Lee Davis is a writer and illustrator of comics, children’s books and horror. He lives with his wife in the mountains of Virginia. He enjoys the outdoors, watching too many horror movies and pretending to be somebody else writing about himself. See more at Lee Davis’ website.
Very early ideas of sentient life beyond our little point of time and space. At a very young age when I was asking questions about other planets and the potential for life existing on them, coming to learn about prehistoric life, later having ideas of subterranean beings after visiting caverns, and so on. Strange places and the unknown set my mind ablaze with ideas of what kind of life called the beyond home and one of my greatest thrills was creating stories and images of what they might look like or what they might do. I’m sure that my early exposure to Star Wars, Labyrinth and He-Man helped set my mind in motion, but a lot of it came naturally, and also naturally my mind conceived of things beyond our scope that were very scary, and later I’d be drawn to other works that were of a horrific nature. The things I would imagine fascinated me but often terrified me at the same time. This is what I love about horror in fantasy.
What’s your most famous work and what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my work for the Gross comic, and the Gross novella series I started (to capture adventures I don’t have time to embody in comic format). It’s appeared in issues of Strange Aeons Magazine and has been well received by their readers. I am proud of what it’s grown into and am happier about it with each entry I create. Recently Post Mortem Press released a Lovecraftian anthology, Torn Realities, which features a story of mine, siding with some very fine and refreshing fiction from impressive authors including Clive Barker. I was very happy with that release. I’d also like to mention having a story featured in New Dawn Fades, another Post Mortem Press anthology which features an introduction by Joe Schreiber, who is a great author of Star Wars and horror fiction.
Sequential art has more appeal as I prefer to be a storyteller, though I enjoy doing single pieces. My style is self-taught and organic. I often conceive of new developments while the work is in progress, though occasionally I work from an outline and flesh it out. With a comic project, I pencil cells as it comes to me. As I take on the following phases of inking and colouring, I have time to meditate on the dialogue rhythm from respective characters as they interact. It’s not an orthodox approach but it works for me as I like to keep a steady stream of creativity, and it prevents a project from becoming too scattered or overwhelming. My illustrations are more organic, as well, which makes the cartoon style prominent, but I like to make visceral art for projects that are more straight horror.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m illustrating a new children’s book, written by a friend. It’s very cute and deals with peppers that enjoy sports, which should appeal to those of you that like sentient food. Illustrations for a new children’s book by horror author Scott Nicholson, I’ll just say that it will have more monsters – friendly ones – in it. A new novel, titled Melissa is Home, which is a very dark and macabre work, but as always I am keeping the narrative as human as possible from the perspective of the protagonist. I’m also making a point to meditate before writing sessions on this one, as I want to draw on more abstract, dreamlike forms for the corruptive forces present in the story. I’m considering doing a self-contained comic to embody the background story of one of the key characters from the Gross series. I’ve been looking forward to doing something like that when I get the time. The biggest project I’ve just wrapped is for a franchise I don’t own but I’ve been a fan of since childhood. But it hasn’t been set in stone. With that said, I won’t name it, but it will be very exciting if it’s released, for me as well as the fans.
If we’re talking specifically for illustrating artists, that will narrow it down a little. Vince Locke is one of my favourites, he is blatant grit and gore, but still versatile. Roman Dirge and Jhonen Vasquez are ideal for merging macabre and cartoon. Gabriel Hernandez. Definitely Stephen Gammell, whose work terrified me as a child, nobody has that style. My friend Cameron Kirk is an incredible artist of the morbid, not to forget my friends Matt Slay, Martin Trafford and Kenny Keen, who have done some outstanding horror comic art. This list would go on for miles if I mentioned the EC, Creepy, and etc. artists, but I’d like to mention Nick Gucker and the roster of talented artists that have contributed to Strange Aeons magazine.
How much detail do you like to put into your graphic depictions of horror and how much do you imply?
It varies. An illustrator should know when to listen to their gut for when it’s time to apply heavy detail, and when it’s overkill, and when simple strokes get the job done more appropriately. It’s healthy in sequential art to find your rhythm, as well as in writing, and know when to let the reader take a breath, or get a quick chuckle, or simply relax. Varying the style tastefully will keep things interesting. With visceral comic work I enjoy drawing the gritty details, where when I’m doing more light-hearted cartoon comic work, such as in Gross, I space things out with some simple work, but apply more gnarled detail where it suits well for the story.
The people that should enjoy my work are hopefully looking for a reason or meaning in the work. The most moving works to me have been ones that have shown me the face of evil, and demonstrated unlikely heroes overcoming that evil and growing from it. I think people who like light-hearted cartoons but also morbid humour and thrills should enjoy my work in Gross. The beat of my storytelling doesn’t change much in the more visceral comics, novels and short stories, but those that want something less funny should take something from them. I don’t hesitate to pour on the grotesque in any case, but obviously I spread on more liberal amounts when it comes to the work aimed at older readers. Primarily, people who want to look beyond the normal and rational world, through art and storytelling, should enjoy my work.
What makes a good piece of art?
As mentioned above a work in any medium has to have some kind of meaning, even if the meaning is abstract. It should promote thought and emotion. I don’t tend to enjoy art that is blatantly negative for the sake of shock alone, at least not since I grew up a little, though I still enjoy some work that is shamelessly lowbrow, so I’m not firm in that. In horror, sometimes the artist wants to show us something that is terrifying, and I’m more intrigued when a struggle is depicted. Art is so subjective, though, it’s hard for me to set a personal guideline. I’ll just say that my favourite work tends to depict the clash of light and dark, and even the two together in conjunction. I tend to be drawn more to bold and rich colours woven by black, for the emotions the aesthetic evokes in me. I can enjoy a work that embodies beauty often just as much as I can enjoy the hideous conception of a decomposing zombie or extra-dimensional monster; when executed well and with heart, they can all catch a thrill in their own respective way.
It’s a very gray area but I would go out on a limb and say opportunity. I still feel that if you’re not proven in a field, it’s good to have some representation, which is why I’m happy that we have good publishing houses that are utilizing the new digital market. There are even publishing houses that just release the lowbrow horror, but even to me it has the feel of cheaper, sleazier pulp publications, which has its own novel charm. An educated reader will know what they’re getting when they look at a publishing house, and will discern the quality from the more cheap and gratuitous. Besides that, they can discover good talent and decide if they want to make time for more of that creator’s work. This is also good for the creator when self-publishing, as they can manage more control over their work, once they’re confident in their craft. The market may be flooded, and in many cases not by creators that were ever as serious as those that put their hearts and souls into the work, but the readers aren’t stupid, and they know what they want and I’m confident that they’ll find it, even in the flood!
Recommend a graphic novel.
Well if we’re talking from my body of work, I would recommend Gross: Through Demon Skin. If we’re talking in general, and just one, I’d pick El Torres’ The Veil, because it is a great horror work that is not part of a famous franchise. On that note I’d encourage readers to make time for work that is not part of a large franchise’s merchandise. If you look in the right places you will find some wonderful works that aren’t backed by a massive following, yet deserve to be seen.