Jon Clark is no stranger to American Gothic Press. His winning graphic novel entry into the 2016 Silver Scream Fest, THIN, is a harrowing, grey-toned account of a woman’s desperate push to lose weight — and the nightmare that results. This original take on societal monsters landed him the illustrator position for guitarist John 5’s “Careful with that Axe”, a story of a cursed guitar that highlighted the star-studded anthology TALES FROM THE ACKER-MANSION. When writer Chad Stroup came to the 2018 Silver Scream Festival with the Texas-flood-based horror tale HAG, Jon Clark was the obvious choice for depicting its dark waters and murky Vietnam war flashbacks. We recently picked Clark’s brain about his inspirations and artistic process for the upcoming title.
American Gothic Press. What made you decide to take this project when AGP contacted you about it? Are there particular things in a story you look for when taking on work?
Jon Clark. I love horror stories. I also like original, intimate stories about interesting human characters and situations where they’re in extreme peril. Chad [Stroup] hit all those points in an exciting way — how could I say no?
AGP. AGP previously published THIN, which you both wrote and illustrated. How does your art differ when the story comes from a different source? Does your technique or process change?
JC. One of the big differences is that THIN was mostly black and white, and HAG is full color and takes place during a massive rain storm and flood. Tackling the rain and the storm and the water was new, and challenging, but I do like to challenge myself. Color is always more tricky than black and white, and I really wanted to do Chad’s story justice. I felt like there’s a very specific mood to it, and I pushed myself very hard to get the images to that place. I really hope that comes across in the final illustrations. When the story isn’t my own, it’s a little more difficult, because I’m more tied to the script. If it’s mine, I just say to myself, “I’m gonna change this,” and I do. When someone else wrote it, I try my best to stick tightly to their script.
AGP. Approximately how long does it take to paint one interior page? What are your tools of choice?
JC. It depends on how many panels, as well as so many other factors. As far as my process goes, I add in the basic colors, then I add in some splashes of paint, then some more. Then I doubt myself, doubt my choices, add more paint, and just keep pushing until it either breaks — which isn’t always a bad thing — or I reach what I call the “Rosetta stone” moment. It’s a look/concept/idea/mix-of-color/who-knows-what-it-could-be which unlocks the whole of the illustration and shouts, this is the recipe for each of the panels for the entire book! For me, that’s the greatest and most wonderful moment. The experimentation is fun and sometimes scary, but when that moment hits, I find it really does solve all the panels and pages. My tool of choice is Photoshop. I long for the days of painting, and sometimes I do try to paint just to see if that’s what the book wants, but most of the time I end up back at home with my buddy Photoshop. Maybe it’s that “undo” button.
AGP. What would you name as primary influences on your horror work?
JC. Art-wise, Dave McKean is my hero. His art is out of this world. I love Graham Ingels — no one does that creeping horror better. I love Stephen Bissette — his pages, flow and panels are superb. I love Dave Mazzuchelli — simple, clear, emotional powerhouses, and his action is so tight. I love Junji Ito — oh man, where to begin with that guy! I’ve recently gotten into Emily Carroll’s stuff too, she’s super good! [Ed.’s Note: SECONDED!] As for story: Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Carpenter, Alan Moore, Lovecraft… I could go on all day.
AGP. Do you remember the first piece of horror media that had a profound effect on you?
JC. The movie HALLOWEEN 3. I know it gets a bad rep and all that, but when I saw it, it was on TV — edited for TV at that, and I was just a little boy, maybe six, who didn’t know or care that the film didn’t have Michael Myers in it. It was the opening scene where the mechanized man walks into the hospital and makes the “C” with his thumb and forefinger, then quip, plugs it into that poor dude’s eye sockets. Which is pretty damn horrible and terrifying, but what does he do next? He wipes his fingers off on the curtain! Damn, that’s just cold. As was always the case when I was a kid, right after that scene it was time for me to go to bed, so of course all that night I knew for sure some creepy dude was about to open the door and come for my eyeballs.
AGP. Did you base the monster designs on any existing monsters or animals? When you create concept art, do you study references, or does it all come straight from your imagination?
JC. I always study references in the beginning phases. I just like the look of the real thing, I like the raw emotion that references can give you. I like it when the creatures and monsters and horror looks almost too real. For HAG, I looked into all kinds of deep sea creature photos and grabbed bits and pieces of each. There are some scary looking things down there! Then I’ll take what I’ve researched, play around with it, throw in a good helping of my own imagination, and push the image until it feels right. For THIN, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the worm creature to look like, but I still wasn’t happy, so I created it in clay. I even tried using three different sizes of teeth. When it came to HAG, Chad, Holly [Interlandi], Jorge [Marrero], and I had some really fun and funny conversations while working through the designs of the creature and its, er, anatomy.
AGP. Full stop: why should comic readers check out HAG?
JC. Because it’s gonna kick ass! The creature is sick. Chad has crafted a really excellent story with moments of horror and intensity and a unique set of characters and locations. Beyond all that, it is exactly the kind of comic I’d pick up!
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