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Abigail Larson’s Spooky Art and Macabre Fables

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Abigail Larson creates spooky imagery pulled from old legends and fairy tales, as well as from contemporary pop culture. You’ll see her work on book covers and on tarot decks, and she’s even tried her hand at comic books — visit AbigailLarson.com to get the full sense of what she does.

Since we did this interview, Larson got the call to illustrate Evanescence: Echoes from the Void, a project based on the music of Evanescence published by the Heavy Metal/Incendium imprint Opus. You can get more information and place your order on the Incendium site.

It’s Halloween week, as good a time as ever to learn more about this artist who keeps it macabre year round but is one of the MVPs of #drawlloween on social media (all the social media — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

Is October the highlight of your year? Do you see more interest in your art (from regular people, social media or clients) at this time of year?

Oh yeah, October is definitely the highlight of my year! I try to clear my schedule for the whole month (which is never possible, but I try!) just so I can focus on creating a few new creepy fantasy pieces for myself. I do see more social media traffic during October, and because of that more jobs tend to come in. So it gets a little hectic, but in a fun way. I think Halloween is when people are just more forgiving when seeing my kind of dark and weirdly romantic artwork, haha

We first became aware of you when we saw some pictures that turned out to be #drawlloween art. You’re doing it again this year (more or less) — do you plan it all beforehand?

I’m giving it my best shot! Because I’m still working on freelance projects now, I’m only able to do a few of the Drawlloween prompts, but I always have fun with it, and it’s awesome to see so much spooky art from other artists, too. The prompt list comes out in mid-September, so I get to at least start brainstorming ahead of time, but in the past few years I’ve done this event, no matter if I do thumbnails or write out a list of what I want to do, the day before I have to make a piece I often end up changing my mind and going in a different direction with the prompt – just to make this more complicated, right?! But I get to interpret the prompt my way, and do what I want for the piece, so it is a fun exercise for me.

Have you always been into the strange and macabre? What were some formative influences when you were figuring out your interests and deciding where to go — thematically — with your art?

Oh yeah. As a kid I loved watching old horror movies with my dad, so I think that getting into my teen years I really felt comfortable in the world of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. I just always felt sorry for the monsters and wanted to know more about them. That got me into the works of Poe and Lovecraft, and dark retellings of fairytales like “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter.

How about your style of art — any artists you’d care to mention as influences on how you draw what you draw?

There are too many to list, haha! I think it started with Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey, then the Golden Age illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and Ida Outhwaite. Mucha, Schiele, and Klimt are classic masters I really love, and then more modern influences of course, Yoshitaka Amano, Tony DiTerlizzi, Gris Grimly, Tim Burton… the list goes on! I’m inspired by so many different kinds of artists, especially those who have a unique perspective on how we view dark or frightening things.

You’ve done book covers, comics covers, games, children’s book illustrations, tarot decks — what haven’t you done that intrigues you?

I really want to write and illustrate my own stories, eventually. I love collaborating with authors, but I really want to try telling my own stories, too. I’m working on a project that’s my own work now, which is really exciting, but it’s under wraps still!

When it comes to a tarot deck, that’s a very rigid structure yet you have also taken some liberties within it. How do you feel about that as an artist — is it helpful to have structure or an extra challenge?

I really like structure. It’s a base for me to build on, stylistically. I like knowing the details, and I like knowing what to expect. The tarot does have a lot of structure already, and I also worked with authors on both decks, which was extra helpful for me to have some guidance for what the cards should depict. Interpreting it all in my style was the really fun part.

You’ve done some interior comics art, including a few issues of The Sandman, which would seem like a match made in heaven. What’s it like to go from covers or even interior illustrations to full-on, page after page of narrative storytelling?

It was a huge challenge! I hadn’t done many sequentials before that project, but the editor gave me a chance to do some test pages and she gave me great feedback, and then I was ready to jump into “The Dreaming” project. I only did pencils and inks, but that alone was a little stressful as a new comic artist. It’s such a popular series, and so many insanely talented people work on it already. I definitely had a lot of imposter syndrome going on. But once I did it, I found I really liked it and wanted to do more. What I like most about comics is the collaborative effort of a full team. I get to work with the authors, editors, and sometimes other artists and colorists, which is incredible.

In your work you play with a lot of familiar characters from fairy tales or classic stories. Would you like to adapt some existing literature and if so what?

I have a lot of fairytales I want to retell, haha! I already have a few outlines written out for dark gothic fairytale retellings that I hope I can turn into graphic novels someday.

Speaking of macabre literature/fables, what are some of your favorites to draw, or that you keep returning to for whatever reason?

I think the top of the list is “Beauty and the Beast” which is my all-time favorite fairytale (I love monster romance!), and of course Dracula. I keep coming back to that story and finding new ways to interpret it in my style.

You’ve done an Edward Scissorhands cover and a Nightmare Before Christmas deck. Checks the Tim Burton box. Lady Baltimore covers. Checks the Mignolaverse box. Sandman. Checks the Gaiman box. Are there other authors or world-builders whose worlds you’d like to be involved with?

I honestly could die happy if I could keep working on Burton, Mignola, and Gaiman properties, but I’d also love to illustrate “The Bloody Chamber” stories by Angela Carter, or work with Guillermo del Toro someday – even doing a single concept sketch for him would be a dream come true. But really, I’m happy to work with anyone who appreciates looking at scary stories from the monster’s perspective, and who’s able to find beauty and comfort in dark and scary things.

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