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This local club has collected a 1,000 ‘exquisite corpses’

What’s with the weird monsters at the New WestMonster Social Club?

Despite what it may sound like, the New WestMonster Social Club is no frightfest.

It's a group of around 30 adults that gathers at a local pub on Columbia Street to draw and colour little monsters, every Thursday, at the stroke of 6 p.m. 

These monsters are a mishmash of humans, animals and inanimate objects — like a troll with a teapot for a torso, a dragon with a moustached human face as its body, or a flower dressed in a woman's garb. 

Each monster is drawn by the members of the social club in an impromptu fashion, as they munch on baked wings and nachos at the pub.

A blank sheet of white paper is folded to create three panels. Someone draws the head, someone else draws the middle part, and passes it on to yet another person who draws the bottom — all without looking at each other's panels, explained Richard Chapman, who founded the New WestMonster Social Club in 2015, and runs Northern Electric Records.

“When you open it up at the end, you've got this crazy, weird, surrealist monster,” he said.  

This souped-up version of the club's paint night has its roots in the now-burnt-down-and-demolished Heritage Grill.

"It was kind of a cultural centre for New West,” said Chapman, who launched the club while he was still the manager at the Grill.

“It was the big hub where we did a lot of crazy things.” 

Doodling tiny monsters over a drink was one such thing.

Collecting ‘corpses’

Though the Heritage Grill burnt down in 2021, the monster-making activity was revived in October 2022 at Begbie's.

The collaborative technique of drawing tiny creatures was practised by the Surrealists back in the ‘20s and ‘30s to inspire creativity, said Chapman. There is even a name for it: "exquisite corpse," he said.

Today, it’s part of the curriculum in art schools, and Chapman thought it would be fun to introduce it into a bar setting.

And he was right. The club's first meeting had an intimate crowd of six people; now, as many as 30 show up. 

Over the years, these weekly social gatherings have spawned a thousand monsters (“I don’t think I am exaggerating”) — every Thursday night, a roster of 30 to 40 new characters are born.

But what happens to this growing stockpile of monsters eventually?

“We archive them,” said Chapman. 

Every ‘corpse’ is sealed neatly in an envelope with a mention of the day it was created and the list of participants who created it, and tucked away carefully by the New WestMonster Social Club head archivist Angel Sitybell.

All of them rest in artist and musician Gordon Smither’s Studio.

 “We can look up any day and see what year it was from and who drew it.”

The Columbia Strip monsters

Some of the monsters have also found their way into colouring books, and a certain black-and-white “counter-culture” art magazine called The Columbia Strip.

The 32-page magazine was brought out by Chapman, along with Smithers, for the 2022 Outlaw Art Show — an event that featured works by artists who primarily identified themselves as musicians. 

While the other participants of the show exhibited sculptures and canvases, Chapman presented a magazine that featured a mix of art and “weird” stories about New West history (like those of the world-famous illusionist Mandrake the Magician or the Hollywood Hospital on Sixth Street that was known to use psychedelics for therapeutic purposes in the 1950s and 1960s).

The first edition of the magazine sold 500 prints; the second edition is planned to come out next month, confirmed Chapman, who was a recipient of the Bernie Legge Cultural Award at the New Westminster Platinum Awards 2022.

The Columbia Strip supports the New WestMonster Social Club. 

Both the magazine and the club are ways to “basically support the arts,” he said.

The club meetups also have DJ Dallas Cooper (Chapman's alias) playing local music and music referenced in the magazine.  

The “casual and relaxed” gathering is a way to encourage artists ("a lot of whom are introverted") to interact with other artists, he said. However, the meetups are open to all — artist or not. 

“We're just trying to make it more real, serve the creative community and have fun in real life,” said Chapman.

And the many "exquisite corpses" that continue to pile up in a New West studio are just a testament to that. 

The Columbia Strip is priced at $15, and can be bought online or from any of these four locations: Judge Begbie’s Tavern, Refill Stop and Relove Records, Orange Crush Velvet and Groove Cat Books and Records. The New WestMonster Social Club gathers at Begbie’s Tavern every Wednesday between 6 and 9 p.m. to draw and colour. Papers and markers are provided.