An Interview with Carnigor’s Will Skaar

The work of Will Skaar encapsulates everything this crusty old horror comics fan loves in one beautifully-rendered package: buckets of blood, horrific beasties, and naked buxom beauties. One look at the cover of the first issue of his creator-owned epic, Carnigor, and I was entranced. Like those streaming from a recently-solved Lament Configuration, one single page into the story and Skaar’s many meat-hungry hooks bit deep. Truth be told, his work is magic, because he not only manages to enthrall me in the present, but he also seems to somehow know exactly what the 12 year-old monster kid in me always wanted. Please join me as a very NSFW window is opened into the mind of a modern master of the macabre…

Let’s peel open the moldy tome chronicling the life of Will Skaar. When did your attraction to art and comics begin?

I got into art at a very young age. My parents really encouraged me and told me I was great (even though I truly sucked.) I just became the “art kid”, not because I was talented, but just because it was an identity I fell into very early. My attraction to fantasy art began with Frank Frazetta. I think I was six or seven and my dad brought home one of those Ballantine Frazetta books. I couldn’t believe it. I was just blown away. The big life changing event for me was finding a copy of Richard Corben’s Neverwhere in a bookstore in the mall. This was in 1979 and it literally altered the course of my life permanently. I just had never seen something so cool. The girls, the violence, the colors… It was just the perfect wet dream for me. The only thing I can compare it to was the first time I got to feel up my girlfriend. I knew immediately after I saw Neverwhere that I just had to be an artist.

Like yourself, I became infatuated with Richard Corben from the first time I laid eyes on his work. I’m probably a bit older than you, so my first exposure to Corben came from his underground work and his self-published Fantagor stuff. It was his Warren work, however, that really made me a fan for life. The influence of Corben on your work, especially in your creator-owned opus, Carnigor, is unmistakable. Corben is an artist that relies very heavily on reference. Do you, as well?

I was too young for the underground comic movement. I first got comics on my radar in the late ’70s and I think it was all over by then. Once I became a Corben fan, I went back and found all that stuff. It’s just mind-boggling how good it is. I had my dad order the Odd World Of Richard Corben book from a Warren magazine for me and when it came in the mail he went through it and cut out (with scissors) all the nudity and violence, so I ended up with about half the book! But for a 12 year-old kid that was better than nothing.

On the issue of reference, I actually I don’t use it as much as I should. One of the things I’ve always envied about Corben was his relationship with his muse/model Karen Gilbertson. He had this gorgeous woman with these amazing breasts who would just show up at his house and pose for him. I don’t have that. Where can I find that? My wife is not interested in modeling for me. It’s a real problem. I keep hoping I’ll run into Deanna in real life and she will want to take her clothes off and let me take pictures, but that keeps not happening. When I was at art school, I knew all the nude models personally, so it would have been much easier then. Now, I’m just kind of stuck with the internet. which really limits me because I can never find exactly what I want in terms of pose and lighting. So, if there are any girls out there who look like Deanna and want to pose for me please shoot me an email!

Corben’s famous depiction of femininity — the extremely buxom, generously-proportioned, fleshy figure type we’ve seen in the majority of his work – had, as you mentioned, a real-world counterpart in the form of model Karen Gilbertson. Is Carnigor‘s Deanna inspired by or modeled on a real-world woman?

Deanna was not physically inspired by any particular woman in real life. She is just kind of the physical composite of everything I admire in women. I’ve always been fascinated by big breasts. I really just adore them to the point of worship. I’m that guy who literally can’t speak if a woman with big breasts comes into the room. I also really prefer woman that are a little heavier than the more standard sex symbol type, so I like emphasizing those qualities in Deanna. She’s very solid and strong. Very healthy. She will drink beer and eat nachos with you. And she’s a little older than is usual in comics, I think. I always imagine Deanna in her mid-thirties. That just seems to be the age when women start having the more beautiful body type that I admire so much.

As far as the Deanna story goes it was inspired by two things: Linnea Quigley dancing in the graveyard in Return of the Living Dead and the Nick Cave song Deanna. I think I listened to Nick Cave the entire time I was drawing the first chapter of the story.

Do you work in real media or digitally? If so, do you sell your original pages or take commissions?

I do traditionally inked pages that are toned with markers and grey color pencils. The color is later applied in PhotoShop. Basically, everything you see in the black and white version of Carnigor is real media. I’m very attached to the idea of doing artwork with real media. I feel like I’m actually creating something that didn’t exist before. It’s the craft thing. Like carving a stone or a woodblock. I feel like I’m registering myself on the planet in some strange way. I don’t feel the same about digital. Somehow, it just feels like work that isn’t real. That’s a weird thing to say from a guy who’s been a professional digital artist for almost 20 years, but that’s the way I feel. I don’t think I’ll ever give up traditional media, entirely. In fact, I may start traditionally coloring my pages if I can find a way that doesn’t take a year per page.

When you sit down to work on a page, what do you do to escape the terror of the vast expanse of white?

I don’t really have that problem because usually I’m working from a story idea which I’ve either scripted or or blocked out on copy paper. I do lots of iterations – drawing over drawings on a light table so it never feels like I have to commit to anything. Sometimes, I just start drawing randomly, knowing that I won’t use it exactly like that but usually there is a pretty clear click when I start to see the drawing finished and its just a matter of putting it down.

A more common problem for me is story block. With the Deanna stuff, I basically started with a situation: naked vulnerable girl among architectural ruins with zombies, mutants, and sex.

This kind of gets into my whole approach to art (which may or may not be interesting to people.) I do think this separates me from most comic artists working today (probably not in a good way). I was always the kid that would rent movies based entirely on the amount of violence and nudity. For me, the story was really just a delivery system for the exploitation elements of nude women and gore. It’s like how Lucio Fulci approached his gore movies. The story is really just loose context which ties together five or six elaborate gore set pieces. But the story is actually important. It humanizes the characters and makes the exploitation elements have much more impact. It’s much more disturbing when you know it’s Manard’s wife (in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 aka Zombie – Vince) who gets the splinter through her eye. They had just had a fight and we had just seen her nude (and holy hell, is she hot). So, it was a real person it was happening to. Nudity and sex are the same. We get to know a girl through the context of the story and then when her clothes come off, it’s exciting!

So, for me, I always start with the set pieces. I know I want Deanna to be attacked by horny plants in the Carnigor. I even know how I want her to look and what she’s going to be wearing. That’s the most important thing. From there, I try to construct a narrative that will sit around all of these gore/sex set pieces.

My father was reading one of my Heavy Metal stories recently and he asked me why I would include so many gratuitous scenes of violence and nudity which did not advance the story. It just seemed odd to me because if anything it is the story itself which is gratuitous.

What prompted you to self-publish?

Deanna was originally published by Fantagraphics as Deanna of the Dead with a lot of sexual content. Later, when I decided to revise the series, I did it for Frank Forte’s comic Asylum of Horror. He really needed the book to be more mainstream, so I cut a lot of stuff out. The whole thing with Beatrice having a penis was cut, etc. Zombie cocks, all cut out. That only went two issues, though. Then Steph Dumais published it through Bloody Gore Comix and we just kept the censored version. The thing I realized was that the book was not selling any better in it’s censored state. I think I had these dreams of making it this mainstream success and the reality was that Carnigor was always going to be this fringe kind of cult comic appealing to a small demographic of weirdos like me. So, when NBM approached me last year to do the graphic novel series through them, I decided to bring back all the sex and just do it the way it was originally intended. That was going great – NBM was publishing these fantastic reproductions of my new Carnigor color pages – but, out of the blue, I get an email from Terry Nantier explaining that their entire Eurotica division is closing and all their erotic material including Sizzle magazine is dead. Apparently, Amazon started dropping their bestselling books because of sexual content and, since that was their main method of distribution, it basically just fucked them.

So, that’s the long story of why I’m self publishing and doing the Kickstarter. I really don’t know if there is any demand for this stuff. I have fans on Facebook, but who knows if that will translate to pledges? I really wanted to give it a shot because I love this series so much and I really want to continue it if there is any reasonable audience for it. At this point, I just don’t know.

What are some of the specifics of the Carnigor Kickstarter? Will it include the same material published by Bloody Gore Comix or new, updated stuff?

The Kickstarter will be the whole series with every gory detail intact. Very different than the BGC version. I am kickstarting both the first two issues. The first issue will be very similar to the French edition of the book, but it will be in English, of course. The second issue is mostly the stuff that was published in Sizzle magazine, which continues the story. Most of that stuff has not been previously published anywhere. If this is successful, I’ll start working on the third issue and Deanna will continue. If not, I’ll be doing some soul searching. It might end up a web comic or something.

One of the things I love most about your work is that it feels like comes straight from the id — unapologetic, unexpurgated violent horror-themed sexual romps. Everyone and everything in Deanna’s world wants to get a piece of her. Like Corben over the course of his career, are you fearful that your work will be seen by the uninitiated as little more than misogynistic fantasy?

One of the things that bothers me the most is this idea that my work is misogynist on some level. It’s so difficult for me to hear because I love women so much. I adore Deanna. I love the way she thinks and the things she says. She’s just the most beautiful, perfect person I can imagine. She’s down to earth, funny, strong, clever and (above all) she’s nice. If anything, my stories are misandrist because all the men in the Carnigor are all either evil bastards or retarded morons.

I do understand where this criticism is coming from. I am sexualizing women in the comic. I am indulging my breast fetish, for example. There are some who will say that any attempt to depict a woman as an object of sexual desire is the attempt to objectify her in a broader sense or to strip her of humanity. The fact that I am obviously deriving prurient enjoyment out of drawing Deanna nude in all her exaggerated sexuality is in itself misogynist, according to some. Well, the simple fact of the matter is that a lot of women’s bodies are sexually exciting to a lot of men. This does not mean that those men are trying to reduce women to the sum of their body parts or to strip them of their humanity. Its just men stepping back and saying, “Holy, shit, that girl is smoking hot!” That’s not misogynist is it? If I am fascinated by the way female breasts look and move. Is that misogynist?

The other thing to understand about the Carnigor story is that its meant to be fun and funny. I’m not out to shock anyone or to horrify anyone. Nothing really bad is ever going to happen to Deanna. I love the damsel in distress motif and that will be the theme of the stories but she will always come out of it just fine. If you aren’t laughing while you read it, then I’ve failed.

Are you making any convention appearances in the second half of the year?

I really should try to get out to conventions more often. The truth is that I’m a pretty introverted person and I dislike traveling and the whole convention thing can be really exhausting for me. I think if Carnigor shows any signs of life, I will make a commitment to get more involved. Since the NBM publishing deal died, I’ve seen the necessity of taking charge of the marketing end of selling this story. People can’t get interested in something they don’t know about. So, yes, conventions are something I’m going to have to come to terms with. As of right now, nothing is actually scheduled.

It has truly been a pleasure picking your brain. Tell the folks at home where they can get their hands on your books.

Thank you,Vincent! I really appreciate the opportunity to talk art and Deanna with you! The main event in Deanna World will be the Kickstarter which will go live July 11. I have a website where I post news related to the project. Please sign up on the mailing list there if you want to get the most up to date info. There is also an interview with Deanna here that will provide the best introduction to the series for people that are not familiar with it. This is all NSFW so wait till you get home to click these links! The other place I am constantly updating is Facebook, so shoot me a friend request.

Blessed Be!