An interview with Alison Sampson – The great artist of Winnebago Graveyard
I had a chance to interview Alison Sampson artist for the well-loved Winnebago Graveyard series. I had some questions about what it is like to work on horror art amongst other things. This resulted in a wonderful interview where I learned a lot about the work that goes into comic book art. I am sure you will find it just as thrilling!
- How do you feel when you have to draw really frightening images? Does that affect you in any way?
I think you have to get into a certain mindset and it isn’t something I think one can ‘just do’. Some things affect me more than others, but largely you have to remember this is a theatrical production: I know where the scaffolding and wiring is, metaphorically speaking, so it doesn’t look the same to me as it does to you. Also, I’m trying to tell a story and most of my attention is taken up on that: it is outgoing as opposed to incoming… and feeling as opposed to knowing. I think about the art and the connection between image and feeling (it is more expressive than specific), but I also do think ‘this is gross” too. A TLDR way of putting this would be to say “I’m too close and pulling too many of the levers to get the full effect”.
- Where did you find inspiration for the Winnebago Graveyard series?
Steve proposed the outline and name to me (it was slightly different then) and before we worked on the comic I drew the characters and settings and we built it off those. It’s inspired by things from my life- my reading matter as a young teen was mainly pulp horror and old school sci fi I got from our library van (which came to near the remote farm where I lived), for example the books of James Herbert. I also take frequent camper van trips and know what its like to be very vulnerable in a strange place. Often real places are odder and more creepy than one might expect. I’d say that for horror generally: the real world is far more horrific than anything that you’d find in a book.
- What do you enjoy the most about Winnebago Graveyard?
The overall effect and people’s responses. it isn’t a book one needs to work hard to experience the core of, as the experience is largely mediated through the art, and hence it travels well amongst non comics readers.
- How do you decide which colour palette to use to influence a scene?
I don’t directly. I give Stephane Paitreau color notes describing the time of day, the mood and what we are trying to achieve for each page and he sets the palette and then I approve it. We sometimes do discuss things (he really doesn’t need to do this much as hes very good at following the notes), but pretty much his work was set when we had our initial conversations before the main body of the work. The red and gold and electric blue comes from the carnival aesthetic of the first book, which I requested we use- I didn’t want the book to be too ‘grimdark’. The unsettling choices are all Stef’s.
- In your approach for a project, how do you decide which style to adopt?
I really don’t. I ask myself how do I tell this story then I do it. Stylistic choice isn’t a conscious thing for me. This said, as a designer, I pick the right design for the work and in terms of trying the make the whole book (ie with commissioning the guest artists) I do make stylistic choices, based on what would sit well in the architecture of the book as a whole. Although when I made a map for WicDiv I could have made it in many different ways, but I chose to do it how I did because I felt that reflected the books own aesthetic: neat, modern, towards the front of things developmentally and as per Jamie McKelvie’s artwork, super clear. You do what is right for the job, you don’t apply a style. As with architecture, everything is a prototype.
- I always enjoy seeing other artist’s take on a specific cover, what do you like about it?
How other artists handle mood and convey emotion. To artists exactly how this is done is very personal, so they are showing a bit of themselves. From the peace of Helen Chen’s holiday cover to the sexy witches of Jen Bartel, Paulina Ganucheau and Hannah Christenson, David Rubin’s freaks, Emi Lenox’s charming characters and Caitlin Rose Boyle’s vivacity, it’s great to see people saying what they want to say. People have also been very generous to me: I’ve paid for all the guest art out of my own pocket, and they’ve been, shall we say, very supportive, which in the community of artists is a meaningful thing.
- What is next for you when Winnebago Graveyard is done?
I cannot say, here. But I AM having a campervan holiday this next week, it hasn’t put me off. I’m looking forward to lying on the grass in the sun (see also my cover for #3).
- How did you become a comic book artist?
Someone suggested I make a short comic for an anthology and I did, it was published and I then I made another one.
- Will you be attending any conventions this year? Where can fans find you on social media?
I will. I’m in the UK so people can find me at London Super Comic-Con, Thought Bubble, and at Meanwhile Comic Con in Chichester. I’ll also be at New York Comic Con, which I’m very excited about.
People can find me on twitter as @alis_samp, on facebook (my personal page is public), instagram at https://www.instagram.com/alison.sampson/, and, in a few weeks time, at www.alisonsampson.com (i’ll consolidate my portfolio and blog there from my old tumblr site: www.alisonsampsonart.tumblr.com).
- Do you have any advice for people who wish to become comic book artists as well?
Make a comic, do it now.
If you are stuck even for a minute, try this (it is what I’d call the Al Ewing method).
If you do it, make sure you do it inside the space of a single day.
1: Take a sheet of A4 paper, it can be any sort but copier paper is fine. Fold it, fold it again into even parts.
2: Open it out and tear it down the folds into four parts. Fold all these in half and stack them. You now have a 16 page book (14 plus front and back covers).
3: Write and draw a comic on every page. Use the nearest black pen to hand and don’t take more than *at most* a few hours for the whole thing. You can have fun with art and dialogue and if it’s a bit rubbish, don’t worry. We all think this about our own work. Just do your thing.
4: What you write about can be anything- a conversation you heard on the bus or something about your cat is fine, weird is also good and, or something funny. Just get it down on the pages. Put your name on it somewhere and maybe your email address.
5: When this is done open out the pages and reassemble the paper into its original A4 form. Sellotape it together.
6: Put it on a photocopier (any photocopier) and make 50 double sided copies on normal photocopier paper.
7: Cut each page up and reassemble each of them into the book form you had earlier.
8: Staple it (one staple per book is fine). Strictly, you don’t have to do it this but it might help later.
9: Now you have a stack of 50 comics that you have made.
10: Go out on the street of your nearest town or city, and hand them out, for free, to passers by.
Now you are a comic book artist (and you’ve also written, drawn, designed, printed, published and distributed your first creator owned comic).
Now do it again. Fun, yes? And you’ll learn a lot.
Do also check my review for the latest installment of Winnebago Graveyard and be ready to perch on the edge of your seat once more!