M. Laverick (aka Momalish) is an illustrator interested in fun, vibrant concepts, as well as the unsettling and macabre. They grew up with horror movies, Japanese animation, and teen sitcoms from the '90s, resulting in a hyper-idolisation of pop and graphic imagery, as well as an enthusiasm for all things scary and occult — influences which take precedence within their work. Their portfolio can be found here, and their latest work can also be seen via Twitter (@momalish) and Instagram (@badwitches). Their storefront, Bad Witches Emporium, will soon be moving to a new location.
How do you describe your aesthetic when you’re thinking about it on your own terms (as in, not for a professional byline)?
I struggle so much with how I want to present myself, so this is a tough question! Perhaps “Texas Chainsaw Daria.”
How did you come into illustration?
I did illustration throughout various arts courses and found it super rewarding. I’ve been putting my art online since I was a teenager and I just sort of carried on doing it as I went through college, making connections and taking jobs as I posted more. I just really enjoy drawing and making pictures, so doing this as a line of work has come very naturally to me.
You've mentioned that you grew up with horror movies, Japanese animation, and teen sitcoms from the ‘90s. Could you talk about how these sources have influenced your work, both visually and conceptually?
When I was growing up, teen sitcoms like Saved by the Bell and Clarissa Explains it All were all on reruns. Those shows were on the cusp of the ‘80s/’90s so I was watching a lot of shows stylized in those eras. When I was little I used to draw my “dream room” a lot, which looked a lot like Clarissa’s, actually. Now, I use my room as form of expression — I collect figures and trinkets to decorate it with, so it makes sense that I love giving environments in my work the same sense of personalization. By paying attention to small details within the environments my characters inhabit, it’s sort of a progression from when I used to draw Clarissa’s room.
I also loved the hyper stylized drawings of the manga and anime I was consuming as a kid. It was very different to anything else I had been exposed to, and I really connected with it. My teachers at school heavily discouraged me from replicating the style of these shows and comics, so I forced my hand into drawing in a more “western” style.
I really love the melodrama shoujo and horror comics bring to the table; Japanese artists such as Kazuo Umezu and Suehiro Maruo draw quite horrific content that is still portrayed in a rather feminine and graceful way, which is reflective of the long lashes and wide eyes of the magical girls I grew up idolizing the styling of. As my interests expanded, I think I developed a style that happily married those stylistic elements I admired with a more diversified range of influences.
One thing I do is try and mediate between something nostalgic to me, and horrific. The nostalgia comes from things I have grown up consuming and being inspired by like those sitcoms and anime. I love movies like It Follows, which exists in a timeless universe, and managed to portray an atmosphere that is unsettling and oppressive but takes place in an otherwise comforting and familiar environment. That combination is something that really inspires me, and I try to convey a similar feeling in my work. I have very prominent memories of my friends and I sitting around, talking about horror movies and sharing ghost stories. We loved scaring each other. So maybe I’m making illustrations that are, in a sense, these scary stories or ideas that have been brought into the rooms we’d tell them in.
Also, of course we have to ask — what are some of your favorites in each category?
Anime/Manga: I really like Evangelion. At face value it’s about giant fighting robots. But there’s a narrative alongside of it, which I found to be one of the most realistic and intuitive depictions of depression and mental health troubles I’ve seen. I also think the style it was drawn and animated in was quite dated a few years ago, but is now making a resurgence as part of the popularity of ‘90s aesthetics on the internet.
Anything by Junji Ito is also an essential for fans of horror. His works are either hilariously over-the-top with how disgusting and wild they are, or completely terrifying and haunting. He has drawn so many short stories that it’s easy to find something you feel like reading.
Sitcoms: The Secret World of Alex Mack was a great teen sitcom. She was hit by a chemical truck on her first day of school, which gave her Special Powers. I remember she used to glow when she was nervous, which is so relatable... except I sort of grow more of a red colour, shake, and perspire horrifically when I’m anxious.
Horror Movies: Suspiria is a major favorite horror for me: I love Dario Argento’s bright colour palettes and lighting! It’s is a little “off” with the acting and storyline, but I felt like it made for this really surreal, nightmare-like feeling which I love. The Japanese horror House does something very similar — and it also has a bunch of fun rotoscoped and practical effects. It looks like somebody took a teen melodrama, cut it into a haunted house movie, and drew all over it to make something wicked. I love it!
Occult and horror imageries are becoming increasingly popular in mainstream culture, and seem to be thriving particularly in online communities like tumblr and Etsy. What is it that draws you to this imagery, and why do you think that it is having a revival in pop culture (and art) right now?
Honestly, I think a lot of the popularity of witchy stuff amongst girls is an expression of feminism. There is a natural link between witchcraft and feminism that a lot of people make, and enjoy playing on. Having magic means you can do anything and so witchcraft has become, for many, a symbolism of independence and strength within femininity that I think appeals to people very much at the moment.
I’ve also noticed that now a lot of modern and successful horror movies have been directed by women. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Love Witch and The Babadook have been three of my favorite horrors of the last five years — all directed by women. Being a feminist and fan of horror movies has always been a paradox for me. The horror genre has always involved women, but they’ve rarely ever been in control; they are typically the subjects of shallow peril and exploitation. But I think when you have a woman writing or directing horror, there is a more empathetic and humanistic portrayal of female characters. People like it — and I think the media are slowly waking up to that. Of course, I don’t mean to say that everything is about feminism — I think that’s just a part of it. Perhaps the Illuminati are real after all.
Some of your works use a particularly "girly" pastel palette and iconography. This meshes with a pastel goth aesthetic that seems to have found a place in social media and fashion communities. Could you speak about this choice to use a less-traditional palette for horror and gothic imagery, and to emphasize what many might think of as the “femme” elements?
I rarely consciously think about making my work one way or the other. I think my colour choices are just things that have seeped unconsciously into my work from inspiration and interest alike. I try to stay away from using the words “pastel goth” to describe my work because I feel like it conjures quite a gimmicky and ubiquitous aesthetic I’m not a huge fan of. But I do think that the prevalent themes and colour choices of my work will inevitably be attributed to that aesthetic!
I suppose it comes from trying to use soft and comforting palettes to portray an atmosphere that is soothing, and introducing something dark or “off” which gives a sense contamination to a scene. In my illustration “Dysmorphia/Dysphoria,” I wanted to achieve a feeling of familiarity conjured by the dressing table adorned with feminine and girly imagery, but then introduce something darker by hiding objects that allude to the title amongst that, as well as the more obvious horror elements. Essentially, I’m emphasising soft, feminine elements in order to evoke a contrasting feeling of corruption.
Who is your favorite teen witch, and why?
Does Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter count? It’s probably a boring choice given all I’ve talked about… but I think crying all day in the shitter is very relatable.