Shane Oakley - Horror Hero Interviewed

Life long horror fan and one of the most original and exciting horror comics artists working today, Shane Oakley is the latest talent to join the Berserker Comics team alongside writer Alan Grant with their chilling horror comic Channel Evil so SGM's Al Sex Gore was thrilled when Shane agreed to take some time out from his schedule to chat about his work and all things horror´┐Ż

Grimly Feendish

SGM: Readers will likely be most familiar with your work on the classic Brit-comics revival strip Albion, which seen the return of horror faves from our childhood such as Grimly Feendish and more recently you were involved in the brief but welcome return of cult kid fave Werewilf - do you think that there's a gap for a good kids horror strip these days and do you have any particular favourites from your youth that you'd love to be involved with?

Shane: Right now I think there's a gap for a whole comic of the stuff. Something monthly or fortnightly, a cross between SCREAM and TALES FROM THE CRYPT; with one-off stories and ongoing characters in serial adventures, wall-to-wall monster-mashing, supernatural shenanigans and gruesome twist endings. You only have to look at what the kids lap up on TV - DR.WHO, PRIMEVAL, DEMONS, etc. Kids love a good scare and tuning in for the 'creature-of-the week'.

And books like HARRY POTTER, DARK MATERIALS AND SPIDERWICK, they're all immersed in the Gothic and classic horror archetypes; sorcery, werewolves, vampires, spectres, spooky castles and curses, it's all their with hunchback-ringing bells on! I'm scratching my head in bemusement why nobody has stepped in to exploit this massive interest in the genre.

I was lucky/blessed that I had the chance to draw most of my childhood favourites in the pages of ALBION. But there was a Grimly Feendish spin-off tentatively planned, that would've been the cherry on the cake. I'd convinced Neil Gaiman it was a good idea (maybe he was drunk, or maybe I was?), a kinda 'Summer Special' bumper issue, complete with a 'Squelchy' monster gallery and a coupla 'fake' reprints. Neil was pondering the possibilities, but it all went tit's up at Wildstorm, and along with a direct sequel to Albion, it got canned.

Other than that, I would've loved to do something with Cursitor Doom or The House of Dolmann, but in the fashion of the original strips, set in the 60's with none of this post-modern bollocks. Or Spellbinder, the ancient magician awoken in modern times, which reads like THE BEANO doing Dr.Strange.

Sadly, I think DC have put all those characters back in the vault, and thrown away the key.

SGM: You're clearly a horror fan and I believe that you spent some of your teenage years involved in low budget horror filmmaking, care to share some of your misadventures in the genre filmmaking field?

Shane: I think all of it was a misadventure - a series of mishaps, technical hiccups and just plain chaos. But I loved making them. It was a time when I fancied pursuing it as a serious career choice, though with titles like Werewimp and Zombie Headbangers, you could see I wasn't out to make any valid artistic statements.

My most ambitious, project was Bedsit Massacre, a tale of a dole-scrounging video-nasty obsessed youth, driven to act out his violent fantasies when his betamax recorder gets broken. The idea was to fill a lot of the film with clips from imaginary horror movies. We obviously wanted a Fulci-esque zombie scene. So I constructed a half-rotten head - Blue Peter style - using an inflated balloon and paper mache. Built up ears and a crude face, and even cut off tufts of my own hair to stick on.

On a freezing cold day, in the middle of a forest, I stuffed the head full of bloody mincemeat and butcher shop scraps, then set it up on a pole, with blood tubes attached. My 'lead actor', posed with axe raised, I shouted action, the axe smashed into the fake head, as my 'technician' was working a bike pump to get the blood splattering. But instead of a splatter it was a sudden single jet of food dye, golden syrup and coffee that hit him in the eye. He squealed with a mix of agony and laughter - mostly agony, the head got stuck to the axe, and I mostly had a shot of my mate running around in pain and an offal topped tent post. No second take.

There's also Much Macho, a spaghetti western spoof, where another mate - reacting to a bullet-to-the-head - jumped backwards into a lake, just as I ran out of film....running out of film was common, this was super 8, not video.

And there was an extremely tasteless Elephant Man spoof, which was mostly someones arse, filmed sideways on, and it 'talked', sang and ate boiled sweets...why am I telling you this?

SGM: You still keep your toes dipped into your love for horror filmmaking as I noticed you have done some work with a mutual friend filmmaker Frazer Lee on his long planned genre production Urbane, so is filmmaking an area you'd like to get back into and what would be your dream horror movie project?

Shane: I do have an insatiable passion for horror movies, but it's highly unlikely I'd ever end up trying to make another, on any scale. Too costly, too frustrating, and I've either maimed, humiliated or alienated all my cast members. And with comics I have so much freedom, along with no budget restrictions, so I can realise any wild ideas I have in my head and tell stories in a more immediate way. Though I'd jump at the chance to work in pre-production, especially concept- design, something that would get the juices flowing, movies with the imagination/invention of Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. That process of developing an idea, really excites me, and brings out the best in me.

Curse of Frankenstein

But In a parallel universe, where I pursued a career in filmmaking I'd probably be doing a sequel to the Frankenstein novel. Or a new Dr. Phibes (played by David Warner or Alan Rickman), or a groovy giallo, set in a 1970's swinging London, leather gloves, fashion models, psychedelic jazz score, channelling the more lurid and stylized Argento and Bava.

SGM: Your love for all things horror continues to be very apparent from your stunning splash page posters of classic monster movie moments you produced for Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine, any chance we might sometime see a full on Oakley classic monsters adaptation like we used to see in the old House of Hammer magazine and if so what classics would you like to tackle?

Shane: Yeah, I LOVE all those Universal and Hammer monster movies, have done since I were a wee nipper. And doing pics for Dick Klemensen has renewed and deepened my affection. Those House of Hammer strips were real beauts; anything by Brian Lewis was a highlight for me, along with strips by a fresh-faced David Lloyd and John Bolton. I don't think I could top them, and wouldn't want to try. I'd much prefer to do new works using the established characters, I think an ongoing Captain Kronos would be a blast-and-half, maybe even teaming with Father Sandor. And a version of Bava's Planet of the Vampires would be tempting - very tempting!

More up-to-date, I'd love do a comic book version of the Roger Avery scripted Phantasm's End, the one the studios wouldn't finance, it's a natural for comic books. But these kinda projects are mostly daydreams, they very rarely happen, since there's all the legal crap to deal with, and tougher still - finding a sympathetic publisher who'll pay you enough to live off.

SGM: Similarly, your striking undead imagery produced for Boom Studios Zombie Tales comic covers is on occasions borderline iconic horror imagery so any plans to expand this to work on a full-length zombie strip for the title or even take on a few issues of Berserker's flagship The Dead mag?

Zombie Tales

Shane: Zombie Tales and Cthulhu Tales have both had the chop. Wasn't just down to low sales, it took a lot of man hours/organisation to put together a regular book that used so many different writer-artist teams, and I guess it wasn't worth the time and effort when they've bigger fishes to fry.

Though, I'm sure selling more copies may have made a difference, but it's a niche market, and a lot of comic fans are stubborn and prejudiced when it comes to anthology books. But I had a good run with those covers, loved doing them, it helped me fine tune a look/style. And sooner, rather than later, I'll be going back to Boom! for a Lovecraft one-off.

Besides the Fulci idea, I do have a story that's under development with the ever-so-brill and criminally overlooked Bob Tinnell (writer on horror adventure series The Black Forest and Terry Sharp; The Faceless). It's a twist on the undead genre, something that moves away from the tired formula of modern Romero knock-offs or Shaun of the Dead clones. We're returning to the mythical roots of the walking dead - voodoo and witchcraft. To this we're adding pulp thrills, film noir aesthetics and demon gangsters. We're trying to do something that will perk up the zombie genre, before it gets buried again. It's particularly aimed at fans of old school horror, but without ignoring modern appetites for gratuitous gore and bloodletting. Don't know when this is all gonna happen - but it will!

SGM: Your art style is highly original which often utilises a very stylish bold use of black and white imagery (especially evident in your work on the new Berserker title Channel Evil), were there any artists from your youth that inspired you and what were the comics you loved and collected when growing up?

Shane: There's a huge list of artists that inspired/still inspire me. A lot are outside the comics industry, illustrators like Gerald Scarfe, Charles Keeping, Ronald Searle, Frans Masereel, Lee Brown Coye, Virgil Finlay - many, many of the Weird Tales artists. That stuff I can drool over all day. And as a youth, finding old pulps, or copies of Punch set fireworks off in my head. It was the variety, the mix-up of style and technique, and with spot illustration or gag cartoons there's more attention to the staging and the design of the piece. They taught me a lot.

But, as a junior school kid who loved drawing, the biggest influences came from British comics. I had thousands of em, really - thousands! Devoured them, spent every penny on them, I'm sure they propped up my bed, held the ceiling in place, the smell of the paper and ink was just enough to make me shake like a crackhead. Titles like Valiant, Topper, Lion, Monster Fun, we had such a huge selection in the 70's, a wonderfully weird/eclectic/eccentric mix. The slapstick manic humour strips by folk like Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale, next to richly illustrated adventure-thriller stories, usually in black and white, strips like Janus Stark by Solano Lopez or Reg Bunn drawing The Spider. Beautifully done with dip pen and brush, and the characters they drew all seemed to live in this shadowy, gloomy and haunted looking world.

And, when I re-read a lot of these old comics and annuals before starting Albion, that's when it hit me, that's when I realised how much they'd shaped the way I draw, that melding of the two; the light and playful caricature with the dark and moody rendering. I'm in debt to our once great comics industry, and love those comics with a fiery passion, which I still read and collect today.

My granddad, George Leese, was also responsible for turning me toward a whole motherlode of inspirational art outside regular comics. He'd cut out newspaper strips, save them up, along with the reprint collections of stuff like The Gambols, Flook, Giles and Frank Bellamy's Garth. I'd sit for hours on end copying panels. I think that's the same for 99% of comic artists, the only way of learning is by trying to ape their favourite artists. Nobody taught this stuff at schools.

Then around the age of 9 or 10 I started picking up Marvel and DC, they offered something new, and I was soon scouting for everything and anything from the US. But, artistically they didn't affect me in the same way, not instantly. But later, when I saw Steve Ditko on those monster/mystery/sci-fi twist-in-the-tales, Gene Day's work on Master of Kung Fu, and Jim Steranko doing ANYTHING, I was smitten.

Channel Evil

But it was Tom Sutton over on the Charlton horror titles that really hooked me. Tom Sutton blew my head off with some of that Lovecraft mythos work, a real unique voice and style. An atmosphere of dread and decay literally dripped from the pages, nobody does creepy crypts and haunted mansions like Sutton - gorgeous baroque lines and detail. A BIG influence.

Add to that Will Eisner's The Spirit, those Mad paperbacks, specifically anything drawn by Wally Wood and Jack Davis, and you can see a pattern forming. These guys knew how to set a mood, they didn't stick to a regimented 'house style', they had wit, and a quirky/cock-eyed way of doing things - and all loved putting a lot of black on a page, lovely, deep dark black.

SGM: Working with someone as seminal in the comics field as Alan Grant on Channel Evil must be a great pleasure (or a immense pressure perhaps) and having previously worked with Moore and Reppion on Albion you seem to have lucked out with your project colleagues; is there anyone else in the comics field that you as an artist would love to have the opportunity to work with?

Shane: Actually, the list is pretty small. Since I'm quite happy to be typecast as 'the-guy-who-draws-horror-comics', I'm limiting my opportunities. That's not to say I wouldn't consider doing a Batman comic, but y know, it'd have to be something like the 'Elseworlds' books, some occult adventure or an excuse to do a Lovecraft tale. Also, when it comes to horror comics I don't think there's many who can do it well. Most fully-fledged badge-wearing comic writers are too stuck in superhero mode, or the 'i'm-really-writing-this-to-sell-as-a-big-budget-cgi-movie' mindset.

They've seen a coupla crappy Asian horror remakes and think they know the genre, but they don't, they just know a gimmick or fad. And the worst, is the Vertigo style horror comic, which is usually a soapbox for someone wanting to shout about Iraq or world poverty or global warming or 9/11 trauma. Puts me to sleep. I care about the world, and think it can be a shitty cruel fucked-up place, and problems need to be addressed and dealt with. But that's not why I read comics...on that short list I would put Mike Mignola, Bruce Jones, James Khurovic and Steve Niles - I know I've already worked with Steve, but I mean on something bigger and meatier. We have tried two or three times, and I was 'almost' drawing a Cal McDonald mini and sketching ideas up for a new character/series, but both kinda stalled, Steve's a very busy man, and the industry is full of editors who can't make up their minds.

Outside the horror genre, I'm very in love with the crime/noir writing of Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke, and the only regular superhero book I read is Jack Staff by Paul Grist. Paul is a quiet little genius, who should be a national treasure, would be a thrill and pleasure to work with him.

SGM: Finally (whilst we're discussing all things horror), as a child growing up it was always the monster in the cupboard/under the bed type fear that scared most folk but as we get older often the scares come from human frailties, fears of mortality and poorly executed governmental control. Do you feel that there's still room for those simple childhood fears of the unknown in mature society and what personally gives you the horror chills?

Channel Evil

Shane: Definately. I know today can be scary, for kids and parents especially. The internet has delivered new fears and anxieties, and there does seem to be an increasing climate of violence, or the threat/fear of violence. And with a desperate government introducing 1984 style policies of CCTV and identity cards, etc, it does make you feel like you're living in an ever-shrinking democracy, and heading down a very worrying path. But I still think kids have an active imagination, and a healthy, cathartic interest in the darker corners of fiction/fantasy. It goes back to the first question - kids love a good monster, and kids love a good monster getting it's arse kicked - they love the scares and the release. I think they always have and always will. That's why they go to Alton Towers.

I'm sure there's some youngsters who still lie in bed shitting their pants after watching Dr. Who. But I think whether a comic/TV show/book/film, either thrills or chills a child, it's a valid experience, that helps them grow in emotional depth. It's also important to feed the need for escapism, because when they 'grow up' and have to live in the real world, it can be a pretty drab and miserable place to find yourself. As a kid, believing in monsters, tooth fairies or Santa Claus certainly made my life richer, fuller, and well, just more fun (and helped give me a career), and really, if I still chose to believe in them as an adult, so what? That's far more preferable than reality usually offers.

And now, the stuff that scares me is mostly to do with that fear of mortality. The fear of disease or dying a slow grey lonely death, the fear of it happening too soon before I've achieved what I want to achieve, and worse, the fear of losing the one's you love. When you're a little kid, you are immortal, this stuff never really get's picked up by your radar, even when family members die. You almost feel like it's another world, one you're never gonna be a part off. But when you become an adult, when you see and feel your mind and body failing you, and can't do a thing about it, when you have no say in it, that is real scary...along with giant flesh-eating crabs and hook-handed killers in the wardrobe.

CHANNEL EVIL is available from all good reputable comic suppliers or direct from Berserker Comics - SGM Approved!

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