Savage Pencil

edwin Pouncey writes for British music magazine Wire and occasionally contributes comic strip, “Trip or Squeek” to its back pages. In February 2005, Pouncey spilled some ink on one of his “guilty pleasures,” Black Metal and its ilk. Under the guise of Savage Pencil, Pouncey has produced some intriguing artwork for the Wire’s “Primer” feature, and has exhibited numerous times, notably the “Artfang” exhibit, a series of prints and drawings inspired by and speaking to the music of Black Metal. Here, Stylus writer Stewart Voegtlin and Pouncey discuss the aforementioned, Pouncey’s artistic influences, his love of Mad Magazine, the old masters and Abruptum. And while the man has no plans on creating a coffee table book of his work, he is currently working on a website.

The majority of your artwork appears to come out of a strong comic tradition, sort of like a malignant marriage of Peter Bagge and Pushead. Are you self-taught? And what type of evolution did you style go through before it settled? Where did the moniker Savage Pencil come from?

My interest in drawing began when I was very young and it continued to develop as I became older. Nobody showed me how to draw; it just came to me naturally. Early drawings were simple doodles—usually drawn under the various pieces of furniture that I crawled under as a toddler. But these gradually took the form of various strange animals and imaginary creatures, which I would pencil out on to scraps of paper that I found lying around. I was never really encouraged or discouraged by my parents during this time—they just let me get on with it. After a while I became interested in drawing and making comics, based on the early Marvel comics that I had come into contact with. As I wasn't particularly interested in simply drawing super heroes I mixed this style with what I had also seen in Mad magazine. The old EC artists such as Jack Davis and especially Bill Elder had captured my imagination so I was interested in adopting their styles into my own creations. As I did not have the ability or skill yet to fully master the kind of drawing skills they were capable of my interpretation was much cruder and punkier [sic]. I remember being very attracted to an Elder story in one of my Mad paperbacks (The Bedside Mad?) called "Outer Sanctum" which was a story about a mad scientist who had accidentally created a monster called the Heep out of a pile of rotting garbage. Out of that I birthed a super hero character called Super Blintz who was part Heep and part Plastic Sam (another spoof character out of the Mad books), an amorphous blob that had the power to change itself into any shape it wished. These early comics were a way of keeping me involved in a secret world of my own making, but they were very important in my development as an artist. I unfortunately do not have any of these.

Savage Pencil was originally the name of my imaginary comics company. I decided to use it as a pseudonym when I was asked by the editor of Sounds magazine to submit a weekly comic strip for the magazine during the late �70s when punk was happening. Savage Pencil sounded perfect for the time and it has just stuck.

What are some of your artistic influences? How have they shaped your understanding and creation of art?

My artistic influences are wide and varied. My favourite comics artists range from such stylists as Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko to outsider/underground comix creators such as Rory Hayes and S Clay Wilson. The two major influences on my work, however, are Cal Schenkel (who was responsible for the early Mothers of Invention album covers) and artist/magician Austin Osman Spare whose working methods I have tried to apply to my own art. I am drawn to the way that Spare uses his subconscious to produce his images, as if another force was in control of his line and he is simply the means by which the image is finally transferred on to the sheet of paper. This trance-like state when drawing is something that deeply interests me.

I am always going to art galleries to study the work of old masters and modern painters, designers and draftsmen. I like abstract and minimalist art. Although I do not paint (as such) I am still interested in the way colour is applied to a canvas or how a pen or pencil line is dragged along a surface to create a specific effect.

After visiting an extensive exhibition in London about William Blake I decided to take up etching and it was the combination of ink, acid and flame to create images that made me feel that this was the perfect medium for my images to emerge. Although I haven't done any etching for some months I intend to return to it at some point later this year.

Your comic strips and assorted artwork that has appeared in the Wire is apparently driven by musical influences. The Artfang exhibit in particular looks like a series of meditations on Black Metal iconography. How did the exhibit come about, and were you consciously trying to present an aesthetically unified exhibition based on Black Metal iconography? What is it that draws you to this imagery?

Artfang was exactly that, a series of meditations on the Black Metal music movement. The exhibition was planned in advance, proposed, accepted and displayed. I chose the Black Metal theme because that was the music I was listening to at the time. The music consumed my thoughts and the images just started to appear. Eventually I had enough images prepared to put on an exhibition and, somewhat gratifyingly, the event was a huge success with most of the work being sold.

Because I work and write about various forms of music, what I am listening to at the time becomes engrained in my work. Black Metal is an extreme music and I like that kind of musical form. After building collections of experimental, free jazz and noise music I decided that Black Metal—Satanic music made by Satanists—was an obvious extension to the forms of music I already used to create my art.

I was also interested in finding the more obscure sounding artists, rather than go for the more established figures of the Black Metal scene. The artists I admire the most are the solo artists who make their own music and persona. Of these I think artists such as Xasthur, Leviathan, Furze, Emit, Draugar, Benighted Leams, and various others are more interesting that the usual blood gargling Black Metal bands. My favourite Black Metal band of all time (and the one that started me out on this quest) is Abruptum, whose work I still think is astonishing and beyond the parameters of the somewhat closeted Black Metal scene.

One of the pieces in the Artfang exhibit is the extraordinarily detailed "Thee Golden Chalice." Isn't this one of the pieces that was used for SunnO)))'s Candlewolf of the Golden Chalice? How did you get involved with SunnO)))?

Yes it is. I was introduced to Sunn O)))'s music by sound artist Russell Haswell who suggested that I listen to their first album. I found a copy and really loved what I heard. They were everything that I loved about extreme music and the drone was instantly appealing to me. Haswell had been responsible for bringing Earth to London and their appearance at Paul Smith's Disobey club is on my top gigs of all time list. Sunn O))) had taken that same primal drone experience and extended it to almost La Monte Young levels. I found this very exciting and new. An almost anti-rock music that blew away most of the competition. Eventually I met up with Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson and they suggested I should do some poster and T-shirt work for them. For me this is an honour, in the same way that drawing stuff for Sonic Youth was an honour when they first started to be noticed in the UK. I hope that the working relationship I have built up with Sunn O))) can continue to evolve.

Let's talk a bit about the "Subterranean Metal" feature you did for the Wire. Your introduction was remarkable in that it comfortably encapsulated the origins of the tradition and followed its flow into the myriad tributaries that have now splintered into different genres: Noise artists such as Kevin Drumm, Avant composers like John Zorn, unclassifiable ensembles like Angelblood.

The article had to connect with the readership of the magazine whose initial idea of Metal was probably going to be negative until its hidden joys were explained to them. A Stoner Rock element was also suggested with bands like Sleep and Earth rubbing shoulders with Corrupted and Abruptum. The article was my attempt to attract a new audience to the music by insisting that the music was not a dead or stereotyped genre. Metal is a live music that is constantly changing shape and throwing up new ways of expressing itself. Even though it has become somewhat fashionable to admit to liking Metal now I still am intrigued by what it can offer. I am still excited by its possibilities.

For me the thrill I get from listening to Metal is the same one I got when I first plugged into free jazz. It has that same extremity and sense of urgency. As I said earlier, at the moment I really like the artists who just do it on their own and make records in their bedrooms. I really admire this kind of insular creativity that somehow produces something more focused than a production by a band.—Exceptions to this rule being Manes, Arcturus and Ulver.

How did the "Subterranean Metal" feature come about? Was this something that was a hard sale to your editor? Are you planning on contributing any more metal writing to the Wire?

I simply put forward a good case for running a Metal Primer in the Wire and the editor accepted it. The magazine obviously thought it was a good idea or they would not have entertained the suggestion. At the moment I am not planning on doing any more serious writing about the subject for the Wire, but that's not to say I won't be doing so in the future. At this time I prefer Black Metal to be my secret pleasure. Writing about it too much would perhaps tarnish my passion for it in a way.

Deathspell Omega, Velvet Cacoon, Haemoth, Benighted Leams, Abruptum: All are ensembles that have continued to push the boundaries of the metal genre, adding elements of Drone, Folk, Classical and "Post-Rock" to their approaches. Why do you think metal is subjected to a double-standard: It's either chalked up as some sort of knuckle-dragging enterprise, or ridiculed when written about in a cogent or intellectual fashion, forever fetishized by metalheads as a sort of "thing-in-itself?"

What makes Black Metal interesting to me is that it has endless possibilities to reinvent itself: in the same way that “gangsta rap” had before it became soft and commercial in the middle and just became a parody of itself. Black Metal is an underground music where the only limitations are self-inflicted. I feel that there is enough up and coming talent inside the scene to keep it constantly changing. Only people who walk around with a fixed, distorted idea about what Black Metal sounds like—or should sound like—belong to that group who, for whatever reason, want to control or deny the music. The more diverse Black Metal becomes can only be a good thing, so that its biased critics and those who want to use it as a fashion device will be ultimately confused and confounded.

By: Stewart Voegtlin
Published on: 2006-05-18
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