A: I grew up in the American Museum of Natural History. My mother
was an assistant to Margaret Meade, so as a youth the taxidermy
thylacine was always a mysterious presence that hovered above me in
the halls. Years later, when I used to have meetings at Natural
History magazine, I would glance longingly at it while I walked
by. It's haunted me throughout my life.
A: Yes. I put it in a
mural called the Recent History of the World, which is about
ecological damage humans have wrought throughout the planet. And I
did a close-up watercolor of one in mid-howl.
A: It's the poster child of apex predator extinction ... a
haunting icon that forces us to face a legacy of extinction. Plus
it's cute as hell.
thylacine has double duty. Don't forget it is foremost a real and
genuine species, not one cooked up by fervid imaginations. Yet the
current evidence of the actual animal is so fleeting. It is the
coin that has two sides in cryptozoology --- on the one hand it's
an historical figure, yet it fuels an industry based on hope and
mythology. It brings tears to your eyes.
A: Architeuthis is the most mythic living animal out
there. And there couldn't be anything more elegant than using the
ink of a giant squid to draw a giant squid. Using an artist's
material from within the creature is both art history and natural
A: Yes. Too bad it smelled rank, like a sardine factory crossed
with wet dog.
A: If they had
photography I would have been out of a job. But seriously, doing
drawings is my way of having diaristic participation. It's my way
of being an author. Also, since some of these animals and plants
have a questionable future (and present, like the thylacine), it's
the best way of remembering these species. The images have a
fleeting quality; it's like they're ghosts from a spectral
A: Some of these species, like Tasmanian devils and Eucalyptus
regnans (the biggest tree in the southern hemisphere), might
disappear entirely from Earth one day.
A: The spotted-tailed
quoll. It's an animal that falls between the cracks, not a doggie
and not a cat. It is unapologetically a predator. Also, I'm
obsessed by the quoll's tail. It's not a tail, it's an extension of
its torso. It looks like an animal from the past. It looks like a
mutation of nothing you've ever seen before. All of Earth's history
is in this animal. It's beyond boundaries. It's primal. It's hot!
It's a Dasyurid thing. It may be more profound than the
A: I'm a fan of unlikely and unlovable animals. First on the list
is the thylacine --- a "Down Under lion" with a pouch. Also unloved
is the Tasmanian devil (just consider its name), which to me looks
like a child's drawing of a scary dog. And the Tasmanian giant
crayfish. Most people wouldn't cuddle up to a giant crayfish, but
to me it's sexy.
A: Using materials from
the trip was a fun way of connecting to the place. But my own blood
was a drag. I was trying to draw a leech with my blood, but it
would not flow---even when the authors jabbed me with a needle. I
think I was ambivalent. I wanted to keep it real, but not that
A: Together Michael and Margaret make one personality, so it's
like dealing with one author. Except when they play "good cop/bad
A: Oh, they switch roles to confuse me.