WHAT?! 015: I Draw Creepy Stuff

WHAT?! is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column for the Creative and Perplexed. In which I answer burning questions about the creative process and what might be holding up that brain of yours. Send your questions to: hellodroolydog@gmail.com.

Dear Drooly Dog: I am a painter. I make fantasy art. And I sell quite a bit of it, too. I’ve designed album covers, t-shirts, all kinds of things.
My work has a lot of monsters and violence in it. And that’s been true my whole life. I’ve always drawn battles, things killing each other, zombies, various gross situations. My art definitely falls into the horror genre. I’m good at gore.
When I was a kid I got sent to the office all the time for drawing violent images. I even got sent to counseling because the grownups thought I must be contemplating doing something terrible at school. They thought I was warning everybody, I guess. And all through school, I got labeled as a troubled kid. Even though I showed up for class, and then went and got an art degree. There’s just always been this kind of filter that people use to look at me, like I could commit heinous crimes at any moment.
I have to admit, this has bothered me for a long time. Do I actually have something wrong with me, that makes me gravitate toward horror? Am I messed up in some way? And if not, how can I still make my art, which I use to make a good living actually, and not feel like I’m somehow screwed up? And what about all the people who buy my stuff, are they screwed up too? Most of the time I feel like I’m just making art and people like it and buy it, but then sometimes – I just don’t know. Am I wrong to do what I’m doing? Some people sure seem to think so. I’m tired of always feeling like I’m doing something wrong.
– Sincerely, Nice Guy Icky Art

Dearest Nice/Icky,
It’s an enduring debate, isn’t it, whether art makes people violent or violent people like certain art. We’ve had this with heavy metal lyrics, video games, movies, TV, you name it. It seems like it goes around in circles every few years and the same people who believe one way still believe that way.
The horror genre exists for a reason. And it’s a big money-maker for a reason, too. I think for a lot of the same reasons that thrill rides that drop you five stories and haunted houses at Halloween are a thing too.
This stuff grows out of long traditions of dealing with our darker sides and the scary parts of being a human. Shoot, you can include Day of the Dead and all sorts of other things in this category. Darkness is a part of us.
And, it’s a range. Nobody will say Lord of the Rings is horror, but man, those Orcs are dang ugly. They represent something major in our psyche. And hello, Death Eaters?
So, do these things make people do bad stuff? Well, have you ever tried to kill someone with a game controller or a vinyl record? Or strangle them with your heavy metal t-shirt? I didn’t think so.
The horror genre is about our minds, and our stories. It is how we deal with, and in a lot of ways control, things that scare us. Being an actual psychopath is a whole other ball game.
Do I think people should be thoughtful about what they put in front of kids? Sure. Do I think you should know before you go into the movie theater something about the movie if it’s got disturbing things in it? Absolutely. And if you object, you are more than welcome to do so.
There are people who object to just about everything. Portrayals of dogs vs. cats.
And, it turns out there are much better ways to know if someone is thinking of doing something harmful than what music they listen to or art they like. The biggest one being, cruelty to animals. You know, in the actual three-dimensional world. Real stuff. That line, should not be crossed. And if it is, there’s a problem.
I’ve been to many a metal show with beer flying through the air and people spitting and smashing into each other. And I have never felt in danger (other than keeping out of the way so as not to get squished). Because intensity is not the same as malevolence. It’s the difference between a dude yelling “Slayer!!” and skinheads standing outside trying to intimidate and start a fight. Not the same people.
So, you are channeling some things for people, and they appreciate it, just like they appreciate folks like Bernie Wrightson. Because it’s part of the human story. So keep at it, and keep trying to get better.
Sincerely, Drooly Dog

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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