Recently, Charles Webb got the chance to catch up with artist Jacen Burrows to pick his brain on his latest project, Avatar Press’ Neonomicon.
Charles Webb: Could you give our readers a little background about your past work?
Jacen Burrows: I’ve been working for Avatar for a long time and I’ve done a number of projects with their biggest writers; Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Alan Moore. The best known projects are probably Scars, Chronicles of Wormwood, Crossed, The Courtyard and now Neonomicon, the sequel to The Courtyard.
Webb:You and Mr. Moore have been collaborating since 2003’s The Courtyard? How did you two begin working together?
Burrows: That was all originally set-up by Avatar. They cultivated a relationship with Alan Moore to do adaptations and reprints of some of his rarer material and I happened to be one of the artists that got offered the chance to work on that stuff. Alan enjoyed how The Courtyard and Yuggoth Cultures stuff turned out and decided to write up Neonomicon with me specifically in mind. It is our first all-original collaboration.
Webb: What was the appeal of The Courtyard and now Neonomicon?
Burrows: I’ve been a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of inexplicable, sanity destroying, otherworldly horror since I was 12 years old. Indecently, that was also when I read Watchmen. Both writers have had a massive impact on my creativity and perception over the years and to get a chance to work on a project in which Alan Moore de-constructs and modernizes Lovecraft is a dream come true.
Webb: Your work has some pretty elaborate gory moments. How much of that comes from the script and how much of that comes from you letting loose?
Burrows: It depends. With Crossed most of that was in the script. I did my best to show that violence in my own moderately realistic fashion which may add a bit of kick to the image but the content was all Garth’s idea. Where I have really had the chance to let loose has been on the various Cover alternates where I don’t generally get any direction. Truth be told, I don’t think any of the Crossed covers were as bad as some of the zombie stuff I did for Night of the Living Dead.
Webb: Given the intricacy of your work how do you keep on schedule?
Burrows: It can be very difficult. We try to start projects with a healthy amount of time before we solicit the books but I’m not the fastest guy out there and we do a lot of variants that eat up a good portion of every month so I do tend to get backed up by the end of a project. It’s just something you are always trying to improve, little by little.
Webb: The story is described as “Lovecraftian” which means different things to different people. What does it mean to you and how did you apply it to your work with Mr. Moore?
Burrows: Neonomicon is more than just Lovecraftian in tone. It directly refers to many of his works and examines the writer’s contribution to the world it is set in. It has a much more complicated relationship with the writer than the average Lovecraftian homage. To me “Lovecraftian” has little to do with tentacles or scary space gods. He had this masterful ability to make terror and insanity into nearly tangible things and to make you feel the infinitesimal position of mankind within the real workings of the universe.
Webb: There’s a tangible line between this and Ennis’ Crossed: that is, the idea of a mysterious, shared murderous impulse. What appeals to you about that particular theme?
Burrows: I’ve always said the primary function of horror is to remind us of the temporary nature of life. Good horror makes you appreciate what you have now, in this moment. To me, that is a pretty noble endeavor. Without spoiling anything, Neonomicon is a very different book than Crossed and isn’t so much of an exploration of the terrible things we are capable of doing to each other. The Courtyard murders are really just the beginning of the story.
Webb: What are you reading right now? Is there anything in particular influencing your work at the moment?
Burrows: I’ve been ordering a lot of European Graphic Novels lately. There is a guy named Enrico Marini who I first saw in Heavy Metal ages ago whose work is my current obsession. I’m also trying to track down as much as I can find from Claire Wendling. My favorite reads these days are Ex Machina, Northlanders, Scalped, The Sword, Tim Truman’s Conan stuff, The Walking Dead, The Boys, Wolfskin and Gravel.
Webb: Any favorite moments from the book that you can tease our readers with?
Burrows: Not really. All of the best bits really are spoiler heavy but suffice it to say there are going to be some eye popping, mind scrambling WTF elements to this story that lead to one hell of an ending.
Webb: Besides Neonomicon, what else do you have coming up?
Burrows: Garth and I are in the planning stages of a new Crossed story. No details yet but I know it involves different characters and a different setting. The story of our survivors from the first series is truly done but there are a lot of potential places for Garth to go with the next one. I’d assume Spring of next year for that one.