Mike's Real Dead Bugs
What is Mike's Real Dead Bugs?

Last Supper 1
Last Supper (after Leonardo): Real Dead Bug version I
All artwork copyright Michael P. Branca

With the help of dozens of collaborators from around the world, a silly idea became a critically-acclaimed success. Read on to learn how an artist went from picking dead flies out of his windowsills to having his artwork discussed on Des Moines morning radio.

A Collaboration with the World

Mike's Real Dead Bugs started on a whim, but soon developed into a heart-felt vision. In May 1997, the first Bug Box was revealed at Art Lab in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. The cover read "Free," and inside "Help Yourself." It was filled with real, dead flies. People got a laugh out of the "Free Box," but that was all. Two weeks later, the joke was old and nobody had taken home any bugs.

That's when a new vision materialized, and with it the founding principle for an exciting new art-business. The principle is this: people are certain to be willing to pay 25? for something novel, handcrafted and unique. Art for a quarter. Who can pass that up?

Mike's Laminated Real Dead Bugs were born.

The first box of Laminated Bugs was an overwhelming success. The people, realizing they could now impress their friends to a degree heretofore unimaginable, "gobbled up" the bugs. Art Lab could barely keep the bugs in the box. Then Art Lab had no box, for the whole thing - full of 100 Laminated Bugs - sold. Who knew there was such a demand for dead bugs?

Well, with this exhilarating early success, Mike's Real Dead Bugs production skyrocketed. The initial Dead Bug Campaign was launched, and within weeks dead bugs had flown in from nearly a dozen states. More boxes and countless Laminated Bugs sold. Freshly sealed, hand-pressed, Laminated Real Dead Bugs were available all over town. Then the vision grew.

Mike's Real Dead Bugs stayed true to its foundation in lamination, but needed to expand. Bugs of such extreme beauty and size were flocking in from the far reaches of the USA, and some of those buzzed with the potential of greater purpose. Soon, beautiful pieces of unprecedented artwork were being produced. Oil paint and bees shared the spotlight in three "Bee Series" paintings. The Last Supper and Crucifixion were reinvented through "Real Dead Bug Versions." Two cicadas showed their undying love for each other in the Necklace Reliquary of Two Bugs in Love. Mike's Real Dead Bugs had gone big time, and the people continued to love the bugs.

"The People, They Love the Bugs"

In 1998, the Mike's Real Dead Bugs operation moved to Maine, and with that move came publicity and exhibitions on a much greater scale than previously thinkable. The 1999 Dead Bug Drive saw donations come in from as far away as Thailand, and the press caught wind that something special was happening. In Maine, The Casco Bay Weekly, Bangor Daily News, and WGME-TV did features on Mike's Real Dead Bugs and Mike's art. An interview on WGAN radio in Portland led to several other radio interviews with stations in such bug-infested places as Des Moines and Kansas City. And when the Utne Reader caught on, the Bugs became nationally known.

1999 also saw production increase in Bug Art and two exhibitions exposing the depths of the collection: Camouflage at the LC Bates Museum and Brain Drops at 3 Fish Gallery. In time, bug art pieces would be featured in group shows on the themes of Generation X (2000), Animals in Art (2000-01), and Still Lives (2002), among other exhibitions. And with all this exposure came more BUGS, BUGS, BUGS - now representing 19 states and 7 countries on 5 continents!

What does the future hold for the Bugs? Well the Mike's Real Dead Bugs project may currently be resting (it's been awhile since the last Bug Art creation), but its not itself dead yet. Plans are being made to organize a complete Mike's Real Dead Bugs Retrospective. The goal is for this show to eventually tour the country (and beyond?), sharing with the public all of the Bug Art, the Collection, the Correspondence, and all of the other related materials that have led to the great success of Mike's Real Dead Bugs.

Who is Mike's Real Dead Bugs?

The bugs have come from over 70 Dead Bug Scouts in 19 states and 7 countries on 5 continents.

Dead Bug Scouts


Bug Press Release

Utne Reader article

Maine Times article

Portland Phoenix article

The Bug Art


Disclaimer: All bugs collected by Mike's Real Dead Bugs are genuine "Found Dead." Mike's does not condone the capturing, squishing or spraying of innocent live bugs for fun, art or profit. Mike's does condone the swatting of pesty, stinging bugs for personal comfort.