Natalie Michelle Watson is an Australian artist, designer and cartoonist who first came to our attention thanks to her lovingly self made magazine ‘Drongo’ – released under her ‘Drongo Press’ label.
Natalie, ‘Drongo’ and her art are unashamed with their sense of pride and nostalgia in Australian culture of the past – sentiments that we at ‘Art Whore’ wholeheartedly support!
With Natalie herself stating:
“Well I guess I started ‘Drongoʼ because I missed the old kiddy mags I used to read in the 90s.
I guess itʼs a nostalgic adultʼs response to Americanisation and the death of Australian culture. I remember, I had a little “Dinky Diary” in primary school, with kangaroos and koalas on it. I collected Oddbodz, and ‘Max Altitudeʼ memorabilia from Qantas. I loved ‘The Feralsʼ… I watched everything I loved about Australia slowly heave and die in the wake of globalisation.
‘Drongoʼ is the most Australian word I could think of, and is my way of attempting to claw back to that time, if only for a moment.“
(Photo below of Natalie reading an issue of ‘Drongo’)
With Natalie working on both issue number 4 of ‘Drongo’ and her new creation ‘Show Dogs’ we thought now was the perfect time to get to know just how rad both Natalie and her art are, by reading the Art Talk Interview below…
Name + D.O.B?
My name is Natalie Michelle Watson, and I was born on July 4th, 1991, which currently makes me 26 years old.
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia is my home and also where Iʼm from.
My mother was born in Kerala, India, and came to Australia when she was eleven years old. It was around the tail end of the White Australia Policy, but the country needed doctors. My grandfather took this as an opportunity to escape the threats of the Communist Party, which was trying to make him their pawn.
My maternal history plays a large role in my identity, and has also shaped how I was perceived by other people; growing up brown with a White manʼs name.
(A crudely coloured in photograph of my family in India with their missionary friends. My mother is the girl in the ‘blueʼ dress)
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, politics, crime… ANYTHING really!
* age 5 – beginnings:
My life started out as happy and as carefree as most Australian children seemed to have experienced in the early 90s.
I was considered a ‘giftedʼ child; I taught myself how to read before I started school, and was quite precocious in the arts.
My parents separated soon after I commenced my schooling.
(Age 4, first day of school)
* age 10 – continuations:
By age ten I had decided I hated my life, and was picked on regularly at school. Reasons included: having two mums (or rather, a step-mother), and the colour of my skin (I was frequently referred to as ‘Mowgliʼ and/or ‘Balooʼ).
I wasnʼt great at making friends, but I could draw pretty well for my age. My primary school art teacher encouraged me to help other students who didnʼt know how to draw things, and my paintings often featured on school flyers and in the year book.
This was until everyone elseʼs fine motor skills crept up to mine, and suddenly I wasnʼt the only good drawer in my year level. I figured my art career was over.
(‘Tickle poseʼ, me around age 6 with one of my whiteboard drawings)
* age 15 – getting serious:
The bullying got much, much worse as I hit my teens.
At fifteen, I found myself attempting to explain cyber bullying at the magistrates court. It was apparently the first recorded case of online bullying in Australia, and I lost against twentysix other youths for bullying and harassment because the magistrate couldnʼt understand what MySpace was.
During one of my usual weekend runs around the city (away from the bullies), Iʼd take refuge in a music store, hiding underneath the cash registers. After some months of this routine, I became quite friendly with one of the staff, who eventually offered me a volunteer role as a music promoter for a large company.
The rest of my teens were spent attending 2-3 gigs a week for free, walking around with VIP wristbands at bigname festivals, and watching scantily clad women grind themselves against band members backstage.
Thanks for your old drivers licence, Louise xox
(16 year old me with my fourth-worst-ever hairstyle)
* age 20 – young adult:
By twenty Iʼd already been interviewed in several magazines and newspapers for my fashion sense, and for my old jewellery line that I started when I was sixteen. No one really cared about me after that, as a twenty year old making earrings wasnʼt really anything to write to anyone about. I got disillusioned and confused.
My heart had been broken by a minor celebrity.
I studied film and animation.
My paternal grandma died.
Iʼd spent more years of my life depressed than not.
(My 21st birthday in NYC on the 4th of July)
* age 25 – adult mode:
My twenty-fifth birthday was strange.
Not only had I not achieved anything Iʼd expected to have accomplished by this age, I was living in Tokyo, being exploited by the company I worked for.
I had had enough of the working culture, and of the men.
Close friends had left me for dead at a Shinjuku hospital.
I had to flee to Osaka out of fear.
I was in the throngs of a deep period of anguish that would not lift for a while. The self-love I had spent the last couple of years fostering was waning. I couldnʼt draw anything other than shapes. I came back to Melbourne and felt some of the friends I loved drift further and further away. They saw me differently. People donʼt know how to deal with other peopleʼs trauma, unless they themselves have been through trauma too.
I have always been a resilient person, and this experience was no different. I managed to snap out of my funk, and started drawing again.
(Me a month off my 25th birthday in a Japanese passport photo booth)
“Do not neglect the gift you have.”
(1 Timothy 4`14)
Favorite other artists?
Thatʼs a pretty broad question, I suppose. I consider musicians like Danny Elfman to be one of my favourite artists, especially from his Oingo Boingo days. Oingo Boingo is my favourite band both aesthetically and musically. The visuals and soundtrack of ʼForbidden Zoneʼ are enthralling to me.
I bought ‘Crumbʼ, the documentary, whilst on one of my trips to New York. I was interested in it more for David Lynchʼs name at the top of the DVD case, I had no idea who Robert Crumb was. Iʼd always liked the look of comic books, but I didnʼt have a skerrick of interest in the superheroes of Marvel and DC. I didnʼt know anything else existed. Crumb was just what I was looking for.
‘Ghost Worldʼ was my favourite film, but it was only after a late night conversation with an Irish man on a tatami mat in Zoshigaya that I found out Rebecca and Enid were actually comic book characters, and there was a whole series out there in the world called ‘Eightballʼ. I consumed the works of Daniel Clowes voraciously.
From there I discovered Bill Griffith, Peter Bagge, and the films of Ralph Bakshi.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
I suppose the worst aspect is the sheer saturation of it all.
Everyone is out there on Instagram and Twitter trying to make a name for themselves, for someone to acknowledge their work and catapult them. I personally donʼt like Instagram, but I find myself in a constant sense of false urgency if Iʼm not active with it. Iʼd rather print off my work and tape it to poles around town, but the fears of not having a social media presence get to me. I donʼt know how other people do it.
Iʼm happy for anyone who can catch a break.
Itʼs relieving to me when I find out a lot of the artists I respect didnʼt get anywhere until their 30s, 40s, or even 50s.
The other problem is industry versus technology. Twenty years ago the average cartoonist could earn a decent wage doing editorial work for magazines and small newspapers. There were magazines on anything and everything, all needing illustrations and cover work. The Internet has crushed the print industry, and with more 9-5 workers turning to freelancing, there are less gigs to fill more pockets.
(Photos below of some pet rocks by Natalie)
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
While more and more people are referring to themselves as designers because they have a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, there is room for traditional artists who work with paints and inks.
Thereʼs nothing quite like a handrendered illustration, and it really stands out amongst the crowd. A human connection.
A positive side of technology is that we can now chase opportunities in other cities and countries. Australians are getting more recognition than ever before in the creative fields. So I suppose itʼs not all bad.
Another cool thing is that you can produce work and donʼt have to worry about middle men per se. You can reach your audience directly now. You have more creative freedom and can still own the rights to your work.
Do you consider what you are making to be art, design, re-hashed crap?
I refer to myself as a designer when my Bachelor of Design degree is relevant to the conversation.
I rarely refer to myself as an artist, as when I do I feel pretentious. Even calling myself an illustrator feels a little wanky. I like the title of ‘cartoonistʼ because it explains what I do and itʼs modest. Thereʼs no exaggerated grandiosity associated with cartoons. It is what it is. I think of the work Iʼm doing now as alternative comics.
When/why did you first start making art?
I started taking myself seriously in my final year of my Bachelors degree.
I knew I could draw as a kid, but I never really fostered my skills, despite studying 2D frame-by-frame animation. I thought I sucked. I had a friend who constantly tried to put me down, and she always told me that I couldnʼt draw (she was jealous; she told me so one night whilst drunk).
After doodling food, and then animals, and then people, I decided that I could actually still draw, and set about practicing. I was twenty-three.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
After coming back from Japan, I did a crappy little sketch about a bad date I went on and posted it to Facebook. An hour later I got a message from one of my uni friends telling me I should really have a go at drawing comics. It was the first time this had been suggested to me, and I pencilled and inked my first ever comic, ‘Darcy pt.1ʼ, which was two pages long, in October 2016.
Describe the process of producing your art? – Dot point all o.k!
1. I start with an idea and some rough thumbnails in my muck book…
2. I use my flimsy little template to map out the squares, or spend hours agonising over millimetres if itʼs for a project that isnʼt ‘Show Dogsʼ…
3. I ink the lines…
4. Then I pencil in the work…
5. Then I ink the work, either in Copic Multiliners or with brush and ink…
6. Then I either colour everything in with Copic markers, colour pencils, or with the bucket fill tool of Photoshop…
7. Et voila!
Drongo Press Questions
Why the name ‘Drongo Pressʼ?
Well I guess I started ‘Drongoʼ because I missed the old kiddy mags I used to read in the 90s.
I guess itʼs a nostalgic adultʼs response to Americanisation and the death of Australian culture. I remember, I had a little “Dinky Diary” in primary school, with kangaroos and koalas on it. I collected Oddbodz, and ‘Max Altitudeʼ memorabilia from Qantas. I loved ‘The Feralsʼ. If a kid went to America for the school holidays, it was as if they had transcended time and space and become a mystical being. They may as well have been to the moon. Their souvenir pencil case from Disneyland was a sacred object no one was allowed to look at, let alone touch.
I watched everything I loved about Australia slowly heave and die in the wake of globalisation. ‘Drongoʼ is the most Australian word I could think of, and is my way of attempting to claw back to that time, if only for a moment.
Will the world ever be graced with more issues, or is it all digital now?
Iʼve been working on Issue 4 in between studying for my Masters degree. It will be launched at Festival of the Photocopier this month.
I never intend to release ‘Drongoʼ online. It would go against the very purpose of it.
‘Show Dogsʼ is a new project that Iʼve been sharing online, but even that would be for a limited time only until I can publish it as an actual book.
(Photos below of some art by Natalie)
For those at home – care to explain the who, what and why of ole Drongo Press?
‘Drongoʼ has a bunch of recurring characters and segments:
Thereʼs Dippy, who is eleven years old and is the editor in chief. He answers fan mail.
Then Perky Roo, who is an eight-or-so year old girl who lives in the future on Mars. I use her to comment on certain things about society today, which she studies in her “ancient history” class at school, a thousand years after Earth has exploded.
Dorothea is an old lady based loosely on my grandmother. She was always willing to talk about sex but was adorably clueless.
‘Darcyʼ chronicles my struggles with gender identity growing up. I had been induced into menopause in my teens due to endometriosis, which starved me of oestrogen. I was left not feeling like a girl anymore. I also grew up alongside someone who went through full gender reassignment surgery. Neither of our experiences were pleasant or something weʼd wish for other people, which is why the surge of youths declaring themselves to be free of gender en masse is quite intriguing to me. Is it a trend? A phase? Is this genuine? I donʼt know. I can only observe and comment through Darcy and their friends.
‘Service With a Smileʼ is a new series illustrating horror stories from retail workers.
Midnight Confessions is a segment that will probably die out after Issue 4. People can submit their darkest secrets anonymously, however due to only receiving a few actual submissions, the rest are from myself and my friends who Iʼve harassed for content.
The quizzes are meant to be plain stupid, though theyʼve proven to be successful at conventions and shows, with many little groups of people standing around my booth with display copies, taking the quizzes and comparing responses.
I have a spiritual guidance column with Father Bradley, who is based on Father Bob, and then a poetry corner where I write some limericks or some more serious stuff. It all rhymes though; Iʼm not particularly a fan of freeform poetry.
‘Royʼ is a short story I wrote after asking for Google Image Search prompts for something to write about for my Facebook friends. Each copy of ‘Drongoʼ has another chapter.
And finally, the Classifieds.
I do the lionʼs share of the work, all the drawing and comics, etc, but I have a friend who helps me from time to time, often with the Classifieds or the ‘Dear Dorotheaʼ section.
Thereʼs a recurring ad in the classifieds for ‘Danny Drongoʼ, with some prompts and a number to text. This really works! This is a real number we set up.
Aside from these recurring segments, thereʼs also some one-shot comics, and the older issues feature articles and street photography.
Odds n Ends
Who was your first crush and why?
This boy called Adam. He was 12 and I was 3. I thought he was real cute, the son of one of my parentʼs business friends.
We went for a meeting at their house once, so him, me, and about fifteen other kids sat around watching ‘The Sword and the Stoneʼ. I made sure to sit next to Adam, but he refused to hold my hand, so I went outside and cried on the play-set in his backyard.
Does sex change everything?
Sex is a very powerful mechanism. It can be used to hurt or control people, to release lustful urges, or to express love.
Violent people use sex in a way that God did not intend.
I think the real change comes from the hurt.
(Photos below of some art by Natalie)
Please describe what you think the Australian zeitgeist/psyche is today?
Australia has become very globalised. It started with Americanisation, and now we seem to be looking to places like China, South Korea, and India for answers.
Despite Japan stumbling as a major player on the world stage, itʼs suddenly where everyone wants to go. People that didnʼt grow up dreaming of Japan, wearing Harajuku fashion, or watching anime suddenly became enamoured with the place. Going to Tokyo is becoming a rite of passage.
The country is divided, traditionalism has been abolished, and moral values have been fundamentally changed. It scares me.
Five years ago I wouldnʼt dream of considering myself conservative, yet here we are. Family, togetherness, and group mentality has been replaced with ego. Itʼs all about the self. All about the ‘likesʼ. Thereʼs almost no job security; weʼre either underemployed or wondering if our contracts will be renewed.
Having a job, a car, and owning your own house is now considered a luxury.
It seems like everyone is depressed, anxious, or lonely. Iʼm not sure when we stopped living in a society, and started living in an economy.
Something has to change, but the change definitely wonʼt come from people arguing online.
Which cartoon character would you like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
Iʼd imagine heʼd have some cool things up his sleeves. “Go- Go-Gadget nipple clamps!”
Who would win in a fight and why: Daria vs Marge?
Depends what kind of fight. Are we talking an online feud (in which case Daria would win) or a fist fight (in which case Marge would win)?
Although to be honest Iʼm not sure either would really be up for a fight.
Without extreme provocation, Marge would be too empathetic, and Daria would be too blasé.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
If weʼre talking about illicit, chemically based drugs Iʼd have to say a major waste of time, money, and lives.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
Toys are and have always been a very important aspect of my life. Being an only child with busy parents, I really only had toys to keep me occupied. They were my friends. I believed that toys had souls and feelings, and to this day I feel really guilty when Iʼm sifting through plush toys to find the one with the best face and I have to reject so many.
It pains me as an adult to put them back on the shelf. I apologise to each one.
What are the top 3 items you own?
(Please include photos or art of them!)
This is a complete Polly Pocket ‘Birthday Party Stamper Setʼ from 1992.
80s and 90s birthday party aesthetics are my favourite. I saw it listed on eBay for around $300 about four or five years ago, and shared the link on Facebook saying, “someone please buy this for me!” My friend Gwen did. I was really surprised, and didnʼt expect it in a million years. I was so grateful, and still am. Sheʼs not a rich girl, so her generosity definitely meant a lot to me.
I just looked up how much they are now on eBay, and the only complete set available is currently listed for $600, others with faded shells and many missing pieces commanding prices from $130.
Mine is perfect.
It was a perfect gift.
My Caboodles collection is very special to me. I only have four, as they were never released in Australia and are prohibitively expensive to ship.
I used a shipping forwarder to make things cheaper when buying these ones, but they still cost about $100 to post. Stupid to think some go for as cheap as $20 on eBay and the shipping calculator says $60. Theyʼre literally empty plastic boxes.
This is a Glo-Pals kitty from 1994.
I donʼt know what happened to mine, but a couple years ago one of my Facebook friends in Canada posted a picture of this one for sale. I traded her some Little Twin Stars t-shirts for it. This is the same one I had as a kid, and Iʼm amazed it still glows.
I have many special toys, but I really value the ones Iʼve managed to hunt down that I had as a kid, which were somehow lost in the arduous process of growing up.
Please describe your latest dream in detail
Last night, I dreamed I was on a train in rural Japan. I had a suitcase and a handbag with me, and I was holding a really annoying piece of rubbish – maybe a sandwich wrapper or something.
At the next station I spied a bin, and ran out so I could get rid of the trash, but the carriage doors closed abruptly.
The train took off with all of my stuff in tow.
Of everything you have done, what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I feel like the character of an artist can really make or break whether or not I respect their work.
For example, my favourite art movement is Cubism, and while I genuinely like a number of Pablo Picassoʼs work, I am also aware he was a womaniser, an infidel, and loved his children preferentially. No matter what I accomplish, I would like to think Iʼd be remembered for my strength and resilience, like Frida Kahlo, or at least, my generosity, my sense of humour, or the love I shared with my family.
If people wanted to collaborate, work with you or just buy some art, how should they get in touch?
My website: www.nataliemichellewatson.com
My online store: www.drongopress.com
My Instagram: http://instagram.com/nataliemichellewatson
My email: email@example.com
Snail mail: P.O. Box 1148, Tullamarine, Victoria, Australia, 3043
Any collaborations on the horizon?
At this stage, no.
Iʼd love to explore this though.
Any major projects you want to hype?
Aside from ‘Drongoʼ, I have been working on ‘Show Dogsʼ. ‘Show Dogsʼ is a serial comic about dogs who behave and think like humans, whilst still maintaining the physical limitations of actual dogs.
I was always obsessed with Dalmatians growing up, so itʼs no surprise that one of the two main characters is one. Her name is Susan. The other dog seen earlier is Brenda, a Staffy cross.
(Age 7. I was super bummed when I outgrew this costume. I still remember the smell of the fabric)
(Age 8. Note the primitive Dalmatians Iʼd drawn and stuck to the side of my desk. And also my rad socks)
(Susan after finding out thereʼs a Hollywood film coming out called ‘Show Dogsʼ, which was only announced literally a week ago)
Iʼve been posting some of the comics on my Instagram account, but all of the ones Iʼve done up til this point will be released in print at Festival of the Photocopier on February 11th.
I intend to come out with a book before that offbrand ‘Show Dogsʼ film hits theatres.
(A promo image below for Natalie’s appearance at the Festical of the Photocopier)