KILLER GRAPHICS #7: Interview With Illustrator Jeff Zornow (PT1)!

Welcome back from the long weekend everyone! I do hope that all of you spent it eating plenty of BBQ’d animal parts (Or human, for those of you who are of the cannibalistic taste), drinking plenty of adult beverages, and blowing up all sorts of random things. (The neighbor’s cat does count) Whatever the case, it is now Monday, and so that means it is about time we all get back to the old grind. However, before we jump into all of that we have a very, very special treat for you. After a little bit of a hiatus for Killer-Graphics we are ready to go ahead and kick-off another exciting batch of interviews with some of horror’s most amazing talents in the field of illustration. For those of you who know me you know I like to be cliche and start/end things on a high note, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that to kick this off we have a very special interview with none other than horror maestro Jeffrey Zornow! Inside you can get a look at the first half of our special 2 part long interview in which we discuss the artist’s career both past, present, and future in all the detail you would expect from two horror-holics who enjoy rambling on all day. Read on for the skinny.

THEoDEAD:” First of all thank you again for your time Jeff, I know you’re a busy guy. Before we get started why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to the readers?

Jeff Zornow:“WHAT THE MOON BRINGS…
…AND WHAT THE NIGHT LEAVES BEHIND…
…ARE THE REASONS WHY…
ZORNOW MUST BE DESTROYED!”

FIENDS!! Hello out there! Greetings to you all in the horror community! For those of you not familiar with me or my work, I’m Jeff Zornow, another one of those morbid, death obsessed horror artists. I am primarily a comic book artist, but you out there most likely know my work with FRIGHT-RAGS , kick ass original horror T-shirts.”

THEoDEAD:”For a long time now your name has been synonymous with horror, and your artwork has been featured in everything from magazines, to comics, to t-shirt designs. What did horror mean to you growing up? What got you interested in the genre?

Jeff Zornow:“This question is not easy to answer in a short or brief way…so I’ll tell you all the whole story.

MONSTERS!

For as far back as my memory goes, I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED GODZILLA, which means that my memory of FIRST seeing Godzilla is lost, I remember the first time I saw the original King Kong on TV, it was 1978 and I was 2, I remember thinking to myself” This is like Godzilla, only not as cool.” But after that i would watch, or read, ANYTHING with monsters in it.

Later that same year, a blood vessel burst inside my nose while I was asleep during a mid noon nap, I awoke to find myself covered from head to toe, and my sheets soaked in my own blood. I’ll never forget that incident; I thought I was going to die.


“For as far back as my memory goes, I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED GODZILLA…”-Jeff Zornow

I started reading and voraciously DRAWING at the age of 3 In 1979 I was taken to see a re-release of JAWS in the theatre, I wasn’t told what we were going to see, I was simply SUBJECTED to Jaws at the age of 5. Let me tell you Ben Gardner’s head in the boat, and a monstrous shark eating Quint as he spews blood from his mouth had a PROFOUND effect on me then. It was rather horrible, as I was a child who was shy and scared of almost EVERYTHING!

HOWEVER! At this same time I was obsessed with the original SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU? Cartoon! SO I was already familiar with , and delighted by iconic horror themes.

I was similarly subject to ALIEN when I was 7, my parents put me in a room with cable on… and said “You’ll like this …it’s a monster movie” Then they went and entertained their dinner party.

When I was 8, I checked out JAWS from the library, and read my first adult novel in 3 days. I then became an avid reader of Horror Novels, By Stephen King and the like. I still read a LOT of young adult stuff too. I was also VERY interested in the paranormal by now as well; because WOULDN’T IT BE COOL IF IT WAS ALL REAL!??

Then Skip ahead some more years to 1984 or 85, when I was 10 or 11 and a childhood friend was spending the night, she suggested we ask my Mom to rent FRIDAY THE 13th : THE FINAL CHAPTER. And of course we had all heard what sadistic and freakishly horrifying movies they were. Final chapter had JUST come out on video. and part 5: A New Beginning wasn’t even out yet. Well, there was no way I thought my Mom would let us rent a Friday movie, but it never hurts to ask….AND SHE TOTALLY DID IT! without even questioning it! Hahaha! Well, let’s just say that after watching Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The 11 year old Zornow was in a shaky state of shock, and felt completely violated. At first I REALLY didn’t take it good AT ALL! Even though I just kept telling myself” It’s only a movie….only a movie….only a movie…” Well, I just COULD NOT SHUT UP ABOUT FIRDAY THE 13th to my friends at school after that. The rest of them had never seen any of them, so it made me feel more confident with my fear of the damn movie even though I vowed to my friends that ” It’s SOOO scary I will never watch it again” Hahah! I remember just another 2 weeks maybe passed and HALLOWEEN was showing on Cable. I had heard about it, and asked my Mom to tape it for me, which she did. It was October, and I watched it one Friday afternoon after school.

After Halloween…that was it…I was hooked and ready to sell my soul to Horror.. I realized it sparked the most exciting aspects of my mind, imagination, and personality. And quickly I also realized that it wasn’t JUST the Horror aspect, the SCARY aspect of the movies that I was craving, I was ALSO craving GORE, the juicier, and bloodier, the Better!


Growing up as a fan of Carpenter’s classic slasher franchise, Zornow has worked with publisher Devil’s Due in the past to bring the iconic serial killer to the illustrated forum.

And that is probably the point where the planets in the horror cosmos aligned and said ” JOIIIINNNN USSSS!”

And I eagerly did. As we ALL know what had happened to not only the horror genre, AND the exploding home video Ma and Pa rental shops. Suddenly HORROR WAS EVERYWHERE AND IT WAS BLOODY, GOREY, AND COVERED IN SLIME! it was my fiends, that splendid era of the 80′s!!! And by the time I was 11 i was a DEVOTE SPLATTERPUNK! Comics, Novels, Videos, and Posters from those old issues of FANGORIA and GOREZONE littered and decorated my room for a long time.

And on an interesting side note, the year I was 11 was also the year I developed Epilepsy. (for those who don’t know Epilepsy is defined as a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain.)

Back in the day people with epilepsy were considered either possessed by the Devil, or Demons, Lycanthropes, cursed by Witches, and the like. Ironically enough I’m left handed, so I would have been considered some sort of Devil’s child and probably locked up or executed.”

THEoDEAD:”Haha, it is great how our parents can shape us so easily into the very people they told us to avoid as children. I remember my mom literally babysitting me by sitting me on a couch in front of a stack of Blockbuster rented horror films, so I can understand the thrill of realizing that horror is in your blood. (To use a horrible pun)

So where did you get started in art? How did Zornow go from making this life shattering revelation to becoming such a major player in the genre?

Jeff Zornow:“Hahah! Yeah My Mom was also responsible for sitting me down one Saturday afternoon when I was 8 or 9 to watch ALFRED HITCHOCK’s THE BIRDS with her! But the Road from childhood beginnings to a working professional was a long hard climb. I was VERY LUCKY to realize by the time I was 7 that I wanted to become a professional artist ( most likely a cartoonist) As I would get bored in school and find myself doodling my favorite cartoon characters and monsters during class. One day my teacher, while scolding me for crawling during her lesson also commented, ” wow that’s’ very good Jeff, do you want to be an artist when you grow up?” And I thought ” you can DO THAT!?” and quickly answered “YES!” So I always took extra private art lessons outside of school while growing up. When I was very young though I never had much interest in drawing people, only animal/nature portraits, (and growing up in Michigan we had lots of pretty wildlife to draw, whether we were in a park, or the woods or an art teacher’s backyard.) And until I was about 12, I always imagined I would be a Cartoonist working on some kind of newspaper strip. Or an Animated cartoon show type of thing. Then when I was 12 a MAJOR life shifting event happened to my life. This was THE WEB OF SPIDER MAN Issue #17! This also relates to the next Question, so the story will continue there!”

THEoDEAD:”Obviously you are also a comic book fan, and that shows with your body of work. Did you read comic books growing up? You mentioned that you started drawing very early on, did you ever see yourself in the comic industry?

Jeff Zornow:“Hahah y’know each of your questions is at least TWO questions! This is impossible to answer in any short way so lemme just take you all from my life as a 12 year old to when I started working in comics. Haha

Well, as I said earlier, before I was a pre-teen, I always wanted to be some kind of Cartoonist only worrying about drawing animals and nature stuff. I had almost no desire to even draw human beings.

Then on a rainy weekend afternoon, my Mom stopped at a local 7-11 on the way home, Slurpees and candy were obtained, and I happened to walk past the old school HEY KIDS! COMICS!!! Spinner rack next to a stand up PUNCH -OUT video game. I got my ass beat in Punch out because Spider -Man’s costume kept distracting me! Finally I inspected the issue of WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #17, illustrated by comic legend Marc Silvestri (who was still up and coming at this time, the year was 1986). I realized that I HAD to have this comic book and that Spider -Man looked sooo similar to one of my childhood favorite superheroes ULTRAMAN! (which ties into my original love of Godzilla and Monsters, especially giant monsters!!) Anyway I took that copy of Web of Spider man home, and TOTALLY FELL IN LOVE WITH COMIC BOOKS! I decided THAT VERY NIGHT THAT I WAS GOING TO BE A COMIC ARTIST! And became RAVENOUS for comics! And luckily for me by 1987 American comics were getting their first wave of Japanese imports! In addition to being in love with GODZILLA and ULTRAMAN, GIANT ROBO and GAMERA as a young child I was also a tremendous fan of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (Kugaku Ninjatai Gatchaman) and the other famous Japanese Anime shows of the 80′s VOLTRON, and ESPECIALLY ROBOTECH (Macross rules Natch!), So in comics I stated collecting ANYTHING I could find that was Japanese! Books like AREA-88, MAI the PSYCHIC GIRL, DIGITAL TARGET GREY, AKIRA and APPLESEED, among others! Also in 1987 my friends discovered one of GARY REED”s comic shops called READER’S, which was a comic shop that was SOOO ahead of its time!! And another MAJOR influence on my love of comics!


“In addition to being in love with GODZILLA and ULTRAMAN, GIANT ROBO and GAMERA as a young child I was also a tremendous fan of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS”-Jeff Zornow

Now Imagine you’re a 12-13 year old kid in 1987-88. You walk into a GIANT sized comic shop, that not only sells all the latest books, but a giant supply of back issues, a novel wall, a stand up video game section, role playing game section, but here is the kicker, READER”s had a JAPANESE IMPORT SECTION! With Manga, Anime mags like Newtype, and all manner of Japanese Toys!!! ANNND they also had a VIDEO RENTAL CLUB! With an entire wall of Bootleg Anime! Most of it grainy and un-translated, but my friends and i didn’t care! We rented everything we could!

And by 1988 CALIBER COMICS (publishers of THE CROW, DEADWORLD, and BAKER STREET among other famous indie B+W comics) started their publishing venture in the back of Reader’s! My friends and I would actually see now-famous artist like Guy Davis running around back there! While Chet one of the store managers would let us in on the coolness that was being created back there! It was an important footnote in comics’ history!

During this period, My friends and I were always coming up with cool comic ideas, and in my spare time I was always trying to create cool Superheroes, that were very Japanese influenced, as well as some freaky creepy stuff here and there. I remember GORE SHRIEK #1 being around at this time and that comic had a major impact on me as well!

As I got into my teens’ and High School, I was taking all the major advanced art classes I could. Still trying to figure out the comic book/ sequential art form, and taking graphic arts classes where I FIRST started making my own T-shirt designs and printing them in school. Getting into scary Metal music, Industrial, Goth, and Punk. All stuff that help feed my mind with visuals. After Graduation of High School, I took two years to work at a car wash while living at my mom’s, and figure out what I really wanted to do with myself as well as try to get some adventures in and out of the way. Like taking a crazy road trip from Mi to Northern California!

When that was dealt with I enrolled and was accepted into the School of Visual Arts, in New York City in 1995. I majored in Cartooning and Illustration.

SVA is essentially where I REALLY got my start in Comics and Illustration. Once I was there, I quickly realized that my skills in art SUCKED! And I had a LONG way to go to even make my work professional looking. Luckily for me, I had some famously brilliant instructors from comics/illustration’s past and present! Instructors such as the late JOE ORLANDO, KLAUS JANSON, WALT SIMONSON, CARMINE INFANTINO, SAL AMENDOLA, TONY PALLADINO, among others! Though it was Joe Orlando (famous EC sci-fi /horror artist, editor/ writer/artist for Creepy /Eerie later to become the man who would create DC’s horror line of the 70′s, and be an editor and art director at DC until his death in 1998) who really helped push me toward the horror angle. When I arrived at SVA I had the same idea that all the other comic kids had, I would graduate, and somehow get to work for DC or Marvel. During my sophomore year at SVA, I created my first horror comic for a class project, which I titled “Necro Assasin” it was basically a monster/action story with zombies and satanic demons all fighting in a graveyard. I remember everyone in the department went a little bonkers over it. Joe Especially was delighted with it! It was at that time that I realized I had some kind of secret weapon brewing in me. and that hardly ANYONE at SVA was even into horror let alone illustrating it. Though ironically i did share some classes with DAMIEN GLONEK (one of The Living Dead Dolls creators) I was just getting into Italian horror at the time, and Damien lent me his uncut VHS copy of DEEP RED! Around this time I started sinking back into my old horror roots! Gong to local horror cons in NYC, and collecting what I could. By the time I graduated SVA, I had spent 2 years as an intern at both Marvel and DC comics, but the industry was in the toilet at the end of 1999. And I had no real job prospects then, what followed, is essentially several years of me living as a typical “starving artist” trying to “break in”. All professional artists have gone through similar periods. But let me tell you, the LONGER this period goes on… the MORE you tend to fight for it. If you can imagine being consumed by a “Captain Ahab” syndrome, and the white whale being your spot in freelance art. It was a hard time for me, and all I could think to do in order to get some editor or art director to give me a gig, was to continue drawing insane horror art and comics, as it requires special skills storytelling- wise, which is the main concern in all art. ….eventually a body count started to appear around me.

By the end of 2004 people started to notice my body count, and then started to ask ” what is going on here!? WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!?”

I sat there…in a pool of blood….a brush in my left hand….a knife in my right hand… an eyeball in my mouth…and an infinite graveyard in my brain. And I started to draw what the moon brings….and what the night leaves behind.

What followed, in 2005 was my first paid professional freelance comic illustration gig in Vampirella Magazine #10 ( “A day at the Beach” written by Dan Jolley), as well as my start in illustrating Album art and metal graphics. A snowball effect started then, and more comic gigs, more album art, and then the summer of 2006, I stumbled through a bloody trail that led me to the House of Mysterious secrets. The Proprietor, a man named Kevin asked me to draw a T-shirt design for the classic slasher movie THE BURNING. After that, he immediately asked for a TOURIST TRAP T-shirt….and then I was contacted by Kevin’s Fiend…a guy known to all in the horror community as Ben Scrivens! Ben was impressed with what I had just done for The House of Mysterious Secrets, and then asked me to design shirts for his company FRIGHT-RAGS. Starting with a design based on the first story in CREEPSHOW, “I’VE GOT MY CAKE!”!

And that’s when the ASS KICKING really began!!”


Two of Zornow’s most iconic pieces for Fright-Rags that were also two of his first: The “ZOMBI” Inspired, “ZOMBIE VS SHARK” (LEFT), And “I’VE GOT MY CAKE”(RIGHT) Based Upon The Original “CREEPSHOW”

THEoDEAD:”Haha, you caught me! It’s my secret journalism weapon, the art of the double-sized question. ;) Since we are on the subject of Fright-Rags let’s talk about them a bit since you are very well known for donating so many great designs to them. What is the process like, for you, to draw these now classic designs knowing that so many people are going to be wearing them?

Jeff Zornow:“Hahah, Well, actually, there is a special entry in the Fright-Rags blog Ben put together called “BIRTH OF A DESIGN” which shows the process from concept to finished T-shirt. We are preparing to do a SEQUAL entry called ” Birth of a design part 2″ In which I guess Ben wants to send me a camera to FILM myself making a shirt from beginning to end. Though we haven’t started this one yet. It’ll be coming soon!

I will say THIS about working for FRIGHT-RAGS. For as hard as I have worked to be a “comic artist” once I graduated art school, (because that was ALL I had planned for myself) I THE REASON YOU ARE DOING THIS INTERVIEW IS BECAUSE OF FRIGHT-RAGS. I NEVER imagined that I would end up being a T-shirt artist let alone that aspect of my work becoming the most well-known to the public at large. But it’s true. Even my work on the HALLOWEEN COMICS, Only brought minor mention to the comic industry. But ever since ” I’ve GOT MY CAKE!” was printed, suddenly Fright-Rags and my work for them quickly became loved by the horror fiends out there! It’s VERY REWARDING knowing that I design shirts for people JUST LIKE ME who want to proudly wear something like ZOMBIE vs. SHARK, or FRANKENHOOKER on their chest! And I’ve been seeing TONS of Fright-rags on people at the horror cons for years now, HOWEVER at our last MONSTER MANIA con appearance I was rather blown away. That weekend, the WHOLE weekend, it seemed that at least 75% of the attendees had my Art on their shirts! I was a literal sea of Zornow art floating around that con! And I had people coming to show me their Zornow art tattoos, (all of which were Fright-Rags based art).

But I also have done horror shirts for HIP BONZ (and their Official Halloween movie shirts), CREEPY-TEES, and THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIOUS SECRETS!”


A documentary style video that documents the creative process behind one of Jeff’s signature pieces: “ZOMBIE VS SHARK”, courtesy of Fright-Rags.com!

That is the end of PT1 of our interview with Jeff! Be sure to stay tuned here at Graphic Content as we bring you more with the one and only Jeff Zornow next week in our Killer-Graphics column!