Connor McCann on how creating grotesque comics has helped him process being alive

Brooklyn-based illustrator and comic maker Connor McCann specialises in creating pieces that lean towards the horrifying and the grotesque. We caught up with him to learn more and discover how one piece, in particular, has developed a life of its own.

Populated with double-headed critters, blood-dripping hell hounds and West Himalayan Sucklegrubs, the work of Conner McCann is steeped in the bizarre and the horrifying. Specialising in comics, illustrations and posters, his art also has a distinctively low-fi and edgy aesthetic, thanks partly to his dynamic use of chunky typography.

"Making comics has always been a compulsion for me, ever since I was six or seven," he tells Creative Boom. "I wouldn't know how to process being alive without comics."

This childhood compulsion would take Connor to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he would study printmaking and illustration. Although, as he readily admits, he spent most of his four years there shut away, making zines on a little risograph. "It was practically coughing every time I printed something. I loved it."

Amongst Connor's many influences are Eric Powell, 70's era Jack Kirby, Pieter Bruegel and Bruce Timm. "I also have a soft spot for 2000's image comics guys like Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker, and Nate Bellegarde," he adds. "I think Tonči Zonjić is my favourite comic artist working today.

"I think the biggest compliment I can give to another artist is that their art made me hungry to work on my own stuff and to improve. I am hungry to work after looking at any of these artists."

This eclectic mix of artists is all well and good, but as for Connor's interest in horror, this appears to be much more deep-rooted. "It's funny, I went home to my parents' house last week, and they had uncovered all of these drawings I had made of Jason Voorhees chopping up camp counsellors and Hellboy from when I was eight.

"I think, like making comics itself, the fact that my art veers towards horror and schlocky darkness just feels intuitive. On a surface level, I just love the aesthetics of horror in its many forms. There might be some sort of deeper personal reason for it, but that's something I would be more likely to explore in a comic."

Should Connor choose to delve into this, there's clearly an audience ready and waiting for him. That's if his comic God Bless The Machine is anything to go by, which is now in its third printing and amassing something of a cult audience.

"I'm not sure why it continues to be popular," he says. "I will say it was the first thing I made that I thought was fairly successful in terms of representing what the inside of my brain looks like and what I was feeling while I made it.

"I think my publisher, Eddie Raymond of Strangers Publishing, has also done a really amazing job of championing the book and making sure it gets out in front of the right people. It is in a ton of comic shops, and that's all thanks to him. That has also made a fundamental difference in terms of its continued popularity."

On a personal level, though, the comic I Love You With My Whole Heart, which was made in response to his grandfather's passing, is the piece of work Connor is most proud of. "It just poured out of me over a couple of days," he reveals. "I don't even think it looks or feels like anything else I've made.

"It really helped me process the grief of his death and my whole relationship with him, which wasn't always great. It was also beautiful to receive messages from other people saying it helped them. Art is cool."

Want to recreate Connor's distinctive look? Aspiring comic artists should grab a Winsor & Newton 7 no. Sable brush, a g-pen nib and micron pens. "In terms of starting a project, a lot of what excites me is just curiosity to see what something could look like and how I could push myself in a new direction I haven't tried."

He adds: "I had never tried to incorporate typography into each page as much as I had in God Bless the Machine, and I thought that would be a really fun challenge. I was listening to a lot of Drain Gang, reading Astro Boy and Mark Fisher's Ghosts of My Life, and I wanted to make a book combining all those influences. I was also really excited by the density of Jack Kirby's Kamandi: The Last Boy and wanted to create a short comic that was very re-readable."

When it comes to making the actual pages of a comic, Connor tries to design and layout in spreads because he argues that this makes for a more compelling and dynamic reading experience. "With each scene I draw, I am trying to find ways of using the comic medium to get across an idea or characterisation unique to comics alone," he adds.

"I also really sweat the writing of each scene, and Robert Mckee's Story helped me become a more economical and thoughtful writer. As did having a mix of beautiful, terrible, and middling life experiences as I got older."

Currently, Connor is 115 pages into drawing his debut graphic novel, which he describes as a "little backwoods horror epic" that will be called Demon Summoner Gash Gash.

"There's a lot of gore, grief, and meth-head black magic afoot," he concludes. "The main character wears a mask made from the rotting flesh of her enemies, and the book ends with a 40-page confrontation with a giant cosmic centipede god. I think anyone who's into Devilman, Gummo, or Cormac McCarthy will be into it.

"It's the most ambitious thing I've ever made, and I am holding on for dear life. We'll see what happens."


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