I recently sat down with Rick Chillot from comicpals.com to chat about all things monsters. We did a deep dive on topics like – What makes a good monster? What is our fascination with monsters? And, why do I personally chose to depict monsters in so much of my art and design? That last one has stuck with me these past few weeks, as we can all still see Halloween in the rearview.
I think that monsters have been my go-to because I identify with them. Not the path of destruction they leave in their wake or the darkened curse that defines their existence and oftentimes their downfall. But the not fitting in and the alienation, those hit pretty close to home.
I have designed and illustrated a lot of stuff. Comics, books, posters, greeting cards, pins, patches, t-shirts, etc. (Here’s how to order! Operators are standing by!) Most of it is monster-oriented, or at least monster-adjacent. This not counting my work in holiday greeting cards where Santa, pine trees, and snow people reign supreme. (Note: If you take a second look at some of my designs featuring snow folk, I think you might pick up on a tinge of the foreboding monster?)
Along with my identifying with the creepy creatures of the night and their plight to be understood, I blame my inspirations. Horror books as a kid gave way to movies both old and new. Growing up in the high times of 80s slasher flicks probably gets a BIG assist. Then came the artists. The Golden Age alchemy of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac led down the haunted paths of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Which gave way to the sequential stylings of Mike Ploog, the EC Comics Crew (partial to Wally Wood and Jack Davis), and old issues of Monster Magazine. I even give a lecture to my Typography class each year on the brilliance of Monster Magazine letterer and designer Harry Chester. Add in healthy literary doses of Stephen King and Clive Barker and it reads like my art destiny was preordained. The last nail in the coffin would have to be freshmen year of college, when one of my instructor’s brought in Bernie Wrightson’s “Frankenstein”. The beauty of those black and white images rewrote my creative DNA.
And I guess the reason I am still reflecting on this discussion, asking myself why monsters, is another question floating along the surface of the lagoon. Would I change anything? Would I go back to fourth grade me, Marvel Monster comic in one hand, Horror movie book from the library in the other, shoveling in mouthfuls of my Halloween haul and warn him? Tell him to change paths…
I would tell him to double down on the monster stuff and maybe lay off the chocolate a little.
I would let him know that being an artist saved your life in so many ways. Identifying with Frankenstein’s Monster and the Werewolf gave you strength, both in character and creativity, that got you through some very difficult times. They have even helped you be a better friend and teacher.
I’d tell him to keep drawing, keep reading, and keep howling at the moon.
Monsters cast a shadow on our humanity and shed light on our shortcomings.
Monsters are our friends.
They have taught me a whole heck of a lot.