Book Review: The Art of Horrible People by John Skipp

artOne of the Founding Fathers of Splatterpunk. Head Honcho el Bizarro. Weird Fiction Maestro. John Skipp wears all of these hats, and usually all of them are piled high on top of his head at the same time. He attacks the genres with prose, film, and music. Author of The Light at the End (with Craig Spector), Conscience, and co-editor of the classic zombie anthology Book of the Dead (again with Spector), mere words cannot contain Skipp’s imagination, and as with any true artist, all mediums are fair game. He’s co-written screenplays (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child), sang in a band with former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, and is sitting in the director’s chair for a few films currently in production. If you are a fan of Horror fiction, surely you know his name. If it’s got anything at all to do with art, John Skipp has his hands in it. While some of you may be asking what has John Skipp done for you lately, a better question is where have YOU been lately?

Once again, Skipp attacks us with prose in the form of his latest collection, The Art of Horrible People. A slim volume comprised of eight stories and two appendixes, do not allow the lack of pages steer you away from this collection. Inside, the stories are jam packed with glimpses into the maddening and beautiful mind of John Skipp. Yes, glimpses, which is more than most mere mortals can handle in one sitting. Readers looking for something a little out of the ordinary will find themselves thrilled with this collection. Consider it a blast of fresh air directly from the bowels of Hell. Each story is excellent, and cover the genre ranges of splatterpunk, gore, satire, literary, humor, and horror, and usually all at the same time. Any author who can gross you out, give you goose bumps, spin a thought around in your head, and make you laugh about it all while you throw up a little, is a fiction powerhouse that deserves every single second of your dwindling attention span.

After a nice introduction by Josh Malerman, the collection starts off with ‘Art is the Devil’, driving home the duality of the most revered horror subgenres, splatterpunk. What is an attack on our senses with violence and gore without at least a satirical twist skewering the art world? While some feel that splatterpunk is just torture porn in prose form, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not the violence that matters, but how the characters relate to it, and when you hammer that genre into the mold of satire, the result is a story with depth and resonance far beyond the gore factor. ‘Depresso the Clown’ brings the horror of our Pennywise nightmares full circle. In any other writer’s hands, this tale could have easily fallen by the wayside into just another ‘country crazies kidnap a clown’ story. Skipp doesn’t settle so easily, adding touches of dark humor and raw emotion into the mix. With ‘Rose Goes Shopping’, the zombie genre gets a quick shot in the arm of humor and much needed action, while ‘Worm Central Tonite’ taps into a Bizarro point of view that’s just as hilarious as it is gross. ‘Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror’ is the alphabet, flash fiction style, and this may be where Skipp shines the brightest. Flash fiction is an art form few master, but Skipp makes it look easy, skewering Tinsletown one letter at a time in ways only a veteran filmmaker can. ‘Zygote Notes on the Imminent Birth’ is life as film, while ‘In The Waiting Room, Trading Death Stories’ is exactly as the title implies. These two tales are personal and relatable, and showcase Skipp’s mighty morphing ability to tone it down just enough to slip under our skin and assault our hearts, turning high-concept ideas into poignant stories with substantial emotional weight. ‘Food Fight’ jumps from multiple points of view, capturing the madness of a thoroughly crazy insane asylum, giving each character a distinct voice and personality. By shifting the point of view, slightly overlapping the timeline, the pace grows quicker as the wrinkles of the story flatten out, driving the suspense to a fever pitch.

Voice and personality are Skipp’s strong points. This is a confident writer who isn’t afraid of anything or anyone, refusing to walk on eggshells, but savvy enough to know better than to just beat us over the head with his stories. He has a laser focused insight into his characters, choosing just the right person for the job, and while his voice is strong, there’s also a subtleness that can only come from years of living the writing life, instinctually uncovering his characters and exposing what makes them tick. The stories play with the theme of art and horrible people in such a way that we see the most awful of us can be heroic, even lovable, and what we once thought was ugly and horrifying can be poetic and beautiful. Art is truly in the eye of the beholder, and we all have the capacity to be terrible, horrible people.

The two appendixes following the stories that round out this collection are well worth your time as well. The first is, without a doubt, the greatest ‘Thank you’ list ever conceived. The second is of a very personal nature for Skipp that will tug your heartstrings and make you hug your friends and family and keep them a little closer in your own hearts. The Art of Horrible People may very well be one the best collections published this year, and we certainly hope to read more by John very soon. By using the genres that made him a household name in Horror fiction, John Skipp’s stories transcend those genres, proving art is alive and well and exists in the first place you need to look.

It’s been right here, all along, under our noses, just like John Skipp.


Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press
Paperback (176pp)
Release Date: 1 August 2015

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