Interview with Mark Rudolph
Tell us a bit about your artistic background?
I started drawing as a kid (my folks were always really encouraging of it) and then I never stopped. The first thing that really struck me was 70s Spider-Man comics, but it was Mad magazine that really blew my mind and is probably as responsible as anything for getting me where I’m at now. In the early 90s I discovered Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Death and Carcass. Those album covers were unlike anything I’d ever seen before, pared with music unlike anything I’d ever heard before— that combination changed the entire direction of my life. Art and death metal.
How did you get started?
Professionally, it probably goes back to the fanzine me and a buddy of mine started in high school. From doing every aspect of production on that, it led me to doing graphic design for a local newspaper and then eventually a stint at Relapse Records designing some of their lesser known albums in the late 90s. At that point I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a graphic designer, so I went back to school to focus on something different: photography and drawing. I kept doing magazine layouts, but I began to incorporate my own live band photography and typography to make them a little more “mine”. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with graphic design. Anyone can do it, but it takes a lot to do it well and to really have an identity to it. That was and continues to be my struggle with design. Around this time I began to focus more on drawing. I spent a year working the graveyard shift at a gas station drawing people out of magazines in the back office. I think this is the point I realized that it was going to be a lot of work to start doing this better, so I finally focused on just drawing instead of trying to be a graphic designer by day and an artist by night. I couldn’t balance the two. Decibel Magazine was the next big step in getting my work out there. The first time my more comic sensibilities and metal lined up. That’s what really pushed me into doing a lot of caricature work and pushed me really hard to do the best work I could. Failing in front of a lot of people was a good incentive for me to really try and pull out my best stuff. That’s the one thing that has led me to doing work for some of my childhood favorite bands!
Do you have a favourite medium to work with?
I’d say pen and ink. It’s the medium I’ve spent the most time with and it’s the only one I have any sort of “mastery” over. I guess I’d say it’s the medium I’m the most comfortable with.
What is an average day like in your studio/workspace?
Usually it starts pretty early. Pack lunch for my girlfriend, feed the animals and then stare at emails over coffee for a while. Working from home for me is a mix of procrastination, screwing around and actually working. I don’t know how it is for other people, but each work day is an attempt to get into the headspace to work and the other half is working. Somedays it takes watching a Hawkwind documentary or playing along (terribly) on guitar to a Paradise Lost record before I’m ready to sit down at the desk. I found that over the years that it’s better to just accept this procrastination than to try and fight it. It’s kind of like stretching before running or something. But anyway, an average day usually consists of getting reference for whatever project I’m working on at the time (typically band photos). In the case of working on band-related stuff, I try and immerse myself in their world. Listen to their albums, watch any video about them on youtube, read lyrics and interviews. If even on only the most surface of levels, I like to try and understand their aesthetic and musical ideas before starting a project.
What are some of the bands do you listen to when creating your art. Is it strictly a matter of of listening to the band that you are working on or is it other music?
The planing stages are usually when I listen to the band while I’m working on their project. Getting the pencils done and getting approval from the band is the real “heavy lifting” part of any given project. The inking and coloring is all rather meditative and about muscle memory. You’ve done all the hard work in the penciling stage, not it’s just time to refine it. So once I’m inking and coloring I listen to all kinds of stuff, from really obnoxious music to movie commentaries or podcasts. It just depends on my mood. Put for the most part I listen to a lot of old death metal records.
What was your first (metal-related) published piece and in a semi-related question, when you sold your first piece did you think, “I could make a living doing this’?
Early on when we started making some money selling our zine The Requiem in the early 90s. It wasn’t much, but it was the first time that I’d ever made something that people wanted to buy. It planted the seed that I could perhaps someday live off of art, but that took another 15 years to happen. I think the point where Carcass contacted me about doing a tour poster last year is when I knew I’d finally satisfied a childhood dream, but I still doubt my ability of making a living off drawing. At least as a freelancer. There’s lots of ups and downs and so security, so if you’re okay with that then maybe you can venture into the world of freelancing. But to answer your question it was probably when Coalesce contacted me (after seeing the piece I did of them in Decibel) about doing a t-shirt design for them in 2009 I think. That’s when I started getting consistent work and learned how to hustle.
What first inspired you to create SATAN IS ALIVE?
That came together after I finished an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon. I was looking to adapt something else, but not a literal piece of writing. I remember meeting Tom Neely (Henry & Glenn Forever, The Humans) at a comics show in Minneapolis, and by that point I had just toyed around with the idea of maybe doing a short form comic about King Diamond. But if memory serves, Tom planted the seed of an anthology in my head, and it kind of blew up from there. I used all the industry contacts that I’d gathered over the years and asked a lot of favors. It became a marriage of my two loves: metal and comics.
How was initial reception to the graphic novel?
It was all really positive for the most part. I don’t think there are many books like it out there (that blend comics and metal) and people seemed to be really excited about it. It tapped into a market that didn’t exsist before. I mixed fan-zines and comics together and it seemed to strike a chord with people. It’s on it’s second pressing now and continues to sell quite well.
Was it difficult to get people to participate?
Not really. I tried to make it easy for those involved and gave everyone free reign to do whatever they wanted. The most difficult part was scheduling it all. That continues to be the hardest part.
Were they any people you wanted but could not get or even some people who declined to participate?
There were a handful of musicians who declined (which shall remain nameless), but it all worked out in the end just fine. Surprisingly all the artists I asked said yes. Granted I was trying to keep it to artists I knew had an interest in metal.
Was it easier or harder to work on MORBID TALES?
Easier for sure. As much as I like the SIA book, it was kind of a testing ground to see how to do the book equivalent to a tribute album. So when it came to work on the CF book, I knew all the things I didn’t want to repeat. I had a clearer vision on how this series of books was gonna take shape. But as far as actually putting them together— that is never easy coordinating with a few dozen artists and musicians, but its well worth it. The Celtic Frost book took a little different approach. Instead of doing a lot of adaptions of lyrics, I took it in a little less literal direction. I had the artists do whatever they wanted.
How did the deal with Corpseflower come about?
A buddy of mine had started a small record label, mainly releasing “first time on vinyl” albums and wanted to work with me on something in the future and I said how about this CF book? And that was basically it. I think the covers record was something we were both talking about and then we started getting bands interested and it kept on rolling from there. It’s been really great so far!
You have created two books about two of the ‘big four’ of the original wave of Black Metal. Will we see a book about Bathory and one about Venom to complete the quartet?
There will definitely be more, but I’m gonna leave it at that for now. But there are two more currently on the schedule. One of the bands are Canadian.
What is your next step?
I just finished up a project with Broken Hope and am currently doing a cover for PTAHIL, but there are a bunch of things on the horizon. In the next few months we’ll be releasing a covers record to accompany the Celtic Frost book. It’s vinyl only and features Phil Anselmo with Child Bite, Municipal Waste, Acid Witch, Evoken and many more! Really excited about that!
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