As a kid, I was never really impressed with Frankenstein's monster or as I knew him at that point and still often catch myself referring to him "Frankenstein". He sort of settled into Halloween fodder, a face welcome only in the symbol of a favorite holiday, a generic drone adrift in seas of sheet ghosts, pirates, black cats, and clowns.
But like a lot of things in my life (the color yellow, the Friday the 13thmovies, Baby Ruth candy bars) my initial rejection would lead to me taking Frankenstein's monster for granted…and then one day I'd wake up and realize he's really fucking bizarre.
One of my earliest memories of Frankenstein's monster goes back to an autumn in my childhood. After Saturday morning cartoons, one of the local stations would play low budget b-grade horror films hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer.
The show was called Creature Feature and though I would love it now as a kid it only signalled that cartoons were over. Still, something about that show, broadcast on WTOG out of St. Petersburg, FL (just a few hours from where I lived) stayed with me.
I don't think I ever sat down and watched it, rather it would stay on the TV as I ran from my room, to the kitchen, outside, and back again. But I remember a spot that would play on TV where a slowed down voice wished the audience a happy Halloween from the TV station. The voice played over cheap, wavering images of all the classic monsters, but my mind always put that deep, creepy, cheesy voice as Frankenstein's monster's. It wasn't a direct thought, just something at the back of my head.
The first time Frankenstein's monster caught me by surprise was sometime in late middle school or early high school when we were given free reign to choose any "classic" book from the library and write a report about it. I can't really recall what books I was into at the time, if any, but guessing something by Stephen King or Lewis Carroll would probably be close. I don't remember distinctly, but I think I felt like I was settling when I eventually chose Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
To this day, I don't remember a lot of the book other than burning through it in record time. I suddenly felt that the green, flat-top, neck-bolt model of Frankenstein's monster wasn't just the oafish holiday background actor I'd written him off as but rather a mockery, a farce, a candy corn-saturated spit-in-the-face of the poetic creation that Mary Shelley had brought to life with her words.
I envisioned him distorted, strong but hunched over, hands always twisted in simian reflex, greasy black hair carelessly spilling over one side of his face and running down his back or sticking to his clammy chest in cascades of dead tendrils. His stare was glassy and dark, his lips black and mangled against his gray skin.
When I was in my 20s, my girlfriend at the time developed an obsession with Frankenstein's monster. It must have been around the time that the Universal Legacy Collection came out because I didn't even own the Frankenstein DVD for a long time since she had it.
I don't remember the full extent of her fixation on Frankenstein's monster but she did go to Target directly after Halloween and ask if she could keep the giant cardboard face of Frankenstein's monster that they'd had hanging above the Halloween decor and costumes and her plea must have been passionate enough because they gave it to her.
The pinnacle of her hysteria, for me anyway, came around her birthday in February when she special ordered the infamous Carvel cake Cookiepuss but had it decorated like Frankenstein's monster. I can't recall how long Frankenpuss sat in our freezer in various states of disrepair but it felt like a year.
All of these experiences bled into my rendition of Frankenstein's monster (and maybe a bit of the Paul Morrissey film Flesh for Frankenstein) but this version of Frankenstein's monster actually came to me shortly before I got to work on the painting. I felt like it was important for this monster to somehow be psychedelic in nature.
I wanted to keep the brute qualities of the classic monster intact but the book and film both stayed true to a sort of fragile gentleness to the monster that I felt would be expressed well in the psychedelic aspects of the painting. Immediately, I imagined him in rolling hills and fields of flowers with the cold, clinical Castle Frankenstein among jagged mountains and an omnipresent thunderstorm.
The flowers were modelled (with lots of liberty taken with color and size) on three types of poison flowers: the belladonna, the daphne, and the autumn crocus. I wanted Frankenstein's monster to wander into a beauty that was at the same time vicious. But seeing as he is already dead, the flowers would pose no threat to him and instead be a sanctuary for him.
In this illustration, I imagine the flowers to exude the poison as a vapor, a venomous fragrance that keeps humans at bay. Here, the monster is alone with nature in a personal garden, communing with butterflies and bees and basking in simplicity.
Doubtless a lot of these ideas were influenced by the poppy fields of The Wizard of Oz (as well as the visual parallel between Castle Frankenstein and the Wicked Witch of the West's fortress) as well as the Nathaniel Hawthore short story "Rapaccini's Daughter". Here we feel the monster's connection with nature, perhaps indicative of a soul, while reinforcing his disconnect from the human race.
The visual design of my version of Frankenstein's monster went through several phases and I feel like I can trace the final result to several influences. Though not much of a fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (I admit, this is probably due to over-saturation more than anything) the concept of creating an attractive Adonis instead of a hulking monstrosity appealed to my glam rock aesthetic when I was a teenager.
This concept would connect with me again during my 20s when I first saw The Phantom of the Paradise and the Frankenstein-monsteresque performance from Death Records artist Beef.
But it hit its full impact when I got into Paul Morrissey's movies starring Joe Dallesandro. While Dallesandro did not play the monster in Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein, Dallesandro's role opposite the monster-as-Adonis mixed in a mental blender with his leading roles in the Flesh/Trash/Heat trilogy and suddenly I was envisioning a ripped Frankenstein's monster with long blonde hair.
Originally, the monster was to be more effeminate with slender features and a wistful look in his dead eyes. While this seemed interesting, it didn't really cover what I felt was true at the base of Frankenstein's monster. It's worth a laugh to mention that he was almost painted wearing a red shirt with white polka dots but again it felt off the mark.
I think this may have been some sort of influence from the movie Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare in which Canadian '80s metal frontman Thor appears in one scene wearing a similar blouse that for reasons beyond my explanation always reminded me of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
So, I guess I was sifting through a lot of subconscious muck to get to the end result of this illustration. Perhaps between the beefcake monsters and the stitched-up grotesque monsters, the 80s macho metal and the lost little girl from Kansas, it all comes back to that juxtaposition of beauty and poison.
I used to fixate on a line from my favorite New York Dolls song "Frankenstein": "Do you think it's a crime to fall in love with Frankenstein?" I used to ask it to my friends as a two-part question: 1.) the question itself and 2.) "Do you think David Johansen was talking about Dr. Frankenstein or the monster he created?" I can't quite figure out how this directly fits into this illustration but it still felt worth mentioning.