How often have you picked up a zombie book because the cover art grabbed your attention? Maybe the jacket description was so-so, but the illustration(s) seized your imagination like the hands of the undead dragging you down into a horrific frenzy. Here at The Zombiephiles, we decided that it was time to start featuring the artists of our favorite zombie books & comics.
If you’ve read books by authors like Tony Faville, Lyle Perez or TW Brown, you might recognize the artwork of Robert Elrod. This artist’s work has appeared on the covers of several novels and anthologies from small-press horror publishers, as well as the “Best New Zombie Tales” series from Books of the Dead Press. Robert was able to squeeze me into his busy schedule to answer a few questions:
Q. How did you get started as an artist for book covers? What led you into the zombie genre?
A. Like so many other artists, working on book covers had been a dream of mine since I caught my first glimpse of a Frank Frazetta painting. He didn’t do zombies per se but he inspired me to pursue being an artist. A cousin got me into reading comics. We’d spend most weekends drawing day and night. My early favorite artists included Bernie Wrightson, Michael William Kaluta, Jeffrey Jones and pretty much any artist working for Warren Publishing in the 70s and early 80s. Heavy Metal magazine was also a huge influence on me artistically. Combine those artistic influences with the way that same cousin would torture my young brain with horror films and I’m the twisted result.
I saw “Night of the Living Dead” at a young age (along with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “The Exorcist”, “The Omen”, “Alien”, the Universal Monsters films and many others) and it left a lasting impression on me. I had nightmares about zombies quite often as a kid. I still do occasionally. Those nightmares and the idea of not knowing who was “the enemy” warped my young mind. My parents watched a lot of horror and science fiction so I got to see a lot of it. Our home was filled with overflowing bookshelves that also kept me very busy.
Q. How would you describe your style? Do you have a favorite medium?
A. I’m not sure how I would describe my style really. I tend to dabble in different styles. My digital painting has something of a retro feel to it usually, especially where color is concerned. My ink work of late seems to have become a bit darker with the inclusion of gray washes. I bounce around from realistic to cartoony imagery and sometimes a combination of both. I think I get the most joy out of non-digital art. The pieces that I’m doing with traditional tools seem to make me the happiest. I do think that digitally colorizing my black and white artwork is fun and I enjoy the results but, since I’m completely self-taught, finishing a painting that looks good makes me the happiest. Favorite medium: probably acrylic paint but I feel most comfortable with ink.
Q. What are you thinking when you create an undead illustration? Are you going for gore, shock, or simply trying to lure the readers to open the books?
A. There’s really no single answer to this question. It all depends on what the piece is intended to do. Sometimes I want to make people laugh. More often than not, that’s the intention. However, sometimes I want people to stop and say “Holy crap … that’s spooky!” Getting people to feel something is what it’s all about … whether that’s amusement or shock is really driven by what the illustration is being created for. With book covers, my number one intention is to get people to pick up the book and see what it’s about. If I can do that then I feel successful.
My piece “Blind Date” was meant to both shock and amuse. “Jimbo” was meant merely to amuse. “Braces” was created with the intention of shock. When Addy Miller’s zombie turned around and looked at Sheriff Rick in The Walking Dead season 1, it really creeped me out. It was delightful! I wanted to feel that again and to share the feeling with others.
Q. Has the surge in e-books affected your work in any way? Do you have to make special considerations for those projects?
A. I feel like I’m just getting started with my illustration career. Sure, I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really become focused on my artwork. I approach e-books the same way I would a printed book cover. I want to know what the book’s about so I can depict something from that book to draw the reader in. As far as technical approach goes, I ask the author / publisher if they intend to ever produce the book in printed form and make sure the artwork is large enough and of a high enough resolution for that purpose.
As an aside, I have several bookshelves full of novels and anthologies (mostly horror) but I really do love reading on my iPad. I had a nook and enjoyed it too. I don’t see either format going away any time soon.
Q. Do you ever read any zombie stories beforehand for ideas, or do you ask the authors for suggestions?
A. I love to read the stories beforehand, when possible, but I will always ask the author / publisher if they had something specific in mind. Typically they do and I’m always happy to accommodate them. Most of the folks I’ve collaborated with have been fantastic. I’ve only had one bad experience with a publisher so am counting myself very lucky in that regard. Lessons were learned.
Bring on your stories and suggestions, authors!
Q. What do you think of the zombie graphic novels that are becoming more common? Do you see yourself taking on a project like that?
A. I’ve a lot of them and have enjoyed many. As with any medium, there are good ones and bad ones. While I would love to work on a zombie graphic novel, comics are very labor intensive. They take a long time to produce. I’ve done a few comic books of my own (self published) and I’ve contributed pieces to some smaller comics publishers as well. I took a few years off from doing comics to teach myself to paint (both traditionally and digitally).
It can be very disheartening to spend months on a project and not get the response you’re hoping to get. Comic fans are incredibly loyal to what they like. Unfortunately, most seem to be more likely to purchase a superhero comic than a horror comic. That’s been my experience. The somewhat recent success of a few horror comics’ titles is encouraging. That being said, I am working on a new horror comic of my own and I’m also collaborating with Stephen Lindsay (“Jesus Hates Zombies”) on a horror comic that he’s writing. Neither of those includes zombies as of today. However, you can find my zombie comics in the pages of “Best New Zombie Tales” Volumes 1 through 3 from Books of the Dead Press.
Q. Where can our zombiephiles find more of your undead art? Any plans for future zombie cons?
Unfortunately, I had to cancel my appearance at Contagion: Outbreak in Omaha so the only zombie-specific con on my schedule is ZomBCon in Seattle this October. I did the show last year and had a great time. This year looks to be even bigger.
While this isn’t a zombie-themed show, I’ve been named as Artist Guest of Honor at a new convention to be held in Colorado Springs, CO in February. More info can be found at www.galaxyfest.org for those interested.