Since I became editor of Bear World Magazine, I have been anxiously awaiting our October cover so I could feature the artwork of Astra Zero.
Dustin Nicholls is the creative genius behind Astra Zero and for years I have admired his horror themed work that features bears and all sorts of beefy men in a variety of spooky and sexy situations. Horny demons, sultry zombies and seductive witches occupy the Astra Zero universe along with gay beefcake versions of your favorite horror movie villains. More recently Dustin has expanded the scope of his work to include reimagined, queer versions of artistic masterpieces such as “The Fall of Man” by Peter Paul Rubens which gained him some attention in the press for his controversial depiction of Adam and Steve as opposed to Adam and Eve.
Check out my conversation with him and be sure to take a look at all his gorgeous artwork below and at the links provided at the bottom of this page.
John Hernandez (JH): Astra Zero!! I am so excited to have this conversation with you. Excuse me while I geek out but I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. So for starters, how did you come up with name ‘Astra Zero’?
Astra Zero (AZ): Haha, OMG Thank you!! I’ve been using Astra Zero as my artist name since I was a teenager. I was in a punk band in high school and we all decided we wanted alter egos and for whatever reason, that’s the name I came up with and I’ve just been using it as my online & artist name ever since. My actual Name is Dustin Nicholls, I usually just go by Dustin. Astra Zero has kinda turned into more of a “brand name” now I guess.
JH: Yep I think its safe to say you’re a brand now! Can you tell me a bit about your background and where you are from?
AZ: As for background, race-wise I’m part First Nations & Scottish on my biological fathers side and my mom was adopted without papers, so I’m kinda a mystery with the other half. She was adopted by Germans though, so I was partially raised in a very German environment, haha.
And I’m from Canada! I spent most of my childhood way up North in a little town called Faro in the Yukon, that’s right beside Alaska for reference. But now I live in BC.
JH: And how/ when did you start creating art?
AZ: I’ve been drawing since I was a baby, my mom said she used to put me in my highchair with paper and crayons and I would just chill there for hours drawing pictures. Drawing and painting carried on all through school until high school when we got our first scanner and family computer, and I became obsessed with it. I would collect random stuff like leaves and garbage and scan it and then layer it over old photos and then print them out and draw over them. After that I started learning how to use stuff like photoshop and a whole new world of creating art opened up to me.
JH: And Is creating art your full time job?
AZ: It is yeah! Well, I still do some graphic design and other creative jobs on the side, mainly for recording artists, but I guess that would still be considered doing art as a full-time job, haha. It did take me a minute to fully ease my brain into it though, even after I got to a place where I could support myself, I still worked part time jobs for quite a while, mainly to keep some sort of structure in my life, if that makes sense. I’m not sure if it has something to do with having ADHD, but I really struggle with creating my own structure, which I’m still working on.
JH: Makes perfect sense. And I love that creating art is now your fulltime gig! What is it about bears that makes you want to incorporate them into your art? And why do you like portraying them in a spooky manner?
AZ: I mean the main reason is attraction for sure. I tend to be more drawn to beefy, husky and hairy body types. It’s definitely not an end all be all, or however that saying goes, haha, I’d say my default attraction is definitely geared more towards a bear type guy. A good chunk of my artwork is kinda intentionally over the top unrealistically beefy body types too. Like more of a fantasy hyper sexualized monster type features, I guess similar vibes to the gay manga art body types, or an exaggerated muscle bear, but with my own style and twist.
As for the spooky factor, I grew up a very alternative kid, I was big on like, heavy metal, punk & industrial music, horror movies & all the other creepy, strange things. I’ve kinda always just been extremely drawn to spooky stuff in general, like it’s actually hard for me to not include some kinda spooky element into almost anything I create, haha.
JH: Do you identify as a bear? What initially drew you into the bear community?
AZ: I guess I kinda do a bit yeah, I’ve definitely been in and around the bear community my entire adult life, a good chunk of my exes have been active members of the community & it’s also one of the gay communities I resonate with the most. I would say especially in the last 5 years it’s also the community I would be visually closest to. I grew up in such small towns that all of the gay & alternative communities all kinda meshed into one, so I’ve kinda always just been dipping in and out of all the gay communities.
JH: Well, you are definitely welcome in the bear community. And veering back to your artwork, are you professionally trained or self-taught?
AZ: I’m mainly self-taught. My grandpa was a painter and taught me a lot about art growing up, and my mom has always been super creative. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so my mom could always make something out of nothing, like she made her own home decor and gifts; and she has always been really into arts and crafts, so I think I got a lot of my creativity from her too. I also get really into learning new ways to make stuff, like I will be introduced to something and if it really interests me, I’ll go on a week-long bender learning everything I can about it.
JH: What methods or tools do you use in your artwork?
AZ: I always like to mix it up to keep my brain entertained. Lately I’ve been really into creating 3D rendered elements and mixing them with drawing and painting , I like how it gives it a more organic and somewhat unfinished quality, which I’ve been really into, like when there is something slightly off about it.
As far as programs, I will usually bounce one project through like 5 or 6 different programs and play around with different elements and ideas, but the one I’m on the most is probably Procreate, which is an artist app for the IPad Pro. I probably spend 80% of my creative time using that.
JH: And who are some of your artistic inspirations?
AZ: Oh man, my inspirations are always evolving, but creatively, I’ve always been obsessed with the artist / photographer / director Floria Sigismondi. She has directed a ton of music videos and some movies, but I was obsessed with her artwork & style as a teen, and it never left me. Also Tim Burton has always been a big creative inspiration.
And for the sexual side of my art, artists like Tom of Finland for sure, and of course gay porn & lately I’ve been really inspired by vintage gay photography and old historical paintings from like the 16-1800s mixed with modern gay adult elements.
JH: Oh I know! I’ve seen your latest work and it is fire! Where do the ideas for new pieces come from?
AZ: Kinda depends really, sometimes I get ideas from pop culture or what’s trending, a lot of times I will stumble across something while I’m searching for something else. Like I was searching for harness design ideas for something I was working on and stumbled across a bunch of pages from a vintage gay porn magazine from the 70s and got ideas from there. Sometimes I’ll get ideas from my own life, like things I’ve gone through or people I’ve met. But I always have to keep in mind what actually sells now since I’m doing this for a living.
JH: Is there anything too horrific or taboo that you would not draw?
AZ: I love some good controversial artwork, and I will intentionally create some semi controversial art from time to time to bring in new viewers, usually involving religion or the occult, because it will always make it to the “wrong” side of the internet and not surprisingly boost my reach. Usually on Facebook, haha
But when it comes to horrific, I would never create anything with the intent or the suggestion of actually hurting someone else, unless it’s about something I have personally gone through or to bring awareness to something or like silly or generic horror movie type stuff.
JH: Well, while we’re talking about horror, is there anything that scares you?
AZ: It used to be spiders, but I got over that when I moved into an old heritage house that was full of them – I mean like they were everywhere, so it went from being scared, to annoyed to just not caring anymore, haha
JH: I think I know the answer to this but, do you like Halloween? And what do you do to celebrate?
AZ: I freaking love Halloween! It’s my favorite! I used to go all out every year, decorate my whole house and dress up all crazy, but it’s now turned into my busiest time of year for work, sometimes I will sneak out to a party, but I’m usually working. Luckily, I love my job, so it’s all good.
JH. Would part of this busy spooky season workload be preparations for a book of your artwork?
AZ: Yes actually! That’s been an ongoing project for a while now, I’ve been kinda struggling with how I want to present it though. Like I could go the more affordable route and create an art book with Amazon, but they are really limited as far as paper options. I’ve actually already created a rough draft with them and been sent a proof copy, but I would have to alter a lot of my art to make it work for their paper options. I’ve also been looking into making a more high-end book, but it would obviously have a much higher price & I haven’t fully decided on a publisher yet.
JH: That’s so exciting! Appreciators of your art will be willing to pay what it costs so as to not compromise your vision; I am sure. But, until the book comes out, were can we see and purchase your artwork and merch?
AZ: You can see and buy my stuff at a few different places:
My website astrazero.com
I also have adult coloring books available on Amazon.
JH: Beautiful. Thank you again Dustin for taking the time to chat with me and providing me with your amazing artwork to showcase to Bear World readers! Happy Spooky Season!