BACK from the DEAD! The Life, Death and Resurrection of Computer Art Group Mistigris

ANSI, PETSCII and Black Cats... oh my! An Interview with the Demon Cthulu

Spooky by Blippypixel (cropped) from the 2019 Mistigris Hallowe'en Art Pack
Cthulhu by Ozunaga. Images are from the latest MiST Hallowe’en art pack. Captions by Rowan Lipkovits

Art group Mistigris is famous for its Hallowe’en and Christmas packs. We had a chat with its founder, Rowan Lipkovits aka Cthulu, about how the group started, its resurrection, and why it’s still going almost 25 years later…

Thanks for agreeing to answer our questions! We’re all about looking at the modern social aspects of retrotechnology, and so I’d like to get a bit into what MiST was in the past, and its revival.

Fear the Creeper by Polyducks

Polyducks is an artist and web & game programmer living in greater Manchester, UK. His interests are in tile-based, PETSCII and pixel artwork using limited palettes. Often presents his bio in the third person.

First, How did Mistigris get started?

In 1994, our area code was already well-served by the underground computer artgroup iMPERiAL, a merger between the local 604-based NWA (New Wave Artists) (itself the result of a 1993 merger between PAiN and POiSON) and Quebec’s GRiP/AD (Graphics Revolution in Progress / Art Division), tying up most of the major talent in two area codes into one B-list supergroup.  Then for reasons which were never fully elaborated upon (but preumably had to do with the approach of summer’s end, which would always see the senior cohort of scene elites shred their underground identities, as though through the Carousel in Logan’s Run, on their way to college in September) it was announced two weeks following its August artpack release to be defunct and dissolved, leaving a pool of junior local computer artists looking for somewhere local to strut their stuff.  No such outlet existed, so one had to be made.  (Two were made.  This isn’t just the origin myth of Mistigris, but also PATRiOT, which morphed into RAiD and, down the line, Integrity.)

Pixelmancer – ₴łĐɆ Ɇ₣₣Ɇ₵₮₴

What made you want to run an art group?

Art groups were nasty autocratic concerns in an environment primarily concerned with “elite” one-upmanship, and naturally as a “lamer” (sorry, junior computer artist) I wanted nothing to do with its toxic culture.  That said, I was interested in reaping the benefits of moving through the computer underground, and finding the milieu compelling I wanted to do what I could to help contribute to a local outlet where I could continue making and sharing computer art.  I had no intention of running it, I knew that from the start — who wants that responsibility? — but I hoped to establish an anarchic, democratic framework that would allow us to flourish without some power-tripping 17-year-old lording over us.  The reality of this idealistic framework was that in most administrative matters, the person who cared the most got their way, and the person who cared most consistently was me.  Though a few people took sporadic turns packaging artpacks and cracking the whip in their respective departments, in the end everyone else figured I was good enough at doing the boring housekeeping that they’d allow me to keep doing it (indeed, I such aptitude for it I was brought on board to help ACiD, the kings of the artscene, get some of their boring housekeeping done also!), and here I am, still doing the boring housekeeping 24 years later!  The second time around, however, I had more concrete reasons for wanting to run an art group: because I found I desperately missed having art in my life.

Zombies by Macbin

What was ‘the art scene’ of the day like?

All artscene alumni have an “artscene” golden age enshrined in their hearts, and for most of them, as per the usual, it’s whatever the state of affairs was like when they were 15.  In order to explain my personal golden age artscene, I first must explain the warez scene, touching on the phreaking scene 8)

Succeeding the trailblazers in the Apple 2 and then C64 software cracking and piracy scenes, as the MS-DOS IBM PC platform achieved by the late ‘80s indisputable dominance in home computing — if not necessarily through its capabilities, through its ubiquity — in a tale as old as time certain youth with technology skills, a hackerly curiosity and no particular fear of cybercrime legislation figured that they would prefer to acquire their video games without paying for them.  Crews emerged populated by specialists — crackers to circumvent copy protection, phreaks to arrange for free telecommunications services (notably long distance calling and conference calls), couriers to actually put in the hours to make the file transfers happen (largely in North America, where phone access was unmetered — in Europe, substantial amounts of piracy were conducted by post or even through physical drops of floppy disks in mobile locations such as train bathrooms), fraudsters who might exploit stolen or generated credit card numbers to directly pay for computer equipment, and the occasional computer artist to help embellish the “we pirated this much-awaited game first” 0-3 day infofile (or .NFO) boastings of specific crews, gloating in a multimedia fashion of their dominance over lesser crews. 

Oogie Boogie by Lego_Colin

Lego_Colin uses a plethora of programs to prepare images for physical incarnation in the ultimate pixelart composition: assembled using Lego bricks.

These multimedia embellishments would include edgy computer music, high resolution graphics and visual effects routines used in loaders, intros, trainers and cracktros that would precede the execution of a pirated game.  But that was just the experience of the end user — an ecosystem of good-looking underground BBSes would emerge to win the hearts of pirates as their number one source of the freshest warez, and small-beans pirates would pay SysOps of these BBSes in exchange for access to their systems, buying in to the trading ecosystem where warez downloaded from one BBS would be valid currency for “file points” or the maintenance of an “upload to download ratio” on other, lamer BBSes downstream.  But suppose you’re a kid with no summer job and no spare cash, but lots of spare time and a burning need to play free video games?  Then you find a back door into the ecosystem: the underground BBSes and warez groups could always use a fresh paint job, something to demonstrate directly, visually, to the discriminating paying audiences how bleeding-edge they were and why they were most deserving of your piracy dollars.  Then you learn how to draw ANSI art, the Lego-like textmode visual art medium of IBM PC BBSes, make advertisements for the big boards and crews in your area and if you’re lucky, they might toss you a bone in gratitude — something as small as the NUP (new user password) to an access-restricted underground board, or something as large as “leech access” (unmetered download capacity) on a warez board.  (You’d still have to save up your minutes in the time bank in order to maintain the connection long enough to fully download a multi-disk release, however 8)

Bulbasaur Pumpkin by Emme Doble

By 1990, the state of the art for ANSI had reached its pinnacle in the “Public Domain” sphere, as practiced by law-abiding computer enthusiasts on public bulletin boards and distributed through their echomail networks — on digital canvases limited to 80×25 characters, enhanced by clever use of blinking attributes or ANSI animation.  But the underground ANSI artists were just beginning to devise of the medium of the “art pack”, consisting of a compilation of their recent creations, distributed far and wide to spread their notoriety and advertise not only their skillz and their elite BBSes, but also the very concept of underground digital culture, which showed its youth bias in a much greater interest in the subjects of comic books (especially once the rebel creators of Image Comics split from Marvel) and heavy metal music than the PD ANSI art which came before, which would be more likely to draw subjects along the lines of Garfield and Charlie Brown.  The contributors to the collection became a crew of sorts (the first, AAA — Aces of ANSI Art, which evolved into ACiD), and their art pack stood as a gauntlet cast to other underground artists to meet or surpass.  Other artists emerged from the woodwork and rose to meet the challenge!

Little Shop of Horrors by Chuppixel, who is the world’s preeminent Tiny Towers-style pixelart movie cast group shot specialist.

Where did you find your first members?

The intention was for Mistigris to pick up where iMPERiAL left off, including providing an outlet to its now-unaffiliated former members.  With the notable exception of the bottomless creative powerhouse Eerie, by and large that sadly failed to happen — it’s not that we lost them to other groups, but mostly they simply moved on from the artscene.  As it was, we circulated an open invitation throughout the underground-ish layer (h/p/v/c/a — hacking, phreaking, viruses, cracking, anarchy) of our area code’s BBS community (an invitation that really resonated with the writers in the TABNet “free speech” echomail community, which wound up yielding us a disproportionate burgeoning poetry wing just at the very moment when the rest of the scene was phasing it out).  Eerie actually did some organizing through his popular BBS, our renowned Quebec outpost Sarcastic Toaster, and yielded a core of several accomplished ANSI artists to buoy our numbers who most likely would have likely enjoyed a great deal more focused artscene success without being saddled with the drag factor of our somewhat directionless 604 mothership 8)

The Shining by Chuppixel

How did you communicate?

Traditionally artgroups (at least, those with no phreaks on staff) had a home base within a single area code and a WHQ (world headquarters) BBS where most of the locals would organize… one at a time, for such was the nature of dial-up.  There’d be a few private message bases for group members to discuss policy, applications and works in progress (also useful for capturing entertaining conversations for re-use in infofiles and e-mag releases, which I’d be tweaking and topping up incessantly through the backlog, text file viewer and editor built in to the Telemate terminal program), file bases for incoming submissions and outgoing releases, there’d be a 1-to-1 private message functionality to facilitate collaborations (so many poems we hashed out by simply adding a line and bouncing it back every time we logged in) … like any BBS, you had the option of paging the SysOp for chat if they happened to be around, which would be more useful if the op happened to be senior staff in the group… possibly there’d be some frivolity such as customized online door games (I cooked up a nicely tweaked Legend of the Red Dragon!) to help promote fun and bonding among members. 

Beelzeboss by Snake Petsken.

Snake PETsken fell in love with Commodore computers when he was 8… 36 years ago… and tries to keep the same wonder and passion from when he was a kid, starting to grasp the fundamentals of coding. His modern graphite portrait practice must have somehow influenced his PETSCII style, driving him to try to get the most out of every single character cell. The only software he uses is Petmate, a nice PETSCII editor, and you can see his PETSCII handiwork in releases by The Solution.

Our first WHQ was The Screaming Tomato (TST), our second The Jade Monkey (TJM) and our third and final dialup hub was Dreams of Dark, Enchanted Lizards (DoDEL).  They all would be running under suitably elite system software, typically Cott Lang’s Renegade, customized and souped up to maximise opportunities to impress with flashy ANSI menus and ANSImated interface effects, especially at the shuttle login… some of them would be running under Desqview, allowing their ops to multitask and actually get some personal use out of the machine running in their room, but others were basically dedicated systems.

The Thing by Chuppixel

With everyone lining up to access its phone line, one BBS simply wasn’t enough to coordinate a group with a sufficiently large membership, so fortunately the BBSes were also able to syndicate new message activity through FidoNet-style echomail distributed message bases (our house echomail network was named KiTSCHNet), which would typically see junior BBSes (and more commonly, “points”: private single-local-user BBSes — what could be more exclusive and elite than that? — for those who preferred for the messages to come in to them automatically rather than lining up with the plebians) call in to the hub BBS during restricted hours (typically 1-2 am) and synchronize their contents on a daily basis.  On day 1, you’d make a proposal, on day 2, it would get propagated and people on other BBSes would see it and weigh in, and on day 3 their responses would make their way back to your home board… which, after you stopped hearing busy signals, you might get a chance to read. A far cry from the instantaneous nature of communications today!  (Of course, if you were in a big hurry to see how your latest proposal played in Peoria, you always had the option of calling the junior BBSes up directly and reading the recent replies directly 8)  An interesting side effect of our area code 604 covering a lot of territory geographically is that there were parts of the 604 that were long-distance to each other, so someone in Surrey to the south might have to pay a premium to dial up someone in North Vancouver.  But with our WHQs being located centrally, members who would otherwise have to pay long-distance charges to chat with each other directly were able to use our bulletin boards and echomail networks to reach each other at no additional cost.

Hallowe’en by Cal Skulthorpe

A more focused student of the Commodore 64 aesthetic you will not find. CalSkuthorpe made a splash invading Twitter with @PETSCIIbots, but that is only the first stage of his nefarious scheme for world domination.

The holiday (Hallowe’en, Christmas) packs were notable releases, what are your memories around them?

I’ve never had any shortage of ideas about themes on which we could all collaborate for thematic coherency (even after the collapse of Mist Classic, well into 1999 I was banging the drum on the Acheron forums for artscene folks to make art about “hunger” — yeah, I don’t know what that was about either), but historically being more of the “velvet glove” than “iron fist” administrative style I’ve been more at the mercy of artist-led initiatives to undertake projects like that when they themselves feel passionately about them.  It didn’t help that Mist Classic, due to several factors — most notably a tradition of newsletters programmed up as Kithe electronic magazine executables through back-breaking labour — suffered chronically from skipped and delayed artpacks… and where’s the fun in drawing Christmas art if no one gets to see it until February? 

Caves of the Unwashed Heathen and Forest of Doom by Jim Gerrie

Dr. Jim Gerrieunderstands that while we have witnessed a huge amount of technological progress in the field of home computing over the past three or four decades, he feels that something important has been lost along the way. Consequently, his focus lingers on the type-in BASIC era, specifically as practiced on Radio Shack’s TRS-80 MC-10, to which he feverishly ports programs that never had any business being there in the first place.

That said, when a December artpack was on the table at all, pretty consistently artists would organize among themselves to create a few small pieces of Christmas computer art and then glom them together into what we called “collies”, substantial digests of related material presented all in one self-contained file.  On one occasion, in MIST1297, there was so much of it — thanks to Etana completely re-skinning the ANSI art menus for DODEL with Christmas versions of the regular art — that Sylphid coded up an interface for it all, effectively displaying the artpack contents as assets in a multimedia e-mag, allowing the audience to listen to the music while reading the poems or enjoying the art, etc.  (Also allowing us to control the timing of the comedic moment when Silent Knight’s grim artwork displayed, switching the soundtrack over to a cheesy rendition of the homophonic Christmas carol Silent Night.  A har har.)

Medusa by Cal Skulthorpe

Since resuming monthly releases two years following our revival, we have found themed artpacks to be an excellent way of categorizing and scheduling for release stockpiled artwork in massive quantities touching on wide and disparate themes, so these days our artpacks will definitely take on the flavour of Christmas, Hallowe’en and April Fool’s (historically actually the prime holiday around which we organized, challenging artists to deadpan create terrible outsider work in mediums in which they were naively unskilled and defy audiences to take us seriously) as well as times of year such as Valentine’s and seasonal changes.  (No St. Patrick’s artpacks yet.)  That said, artpacks focused around genres and popular culture mediums (eg. TV, movies, music) are always bigger and better-received.

Totoro Pumpkin FANSI by Bliss

Bliss is another of Mistigris’ rotating cast of seasoned textmode artist guest-stars visiting from the alt-ANSI utopia of the 8bitMUSH at ansiart.com, handy with their screen-condesed, palette-extended variant, described as FANSI. She often is concerned with video game subjects, but her interest in fixed-width pixelart also extends into the textile realm.

Many art groups of the time only released ANSI drawings. What made you decide to have the diversity of material you did?

This is a case of “we didn’t cross the border — the border crossed us.”  Whether the very earliest artpacks did or did not host other forms of computer art (they did not — it would have been a little strange if Aces of ANSI Art cast a wider net than their name specifically describes 8), at the time of our formation it was not uncommon for artpacks to include RIPscrip vector graphics, ASCII art, tracker music, “lit” (poetry), and software — multimedia loader / intro programs, BBS doors, and applications such as application generators, art viewers or (ahem) PabloDraw.  The variety was totally typical when we got underway, following squarely in the footsteps of the local predecessor groups whose legacy we inherited.  But the pendulum having swung from ANSI art purity to that “computer art” big tent, it was starting to swing back, enshrining ANSI art as the one “true” underground computer art medium.  (Even within the ANSI art community, they would find ways to split hairs between practitioners in the same medium, having some groups dedicated to ANSI art typography specifically, or to particular STYLES of ANSI art, or to ANSI art only drawing original subjects.)

Skull FANSI by Bliss

We had a lot of everything, and we especially excelled as purveyors of poetry, music and software, which … burdened us with drag factor by many artscene standards.  Contemporary critics would proudly proclaim that they would >DEL *.LIT immediately upon opening a Mistigris artpack so as to get all the irritating filler out of the way.  (All the same, the celebrated group GOTHiC proudly featured works by poet Israfel right up until their merger into ACiD, so this wasn’t just a new development that we invented — rather, an old tradition that we alone carried along with 8)  Many fans of filesize-light ANSI art cringed (not entirely unreasonably, at dialup modem speeds) at being expected to download unwanted and relatively filesize-heavy .S3Ms as part of the price of admission, resulting in our eventually satisfying audience demand by splitting multi-meg artpacks into different disks — disk 1: textmode art (ANSI, ASCII, lit, RIPscrip), disk 2: hirez (or “vga” — bitmap graphics… do keep in mind that the same folks who clamoured for its partitioning also raised a stink about ACiD diluting itself admitting CatBones, seen in retrospect as a pioneeering artscene genius), and disk 3: music. 

Young Frankenstein by Snake Petsken

We did what we could to find new audiences for our artscene-unwanted cream, arranging for eg. poets to perform at bookstores and be published in zines, diverting our visual artists toward the Dream Factory comic book anthology project, but our adolescent work, externally pointed, now competing in the real world with every poet, artist musician in the great big wide outside world, by and large didn’t successfully land.  (We did, however, get one Very Memorable meet out of a performance with the Edgewise Cafe’s Teen Telepoetics workshop, which connected groups of literary youth in Vancouver with peers in Chicago and Los Angeles, conveying the sounds and sights — still images — of being in the room together over pairs of phone lines.  But I digress.)

Hallow’s Eve by Blippypixel

Mike “Blippypixel” Rose is a digital artist whose tastes veer toward the vintage in electronic music and visuals, dabbling in low-poly 3D modeling, LED pixelart, and teletext as well as work in the distinctive palette of the BBC Micro.

Now do please keep in mind that this was only one variety of pressure — we actually were being torn in two by aspirations to digitally harness other skills we demonstrated in the offline realm: so, you can paint murals and play the saxophone, but how can you bottle that up on a floppy diskette?  Consumer grade scanners were beginning to turn up in home offices, providing options for dragging offline visual art, kicking and screaming, into artpacks.  Sidewalk chalk, face painting, experimental photography, even our Hallowe’en jack ‘o lanterns… these were now on the table as potential artpack contents.  But viable ones?  We dithered too long over the question and the wing of the group who wanted the bigger tent for “real world” art, having successfully driven away the ANSI artists who weren’t used to having quite so many rings in their circus, then proceeded to split off and went on to a respectable run helming perhaps the only artgroup with a stranger name than ours, Hallucigenia.

Hallowe’en by Blippypixel

What were the circumstances that led to Mistigris shutting down?

It’s less surprising that Mistigris died than that it ever lived!  We’ve named a whole line-up of factors leading to its decline: the evaporation of the fresh blood traditionally flowing our way through our local BBS community as the BBSes themselves dried up, our championing of unpopular computer art forms alienating our artscene colleagues (and our artscene-sympathetic membership) … but the unstoppable march to the beat of technology’s driving pulse may have been the straw breaking our back.  We were founded in 1994, concerning ourselves with the world of command-line interface machines talking to each other on BBSes, and none of us — no group in the underground computer artscene — were well positioned to adapt into a new, relevant form in 1998’s world of GUIs navigating websites.  We made a heroic, but failed, effort to release an artpack as a website in August of 1998, and it broke us in what seemed very definitely a permanent fashion.

Blood Moon by Blippypixel

Did you maintain contact with any members?

Due to their tradition of hosting “meets” (and keeping the conversation going on web forums after dialup BBSes wound up) I kept in touch with (and ended up living with several) members of TABNet, many of whom were in the Mistigris sphere, but where the wider membership was concerned, the traditions of the digital underground failed us: semi-anonymized through handles as we were, the only reliable way we had of keeping in touch was to stop by the same cyberspace locales in hopes of crossing paths again.  When a BBS went down, its now-ex-SysOp became the only person with any way of reaching any of its former callers, an extinguished community reduced to a user database of real names and phone numbers accessible to only one person.  (There’s an important lesson about cloud storage here, folks!)  Idling on the IRC proved another way of trying to keep the beacon burning, in the unlikely event that anyone tried to stop by and say hi.  After so many months of radio silence, you lose heart a little bit, you know?  In any case, by and large the membership had drifted apart on purpose, ie they had no interest in my looking them up again as they were busy getting down to the work of becoming functioning adults in the real world.  (I probably could have used a bit of that myself! 8)

Sweet Dreams by 192.168.10.13

192.168.10.13occupies a rarefied echelon of glitch production, like a tree that drops apparently effortless scrambled fruit at peak ripeness.

What led to Mistigris starting up again? How did you ‘get the band back together’?

Like a dime-store Jason Scott, I held on tightly to all my artefacts and memories of the BBS period, thinking that there was something special to them external to simply having been specimens representing my adolescence, their subjective value doubled down with the awareness that, especially in the case of files originating from local sources and circulated on BBSes, my copies of these files were possibly the only remaining copies in existence.  Though my far more comprehensive tape data backup system had been regretfully left in the MS-DOS dust, as the century ticked over I diligently backed up my exhaustive floppy disk stash (neurotically maintained since the first time I wound up re-downloading a file at 1200 baud, after deleting it before I really was done with it) and a substantial chunk of the digital baggage I dragged around from hard drive to hard drive as I upgraded through the ages was, like a ghost in the corner of the room staring and pointing at me, unfinished business: substantial quantities of computer art that had been entrusted to my care to package and distribute. 

Stranger Things by Dos Grog

Dos Grog continues in the expansion of Mistigris’ Italian contingent, demonstrating a playful devotion to the pixelart medium.

It really bothered me in 1998 that I hadn’t been able to release our final in-progress 1998 artpack.  It bugged me that no one ever got to hear the creme de la creme songs set aside for our unrealized CD compilation.  It was a mild but persistent irritant that I had logfiles of entertaining conversations with people I could never resume conversing with, that I had formatted and set aside to share with people who would find it similarly entertaining, that I now had no way of reaching.

The Repo Man by 192.168.10.13

Also there was a related bug in my ear, to put back into circulation and re-seed into cyberspace ancient releases that had over the course of time become corrupted, inaccessible or had simply disappeared.  The monument to our works might never be all that impressive compared to our scene’s indisputable greats, but the least I could do for my crew was to ensure that the record was complete.  And, you know, having a passionate booster is a way for an obscure phenomenon to figure disproportionally large in the history books, as I discovered after following RaDMaN’s advice about filling out a Wikipedia entry about our onetime activities.

(The thing that really set my brain on fire with blind despair was how even those handful of original artscene creators I’d kept ties with no longer had copies of their old works, as if to say — perhaps to you it was great, but to me it was nothing, and all the hours we collectively spent propping up that virtual world — now existing only in your own memory — were worthless and without value.  I beg to differ, and I have the zipfiles to prove it!)

The Rise of the Pixelmancer by 192.168.10.13

So yes, I felt I had a duty to share the last dregs I’d been silently bearing for sixteen years, and the only reasonable audience for the material was, I figured, its source, the only relevant audience for the venting of old leftovers.  And I managed to dig up some of these people, and some of those folks were interested, but much to my surprise more than the “this is your life” trip down memory lane, they were interested in having another go at it, one last haul for old time’s sakes.  That hadn’t occurred to me, I was just trying to arrange a proper send-off using the 20th anniversary of the group’s establishment as a timely excuse.  The 2008 ANSI art gallery exhibition at the 20 GOTO 10 gallery in San Francisco had been an inspiring memory, I thought it might be fun to enshrine our old artifacts in such a way.  Making new art in the old forms was an outright surprise to me, but one I was happy to adjust my plans to accommodate.

What circumstances led the revival to turn into a regular pursuit once more?

Beetlejuice by Horsenburger

A genuine professional teletext illustrator two decades hence, Steve “Horsenburger” Horsley has recently returned to the game for love of the art: “It’s kind of frustrating to discover you are good at something only to realise it’s pointless in today’s world, but I just really like doing it so I am going to carry on.” We feel your pain, Steve! At his website you can commission original teletext creations from him, so don’t delay to get your own piece of textmode art history!

In a word, Horsenburger.  But I’ll elaborate on that point in a moment.  Our 2014 reunion really was in many regards a last huzzah, our old guard really only had one final nostalgia trip left in them it turns out… but my unfinished business remained unfinished, the tangent was invigorating but my core mission had not yet been accomplished.  So I kept on sorting and polishing and creeping and pontificating over my pile of digital artifacts, and the march of time kept tromping on and phantom artscene limbs began throbbing, attuned to onetime seasonal pursuits — we recovered and remastered your 1994 Bells of Yule music disk for Christmas, for April Fool’s I baked a cake of awful conceptual computer art that you helped to ice… meanwhile, I managed to finally vent the artpack-as-website, and magically a whole year had gone by.  Venting the old stuff was profoundly satisfying, but I’d be lying if I claimed that sharing the new stuff didn’t fulfil an adjacent itch!

IT (old) by Horsenburger. Check out our interview with him here!

After a couple years of this — releasing a new artpack in the fall, a joke artpack in the spring, and properly preserving some historical materials in between, a couple of problems arose.  Notably, our annual October collection was manifesting a confusing split personality, containing as it did both the best of what we were able to scrape up all year, PLUS a substantial rump of specifically October-ish, Hallowe’eny art that would roll in at the last minute.  In 2016 I made the decision to curate by theme, make October all-Hallowe’en, all the time, and delay our anniversary to November.  That gave us a situation we hadn’t been confronted with since 1998: two consecutive months of artpack release!  We used up all the scary stuff in October, all the incoming materials in November… and then our recent colleague Horsenburger, who had just gotten on board in October, kept forging ahead with a daily teletext advent calendar project of Christmas imagery in December. 

It (new) by Horsenburger

It seemed like a waste to leave on the table, acutely timely as it was, so instead we just scraped together a few supporting specimens of Christmas art from whatever source was handy and … two consecutive monthly artpacks became three.  Two was just a fluke, but three in a row… it was beginning to describe a trend, a trajectory!  Without overconfidently making any plans to keep the spree rolling, we resumed making inquiries, scouting new talent from sources external to the traditional underground PC computer art scene, and shaking down our now-regulars for anything else they’d come up with recently, just to see how far we could stretch out this lucky streak.  Unbeknownst to us, Horsenburger was undertaking his long-dormant teletext practice as a variety of therapy, old, familiar gestures helping to meditatively settle an upset psyche… all we knew is that it was suddenly raining computer art and we couldn’t release artpacks quickly enough to share it all!  We started with inadvertent monthly releases as of September 2016, and have continued since. 

Stephen King by Horsenburger

What future do you see for Mistigris?

Due to our Renaissance man bonus baggage, our collections never looked a lot like those of other underground computer art groups — there was always not enough of this, or too much of that.  We never let it bother us, so long as we felt we were sharing a reasonable volume of quality material (or in April, a satisfying serving of hot garbage), but we can safely be presently characterised as having drifted right out of the artgroup artpack continuum (of course, only now that we’ve just mastered the knack of assembling and releasing artpacks on a regular basis!)  More than ever, that community is primarily interested in only one thing — it has sixteen foreground and background colours and a resolution of 80 columns by 25 lines per page.  Tainted by the defeatist stink of being non-specialists, we addressed a refusal of ANSI artists to work with us on a regular basis (you know when a woman says “not if you were the last man on Earth?”  Well, we’re very close to that point with underground artgroups 8) by seeking out and recruiting practitioners of “fellow traveller” textmode art and pixelart mediums and not just an entire departmwent of joyously resurgent teletext enthusiasts who never had an underground bone in their body, but Japanese Shift_JIS art, the PETSCII art of the Commodore computers, typewriter art, a lost tribe of uncontacted “FANSI art”ists drawing ANSI art for an illustrated MUSH…

Night of the Living Dead by Horsenburger

I’d love to network with the incredible Big-5 artists on the gigantic Taiwanese telnet BBSes, but my Chinese is going to need some work first.  Compounding our “we don’t need you” rejection of ANSI art, we’ve betrayed our entire historical PC context by welcoming in artists from other retrocomputing communities such as those associated with the Amiga, C64, Atari ST, Mac Classic etc. with other similarly vintage but distinctly different aesthetics.  It gets more contentious yet when we begin pulling in pixel artists because we semantically extend our conception of valid pixel art not just to indie game makers and icon designers but also to traditionally craft-related physical forms of the practice as well, notably using melty fusion Perler beads, Lego bricks and cross-stitch patterns — burgeoning frontiers of pixelart with vibrant communities that have always been sitting out in plain view the whole time, that I feel have been traditionally left out of the conversation unfairly primarily on the basis of being… girl stuff.  Building bridges with grid-based textile patternmakers is especially satisfying inasmuch as it is not only the original form of pixel art, but also a major driver for early computing machines (first use of punched cards for data storage, etc.) 

Frank N Furter by Horsenburger

Meanwhile, moving in two different directions simultaneously, we have never had more affiliated artists competing with works in demoparty competitions.  What are we up to, exactly?  Even from the head of the beast it’s hard to tell for sure.  Indisputably we’re reaching wide audiences acting as a species of computer art aggregator over social media; it’s been suggested that we might fruitfully present our curated artpack assets as themed works in a design magazine context.  It seems like it might be a lot of fun to preside over conversions of purely digital member works to patterns for bead and needlepoint enthusiasts worldwide to enjoy and share, shepherding digital art to its contradictorily offline ultimate form.  But that’s all new, risky and a little bit scary to consider; in the meantime, we’ll continue doing what we know, and without a doubt that’s releasing artpacks!

Thanks Rowan, and all the artists whose work is displayed here. Great stuff!

You can learn more about Mistigris and download many of its releases at mistigris.org

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