Q&A with John Keogh, illustrator of The Mountain Goats’ “Werewolf Gimmick” tour poster
by Angela Quinton
Apr. 7, 2015
Out today: “Beat The Champ“, the new wrasslin’-themed record from The Mountain Goats. You should go buy it on Amazon or iTunes (or at least give it a listen) and then check out this deadly gorgeous tour poster drawn by John Keogh and inspired by the song “Werewolf Gimmick”.
I follow John on my “civilian” Twitter account, but when I saw he was teasing some mean-looking fangs a few weeks ago, I put on my @WerewolfNews hat to express my enthusiasm. Now that the album’s out and tour dates are on sale, John’s revealed the full poster in all its dank feral glory.
It’s terrifying in its nightmarish articulation. Something about the trees and moon visible through the ruined roof gives me chills. The werewolf looks incredible (and some thought went into its design, as you’ll read below). The hairy-chested wrestler in the background seems tough, but he’s clearly about to have his career ended, and possibly his life. Even from across the room on an 11″ MacBook Air screen, Tandye noticed it and immediately wanted to know all the details.
Luckily, in addition to being a wonderful artist, John’s generous with his time, and he was willing to answer some questions I emailed him about the poster, the song that inspired it, and the process of creating it.
AQ: You’ve done some paranormal-themed posters for The Mountain Goats already. Did you choose the topic for this poster, or did someone from The Mountain Goats suggest it, perhaps in view of the album’s song “Werewolf Gimmick”?
JK: It’s a pretty straight illustration of Werewolf Gimmick, which is maybe the most intense song the Mountain Goats have ever done. John Darnielle had me listen to it and described the scene for me. We went back and forth, adding and subtracting, figuring out our ideal werewolf. Since the song so directly invokes lines from the 1941 Wolf Man, I’d originally drawn our guy here very much in Lon Chaney Jr. style, but we refined it into more of a Howling/Silver Bullet/Monster in my Pocket wolf, which is of course much more contemporary with the era of wrestling the album describes. The composition is my own, and there are a lot of little personal touches throughout (e.g. I went so far as to hand-draw an entire font based on the lettering of the title cards of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man).
A comment you made on Twitter regarding sweat and pencil dust made me do a double take – at first I couldn’t believe that such a visually intricate and dark piece would be done in a physical medium, let alone one so prone to smudging and eraser grinding. Which tools did you use for this piece? What advantages do you feel physical media has over digital?
Tools: India ink applied by a sable brush to 19″x24″ bristol (also micron pens of various sizes for the destroyed ceiling & rafters in the background), colored in Photoshop.
Having an original that exists in physical space is always nice, and I’m a little wary of having a process that depends too heavily on fancy materials, but beyond that I don’t have much of an investment in ANALOG SUPERIOR TO DIGITAL FOREVER-style ideology. Just what works best for me. I should also mention that I’m flat-out not any good at drawing straight into the computer.
The original art is black and white, while the available-for-purchase prints are coloured in a way that enhances the scene’s surreal, nightmarish quality. Do you consider the coloured version to be the “final” version of the piece, or an enhancement / remix of the original, which is complete in its own right? How did you arrive at the colour choices?
I think the success of the piece rests mostly on the line work, so I put a lot of effort into ensuring it can stand on its own, but functionally yes I consider the printed posters to be the final thing. I find coloring at once extremely fun and colossally frustrating. Screenprinting limits you to a small palette (my understanding is that printing becomes exponentially more precise and laborious once you go above so many colors), so one has to choose colors wisely. Matching those wisely-chosen colors to a standardized book of Pantones, though – that’s a skill I have yet to grasp. Giving up and admitting “that’s as close as I can get to what I want” is invariably how I arrive at final colors (this one’s pretty close – ideally there would be a little more grey & blue in the greens, and I suspect there was a better solution to the lettering than “white text with green gradient” that eluded me, but overall I’m quite happy with it).
You said you come from a background “whose traditions emphasize the dominance of werewolf over all other monsters”. I recognize this might have been a statement made in jest, but it resonated with me as someone who grew up during the 80s heyday of monster movies, cartoon violence and the professional wrestling boom. How does your background inform your current artistic sensibilities?
Sounds like an absurd thing to say, but it’s completely true – an allusion to the fact that my mother is a lifelong horror enthusiast, whose favorite movies are werewolf movies. At what age do kids normally learn about Rob Bottin and Rick Baker? I learned earlier. I take for granted that the sun comes up in the morning, that two and two is four, and that werewolves are the best.
With respect to wrestling: love of genre movies firmly in place – the broad morality dynamics, the camp & kitsch, the violence, and the carny argot & apparent carny infrastructure (both of which seem to endure to this day) all made it completely irresistible. To my knowledge, pro wrestling is the only thing that’s like pro wrestling.
On my artistic sensibilities being informed by a background full of horror movies – I can’t claim the relationship is completely direct, but in the way one instinctively knows practical effects are cooler than digital effects, I do believe imposing formal constraints on myself has led to better work (e.g. aforementioned use of limited palettes, traditional media, hand-lettering, etc).
My thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions! If you’d like to pick up a copy of this poster for yourself, go see The Mountain Goats on tour this summer, and hurry up, because shows are already selling out. If you’re at the Seattle show on May 29th, keep an eye out for a dork with long hair and glasses hanging around the merch table, because it’s me. You could also wait and see if any extras appear online after the tour, but that’s 1) risky and 2) an option that deprives you of an excellent live show.
You can follow John Keogh on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and I encourage you to do so, because his work (both the process and the result) is exactly the sort of thing we need more of: dark, intricate, simultaneously stuffed with foreboding and a love of its subject matter.