Horror as entertainment has been around since the dawn of popular culture; the genre was well represented in the first mass-produced novels, the advent of cinema, and even further back with Grand-Guignol stylings of the stage. And as one of the most visual experiences, it’s relied on image to promote terror and bring hideous ideas to life.
This new collection is beautifully put together by noted horror author Stephen Jones, and presents page after page of full colour art, from the earliest carvings of the Egyptians to the digital work of modern masters. As you’d expect, film and fiction are heavily represented, and the book is neatly split into sections — creatures, ghosts, psychopaths, etc. — with accompanying essays providing good reading material alongside countless posters and book covers. Often labelled as trash by the mainstream, The Art of Horror proves otherwise; this showcases superb work by immensely talented people, and richly brings your fears to life. As Jones states in his introduction: “Art will always be there to hold a mirror up to the universe and show us what is really out there…” This is a serious celebration of the genre, and a must-have for those who love things that go bump in the night.
We spoke to editor Jones about his inspiration for the book.
Where did the initial concept and idea for The Art of Horror come from?
Actually, this was one of those rare instances of a publisher contacting me. Elephant Book Company Ltd, a British packager of many classy coffee-table art books, approached me via a mutual colleague and asked if I was interested in writing a book about horror art. I initially turned them down as I was busy on a number of other projects and, having been involved with several art books before, I knew how much work it would involve.
However, they kept coming back, and I started to think that I didn’t want anybody else doing this book! So, in the end, we came up with a compromise where I would conceive and edit the book and we would get in other experts in their particular subjects to write the individual chapters. And that worked brilliantly — up to a point. In the end, it involved a lot more work for me than I had originally envisioned, but I had an incredible team backing me up and the more I got into it, the more fun I had doing it.
How important do you think these images have been in promoting horror literature and cinema in the past?
Oh, incredibly important. But the problem is that they are all over the place — in different countries, from different eras. That was the attraction to me, to bring together this rich vein of illustrative material relating to the horror genre into a single volume, so that people could see how it all fitted together, where the connections were being made.
Of course, even in a book of this size we barely scratched the surface. There is so much more that we could have included, but you have to work within certain commercial restrictions, and it was important to me that the cover price allowed it to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. I’m very proud that we achieved that without sacrificing any quality whatsoever.
You have a wide and varied collection of artists featured, from legends such as Giger to comic book masters such as Charlie Adlard. Who chose the work to be featured, and how easy was it to obtain publishing rights?
This is where my team came in. Obviously, as I’ve been involved with the horror genre for nearly forty years, I was aware of the work of many of the artists we included, plus many of them were friends and acquaintances who I had dealt with before. But I also had an amazing project manager in Adam Newell (who I had previously worked with at Titan Books) and designer in Paul Palmer-Edwards, who both also suggested artists and various works to be included.
In the end, the final decision was always mine as it was my name on the book, but they brought to my attention artwork and images that I was perhaps not familiar with or had overlooked. On top of that, we had an experienced picture researcher who dealt with all the clearances. I simply could not have done all that work on my own, and without those people backing me up I would probably not have done the book at all. In the end, it really was a team effort.
Were there any artists you wanted to feature that didn’t make the book, for whatever reason?
Yes. There were some that turned us down — mostly because they wanted ridiculous amounts of money. When we found something that I liked, we usually approached the artist or their representative. In most cases they agreed to be included because they wanted to be in the book. As I say, a few turned us down and, in those cases, we just moved on and found a replacement piece of art to fit the specific theme.
Is there a place for horror as an art form in the future? Cinema in particular seems to have lost the importance of a beautiful, atmospheric poster — is there a need for it with promotion being so instantaneous on the internet?
I think that all kinds of horror — fiction, poetry, art — is just as much of an art form as any other literary or artistic expression. It’s just darker, that’s all, and possibly more imaginative than many other genres. Throughout my career I’ve fought to change the ‘ghetto’ mentality so often associated with horror — it is just as creative and important as any other kind of art. Part of the reason for doing this book was to show that. Where else will you find Hieronymus Bosch and Francisco Goya rubbing shoulders with Virgil Finlay and Bernie Wrightson?
Yes, it saddens me that, for the most part, movie posters no longer feature the wonderfully colourful and stylised images that they used to. But times change. Techniques change. Back in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the lithographic process used to give the poster art — and remember, they would usually produce multiple variations for just one movie — a vibrancy and quality that is often missing these days. Even the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s had their own type of innovative design and presentation that has been lost now that most studios and distributors rely on photographic and digital images. However, there still are some notable exceptions: in the book we single out Graham Humphries’ atmospheric retro-style work on the UK poster for Hammer’s Woman in Black (2012).
Was it important to you to focus on the seemingly lost art of pulp horror novel covers? Often the artwork was better than the fiction within. Would you like to see more care taken with new horror fiction, as opposed to the seemingly endless deluge of Photoshopped covers that are on the shelves?
Absolutely. As an editor and a writer I have always tried to insist that my books have painted covers rather than photographic ones (unless those photos are treated in such a manner as to make them look like artwork — we include several examples of that technique in the book, dating back to the 1930s). I think artistic book covers are much more classy, and they can set an ‘atmosphere’ in a way that sometimes a stock photo cannot. But artists — good artists — are more expensive and these days in publishing, as in all things, it invariably comes down to the bottom line in the end.
For me, the correct cover painting can bring as much to a book as an author can with a good story. There are subtle touches and nuances that an artist can include in their work that perhaps could not be replicated in a photograph or a computer-generated image. It’s the equivalent of having a hand made piece of furniture or something mass-produced in a factory. With The Art of Horror we are celebrating those true artists, in every sense of that word.
There is a fine collection of essays alongside the images within the book. How were these writers chosen and was it easy to convince them to be part of the project?
I personally chose every one of the writers except one, who was suggested to me by my project manager. I had worked with most of them before on other projects, and those I hadn’t I knew their work. I had a wish list of experts for each chapter and not one of them turned us down.
I love that using different writers brings a different feel to each of the chapters — that’s exactly what I was looking for. Then, as the editor, I smoothed the book out by writing all the captions, the historical Introduction and various mini-essays to fill some of the gaps. These are big themes, and we could only do so much justice to them in the space that we had.
On a personal level, what are some of your favourite pieces within the collection?
Well, on a personal note, I am delighted that I was able to get so many unfamiliar movie posters and rarely-seen book and magazine covers into The Art of Horror. I love all that kind of ephemera and, in fact, much of it was drawn from my own collection. I also had a wish list of artists that I wanted to include and, although we didn’t get all of them, we did get a lot more than I expected. You could say that every picture in the book is a favourite because I included it over and above another piece.
But, to name just a few specifics, I love Dave McKean’s quirky portraits of horror film icons; Les Edwards’ double-page spread Into the Fire; Chema Gil’s digital photographs; William Mortensen’s chemically-treated photographs; Virgil Finlay’s delicate line drawings; José Segrelles’ stunning painting for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice”; Luis Ricardo Faléro’s sexy witches; Bruce Pennington’s immaculate paperback covers, and of course anything by my personal hero, legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland cover artist Basil Gogos. I was also delighted that we were able to showcase Peter Cushing’s watercolour sketches of the Frankenstein Monster. To be honest, there are so many images that are my favourites and this list is only a few of them.
The book is a big, glossy collection. What market did you initially envisage it for? Hardcore fans of the genre or casual art enthusiasts?
The obvious answer is, everybody: horror fans, movie enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, collectors, the general public. It’s aimed at those readers who love horror (and who I hope will learn stuff they didn’t know before from this book) and other people who had no idea that the horror genre is so diverse and pick it up because of the beauty and terror contained in the images. That is why the cover price was so important.
I’ve said it before; this is the kind of book that I wish somebody had given to me when I was 14-years-old. I would have loved it. With so many of the projects I do, I hope to get them into the hands of younger readers so that they will grow up having a love and respect for the kind of imaginative fiction and art that I have always admired. If just one kid is inspired by this book to put down their games console and pick up a novel or a short story collection, then it will have all been worthwhile.
Could you see other volumes happening? There is plenty of classic and contemporary artwork for science fiction, for example.
Yes, we could spin it off into science fiction or fantasy — and maybe in due course we will — but at heart I’m a horror guy, so I am already talking with the packagers about a follow-up to this volume, as well as several other related projects. We’ll see if any of them come to fruition.
Despite my initial hesitation, The Art of Horror turned out to be one of the most fun and satisfying projects that I have ever been associated with, and despite all the hard work involved I’d like to do more, if we can come up with the right project. I’ve certainly got a few ideas.
How do you see the future for artists working in the horror genre?
Not great, I have to say. Producing original artwork takes so long, and so much skill, and these days publishers and others are often not willing to pay for that effort. Their position is why should they pay for a piece of original artwork when they can get a photograph or a digital image so much cheaper and quicker. It makes commercial sense, but it doesn’t make creative sense.
The same is happening with writers; if you refuse to pay them a living wage, they can’t survive and will have to do something else. And then where are our future authors — or artists, for that matter — going to come from? It’s so short-sighted; the publishers rely on these people for their own livelihoods, yet more and more they seem to be unwilling to invest in the mid-list or newer writers. One day they are going to wake up to the fact that there is nobody left who knows how to tell a good story, or has the skill to create an effective illustration with a brush and paint. And when that day eventually comes, they are only going to have themselves to blame.