of always hope. I always wanted it to be big. I always wanted it to be like…RedSand was popular at the time, Ocean Pacific, I was wanting something like that. Okay, so at the time, I thought it would be cool if Bonemill was one of those things that just appeared out of nowhere, and nobody knew who was making it, but when I would go to events to sell it, people didn’t want that. They wanted…they were more impressed with the local guy sitting there who had made the art and printed it himself, as opposed to some faceless corporation overseas, which I didn’t take into account. I guess I was shooting for kind of a faceless mover-behind-the-scenes kind of thing.
R: But people wanted the face?
M: Yeah, they wanted the guy who is making stuff, doing art, and putting it on things, which I totally understand, like “Duh!” One of those “duh” moments.
R: Well, in a way, this is true even of Andy Warhol. It’s, a lot of times, the artist that people are buying, not the art. Do you find that to be true at all?
M: I think so, because if you… I noticed if I’m at an event vending my stuff, if I don’t interact with people, the likelihood of them stopping to buy anything goes down significantly, but if I’m hucksting a little bit…
R: Or making connections…
M: Yeah, making connections… Because I think I’m pretty amicable and amiable and I certainly treat people nice when they come to the table, and it’s not just to make a sale. More of the time I’m just interacting with them and showing them my art.
R: And that kind of leads into this one: Is it still fun? Do you think you have another 25 years in you?
M: Yes, it’s still fun. My problem is, I enjoy the creating part too much.
R: Oh! Not necessarily the sales…
M: Right, right. I enjoy the creating and making a new design and putting it on something, and that’s why I have a car full of printed shirts, because I don’t get rid of them nearly as fast as I make them, which is a bad thing, for me.
R: But still fun?
M: Oh yeah, it’s still fun. I still love it, and over the last 20 years I’ve really turned into, like, a screen-printing geek. I can go on about it. I can tell you technical stuff, and all that stuff goes into play when you’re printing something.
R: Yeah. Well, and I think one of the things most people don’t know is, it’s a lot harder than… When we were young we had Transfer T’s****** and these places where you’d come in with a photograph, and they’d go zzzzzzt and it’s on a shirt. I mean, there’s more steps to it than that, but part of that is part of the art. Right?
M: I’d think so, because you select screens that are going to work for certain effects you want and certain inks you want to use. You have to pick specific screen mesh and stuff like that.
R: To get the right effects?
M: And have it turn out well. Because you can take a piece of art that’s intended to be, like, on a 230 mesh, and you put it on a 110, the print is going to look like crap.
R: So okay, what’s next? What do you have on the horizon?
M: Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware but, Bonemill is the big one, is the parent kind of thing, and I have a couple of other lines that I’ve started, kind of under that, like PXLFSH, which is more of a techno. I envision it as more of a techno, you know, brighter colors…
R: Not as gothy and industrially…
M: And dark and industrial, yeah. And then I’ve started BelaBad Kitty, which is based on our cat that we have at home, a black cat named Bela, and people love that one, too.
R: Yeah, I remember. Even my wife loves that one! She thought that was great.
M: I’m kind of surprised you didn’t ask me where the name “Bonemill” comes from.
R: Hey, I was just about to ask: Where does “Bonemill” come from?
M: Okay, so back around the summer of ’91, when I was throwing around possible ideas, one was Splatter Graphics…
R: Punk influenced…
M: Yes, very punk-ish, skateboard-ish, which was kind of a target of mine, kind of the skateboarders. And then the other one was Bonemill D-Signs, and Bonemill just has a flow to it, a ring. I like to use… I come up with phrases and series of words that have a flow and they appeal to me, and it’s like, I don’t use a mathematical algorithm to select these words, I just put them together if I like the sound of it.
R: It’s the poetry within the industrial matrix, right?
M: That could be it. And Bonemill comes also…the influence was from the old “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman…I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” So that, seriously, was a big part of it.
R: Wow! So “Jack and the Beanstalk”…
R: That’s good, so fairy tales…and again, that’s part of that bringing in things from your childhood and influences from all kinds of different genres and stuff. So okay, cool. Did we miss anything really important to the Bonemill?
M: Well, I think what I’ve been telling people Bonemill is, it’s kind of… Its theme is: Man’s dehumanization through technology and industry. And another weird aspect of the whole Bonemill thing is I’ve never clearly defined it. I’ve left it kind of open, and it just means that each definition is totally applicable, and that’s another view on how I view art. The artist can create it, but when the viewer interacts with it, they add their own definition. And I seriously believe that. So like, I will create something and I’ll show it to somebody, and I want their reaction. I want them to add to it. So Bonemill is kind of what everybody thinks it is, to a certain degree, but for me, it’s man’s dehumanization through technology and industry. Hence the skulls, gears, wrenches, and lately, the last few years, I’ve really been going off on a kind of a Soviet propaganda design aesthetic. Because those guys, they knew industry!
R: And dehumanization!
M: Yeah, totally. They were the masters. So I really like the Mechanation stuff. I intended, originally, Mechanation to be kind of its own line, where it was going to be, hand in hand with a club night that Joe Young******** and I started, and it was… My lofty ideals at the time was, Mechanation United Underground, where there was more a collaborative kind of a sense to the scene. Because sometimes you get in the scene where there’s a lot of derisive and divisive elements in it, where people will factionalize, and they’ll move off here and they’ll have their own little group, little clique. I wanted to have… I wanted Mechanation to be representative of the themes as a whole.
R: And the clothing plays a part in that, you think, or the art style, or the design?
M: The design. I think Mechanation is more me being like, “Oh, let’s make a cool design,” and fit it into this theme. So Mechanation, in certain ways, is kind of a distillation of Bonemill. It’s kind of like a pure… I’m not sure if you’ve seen the newest ones, like I have Authentic Mechanation, which is the Russian stamp, Soviet stamp with the pilot.
R: Yeah, I have one of those!
M: And then… What’s the other one? Terminal Mechanation, which is the big cyber-skull with the giant gear around it. And Terminal Mechanation is like, yeah, that would be like the distillation of the ultimate machinery just chewing up humanity.
R: Okay, one more important one: Where, oh where, can readers, viewers, or listeners find Bonemill and Mechanation and PXLFSH? Where can they find this stuff?
M: Right now, it’s just on the Bonemill page on Facebook.
R: Well get a link to that, for sure! [BONEMILL on Facebook]
M: I am so bad, I’m like the uber-procrastinator. I should have had an Etsy shop like, I don’t know, like ten years ago, like five years before Etsy started.
R: Do you have any other conventions or that type of thing that you’ll be at?
M: Nothing scheduled yet, except for Rose City Comicon in September, 2016.
R: Okay. Rose City Comicon, 2016. There will be a Bonemill table there.
M: There’s going to be two tables. We did so well at this last one that I went ahead and sprung for two.
R: Wow! Cool!
M: Yeah. And it’s going to be a combination Art Horse and Bonemill.
R: Oh yeah, we didn’t talk about Art Horse at all, yet. Can you explain a bit about what that is?
M: Okay, Art Horse Studios, again, goes back to my lofty idealism, which, I don’t know… You’d think after all this time life would have beaten it out of me.
M: So, years ago, a good friend of mine showed me a portfolio of a studio of these artists whom I really like, like Bernie Wrightson and… Gosh, I can’t remember the other guy’s name right now, but they had produced this portfolio and each guy had submitted stuff to it, and I thought the fact that these guys are collaborating on something like that just left such an impact on me, I wanted to provide something like that for people and creative artists. And I love collaboration, I love to collaborate with people. As a matter of fact, my good friend, Dan Foster, who’s in Olympia, we collaborated on The Martian-American War, which we coincided to kind of launch, officially, the Art Horse Studios. Now the name “Art Horse” came about while I was working at a shop in Longview, a screen-print shop, and sort of derogatorily referred to myself and my friends who were working there as “art whores.” So “Art Horse” is a play on “art whores,” but totally with good intentions.
R: And “Art Horse” almost has “war horse” as a…
M: Right, and if you see the logo, the horse is very…
R: Like a chess piece, isn’t it, kind of?
M: Yeah, but he’s really… I don’t want to say “enraged,” but he’s very agitated, maybe, and almost angry. It’s a powerful Art Horse.
R: Okay, parting shot! Last words. What else do you want to say to the world out there?
M: Buy Bonemill. It’s cool.
R: Okay, thank you, Michael King!
—King & Yates
*Dementia was a long running industrial and EBM dance event in Portland, Oregon, that took place at a number of different clubs over the course of several years.
***L.C.C. (Lower Columbia College) is in Longview, WA, and for many years the drama department was under the brilliant direction of Don Correll, who recently retired.
****“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” is, of course, a classic punk anthem from San Francisco’s most famous rabble rousers, the Dead Kennedys.
*****Convergence is a huge, annual goth festival that hops from place to place each year in the United States—or creeps, I should say. Goths don’t really hop.
******Transfer T’s was a shop in the Triangle Mall in Longview, WA, back in the 70s and, maybe, early 80s (my memory is a bit fuzzy), where you could get iron-on decals for awesome, iconic images, like Farrah Fawcett or a Planet of the Apes character, and have them put on a t-shirt. They looked great until you washed them, like, twice, then they started to peel off.
*******Joe Young (aka Joe Yugg, aka DJ Non) is a long-time Portland area DJ and promotor who has brought joy and rhythm to the northwest underground scene for many, MANY years. He is currently doing some very interesting things on Fridays and Saturdays at the Jack London Bar in the basement of Portland’s Rialto pool hall!