Interview with Ghoulish Gary Pullin
Any horror fan worth their salt would have at some point picked up and read a copy of Rue Morgue magazine, and I’m sure that one of the first things that would have grabbed them the by the collar and given them a shake, would have been the amazingly intense art that graces its covers and accompanies its articles. These beautiful illustrations are thanks to Rue Morgue’s Art Director, ‘Ghoulish’ Gary Pullin. Gary’s designs are saturated with such luminous colours, twisting lines and macabre details, you cannot fail to be drawn in to his highly detailed and inventive imagination.
Lips: Do you have any formal art training, and do you belive that it helped or hindered you in becoming the kind of artist you wanted to be?
Gary: I didn’t really know what kind of artist I wanted to be until I went to college. I applied for graphic design and animation at two different schools. But drawing had always been a hobby. It sounds made up, but when I was very young our family priest gave me my first set of markers and much to his dismay, I immediately started drawing monsters and villains. I kept up with drawing as a hobby and after I graduated high school, I spent two years taking specialized art courses. My majors there were animation and printmaking. I really enjoyed it but I was just working shitty jobs and generally just screwing around. It soon dawned on me that I had better make a career out of something because factory life in London, Ontario wasn’t going to cut it for me. So I started applying for art and graphic design courses all over the province. After looking at my options, I decided to try a three-year graphic design and advertising program in Kitchener, Ontario, about an hour away from London. I think the art training has helped me quite a bit. It honed my skills and it gave me a strong work ethic. I mean, college was like design boot camp! But I stuck it out, graduated and moved to Toronto to find a design job.
Lips: Do you consider yourself to be a ‘low-brow’ artist? Who are your art heroes?
Gary: This is a tough question for me. I know that my work can be cartoonish and humourous at times and I’ve been a sub culture junkie all of my life so my artwork reflects that. I also love horror films, underground comix and punk rock, which are all themes of that movement. But do I consider myself a ‘low-brow’ artist? I don’t know, I think that is something for other people to decide for themselves. Some of my art heroes could be considered “low-brow” like Pooch, XNO, and Coop. But I also love Charles Burns, Basil Gogos, Robert Crumb and Joe Coleman. I love the Tales from the Crypt guys like Ghastly Graham Ingles and Jack Davis. I love the classic movie poster artists like Saul Bass, Reynold Brown and Norman Sanders… the list goes on and on and on…
Lips: You have a long-standing relationship with Rue Morgue magazine, how did that come about?
Gary: That is a long story but basically I met Rue Morgue’s founder Rodrigo Gudino at a screening of Fulci’s The Beyond the only year the Fantasia Film Festival came to Toronto. He was in the lobby selling the first three issues of the mag. I had already seen issue number three and I was really impressed with the academic stance it took on the horror genre. At that time, I had started working at a commercial design firm, designing packaging for beer, Cadbury chocolate, cereal stuff like that. I told Rodrigo how much I loved Rue Morgue and that I was an artist that would love to get involved. I gave him a card and two days later he called wanting to see my portfolio. We really hit it off and talked about the direction and vision of the magazine at great length. He immediately commissioned me for some artwork and I left feeling really inspired. I started doing little stuff here and there but it wasn’t long until I was redesigning the Rue Morgue logo, creating issue covers, t-shirt designs and whatever else he needed. I was busting my ass at the design firm during the day, and moonlighting for Rue Morgue in the evenings and weekends. The magazine just kept getting more and more attention from readers and the industry, the advertising was getting bigger and things really started cooking. After a couple of years of working both jobs, Rodrigo knew I was getting tired of my day gig and asked me not to take any job offers until he could afford to hire me full-time. I did just that and true to his word, a year later, I came on as Art Director and haven’t looked back since. Actually, Rod ended up meeting several key people at that screening of The Beyond and many of them still contribute to the magazine after all these years.
Lips: I have always felt that Rue Morgue continued the feel and aesthetic of Famous monsters of Filmland, in regards to its use of in-house artists and painted cover designs. Is Basil Gogos an influence on how you work and the type of art you produce?
Gary: Any nods you see towards FM are totally deliberate! Famous Monster’sand Basil Gogos have had a profound impact on me and the artwork that goes into Rue Morgue. From the first issue of FM I laid eyes on when I was a kid, I was mesmerized by the beautifully horrific artwork staring back at me. The influence Basil has had on artists, not only in the horror community, is immeasurable. Back when I started at RM, I felt horror mags had become a bit stale, not only editorially, but visually as well. There were a few exceptions for sure, but I really wanted to re-introduce dynamic design and those illustrated covers to horror mags again. Not only is it an intentional homage to FM, Creepy and Eerie but it was also a hope that Rue Morgue could hang with some of those classic mags and that maybe our readers would collect our issues. I like to think that Rue Morgue is sort of monster hybrid of all the past horror magazines but still has a life and look of its own. But, it’s almost impossible to thumb through those old issues of FM without feeling profoundly inspired by the incredible work of Basil and even the infectious way Forrest J Ackerman wrote about monster movies.
Lips: What has been your favorite Rue Morgue cover to work on?
Gary: I gotta say I really enjoyed doing the Ray Harryhausen tribute cover. I tried some new techniques and I think I pushed my style with it a bit. It’s upfor a Rondo Hatton award this year, so I’m pretty happy about that. I’m also really happy with the way the Paul Naschy cover turned out.
Lips: Considering your close relationship with Rue Morgue, do you have much free time to work on your own art ? What are your current personal projects?
Gary: It can be a tough balance, no doubt. I love it at the mag but much like my co-workers there, we all have outside interests and personal goals. I’m willing to sacrifice my evenings and weekends to do some of those things. Right now I’m working on a t-shirt design for Fright Rags, a Roller Derby logo and a couple of gig posters.
Lips: You’ve worked with Anchor Bay Entertainment in the past, What releases would we have seen your work on, and are there anymore in the pipeline?
Gary: It’s funny because usually I’ve already done the artwork and they’ll call and say that it’s perfect for their release! I’ve worked with Anchor Bay Entertainment in Canada on their Hilarious House of Frightenstein box sets. They commissioned me to add some of the shows characters onto a poster I had already done. And late last year, Anchor Bay UK wrote and asked for permission to use the Coffin Joe illustration I did for Rue Morgue on their box set. I was totally blown away, so how could I say no? I was lucky enoughto meet the man and he said he loved the artwork. I was on cloud 9 for a few minutes there!
Lips: Do you have any desire to become involved in animation or films? I think that your style of art would lend itself very well to 2-D animation.
Gary: Well thanks! I just watched the Charles Burn animated episode on Fear[s] of the Dark and loved it. I have a friend who does animation and we’re always talking about collaborating on something I wrote back in college, but It’s really just finding the time to pour my all into it. I have a great love for Animation and it was one of my majors when I was in art school so I’d like to revisit that again one day.
Lip: You’ve designed some wonderful pieces for bands and musicians. Who has been your favorite and is there anybody you’d like to work with?
Gary: I’m inspired by music just as much as I am movies, that’s for sure. I have had the chance to work with a few psychobilly and punk bands and I always enjoy working on their posters or t-shirts. I’ve also done a ton of stuff for The Creepshow, they are great to work with and they’re good friends so maybe I’m a bit biased. I’m finally getting the chance to work with Ghoultown, a great band from Texas, so I’m stoked about that. There are lots of bands I’d like to work with for instance I’ve been on a Mastadon kick for the past couple of years. They’re music is steeped in atmosphere, I’d love to do something with them.
Lips: Do you have any plans to visit the UK, be it at a signing or a convention?
Gary: Actually, my wife and I were in Scotland and Ireland for our honeymoon and we absolutely fell in love with it. We wanted to see more of it and one day we’ll go to England. No plans right now but I’d love to attend a con and meet horror fans over there!
Lips: Are you currently working on any exciting projects that you’d like to tell us about?
Gary: This May marks Rue Morgue’s 100th issue and in this day and age, that’s a big deal for a print magazine! So we want to make it really special for the readers. We’re working on some really cool things for it. One of which is an art collective and we’ve got some amazing artists on board for that, so I’m really jazzed about that. There’s also a really exiting music project the editors have been working on that’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re throwing a big event for the launch as well. Keep your eyes on rue-morgue.com for anyupdates on that. Personally, I’m working on another art show and just having a lot of fun creating in the genre I love.
Artwork copyright Gary Pullin 2010. Used with kind permission.
You can find out more about Gary’s amazing work at the following links.
“Ghoulish Gary Pullin pulls you in and makes you abandon the reality you know in favor of the reality that he suggests.” – George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead)