Watching horror films when he was a child set this artist on an illustrious path
Erik Gist talks horror films.
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your art?
I grew up in Alpine, a small rural town in the mountains about 40 minutes east of San Diego. I don’t know that it influenced my art, aside from growing up in a small town tends to foster the imagination, and the fact that the 18-year-old who worked at the local video rental store let me and my friends rent horror movies when we were too young.
You’re a child, you see a painting or drawing that changes everything… where are you and what are you looking at, and what effect did it have?
I was at a book store and it was reprint of an old Doc Savage novel – the cover was painted by James Bama. I can’t say it changed everything, but it was definitely the first time a painted illustration lit up my imagination. The paintings that really changed everything for me were the pulp covers that Glen Orbik and Laurel Blechman did for DC, and the Phil Hale Swamp Thing covers. But I was an adult by then.
What was your next step in art? Did other interests vie for your attention? What was the deciding factor?
Art was always my first love, but I didn’t really learn that you could make a living at it until I was older. The deciding factor for me was the first time that I attended San Diego Comic- Con in 1992.
What was your first paid commission, and does it stand as a representation of your talent?
My first paid commission was for a trading card game from Wizards of the Coast called Hecatomb. I’m still proud of much of the work I did for it. But no, I’m much better now.
What’s the last piece that you finished, and how do the two differ?
The last piece I finished was for a personal project I’m working on. In many ways there are a lot of similarities. But I’m much more proficient technically, if nothing else.
So what’s the secret to painting a great book cover?
For me, mood and storytelling. You have to tell enough story to entice the viewer, but provide enough mood and mystery to get them to read the book.
You’re well known for your horror art. What’s the attraction?
I think it’s the lack of a true hero. Stories get a little stale when you have the heroic protagonist, who too often does the right thing at the right time for the right reason. I like seeing someone pushed to their limits, not because they’re selfsacrificing, but simply to survive. That, and I like that it’s the only genre which is at odds with the audience. People go to a comedy to laugh, a romance to be touched emotionally, and so on. When people go to a horror it’s a challenge, as if they’re saying, “You can’t scare me.”
What’s the most important thing that you’ve taught someone at Watts Atelier?
To live the life they want.
Why is the fantasy art industry still the best place to be working?
Simply because I just can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tell enough story to entice, but provide enough mystery to get them to read the book
Death head “Death Head was a fun project I worked on for Dark Horse. It had a nice 70s horror vibe to it.”
Deathstroke “This was a horror variant for Deathstroke from DC. I mashed him up with an 80s slasher.”
“Here’s one of my favourite pieces from my run on The Strain. I wanted to establish a twisted take on the traditional family.” American Vampiric