Hell's Best Illustrator: Allen Koszowski

October 01, 2010

"In general, horror artists are not promoting evil; in their world, good triumphs."

Creative folks often use art to express what we cannot otherwise fully articulate. As everyone knows, among other things, art is an outlet. 

Although this outlet concept isn't rocket science--it is.  Entire books and college courses have been created around the study of why specific writers, musicians, visual artists, etc. gravitated toward a particular form of expression.  On the other hand, we could just say something like, "Shakespeare was a romantic guy who was interested in family dynamics."  

Despite the level of complexity, this outlet stuff sometimes causes trouble for creatives. Some folks incorrectly identify the driving force behind an artist's need for a particular outlet. My guest today, artist Allen Koszowski, has run into this issue as an acclaimed horror/science fiction/fantasy illustrator. 


Allen focuses on the type of art that gave him immense pleasure as a kid.  He just simply loves it!  Having an outlet that keeps his intense boyhood love alive is something he needs; it gives him a sense of meaning. Okay, maybe we could dive in and create a college course on why, but that's not the point.

When I was growing up, my brother and I weren't allowed to watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie.  Those were evil shows because they dealt with magic.  My mother believed that watching them would open us up to all kinds of demonic influences. Although her reasoning didn't make sense or seem fair to me, I was terrified. 

To my mother's dismay, my brother developed an intense love of horror/science fiction/fantasy novels, which evolved from an earlier interest in comic books. Needless to say, I spent my entire junior high and high school career listening to her claim that my brother's hobbies were causing evil spirits to infiltrate our bodies and our home.

Interestingly, my brilliant brother had a learning disability; he struggled with reading.  Comic books rescued him from those difficulties. As he got a little older, horror/science fiction/fantasy novels were the only books that seemed to trigger his interest. He dove in like a mad man, devouring book after book after book while my mother screamed in his ear.

After I grew up, filled with numerous, unreasonable doubts and fears, I realized that books, shows, games, or music didn't usher evil and fear into our home, my mother's behaviors did.

My latest novel is, among other things, about how an intense focus on religion can rip apart relationships. I know more than a few folks who will likely claim that its theme of tolerance and balance somehow promotes evil. 
 
Helen Keller said, "It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.”

Don't hate Allen or me because what we create is, in any way, terrifying, uncomfortable, chilling, or filled with aberrations.  In the end, we all want good to triumph.  The more horrific or uncomfortable the plot or picture, the more good we must generate to overcome it, and the more love we seem to find. Maybe that's why we do it.  For some of us, perhaps it's about the generation of greater and greater hope.
  
How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist?

As a child, I was constantly sketching and drawing on every surface I could find, my schoolbooks were a mess with sketches of hands, tanks, fantasy oriented sketches of every kind, comic characters, monsters, etc. So, it was probably fairly obvious that I had an artistic bent. However, outside of art as a major in high school, I have had no formal artistic training whatsoever. It never occurred to me that I could ever have an art career at all. 

It was only later after I got married and settled into a routine that I discovered the world of the small press. When I started reading and enjoying these little magazines, it occurred to me that the sketches I used to do, just as a diversion, were better than much of the art I saw in these small-press publications. So, I started sending out little drawings and spot illustrations to many of these publications. When to my surprise I started getting back checks (for very small amounts), I was thrilled! But it was even more thrilling when the contributor's copies would arrive in the mail and I would see my efforts in print.

I was hooked! I became very well known in the fantasy/horror/science fiction small press world as I had hundreds and hundreds of illustrations published in these magazines. At the same time, I made many contacts with names that have also since become well-known in the genre. So things sort of mushroomed from those small press beginnings to a world fantasy award as best artist a few years ago. I never expected this to happen. I didn't map out a career.  Things just fell into place over the decades.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Since I'm partially color-blind, I have devoted myself mainly over the years to black and white, pen and ink illustrations. I never took any painting courses or things of that nature because I thought that color was an area that would be unproductive for me. I got that impression in high school when my art teacher, who was very "high" on my art, would often come to me and complain about my color tones in some of the assignments. This was quite embarrassing because he would point this out in front of the class; however to me, the colors seemed fine and I couldn't understand the complaints. I didn't know I was color-blind.

It was only later when I took some tests that this was revealed. So, I have neglected color. However, recently (within the past few years) I have learned how to get around some of these difficulties.  I've taken to coloring many of my old black and white, highly detailed pen and ink illustrations with Prismacolor markers. I have become better and better at doing this.

Best of all for me, this method allows my intricate details (which I am very well known for in the field) to show through. This was an ah-ha moment for me which continues to grow, as I find that I enjoy working with colors very much. My fans seem to enjoy the color work as well, and this has opened up new areas for me!

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

The way things have evolved artistically with me, I think of myself more as an illustrator than as a fine artist. I've been illustrating for years in the small press and professional markets (illustrating such people as Stephen King and other well-known names in the field) so I have for the most part been illustrating other people's vision as I have had to depict scenes from their stories and articles. But, just as often, I do freelance work with illustrations that have been taken directly from my own imagination. For me, it is equally about creation and expression.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

Career development has never been a concern of mine. It has always been about the escape and the enjoyment that fantasy/sci fi/horror has provided for me ever since I was a young child, sneaking away to read genre magazines and comics in the 50s and 60s. So, to create illustrations that deviate from what has brought me so much joy in my life and what has basically become a glorified hobby would not be productive. Art for me has always been enjoyable, not a way to earn a living (although making money with my art has certainly been an unexpected and happy benefit)!

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Art has helped me tremendously in my life as it has given me a focus, basically some meaning to my existence. It has given me unexpected prestige, friends, awards, extra income and has taken me around the world. It has been a welcome escape.

Conversely, it has also, at times, become an obsession which had the tendency of keeping me away from growing in other areas. I used to spend many hours (and when I say many, I mean MANY) agonizing over minute details and nuances of my illustrations.

When life has thrown me a curve ball, art has been my friend and shield. Perhaps that shield may not have always been a good thing. I have sometimes used art as a way to avoid tough situations. It can bring joy, but it can also bring melancholy and depression at times.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I have definitely run into those problems over the years, particularly in the horror field (and to a lesser extent, the fantasy and science fiction field). Horror is not very well accepted by the general public. Many people consider the horror writer or artist to be one step from evil. Some feel almost that a person who enjoys to create obviously disturbing or violent images must somehow feel close to the images that he or she creates. Often, people do not hesitate to express their discomfort with these types of creations. In general, horror artists are not promoting evil; in their world, good triumphs. What these critics do not understand about me in particular, is that my art is often just for child-like fun. It is a way of keeping my childhood alive, like telling scary stories in the dark, around a campfire.

Do you think there is a difference between creativity and talent? What are your thoughts on this?

I do think there is a difference. But those who can manage to combine both are more likely to be successful & satisfied.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My primary mantra is easy! "Do unto others..." I think everybody should be this way.

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