Interview: Bringing Back the Dead with Cartoonist Thomas A. Boatwright
They say “children shouldn’t play with dead things.” Thankfully, today’s guest never learned that lesson. As the creator of Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman and co-creator of Cemetery Blues, Thomas A. Boatwright is a man with a monster kid’s heart and the spirit of a cowboy… possibly the left toe of Pablo Picasso.
Boatwright recently assembled all of his pieces to create “new life” in the form of 32-page black and white art book based on Universal Studio’s The Bride of Frankenstein. Foreboding and full of macabre beauty, Boatwright’s new book features a series of sketches retelling scenes from the entire film. We spoke with the artist to learn how the book came about, which Ranger is the baddest of them all and why cheese cones are a terrible idea.
Thanks for hanging around the clubhouse, Thomas! I heard that you’re a pretty big Western fan – is it true that you are an avid banjo player?
Yeah, about 5 years ago I overpaid for a cheap banjo kit. I always loved a certain style but didn’t know what it was till I discovered clawhammer or “frailing.” Instead of three finger picking like most people associate with the banjo, its a down picking strum. Everyone just lumps banjos under “bluegrass” but that’s a relatively new style and banjos have been around a lot longer and can do much more than most give them credit. Banjos opened up a whole new world of music to me and I build and play a variety of stringed instruments now.
When I was a wee strange kid my father and I watched the Duke, but between you and me I always preferred the work of Sergio Leone. Do you have any favorite westerns?
I grew up watching Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings on the local UHF station. That’s probably the first western I remember. I was never really a fan of the Duke. Blasphemy, I know, but my dad showed me the spaghetti westerns pretty early on so Eastwood was my western guy. My mom watched a lot Little House on the Prairie which was a western in its way. The main theme of most westerns is change. Cultures clash and some try to tame the wild, others become a part of it.
So, let’s say The Lone Ranger got into a tussle with Walker, Texas Ranger… who would win and how would they pull it off?
There’d be no tussle. Walker would automatically bow to the greatest Ranger. Whatever legend that gets attributed to Norris, none of them stand up to the power of character that Clayton Moore embodied.
Fair enough. When did you realize you wanted to be a cartoonist? Were you influenced by anything (or anyone) in particular growing up?
My mom always talks about how she put a crayon in my hand as soon as I could hold one. There’s some doodles in my baby book that are pretty good for a two year old. I was an only child and there were no other kids near my age in my family, so drawing was an activity I could do on my own. Growing up it became my way of dealing with the anxiety and stress of going to school, which I hated so much. [I] loved learning, but only on my own time.
Its kinda hard to answer people when they ask “how did you learn to draw?” when the only response that comes to mind is “mental disorder.” When it came time to think about what I wanted to do for a living my only real skill and interest was cartoons and illustrations.
After graduating high school you attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning in Dover, NJ. What was one of the most important lessons you learned?
I always ran on just raw talent. I had an affinity toward drawing and such, but they smack you in the face with it being a job and hard work; [sorta] like being a natural athlete is different than being a professional athlete. One can lead to another, but it takes dedication. There’s a reason Joe Kubert worked in comics for like 70 years, and it wasn’t just because he could draw well. He treated comics just like a real 9-5 job. Some days you don’t wanna go to work or just aren’t feeling it, but there’s still a deadline and inspiration rarely hits you in time to make it. The best thing the Kubert school will teach you is [to] get up, do your job, or go home.
That’s also where you first got the idea for Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman, right?
Yeah, there was an assignment to draw a cover with the theme of either a western, horror, or sci-fi. Being the odd guy I am I decide to do all three and drew a zombie cowboy riding away from a alien tri-pod war machine (I gave that piece away to someone at the school so unless they threw it away it still exists somewhere). I liked drawing him so much I kept trying to come up with a story to tell. It wasn’t until I met my friend Ryan Rubio (co-creator with me of Cemetery Blues) and started working with him that Zeke finally had a story.
Both Zeke Deadwood and Cemetery Blues contained a good mix of horror and humor. What is it about these genres – specifically horror – that appeal to you?
I just find odd-looking monsters a lot more interesting than beautiful super heroes. I’m more a fan of creepy and weird than bloody horror. The Universal Monsters appeal to me like I imagine they did to a lot of kids who just didn’t quite fit in, because they were for the most part sympathetic. As got older I loved the gorgeous technicolor glory of Hammer Studios, but even with that candy apple red blood there was still a sense of fun and adventure to it all. I’ve thought before adding humor to horror makes sense to those that identify with the monsters. Normal folk are scared of the strange so there’s nothing funny about it to them.
Backtracking for a moment… will Zeke Deadwood ever ride again?
I’ve got an idea for a third story, but since neither issue sold very well, I don’t know how much interest there really is for another. I’m content to let it build in my mind until I just HAVE to draw rather than put it out just for the sake of doing it. Until my name carries a little more weight, I’m mainly doing work for hire jobs.
Speaking of new projects, your latest book, My Bride of Frankenstein, comes out in September. What’s the general premise behind the book?
Last year I wanted to do a sketch a day project for October. I decided to draw a scene from The Bride of Frankenstein every morning as a warm-up. I watched it once and took notes, a second time for thumbnails, then a little bit every day while I sketched out a scene in Photoshop. I did them all digitally using only white, 25% gray and 50% gray and limited to about 30 mins each.
This year I’ve collected them all in a small 8×8 comic book style sketchbook. There’s only going to be 31 signed and numbered copies at $10 and each comes with an original Frankenstein-themed maker sketch card.
Is there a way for people to get a sneak peek?
I’ve still got the original artwork I posted back in October 2011 on my blog or, if they want to get a physical copy, people can head over to my online store. Should be easy as its the only thing available right now.
You’ve done some pretty cool fan art style mash-ups in the past. Have you ever thought about Frankenstein in the Wild West?
I did that last summer actually: The Good, The Bad and the Hairy!
Awesome! I was trying to think of of anyone’s whose been there before. I mean, there was the horrid Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, but who’s actually seen that?
There was also Billy the Kid vs Dracula and its… well.. the poster is neat.
The monster/western is definitely a lost(?) art (*laughs*). Before you go, one last question: what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
I was home alone a lot and one day I wanted a cheese sandwich but there was no bread in the house. No, I could have just eaten a slice of cheese, but [I] really wanted the bread taste, I guess, so I went digging in the cabinets and found an old ice cream cone. I figured that was close enough so I stuff the cheese down in the cone and put it in the microwave for a few seconds. It was disgusting and was the first time I remember eating something that made me immediately double over with stomach cramps. Whenever I see Dr. Jekyll drink his formula and start to transform into Mr Hyde, I imagine that potion tastes like a cheese cone.