[Interview] Andrea Bonazzi, Master of the Weird

Andrea Bonazzi is an artist and Cthulhu Mythos prop maker I have been following for many, many years now – literally since the first days I ever had the chance to use a search engine. One of the very first things I did when I “jacked-in” to the ‘net was search for Cthulhu sculptures and Mythos props. To my delight I stumbled upon Andrea’s work almost immediately, and absolutely fell in love with it. I even went to some lengths to contact him to see if I could commission him to fashion one of his hand carved pipes for me, but alas I was unable to get through to him at the time.

(Andrea Bonazzi, posing in his blasphemous library)

For those unfamiliar with the name Andrea Bonazzi he is a mixed media artist residing in Genoa, Italy, he is self taught and is obsessive about the works of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as many other Weird fiction luminaries. I have been collecting and researching Cthulhu Mythos inspired artwork for a very long time now, and in my opinion Andrea is among the best in the world. His pieces are amazing, and I have found endless inspiration from them over the years. Andrea is also a writer, and serves as the editor for Weirdletter, a thematic blog that specializes in talk and news about Weird fiction and art.

It is with great pleasure that I am able to share some of Mr. Bonazzi's work with you today, as well as a brief interview that I recently conducted with Andrea via Facebook and email.

And now the questions:

Shane Mangus: Hello, Andrea. I hope things are well. It is good to speak with you again. Are you up to answering a few questions about yourself?

Andrea Bonazzi: Ready and still a bit surprised that someone is interviewing me! It’s just my second time, being rather a “non-entity” even in the small world of my interests about Weird Art and Fiction and, curiously, I have never been interviewed in my own language.

(H.P.L., C.A.S. & R.E.H., montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: I know you and I have a lot in common, in that we are both huge fans of Weird fiction, which obviously includes Sword & Sorcery literature, as well as the Cthulhu Mythos. I am curious to know how old you were when you were first exposed to this kind of fiction? What story was it and who was the writer?

AB: Really, I cannot remember... Since childhood I literally breathed this kind of fiction. My mother liked Mystery and Thrillers, while my father was a strong reader of Science-Fiction, which in the few Italian publications of those years contained almost everything from Space Opera to Fantasy. So, instead of the classic fables for bedtime stories he told me his own SF tales reinvented on the bases of his readings. Then, I was also fond of anything of scary, Fantasy or Fantastic that could pass through the Italian TV in the early 1970s... Even “The Prisoner”, that I could not fully understand as a child. My older brother, also a SF reader, brought home “The Lord of the Rings” almost in those same times, so I began to know Tolkien’s Heroic Fantasy even before to read his books.

(J.R.R. Tolkien, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

Among my first books, I was fond to Ray Bradbury’s stories, starting with “The Martian Chronicles”. From here, when I started my own readings and my books purchases I discovered Poe, and then Lovecraft.

(Edgar Allan Poe, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: It sounds like you had a very special relationship with your father. I was sad to hear of his passing when you announced it on Facebook. You have my deepest condolences. Obviously he had a huge impact on your developing imagination, exposing you to such great fiction so early in life. Getting more specific and focusing on a sub-genre of Weird fiction, who is your favorite Sword & Sorcery writer, and is there a specific story you can point to that you would consider your favorite?

AB: I can’t maintain absolute values and strictly fixed points... My preferences are slightly variable in the course of time, and I cannot make a single name and title. My milestones reside in the Heroic Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien, which brought me toward my further interest in the Epics of all cultures and in Medieval Literature, and Robert E. Howard, so different in a modern, visceral and darkest way. REH’s “Worms of The Earth” is perhaps my favourite, if I have to point a single story. One of the best tales, in my ideals, combining Sword & Sorcery and Weird Horror. Also I love Fritz Leiber, Karl Edward Wagner and Mike Moorcock. After the early 1980s, rarely I found real interest in modern Sword and Sorcery.

(Robert E. Howard, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: I couldn't agree more. "Worms of the Earth" is a shining example of the culmination of Weird horror and Sword & Sorcery. What about the Cthulhu Mythos – is there a specific writer and/or story that you consider your favorite?

AB: Mythos fiction is still funny in this way, but in years I become rather bored by stories that are missing Lovecraft’s own intents and philosophy. I prefer HPL’s original works, and those of authors that not imitate him, writing with their own voices in his tradition of Weird and Cosmic Horror. After H.P. Lovecraft, the idol on my dark library is now Thomas Ligotti. The most complex and literary author in contemporary Weird Horror Fiction, his writing is often almost as prose poem, a vehicle for his pessimistic philosophy, in a subtle way that questions the foundation and the sense itself of our reality.

("Find n. 2", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: Ligotti is a writer that I have had on my “must read” lists for a while now. I know I have read a few of his stories in various anthologies, and I knew that he was gifted and unique. I am going to have to buy a collection of his work and delve further. You have me intrigued.

I believe I have read that you were most influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, and it was his works, both literary and artistic, that inspired you to become an artist yourself. Is this a true statement, and if so can you please elaborate on this a bit?

AB: In the late 1980s I was reading CAS’s fiction, and the very few biographical notes about him in Italian editions. His poems also were mentioned, but nothing of these was translated, nor available for me, and the same was for his artworks that I then could not see, unable to access rare and expensive foreign publications. I could read vague descriptions of them, alluring allusions, and the praises by Lovecraft and others… But I could just imagine his drawings and, especially, the shape of his sculptures.

("Cthulhu", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

Were those pieces like the stone monstrosities described in so many Weird Tales’ Mythos stories? Under these influences and suggestions I started to make my own “blaspheme idols”, initially in cheap plaster modelling paste, through increasing elaborated techniques based on try and error. Really different stuff from CAS’ carved pieces, but only some years after I eventually saw pictures of Smith’s real statuettes and heads.

(Clark Ashton Smith, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: It is hard for me to decide which I enjoy more, the sculptures and tablets you have produced or the Photoshop work with all the various montages of Weird luminaries, so I have decided I do not have to make a decision on this. I will love it all! Is there any one piece from your collection that you can point to that is particularly special, and why is it so?

AB: Almost every single monster I made is, in a way or another, a self-portrait… Well, maybe I’m less visibly tentacled, as can state who met me in person and survived... But I can see myself in any of the screaming aliens portrayed in my works. Particularly, for many reasons tied to situations and times, in the tablet that usually I put as avatar or personal profile picture on the Web: the tentacular, eyeless face with a small violet, opaque mirror. It is the only piece that I keep for me, as a sort of personal “logo”. A squared image of the same tablet was utilized, years ago, for the prize-plaque of the “Premio Lovecraft”, an Italian literary horror award.

("Tablet with Violet Mirror", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: I know your sculptures and tablets are one of a kind works, but I can’t help but wonder, have you had many offers to buy these pieces? Would you even consider selling them?

AB: This stuff has no market at all, here in Italy. I sold very few pieces between 2000 and 2005, but there is no interest. And almost none, among the very few interested people, is willing to pay a congruous price for unique pieces that needed a lot of work hours. Better perspectives from abroad, but Italian shipping expenses are terribly high, and higher are also the probability of damage in shipping such frail sculptures. Once, I sell a tablet in the USA, and it arrived damaged in Texas, even if carefully packaged in a heavy wooden box. So, how can I sell unique pieces that could arrive broken in many pieces?

("Yog-Sothoth's Eye", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

However, I have no sense of business at all... Between the total lack of perspectives in Italy and the many problems to sell abroad, I dropped out this my activity, making just one sculpture in the last seven years. Moreover, just few pieces remain in my possession: in full depression, five years ago I gave away or sold heavily under cost almost all of them.

("Nightgaunt" oil lamp, sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

I could say to have dropped out my artworks... I was tired of all, but also I had a lot of troubles in last five years, which prevented me, in practice, to made new sculptures. I have no laboratory, and could not make such mess of a work in the same small apartment where I was nursing my declining old father, died by cancer just few months ago.

("Leaves from the Necronomicon", created by Andrea Bonazzi)

I made my last “Cthulhu” in 2007, then just a couple of montages for friend’s publications, and some silly videos... For the rest, I passed to write: articles, translations, even a bit of ghostwriting. In the present day I’m still translating and writing, even if not professionally. Probably I will begin again to made sculptures and illustrations, one day or another. For now, I have more urgent survival problems to keep at bay.

(Cthulhu Idol, sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: Lets hope that you find your muse again, and start creating more of your Mythos inspired masterpieces. When I first saw the picture manipulation work that you have dubbed your "montages" I was just blown away. I have found much inspiration from these pictures over the years, and find them utterly fascinating. Have many of your montages been used in publications? If so, can you remember which one?

AB: I had a black and white personal “portfolio” of works in “H.P. Lovecraft: Sculptus in Tenebris” (2001), a small press Italian anthology of essays. A lot of my montages were published in the monthly magazine “Mystero” edited by the movie director Luigi Cozzi, and in some books by his publishing house Profondo Rosso. Because I was an unpaid contributor, he once vaguely put in the prospect to write something about me in his magazine, so I made a rather silly photomontage of myself with H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, for use it in this eventual article. Well, eventually there was no article, but I found that same picture published, with other two of my montages, in the essay “H.P. Lovecraft: Storia e Cronologia del Necronomicon” (2002). I fear that a lot of people who bought the book still wonder “who the hell is this guy beside Lovecraft and Smith in that photo”...

(A.B., C.A.S & H.P.L., montage by Andrea Bonazzi)

Other works are in diverse magazines and fanzines, not just in Italy. My portrait of Arthur Machen was published in “The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales”... even if was subsequently said, in my collaboration with “Machenalia”, that the man in the picture was not, alas, really Machen!

(Arthur Machen, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

But sometimes I have also the “surprise” to see my work professionally published without permission, nor any sort of credit: I’ve found one of my portraits of HPL on the frontispiece of an expensive hardback published in Spain by Valdemar in 2007, “Narrativa completa”, volume 2 in a set of the complete Lovecraft’s fiction.

(Lovecraft with Cthulhu Idol, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: I have read your complaints with Italian culture and how it has a way of ignoring Weird fiction and art. Here in the States I would say that the Weird market has a following, but overall it is still very much a niche market, only to slip into the mainstream on occasion. In your opinion what is it about Weird fiction and art that is such a turn off, and is there any hope of changing people opinions on the subject?

AB: Italy never developed a tradition in Supernatural or Fantastic Fiction; we had no Romanticism, like other European countries in the XIX century. A heavy Catholic influence since ever refuses any supernatural or even speculative nuance in national culture, and the freshly united Italy immediately established the need of strict realism in fiction. Art and literature had to deal with the “real” and the “concrete living” only... There were exceptions, of course, but the main rule remained basically the same in the XX century.

(Lovecraft with "Arctic Find" tablet, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

Now, while Thriller and Noir have the most success, Science Fiction has some public recognition and Fantasy (just the simplest and most imitative, alas) finds some commercial success. But Horror, out of the Stephen King’s bestsellers and the young adults Vampires Fantasies, still remains as the fool, embarrassing member of the family, never taken seriously. It’s too complicated to analyze all this now, but without any tradition, nor consideration toward its values and potentialities, Horror and Weird Fiction remain ignored or despised both by publishers and readers. Italians don’t read books, in general, but even Horror movies’ fans usually don’t read Horror Fiction. Publishers rarely invest on this genre (we have now only one specialized Horror publishing), while very few small presses can just sell not more than few dozen copies of their best titles, now relegated, for the most, to the “printing on demand”... No market for fiction, so no market for art also. Just very few authors, editors and translators can make their living from their work in Italy, at any level. Even less for artists, if they don’t work abroad. Italian publishing market usually doesn’t pay collaborations, and most of the time don’t pay even for illustrations and copyrights.

(Lord Dunsany, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

I don’t know how to change something, being rather pessimistic on those issues. I do not expect anything more from my activities and works, surely I don’t expect to make a cent from them. And I have doubts even on my editing of an Italian thematic blog: at last, it’s nothing more than a useless hobby for just a dozen of readers.

SM: I understand exactly where you are coming from on this. But, honestly what else can I expect when I run such a narrowly focused blog, and have the interests and hobbies that I do? In the end I guess we have to keep telling ourselves that we love what we do and ignore what the rest of the world thinks.

Overall, how would you say your work has been received by the public? Have you seen a marked difference in the interest in Italy compared to other countries?

AB: No interest here… Or, at least, a tepid interest among the Lovecraftian fans only, that however are usually unwilling to spend money outside of cheaper and more alluring commercial action figures, or accessories for games. Just few Italians can conceive to use together both the words “fantastic” and “art”: artworks inspired by SF, Fantasy and Horror are perceived like something different from “art”... Even when successful in the course of decades, like the great surrealistic paintings by Karel Thole, made as covers for Mondadori’s Science Fiction publications. And genre illustrations and covers, as I said, rarely are paid by the most of publishers. So, why to pay for buy original artworks?!

(Lovecraft and cat, montage and sculpture by Andrea Bonazzi)

I have scarce experiences about Fantastic Art in other countries, but it seems to me to find abroad both greater interest and best consideration and respect for these artworks. Surely on the Web, where pictures and videos of my works are more easily found on websites of any language except the Italian.

("Find n. 3", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

Was funny to see people’s response during my exhibitions... The most gratifying were the apparently “negative” reactions, when some people feel visibly uneasy in front of my strange and tormented idols and creatures... “I don’t like it, it’s morbid!”... “Why do you make these sick things?”... And in online comments, still I find incredible that someone may take for “real photos” certain evidently manipulated pictures.

SM: It is my opinion that roleplaying games have created a new outlet for creativity that stands side by side with literature, art, theater and music. In many ways, when they are at their most ambitious, roleplaying games have the potential to integrate all of these art forms in their design and execution. Looking at it from this angle I feel that RPGs have more than contributed to the Weird market over the years. I am not sure if you are a gamer or not, but I suspect that you are. Do you or have you ever played any roleplaying games? If yes, which is your RPG of choice?

AB: In the mid of the 1980s, I was one of the few desperate Italians that were raking every single toys & modelling shop in search of game modules and miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons. In those years we had just rare and expensively imported game materials, then in 1985 D&D came in its first Italian translation (not the first Italian roleplaying: just a year before D&D we had a sort of imitation called “Kata-Kumbas”). So I started to play, and then to write my own adventures...

("Elder Sign", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

I dropped out with roleplayng just in the early 2000s. In the meantime, I was a dwarf (well, I have “le physique du rôle” for that!), I was Rorschach in a DC comics RPG (mad enough to be him!), I was Elric of Melniboné, and also a lot of scientist, literates and detectives… All died or gone utterly crazy in the world of Call of Cthulhu...

("Dei Culti Oscuri" 250 pgs./bound in leather, created by Andrea Bonazzi)

CoC was obviously my favorite, both as keeper and player, and early I began to make props for our adventures... Even a real grimoire called “Dei Culti Oscuri” (“About the Dark Cults”), that I wrote in a nonsensical antiquated Italian, gathering fragments of fiction, sourcebooks, and everything at hand, badly printed in 250 pages and leather bound (note: I can assure that nobody was skinned alive for the binding of this tome).

SM: It is hard to pinpoint a date that I discovered your work on the internet, but I know it was at least a decade ago or more. When did you first post your work for the world to see, and what impact has it had on you and your life?

AB: I was online for the first time in late 1999, fumbling with HTML to make my own website, so I think my stuff appeared on the Web in 2000. I had an immediate and very positive feedback from Spain and France, beside of USA and UK: the Spanish Lovecraftian site “Nueva Logia del Tentáculo” used one of my sculpture in their graphics, and after a year E.P. Berglund posted another couple of them in his “Nightscape #14”. I was exhilarated, contacting a lot of people from all over the world, resuming my art and selling or publishing pieces, putting them in exhibition during events and conventions... I was at the top of enthusiasm when my friend Ursula Equizzi and I were both selected for the “On Screen Art Show” at the HPL Film Festival 2003. The Internet opened me an entire new universe.

("Tobacco-Pipe V", carved by Andrea Bonazzi)

SM: I know I have seen other artists struggle to maintain copyright control over their artwork with the unfortunate rise of artwork being used unlawfully and without license. Have you had these same problems and what is your opinion on the whole subject?

AB: In putting my works on the Web, even as low-res files, I lost control of the most of them. I’m not a professional, I have no problem if people make a private use of my pictures, even through the fandom, but is a sad thing when you cannot anymore find your credits on them, or even see your signatures cut off from the picture.

("Thing on Pilaster", sculpted by Andrea Bonazzi)

More sad when you find your works professionally published, unauthorized and uncredited at all, like for the Spanish Lovecraft’s hardback that already I mentioned. I found other professional piracy on Italian magazines, protesting against them without any response. I regularly find my montages as cover or illustrations for ebooks sold through Ebay, where someone from USA also sells printed pins with Lovecraftian illustrations by Dave Carson, J.K. Potter... and mine (at least, my ego is flattered for this matching with real artists). But I’ve practically renounced to react at all on this. Online, you can have just momentary responses, and then commercial piracy restarts again and again. And I can’t spend anymore a single cent in formal protests by mail to unresponsive publishers without any legal support.

SM: Are there any websites that you would like to share links for, or anything that you would like to promote?

AB: My Italian blogs and websites are of scarce interest for English readers, so you can find them Googling around if you need to get a look. Any self-promotion is ever so boring... But I could spend few words to suggest the forum at, the best place on this Plane of Existence for any Weird Fiction’s addicted, the dark sanctuary where I found new stimuli and knowledge and so many new good friends.

("Unsuspected Travels by H.P. Lovecraft and Friends - Pictures from The Miskatonic Archives", video by Andrea Bonazzi)

("Unclassified find, 1928 - Cthulhu", video by Andrea Bonazzi)

In closing, I would like to thank Andrea for taking the time to answer the questions I presented him. English is not his first language, so it means that much more to me that he made the effort to answer these questions in mine. I made little attempt to alter his answers, as I feel he did a fine job getting his point across. It saddens me that Mr. Bonazzi feels he is a “non-entity” in the fields of Weird art and Cthulhu Mythos prop making. In my opinion he could not be more wrong. I believe it is his humble nature that I find most appealing. In an age of crass commercialism on the backs of true literary giants (i.e. Lovecraft, Howard, Tolkien, etc.) it is refreshing to find a gentleman such as Adrea Bonazzi. Though he and I may never actually get to shake hands in this life I consider him a friend. He is a true class act, and I wish him all the best.

Now all I need to do is get him to carve me a pipe! :-)


R.R. Hunsinger said...

Good interview!

Sean Robson said...

Make that "carve me a pipe" x2. Add yet another thing I never knew I needed to my wishlist.

Nice interview.

Rich said...

I think my favorite is the Yog Sothoth eye! That is really cool! Really great post!

Chad Thorson said...

Great Interview! I personally would take up smoking if I had a Cthulhu pipe!

Anonymous said...

The Cthulhu pipe is now for sale on Ebay