I was familiar with the work of Shawn Conn, but I knew nothing personal about him, so I googled him to see what I could dig up. There’s something chilling about finding the bio for a horror artist and reading, “I was born breech during a freak blizzard, choking by my own umbilical cord…” – and so began the life of an artist who has carved a name for himself in the horror genre…literally. Whether it be paper or flesh, Conn has developed quite a talent for capturing the essence of the undead.
Q. Which came first, the zombie art or the tattoo skills? Does one influence the other?
The zombies definitely lumbered onto my canvas first. I started out planning to be an illustrator when I entered college, but life being what it is…I became a father and had to drop out. I floated for a couple of years and then joined the Army. After the Army, I started a tattoo apprenticeship, with the thought that it would be for a short time while I finished college. The more popular I became, the more tattooing became a career and 20 yrs later, I’m finally able to tattoo part time and devote the majority of my time to illustration.
I think the years of tattooing have taught me how to convey a message in a single image and that has definitely helped me to be a more effective illustrator.
Q. What kind of work do you specialize in and/or prefer? (Ex: gory, sinister)
I will definitely use gore if it calls for it. It certainly has its place in horror illustration, but I think true horror shouldn’t rely on gore due to its shock factor, in the place of real terror. My grandmother told me, when she was around 12, she went to see “Frankenstein” starring Boris Karloff and after the movie let out she ran all the way home terrified. That’s always stuck with me & I strive to convey that same level of emotion in my art whether it involves gore, or not.
Q. What project are you most proud of? Do you feel any special connections to your creations?
I think every artist has a special connection to his various works, whether it is visual, musical, literary, film, etc. Except maybe those performance-art guys. Every time I see a performance piece they seem to show no emotion. Talk about scary. I’m definitely more hyped about some projects over others, but I don’t often get a project that I don’t connect with on some level. For horror, sci-fi & fantasy artists, when they begin laying down roughs for a piece, they’re delving into their deepest fantasies and/or fears to create something that will invoke the desired emotional response from the viewer. It’s hard not to have a special connection when you’re committing that level of emotion into an artwork.
I really dig most everything I do, but I just finished a “movie within the movie” poster for Paranoid Android Productions that was a real challenge and a blast to do. I’m also really stoked that May December Publications has given me all of the covers for the “Dead” series. It’s going to be cool to watch the progression of the apocalypse and the cast of characters evolve from cover to cover. I’m also going to be working on a zombie apocalypse guidebook with them and a very qualified author, chockfull of illustrations that will be a ton of gory fun.
Black humor, for sure! When I was painting and exhibiting more fine art, a large majority of my paintings where infused with satirical humor and political messages. I liked to include cartoon characters in my paintings to lend to the blurring of real world issues with an absurdity that is merited with so many of our modern day problems.
As I’ve moved more in the direction of illustration, I’ve become less political and it’s a little harder to interject humor into cover illustrations, but I still slide it in there, wherever I can.
Q. How did magazines like Fangoria and Heavy Metal shape you as an artist?
I started reading Fangoria with issue #1, right around the same time I saw my first splatter film, “Friday the 13th”. I had already been a big fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland, but this was a totally different magazine. When I first discovered it at the local newsstand, it was like the day I discovered my dad’s stash of old Playboy magazines. Fangoria first inspired me to want to become a SFX artist, which had me applying all manner of wounds and grotesqueries to my 3 younger brothers.
I’ve been reading Heavy Metal for over 30 years now and imagine I’ll be reading it for 30 more. The quality of art and stories that have been featured throughout the years have been a huge inspiration to me and have helped me to set the standards for my own work high. My dad is a huge fantasy & sci-fi fan and my mom, more of a horror fan, and the love of those genres that they fostered in me has been the number one influence in the direction of my art career and Heavy Metal is the perfect blend of all three.
I have stacks of magazines, comics and art books that I am constantly looking through for inspiration and new ways of creating art, whether it be technique, or just thinking outside my comfort zone when developing an artwork.
Q. What was it about Romero’s work that scared the crap out of you?
I’ve always been drawn to apocalyptic & post-apocalyptic films and books for some reason. It’s kinda like an exciting, yet terrifying notion to think that the world as we know it could just be over. Every petty little thing we worry about, or get angry at one another for wouldn’t mean diddly. At the same time, it’s scary to think that society would be gone. No laws, no more music, no more art, no more peanut M&M’s and more than likely the loss of loved ones. For me, when I think about those scenarios, I sometimes so immerse myself in the fantasy of what it would be like that I get depressed and anxious wondering how would I protect my family, myself? Would I even be able to? So the notion of the world as we know it ending by humans being turned into mindless, undead eating machines that can turn you into one just by coming into contact with their bodily fluids scares the crap out of me.
George Romero’s, “Dawn of the Dead” and then “Day of the Dead” got to me, by placing the zombie scenario in a very real & possible setting. Up to that point, I didn’t even really think zombies were that scary. Just a buncha bulgy eyed guys traipsing around the jungle making women faint and then carrying them to a crypt, where the hero would show up and just push them down. Romero changed all of that, for me, with “Dawn of the Dead”. All of a sudden they were these ghastly, grey undead creatures and they were in a mall that looked just like the one I used to go to and they wanted to eat the living! What “Day of the Dead” did, was basically confirm for me that, there is no happy ending to this scenario. No one is coming to push these guys down and save the damsel. In fact, he’s probably pushing her down to slow the zombies down and saving his own ass!
And there has not been a single peanut M&M in any of Romero’s movies. That’s enough to scare the crap outta anyone!
Q. What are your plans for the rest of 2011?
I have ongoing cover projects, which I’ll be working on, as well as starting the zombie apocalypse guidebook. I’m also starting to branch out more, beyond strictly horror and working on more fantasy and sci-fi art, which I hope to premiere more of on my website by the beginning of next year. Oh…and I’ll be stocking up on ammo, weapons, water and peanut M&M’s before Dec 21 of next year.