Many people worked with us to make our Kickstarter crowd funding campaign to go to print and pre-sell subscriptions possible. Illustrator James S. Cole collaborated with us to design Auxiliary’s first T-shirts, the Reclaim Collection available now through our Kickstarter. Cole’s art can be found in role playing game books, magazines, and illustration annuals. Some of his favorite subjects are zombies and fallen angels and art that depicts the dichotomy between life and death. We asked James S. Cole a few questions about himself and his work.
interview by : Jennifer Link and Mike Kieffer
How long have you been drawing and illustrating?
All of my life. I started with the normal stuff… such as, little houses and smiling suns. Then I moved on to super heroes (well, mostly just Batman and Spiderman). It was exposure to a few critical books and movies that really opened my eyes to dark art and monsters. Books like The Tourist’s Guide to Transylvania and movies such as the original Universal Studios Dracula and Frankenstein that set me down that dark road. As far as professionally illustrating, I would have to say that its been in full swing for about eleven years now.
At what point did you start to think of yourself as an artist/illustrator?
I have always made art and loved creating it as a teenager and young adult. One day, I realized that I was not going to get jobs nor recognition from just the doodles that I was showing to only my family. So I focused all of my energy on a few pieces, submitted them to several illustration annuals and set up my art panels at the Gen Con gaming convention’s art show. That year, my art made it into Spectrum annual and I won an artist choice award at the convention. Another highlight of that year was while having a conversation with Tom Baxa at Gen Con. I was sharing with him how much I admired his work, when he said, “you know who’s art I really like?” and he pointed to MY art panel. He had no idea that it was my work. I then considered myself a professional artist.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on over the years?
My favorite to date, would be my first paid freelance job for White Wolf Game Studios. It was for their World of Darkness RPG line. I had played countless hours of their role playing games and was so honored when they asked me to create twelve portraits for the Antagonist supplement. Another favorite project, would be my monster beer labels. It brought two of my passions together, craft beer and the undead. No, they are not real beers yet, but they have helped me network with many people in the industry, including a local start-up micro brewery. Zombie Plague Imperial Stout will eventually become a real beer, even if I help brew it myself.
What are some projects that have been brewing in your head that you have yet to realize?
I do have these two recurring dreams/nightmares for over the past 25 years, each is of a rather dark location. One “natural” the other man-made. I have been hesitant and a little intimidated to start these projects because they have been with me so long. What happens when I finally make the translation for brain to canvas of something that has been with me so long. What if I can not do it justice will I be stuck working on it over and over again. What if that is the idea…? With luck you will see these dark visions before years end.
Another project that has been brewing for a long time is creating my own game company. This of course would open up unlimited opportunities for my artwork. I would also have to serve as art director and get me in touch with freelance artists. The prospect of seeing what other artists do with my visions and ideas is very exciting.
Recently you collaborated with us to create the first Auxiliary T-shirts! What are some of the rewards and challenges to working on illustrations that will have a commercial use?
One of the biggest challenges is realizing the customer’s vision while trying to create something that will appeal to the target audience. Most of the time this requires figuring out what they don’t want first. Haying to satisfy someone other than yourself is the definition of commercial work. There is also the fun creating something I would not normally create and having someone else challenge me to take the work further or in a direction I would not normally go. The reward is seeing the work out in print or having someone randomly admire them. All artist are narcissists to some degree. [winks]
What artists influence your work?
Gustave Doré, I really like his subject matter technique and all over feel. Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein, this has to be one of my very favorite collections of black and whites ever. Zdzisław Beksiński, his wild imagination and dark, dreamy themes are hauntingly beautiful. Les Edwards, most notably his work that appeared in, The Tourist’s Guide to Transylvania. That book single handedly launched me into wanting to do horror illustration. Larry Elmore, Larry’s work is what I grew up on. His work for Dungeons and Dragons in the late 80s and 90s had and incredible influence on me and my style. Steve Ellis, Steve had an incredible impact on my current style. He suggested that I get a Wacom Cintiq (touch sensitive drawing tablet/monitor) for my digital work. That has immensely broadened my horizons and is one of the best art purchases that I have ever made. Wayne Reynolds, his technique and insanely fluid brushwork is a constant inspiration.
What outside of art influences your work?
Music has a big influence on my work. As you can guess, most of the music I listen to has a darker edge. When working, most of the time I listen to bands such as Immolation, God Module, Lacuna Coil, and Wolfsheim. Several pieces are named after Immolation song titles or lyrics. I also find beauty in decaying architecture such as abandoned factories or old churches. Essentially, any sort of old, gothic buildings or structures.
You have vended Texas Frightmare Weekend a few times, it’s becoming quite a notable horror convention, what has been your best experience there?
It was quite exciting entering and winning the Rue Morgue Cover Art contest. Also, returning to my booth one day from a short break to find Bill Mossley (House of 1000 Corpses) at my table, admiring my work, was pretty kick ass. On top of that, he turned out to be a great guy. Honestly, just meeting fellow horror nerds and seeing some of my favorite horror celebrities makes the convention worthwhile.
Your craziest experience there?
Watching Anthony Michael Hall look helpless at the VIP party, as a rather frisky and over-exuberant fan, force lap-danced him. My wife, Kelly and I saved him by intervening and offering to buy him a drink. He seemed very grateful for the well timed rescue.
What conventions do you plan to attend in the next year?
Next year, I plan on having a booth again at Texas Frightmare Weekend, as well as, Gen Con 2015. There are also several local street and art festivals that I’d like to be a part of. The spring and early summer are loaded with opportunities for artists here in North Texas.
What would you do in the case of a zombie apocalypse?
Living in Texas now (with the freedom of firearms), I feel I am much more prepared than I was when I lived in New York. I am fairly efficient and do not break down in crisis scenarios, so I think I have a fair chance of sticking it out for a while. I wouldn’t just give up. Not from a fear of death or a drive to live on. I would just want to see how it plays out and how long I could make it. (“Send more paramedics.”)
What are some your creative endeavors aside from illustrating?
Running the occasional roll playing game with friends. Yep, not only do I create nerd artwork, I am nerd! I have several game prototypes that I have created and in the long term would like to start my own game company.
What are your long term and short term artistic goals?
Short term, to draw each and every day, no matter how busy I am. Only with true dedication, can I reach my full potential. Also, to paint more often. I have only three acrylic paintings under my belt, and I am very happy with all of them. Long term, to acquire more freelance work, to get more exposure, meet more inspiring artists, have more fun, do more conventions, and continue to grow as an illustrator. When I launch my game company I will meet this goal for sure.
Check out more of James S. Cole’s work on his website and check out the Auxiliary Kickstarter for details on becoming an Auxiliary patron and being interviewed by Auxiliary about your creative projects.