Home Graphic novel County Characters: Newcastle Master of Horror Glenn Chadbourne Makes His Own Chance

County Characters: Newcastle Master of Horror Glenn Chadbourne Makes His Own Chance

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Famous illustrator Glenn Chadbourne in his Newcastle studio. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

After 40 years of work, Newcastle illustrator Glenn Chadbourne has achieved something of a stardom. As anonymous as the private citizen of the world, in the niche world of horror illustrators, Chadbourne has developed a devoted following.

Chadbourne’s status has undoubtedly been aided by his long association with Maine icon Stephen King. Chadbourne has been King’s illustrator of choice since Chadbourne turned King’s “Secretary of Dreams” into a graphic novel, which was published in 2006.

“I achieved a lifelong dream,” Chadbourne said. “I could konk tomorrow, luckily. I pretty much did what I wanted to do. I don’t make a fortune. I earn an average salary, but I can sit here on my tuffet and do what I love.

Although he’s now firmly established among the roughly two dozen illustrators and artists who make a living specializing in the horror genre, Chadbourne says it’s a matter of luck that he’s there. where he is professionally.

“I had no plan,” he said. ” I do not have a choice. I just drew. If I was homeless and living in a box, I would open a vein and draw on cardboard. It’s just in me. It’s like breathing, honestly.

As with his art, Chadbourne said his predilection for horror was something that came naturally to him. As an only child and withdrawn, he took up reading and art at an early age. Once a month, local stores carried a selection of Warren Publishing magazines with titles like “Creepy”, “Vampirella”, and “Famous Monsters of Filmland”.

“I just devoured them with the comics,” Chadbourne said. “Probably at a very young age, probably 9 or 10… I started drawing all the little creatures. I was an only child. This street was completely different back then, so I drew.

From the start, Chadbourne knew what he wanted to do, but he didn’t have a convincing plan to get there. He produced and sent illustrations by the dozens and collected his share of rejection slips. He wrote, illustrated, and published a few comics, which sold just enough to break even.

“I sent stuff for years and years and years when I was young,” Chadbourne said. “I have barrels of rejection slips. You just sit in a pile of slush and often people are overwhelmed. They don’t have time to look at an unknown Schmo.

Chadbourne’s break, such as it was, was courtesy of close friend, “Maine’s other horror writer,” Rick Hautala. After Hautala and Chadbourne met and became good friends, Hautala saw a sample of Chadbourne’s work and became a fan. At the time, Cemetery Dance was set to release a collection of Hautala’s work, “Bed Bugs”.

A tweet from Stephen King praising Glenn Chadbourne's work on

A Stephen King tweet praising Glenn Chadbourne’s work on ‘Cujo’ is printed, framed and wall mounted in the artist’s studio in Newcastle. “I’m going to take this in the oven with me when I go,” Chadbourne said. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

“It’s like the movie industry,” Chadbourne said. “You have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. So I made some samples for the book and (Hautala) sent them over and he said “look, I want this guy to illustrate my book”, and that got me in the door with them.

A small publisher specializing in horror and dark genres, Cemetery Dance Publications became one of Chadbourne’s best and biggest clients, connecting him with other authors and raising his profile. It was Cemetery Dance owner and founder Rich Chizmar who connected Chadbourne and King.

“Rich Chizmar suggested that he and I send letters to Steve and ask if he would ever be interested in letting me tackle a graphic novel for ‘Secretary of Dreams,'” Chadbourne said. “It turned out to be two huge volumes and he said ‘sho-ah.’ You could knock me down with a feather on that, and then it led to more King gigs… Once you do something for him, it really opens the floodgates for you for the job.

Chadbourne’s creative process begins with the source materials. One of the perks of his profession, he said, is that he often receives pre-publication manuscripts. Chadbourne used to read hard copies of everything, and he always likes to refer to a physical copy, but these days he listens to an audio version frequently.

“What I’m going to do is read the book, or listen to them, but I also get the paperback,” he said. “He says ‘Johnny strangles his sister,’ on page 498, ‘with hideous, bulging eyes’ and so on, and I’ll say that would be a good picture to put in this book, and then I write it. I I’m going to read the book; find 10, 12 ideas on a legal pad. Then I talk to the author.

From start to finish, a typical book project can involve a month or more of Chadbourne’s production time. The time required varies from project to project depending on the specifics involved. A typical book project might involve a dozen illustrations; a number that may or may not include coverage.

“On average, most book illustrations are 6 by 9 inches, and I draw exactly,” Chadbourne said. “A lot of people draw on a big piece of plywood and shrink it. So a 6 by 9 pen and ink drawing, if I turn on all the super details, takes me a day; about 10 hours.

Chadbourne sees reliability as a major factor in its success. In a profession where reputation can open doors or close them, he makes it a point to be reliable.

“One of the other reasons I think I’ve done pretty well in this area, I think, is time,” he said. “If I tell them it’s going to be done in a month, it’s going to be done in a month if I have to stay up 48 hours to finish the last picture. I’ve always stuck to that and people have appreciated it, because they’re on a deadline.

In Glenn Chadbourne's world, Stephen King's fictional Maine town of Castle Rock looks like this.  (Photo Sherwood Olin)

In Glenn Chadbourne’s world, Stephen King’s fictional Maine town of Castle Rock looks like this. (Photo Sherwood Olin)

Much of the mass-market paperback of the type that motivated Chadbourne to grow is now produced via computer. Luckily for Chadbourne, it is particularly well established in the niche world of high-end limited editions and boxed sets of the genre prized by collectors.

“There’s a whole new group of kids coming in who are extremely talented,” Chadbourne said. “Some of them, they put me to shame, but I’m entrenched. I’ve made my bones so to speak.

As you’d expect from a renowned figure in the genre, Chadbourne has some thoughts on what makes horror effective. He prefers subtlety and history, he said. “I can relate to a story with a bit of a crane, if it’s a good story with character development and so on,” he said. “Hitchcock, you know, he was insinuating things… While the ‘Saw’ movies, I watched the first one and said ‘well, that’s a bit of a novel, but that’s overkill.'”

Chadbourne gives all the credit to his wife of 22 years, Sheila. “La Hon,” he calls her with obvious affection.

“He saved my life,” he said. “No doubt in my mind. I walked in kicking and screaming when my best angel spoke. My inner child said ‘you know, that’s probably a good thing’. Yeah, no doubt. I love it.”

These days, in addition to balancing multiple contracts and commitments, Chadbourne is trying to find time to squeeze in what he calls pro bono work.

“I’m coming to a point in my life where I’d like to be well regarded,” he said. “I try to give back. Benefits, photos for people who have lost dogs. I don’t mean to sound soft, but that’s how I feel these days. I don’t have kids and I want to be remembered for something. It’s very important to me. The things I do live on. It’s important to me. To find out, I get fan mail from a kid in Czechoslovakia. , and it makes me shine. It tickles me. I made someone halfway around the world smile.

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