CULT launches at Orbital Comics in London
Today marks the opening of an exhibition that I’m a part of at Orbital Comics in London. Running from Monday 14th to Sunday 20th April, CULT is a collection of cult-inspired artwork created by the GHOSTS comic-art collective, which includes Owen Johnson, Andrew Tunney, Jon Lock, James Lawrence, Mark Penman, Nich Angell and me. Today is your first opportunity to buy specially designed prints and original art from the members of GHOSTS. Many of these creations will only be available at the CULT exhibition or have very limited print runs that will be made available to attendees of CULT exclusively during the exhibition.
I’ll be at Orbital on Saturday 19th April signing and selling comics from 2pm until 5pm, and then we’ll be hosting an exclusive lock-in party throughout the evening, where you can join us for drinks and occult conversation. The party will also feature a one-night-only live music performance by cosmic punk band, Raygun Roads & The Kittelbach Pirates. Entry is free with a purchase of GHOSTS exhibition material. If you want to be guaranteed a place at the party be sure to arrive at Orbital before 6:30pm. Space will be limited and we’re expecting a lot of guests.
UPDATED – To accompany the exhibition, the brilliant Alasdair Stuart from Bleeding Cool has conducted the definitive GHOSTS interview, An Army of GHOSTS Takes Over London. Click on the link to head across to Bleeding Cool and find out how GHOSTS was founded, which member of the group Mark Penman head butted and what happened during the dark puberty of Owen Johnson.
Alex Fitch of Panel Borders also interviewed Owen Johnson, Andrew Tunney, Mark Penman and James Lawrence on his (GHOSTS of) Young Graphic Novelists show, which can be streamed or downloaded from the Panel Borders website. Thanks also to downthetubes and Forbidden Planet International for covering the show, which gives a little too much insight into the minds of these deranged creators.
Of course, the central conceit of GHOSTS is that of seven UK comic creators working together to extend our reach and shake off the ghosts of our predecessors. As soon as we started work on the “Seven friends…” tagline, as soon as that basic rule was established, I knew that I was going to break it. Because the theme of the exhibition is CULT, and I was already working on a project based on the Manson Family, and what drives young people to put their faith in the wrong people, with an artist called John Pearson. John and I had never worked together before, but surely it couldn’t be coincidence that we were creating art inspired by life in the love and terror cult, and that the GHOSTS collective had independently suggested the theme of CULT?
My section for the exhibition was created in collaboration with John Pearson, a man I hardly knew who has become integral to the CULT exhibition. Given that he was a complete enigma, I spoke to John to find out more about what inspires him and why he agreed to work with me on such a dark project.
Who are you? Tell me about your background and how it led to sequential art.
I’m a troublemaker living in Leeds, who draws things. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember in one form or another. The biggest influence on my passion for drawing had always been my oldest brother. He got me interested in science fiction and fantasy through the old Fighting Fantasy choose your own adventure books and I was always trying to draw the quests I would read about. He would let me borrow his old comics and I would just sit and draw, I’d spend hours with the old Marvel run of Star Wars comics and just sketch out the images. Over the years I’ve done more jobs than I can remember in the creative field. I come from a Fine Art background, which has given me experience across the board with creative approaches, and an overwhelming “fuck it and do it” sensibility, so I’ve always been one to just get stuck in without reservation when it comes to creative work, regardless of whether or not I know what I’m doing.
I had a lot of links to the hardcore punk scene across the country around the time I graduated, and started up my own DIY screen-printing and design company out of my garage. I printed t-shirts and record sleeves for a range bands for a few years before the isolation of printing in the darkness on my own, in the blistering heat and often only in my underwear, finally set in. I worked in education for a while as well as illustration after that, and always endeavoured to combine my personal artistic influences with the classes I taught. I can remember getting a group of 11 year olds to recreate a huge Jack Kirby spread, each taking a small section and putting their own spin on it then combining the sections to make a gigantic mural. There was nothing more satisfying than witnessing a group of kids getting excited about sequential art from an activity I’d devised, not only just soaking it in but actually exploring the art in their individual ways and making it their own.
After spending a long time illustrating movie posters and film related commissions, I decided to finally do my own comic book a few years back and collaborated with an old friend to create a vile piece of work called Lies & Phalluses, and then a far more personal comic book following that called, Square Brow, about the daily adventures of my best friend Lauren. From that point I did a lot of character design, got involved with Thought Bubble for the last few years and worked on exhibitions including CULT. I keep taking on far more commissions that I can deal with, but sleep is something I’ve learnt to live without.
Where might people have seen your work before?
I’ve completed a variety of projects over the last few years, from Secret 7″ to working with Lionsgate films, and have exhibited illustrations in the UK and in the USA. People usually find me in Leeds lurking around in the shadows of art events with a beer in hand. I’ve been doing a lot of live illustration of recent which is something I’m working on developing over the next few months. I did a piece with Black Rose Collective last month, they’re an artist led group that sets up a lot of live painting events around Leeds and that’s prompted me to push things to a larger scale. I’ve been selling my wares at conventions and pop ups and generally being a thorn in people’s sides over the last few years. You might have been one of the few people brave enough to pick up one of my comics or illustration zines from the last few Thought Bubble conventions.
I’m currently working on a comic based on the dream journal that I’ve been keeping, which is shaping up to be a mixture of Charles Burns and Jodorowsky in terms of content. There’s minimal dialogue and no linear narrative, it’s focusing on the images and recurring themes throughout the dream extracts. It’s exciting to be working on something so personal, but at the same time a little daunting that I’ll be putting down on paper depictions of my raw experiences being digested. Snippets of that journal have escaped into existence through different forms already, the best of which was when I went to an open mic night with the intention to read poetry but had nothing prepared in advance. I signed up and was the final performer of the night following a sea of deluded acoustic acts. I was wasted and wild by this stage, and all I had with me was my dream journal, so I asked the organiser if I could open the fire escape and read from the car park. I made him stand next to me holding my whiskey and lighting my cigarettes, dedicated the reading to the previous musician who I said I would fuck for an unknown reason, then read a dream about me cooking a turkey in fear until when I opened the oven door the turkey was crowned by a huge penis which gave me an intense sense of relief. Whatever insight into my subconscious that gives is still up for debate.
Who would you say are your peers or biggest influences?
I’ve always loved film, and a lot of the posters and concept art that goes with it has been a massive influence to me. Drew Struzan was one of the biggest influences, it always blew me away how he could capture the characters so perfectly and compose the pieces in a way that flowed from the page and made you desperate to see those movies. Jean Giraud is another influence, such a crisp style and balance of detail and negative space that makes the work pop. I’ve always been a sucker for detail and capturing people accurately, and it’s a constant challenge for me developing my illustrations to reach that balance of detail and space without overworking them. So many pieces fall into being overworked and it’s easy to get caught up in those details and miss the purpose of the final piece.
Someone who I’m really liking at the moment is Ben Horton who does the designs for $lave skateboards, he’s got a beautiful style that mixes realism and something more expressive. I read an interview the other day with him that he got into skateboarding because of the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, and that comes through in his art. I think that’s something that can be a downside to a lot of sequential art to be honest, it’s quite easy to fall into the trap of predictability and conforming to what’s already been laid down, but thankfully there’s a hell of a lot of people pushing to do things a little different in the UK indie scene and self publish on their own terms.
Do you have a soundtrack while you draw?
I smash my own face against the wall rhythmically and scream “WHY ME?!” over and over again when I have tight deadlines, which, when coupled with an internal dialogue of self-deprecation and background white noise, makes the standard soundtrack to any creative endeavour.
Music and illustration have always been synonymous to me, I spent my childhood in a dark room listening to punk records and reading comic books, then worked a lot of designs for bands whilst playing music myself and helping put out records on a DIY label. I cannot work without music, it fuels creativity. Currently I’ve been listening to this big playlist for the work on CULT, here’s a little taste of what’s on it:
Danzig – Am I Demon
Misfits – Hybrid Moments
Simone Felice – Ballad of Sharon Tate
Sufijan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy Jr.
Death In June – All Pigs Must Die
Eagulls – Nerve Endings
Dead Boys – All This and More
Stooges – Gimme Danger
Reagan Youth – Degenerated
Why are we working together?
Two years ago I illustrated a comic called Lies & Phalluses, about a designer drug that gives the main protagonist uncontrollably intense erections and a compulsion towards debauched sexual experiences. That comic was filled with images of trousers being torn apart by a gigantic penis and culminates with the ejaculations becoming so intense the main character is pulled down through his body and out through his own cock, flipping him inside out in a bizarre birthing ceremony. At Thought Bubble this caught your attention, as it was around the release of the first colour BLACKOUT, and from that we ended up having conversations about collaboration based on our mutual love for the vile and depraved. The ideas for the CULT pieces developed quickly and stemmed from other projects we were talking about involving members of the Manson family. The most beautiful thing about working together is that I’ve been given a taste for how far we can push things. There’s nothing I enjoy more than testing limits, and the work we’ve made for CULT is just a glimpse of what we could achieve in future.
What is it that attracts you to dark art?
The most interesting things are pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable, I’ve always felt a sense of warmth with the darker side of things be it art, film, music or everyday life. A lot of that comes from the dreams I have. I’ve been blessed with lucid dreams and recurring nightmares throughout my life, and have sporadic sleep paralysis. Every time I say to someone how I woke up believing I was possessed, trying to scream and escape myself but being trapped in my own mind they give me an awkward look and generic comments about how it sounds horrible, to which I laugh with “nothing makes me happier”, and it’s true. The shock of things is stimulating, it’s not about being sensationalist and simply doing things for a reaction, it’s more of an internal thing for me.
When it comes to art, I’ve always been interested in depictions of pain and the human condition, be it Francis Bacon, Goya, Walter Sickert and so on. When it comes to sequential art the turning point for me was when I started reading 2000AD, I can remember the exact issue that did it, I was ten years old and it was prog 901. I fell in love with how much darker, grittier and brutally hilarious it was compared to the Marvel titles I’d read previously. Mark Harrison’s work on Durham Red was mindblowing, and so sexually charged. The same goes for Chris Weston on Rogue Trooper and Clint Langley on Nemesis. I could almost taste those illustrations, they were so saturated with character, at the time I was almost sickened by it, because it was so different to what I’d experienced and I didn’t understand that sensation, but then I grew to love that feeling and kept trying to recreate it with more extreme visual experiences. That first prog I picked up really left a long lasting impression on me.
Where do you see your art leading you in the future?
I’m working on so many ventures right now, my body is on the verge of shutting down. I’m in the process of getting new studio space at the artist led Assembly House Studios in Leeds, to work on some bigger projects. There are two exhibitions I have in the pipeline for Leeds in the next few months, plus the dream journal comic book that I’m hoping to have out for Thought Bubble in November. As far as where all this is leading me, I’m not sure, and I like it that way. I take hold of every opportunity and always push myself. While that might ultimately be the death of me, so far it’s working out pretty well. I’m spontaneous, I don’t dwell on things to a point of inaction, I just get things done when they arise. I’m looking forward to new collaborations and projects whatever they might be, especially with the sequential art side of my work. I like to keep flexible so I don’t have a path I feel compelled to tread. I love illustration in any form, and the one thing I know I’ll be doing for sure is drawing until my fingers bleed.
Also, completely unrelated to CULT, I reviewed Higurashi Volume 24 for Starburst Magazine this month. Higurashi is easily my favourite manga of all time, and this penultimate volume doesn’t disappoint.