- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This is the 60th in an infinite series profiling members of the comic-book industry. This month we crack the cranium of artist Nick Stakal and ask him to …

Give us a piece of your mind

With an eye for drawing chilling visuals, Mr. Stakal has used his talents to help define the current sequential-art style in horror comics. His work includes IDW Publishing LLC’s Silent Hill and Hyde, Image Comics’ Strange Girl, illustrations for White Wolf Games’ role-playing guides and Dark Horse Comics’ Criminal Macabre.

He has once again teamed with writer Steve Niles on the Cal McDonald miniseries Criminal Macabre: Cell Block 666.

Age: 28

Educational background: Bachelor of fine arts from Northern Illinois University.

Favorite childhood memories: Watching the original “The Haunting” while my mom ironed clothes. I think that early exposure to horror movies and darker atmospheric old black-and-white movies in general sort of shaped me into the artist I am now.

Why did you start drawing? I’ve been drawing my whole life, as long as I can remember. That’s a cliche, but it’s true. It was just something fun to do - I’d draw characters, monsters, airplanes and dragons; whatever. Basically just boy stuff. I never really thought I was an artist; I just liked to tell stories and have fun making pictures of things kids like.

First comic book ever read: I think the earliest comic I remember having any impact on me was an issue of the Nam, a Marvel comic from the 1980s about the Vietnam War. The particular issue was about a couple soldiers whose job was to crawl through dirt tunnels and snuff out the enemy. It really scared me because it had this really claustrophobic feel. The art really showed these guys sweating and freaking out down there, and in the end, the one guy goes nuts from it. It was really powerful stuff.

Influences: Lots of stuff. I’m really influenced by movies, especially older ones - noir crime films and old horror stuff. I tend to draw comics often from the perspective that they would be shot by a camera. And I often try to light the characters and scenery to feel that way as well.

Artist influences: There’s a ton - some of the few whose art I’ve really pored over are Jeff Jones, Bernie Krigstein and Tony Salmons.

Why do you work in comics? When I got out of school, I had kind of lost interest in doing art. I bummed around for a year or so and then realized I was wasting my time and regained my interest. A pal of mine who’s also an artist told me to just start posting my art online and to get a Web site and see what comes of it. I wasn’t specifically setting out to draw comics, although I was interested in it. Before long, I had some pinups and some sample pages floating around, and Steve Niles asked me if I’d like to do a book with him. I was pretty stunned and excited to have that opportunity. I said yes, and we did a book called Hyde at IDW Publishing. After that, IDW liked my work and kept asking me to work on things, and it just sort of blossomed from there.

Are you at peace with the horror genre? I have always gravitated toward comics that are not superheroes. I think my favorite comics ever are the old E.C. books, so it’s great to be able to work on projects like that. That said, I’m not “Mr. Horror” - I’d like to have the opportunity to work on some more sci-fi, fantasy or crime-themed comics. Criminal Macabre is really a perfect blend for me because it’s half crime and half horror. It lends itself to have a nice noir atmosphere that isn’t just blood and guts.

What do you think about graphic violence in horror comics? I’m not that crazy about drawing gore and guts, not just on a personal level, but I don’t know that the look of my drawings really lends itself to that. Every once in a while, that stuff is fun, but mostly I prefer to approach the horror genre in a more stylized, Hitchcock way - shadows, psychological, spooky.

Talk about your work with Steve Niles: It’s been great. We’ve seen all the same B-movies, read the same Creepy and Eerie comics, and so I always know where he’s coming from when I read his scripts or whatever. We get along well, and I think we mesh well as a creative team.

Favorite character to draw: When I first started getting back into drawing after school and buying some comics and seeing what was out there, I picked up a copy of one of the prose Cal McDonald novels Steve had written, on a whim, because I liked the Ashley Wood cover art. I read it and thought to myself, “Here’s a character I’d love to draw, a down-and-out detective who smokes and drinks and has bandages on his face, and he fights monsters.” Then here I am, five years down the road, and it’s what I’m working on.

Current state of the comic-book industry: This seems like something lots of people like to go on and on about. Personally, I don’t have that much experience to have a real positive or negative opinion on it. I’ve been lucky enough to get steady work since the day I started, and I’m just happy to be doing something I love, drawing.

Last comic book read for fun: Three Shadows. It’s a little graphic novel by a fantastic artist about these three dark riders who come one night to take away this couple’s child, so the father sets out on an adventure to save the kid. The art is amazing; the story is wonderful and sad; highly recommended.

Characters you would like to draw: I’ve always loved Batman. He can be drawn a lot of ways, he hangs out in the shadows, does detective things. I think even more exciting would be the chance to draw some literary characters, things like Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula, stuff from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard stories, or even something like Don Quixote.

Favorite image: Lately I’ve been fascinated with the painting “The Isle of the Dead” by Arnold Bocklin.

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