When I was first introduced to the work of artist Sarah Horrocks, I was immediately struck by the intensity and uniqueness of her psychedelic vision. Her vivid, dynamic work hacks up and recombines her influences into a deeply personal, richly symbolic vision. In the past year, she has written, illustrated and published three volumes of comics. Her art has also been featured in BOOM! Studios’ “Adventure Time” title and in Brandon Graham’s sublimely wonderful “Multiple Warheads.” Sarah is also a gifted and thoughtful analyst who shares her knowledge of and passion for graphic storytelling both in shorter-form Tumblr posts as well as in long reads on her blog. Recently, we chatted about her work, her spiritual and artistic inspirations, and the role her identity as a transwoman played in the development of her symbolic vocabulary.
Buy “Hecate Snake Diaries 1″ – digital download
Buy “Hecate Snake Diaries 2″ - digital download
Tenebrous Kate: One of the things that really drew me to your work was your interest in occultism. What initially drew you to this subject matter (voodoo, hermetic magic, paganism) & symbolism?
Sarah Horrocks: Well, I grew up in a really religious/Christian environment, so early on I would be told things about otherworldly powers playing a role in my life, and I remember even back then that stuff was really powerful to me. So I’ve always had a respect for and interest in otherworldly things. Plus on some level, a lot of it is art, storytelling, expression and all of that.
The first comic I ever made, “Ophelia,” I basically wrote off of tarot readings.
TK: Did you apply the symbolism from a sort of academic perspective, or were the story and imagery drawn from personal tarot-work?
SH: I was trying to understand the cards better, and work on reading them coherently. I would just kind of dive headlong into the symbolism of that week’s reading, and where the story was at, and sort of build both ways into the tarot and into my story.
TK: So there was spiritual work at play and the transformation of that into a narrative.
SH: Yeah, and it was corresponding with me also learning how to make comics through collage. There are layers of meaning in the pages where I had imagery that you can’t see in the final artwork layered back behind it but covered up.
TK: I see a lot of parallels to the visuals used in the collage comic “Ophelia” to your hand-drawn work–faces and shapes that carry over, but rendered in a new way.
SH: It’s kind of crazy how much of my aesthetic from the collage comics has come over. I don’t see a large difference in the end, in the aesthetic of how I color or construct a page, whether it’s collaged or drawn.
TK: There’s definitely a unity of spirit to everything you’ve done, but a willingness to experiment that always makes it great to look at. For instance, in “Dysomnia” you take the surrealist structure of a Jean Rollin film and apply your own style to it. I was reading that book and was amazed at how you really GOT the whole Rollin aesthetic into comix form! I’ve read your thoughts on Rollin before. How did you come to his work, and how did you start applying some of what you’d seen there to your own art?
SH: I love Rollin. I was basically mainlining his films while I was writing “Dysomnia,” trying to figure out why his stuff was hitting particular spots for me. My first exposure to Rollin was just seeing the covers while scrolling through Netflix late at night. Sometimes I spend more time just looking at movie covers thinking about what to watch than actually watching movies. So I saw these strange covers with colors I really liked that reminded me of the Mater Suspiria Vision videos I liked, and I saved them in my queue where I could eventually watch them.
It was a revelation to see his work, like “oh wow, someone is making movies like I want to make comics.”
I think my favorite Rollin film that I’ve seen so far is “Fascination,” which was obviously a huge influence on the structure of “Dysnomia.” I really liked the dynamics between the women at the house, and this somewhat hidden eroticism between them, and the man’s ignorance of that. I found the end of it really powerful, in terms of jilted love. And then all of the symbology of the twins, and the physical presence of the mansion itself. Yeah–it was really affecting.
TK: You mentioned Mater Suspiria Vision—“Dysomnia” is an official comics collaboration between you and the experimental music collective, and the book was sold bundled with a CD of their music. How did that collaboration come about?
SH: It was just one of those weird things. I’ve always thought that there was a kinship between my approach to storytelling, how my comics look, and what they do with their covers and videos. One day Cosmotropia De Xam just hit me up on Facebook because he really liked my art, and was like “you should do a Mater Suspiria comic” and I was like “pretty much all of my comics are Mater Suspiria comics!”
I feel like that sort of group and scene of people are… I relate to them a lot more than any particular scene of people in comics, so it was fascinating that this happened sort of out of the blue.
TK: The Internet is magical at times! Now, I apologize in advance for being the Genre Guy because that borders on the kind of pedantry that I tend to dislike, but is the scene you’ve described considered to be Witchhouse, or what is the sort of “umbrella” that falls under? So many folks (myself included) dig what they’re putting out, and are curious to know where to go to find more.
SH: I call it Witchhouse. That’s what I’ve always called it. Some people also call it Drag, and lord knows what else. It seems like it’s kind of dying down from where it was a few years ago, but I mostly just follow the Mater Suspiria people on Facebook, and they put up all kinds of videos and music from across the scene, so that’s the easiest way to start digging. I think initially I found out about it on Warren Ellis’s Whitechapel message board.
TK: You’ve actually done several comics collaborations, including a couple of pieces that have been available in mainstream comics shops. You did a custom “UPC code” for Brandon Graham’s “Multiple Warheads” as well as a cover for BOOM! Studio’s “Adventure Time” that features Ice King, my personal favorite character on that show. What has it been like to work on those projects?
SH: Pretty fun. The “Adventure Time” thing was the first time I’d ever been asked to do a cover for someone else, and I loved the show. Initially it was just BOOM! wanting me to do something for them, and I was like “can that something be ‘Adventure Time?’” and they said yes. Bryce Carlson was the guy who reached out to me. I think he saw some of my artwork that had been posted on Comicsalliance and then I worked mostly with Whitney Leopard for the specifically “Adventure Time”-focused stuff. So that was really cool. It was obviously, like, waaaaay outside of how I normally draw things!
That’s the most cartoony thing I’ve probably ever drawn, so I’m glad it worked out.
The work on “Multiple Warheads” comes from just another weird thing where Brandon Graham messaged me late one night on Facebook, I think about something I’d written about “Multiple Warheads.” We got to talking and he’s now probably one of my top friends in comics, so he wanted to get me onto that title somehow.
I’m also working on a “Prophet” backup that’s going to come out in a few months. I think it’s okay to say that out loud!
TK: Oh wow–I’ll look forward to that! You actually turned me on to “Multiple Warheads,” which was just mind-expanding in every way, so thanks for that.
SH: Yeah, it’s amazing. I like all of Brandon’s work, but that’s my favorite.
TK: I’ve gotten to spend some time with your latest work, “Hecate Snake Diaries 2″ and it’s pretty incredible. I thought the autobiographical elements about your transition were extremely powerful.
SH: Thank you.
TK: What inspired you to say “ok, now’s the time to address this and put this on paper?”
SH: Well I think the first “Hecate Snake Diaries” had that personal element, too. It was very brutal in talking about the divorce that I was going through while making it. And I kind of feel like the spirit of that project is me, dealing with the intersection of my personal issues and genre as a whole. Each installment of “Hecate Snake Diaries” is very experimental and is about me growing as an artist, as well as a person.
For the second volume, I had had a lot of conversations with Brandon Graham about transgender issues, and how I felt about that in my comics, or how I was comfortable putting that into my comics so these were sort my wrestling with that.
I think that stuff is there in my non-HSD work too, but it’s definitely not as overt. Like a lot of my stuff deals with dopplegangers, and I think that comes from living so much of my life in repression.
TK: Absolutely. I notice the cyborg imagery (and its connection to overall transhumanism) as well as the way images of women and gender are handled.
SH: I think a lot of my interest in machine consciousness, body horror, genre horror comes from trying to deal with being transgender in American/western culture. The message I always got about myself in terms of my gender was that I was some kind of shameful monster–so it made me more interested in relating to movie monsters and things. Like if I’m a monster, what are other monsters like?
TK: I love that you’ve latched onto a specific “monster” with the imagery of the witch–one of the most powerful female images–as sort of your totem!
SH: Yeah, witches and snakes. There’s a cover for the new season of “American Horror Story: Coven” which is like… it could have been an HSD cover;
it made me laugh. It’s these witches with snakes coming out of their mouths.
TK: I really dug the super NOW-ness of the references in “Hecate Snake Diaries 2,” from “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” to Kanye West to Edward Snowden. What drew you to some of the elements that you included here? Any connection, or I suppose that’s for readers to uncover, right?
SH: Well first off, I think the topics I included sort of give an indication of how quickly I drew the thing. I didn’t realize I had made that much work that fast until I was putting the thing together the other weekend. I was like…wow, how’d that happen? But I was really interested once the Snowden thing hit–I mean I’ve always been interested in the sort of post-normal, social network world that is building itself around us–and Snowden’s case was really tapped into all of those nodes.
I’m also really interested in the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of government, and its inability to handle people who aren’t straight, white and male. That is something I go through every time I try to get my driver’s license renewed.
And then you build into that that a lot of these networks are now being overseen by machine consciousness, and we’re waging war through drones. It’s interesting to me, because a machine’s bias is going to be more on merit relative to its central programing than on straight-up bigotry–so I’m both interested in their valuation of us, and our inability to conceive of them as equals. Like, in order to understand how a machine thinks, we seem to need to build them into human form, which is really weird in terms of what it says about our inability to understand consciousness outside of its familiar containers. It intersects with a lot of the themes of body horror, repression and queer politics that I’m interested in
TK: The Terminator/Blade Runner tie-in was just pitch perfect that way–summed up in a tidy pop-culture bundle those issues plus the identity/body ones.
SH: I wanted those to kind of echo through some of the other pieces. The Kanye/PRISM comic has that quote from “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” woven into it, but said by Kanye instead of by the machine
TK: You have a gift for being thought-provoking without being shouty or trolly with your audience. Hell, you even managed to make me reflect on my knee-jerk reaction to the art of Rob Liefeld!
SH: The Liefeld thing has been really interesting in how suddenly civil the conversation got about him afterwards for me. I mean at the end of the day, people can like what they like. What I didn’t like about the criticism of Liefeld was how mean it was, and how it seemed to be focusing on just the things that he did wrong. Or, even more than that, it was imposing rules on form in comics that I didn’t agree with. Plus these were some of the first comics that I read and felt geniunely excited about as a kid(besides newspaper comics which I was really into as a kid)
All of the anatomy attacks on Liefeld hit close to home, because I stretch out and bend the bodies of my figures so much, and most of my favorite artists have the same expressive quality to the body
TK: Are there any future projects that you’d like to talk about?
SH: I have some short comics besides the “Prophet” backup that should be coming out sometime this Fall, but I don’t know what I can say about them yet. For me, I have a space horror vampire book that I’m working on, and a werewolf-coven book–they’re both quite a bit longer than “Dysnomia,” and I haven’t lined up publishers for them yet, so I don’t know when or where they’ll show up. But I’m going to be working on them. Besides that, you might see some of my comic criticism stuff pop up in places. A lot of people have been asking me to write criticism pieces for them; it’s just sort of figuring out how I want to prioritize that work versus the comic stuff that I care the most about. But yeah–it should be a pretty crazy next year and a half.