We recently gave our readers an exclusive sneak peek at Gary Pullin’s limited edition Halloween poster that he created for last weekend’s 40 Years of Terror Convention in Pasadena. It was just a piece of a longer interview we conducted with the legendary horror artist. Our conversation spanned the entirety of his storied career, from his beginnings at Rue Morgue Magazine to his recent work with Fangoria and Mad Magazine.
The interview includes some important advice for up and coming genre artists, along with his thoughts on modern horror and where he’d like to go next. Give it a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section, or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!
Dread Central: Do you have any fine arts training?
Gary Pullin: Yeah, I do. Basically, I went to an art school in London, Ontario where I grew up. It was for grades 13 and 14 but for all art. It was cool, because we did a little bit of painting, a little bit of drawing, a little bit of printmaking—you name it. Anything creative; they had courses in animation and photography. I did that for 2 years. Then I went to Conestoga College in Kitchener; I moved out of the city and lived there. I took graphics design and advertising courses. They didn’t really teach illustration or how to draw, so you had to have the basic know-how already. It was a 3-year program and, after that, I went to Toronto and got a job at a graphics design and packaging firm doing labels for beer and cereal boxes and stuff like that; commercial design packaging.
DC: You think it’s important for today’s up and coming artists to have some sort of fine arts training and, if so, what would you recommend for folks who don’t have access to colleges and universities or institutions where they can take classes?
GP: You can teach yourself by observing others and taking online tutorials; if you have a natural ability, you’ll stick with it. It’s playing guitar: You practice and learn the tools and if you have a passion, you’ll stick with it an excel. I do think it’s important, though. Courses will sharpen you up for sure and I’m glad I did it. There was a time before college where I thought, “Do I really need to spend all this money?” But I’m glad I did. It focused my talent and opened my eyes to the jobs available to me. Even beer labels today are frameable. And I like to find ways to sneak my horror elements into commercial design; my love of horror was always seeping into it. I’d be like, “Can I do monster eyes for this chocolate bar?” and “Can I do the artwork for Halloween boxes?”
DC: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about your love of horror and how you became immersed in the genre.
GP: It came from watching Godzilla as a kid and reading Fangoria in the 1980s; I was mesmerized by VHS cover art. And I really liked heavy metal music. I was like one of The Musters; I just had a love for everything creepy as a kid. I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland and Deep Red Magazine. All these things were around me growing up. And I had a friend in Jr. High and we used to watch a bunch of movies in his basement while literally trying to scare the shit out of each other. And everyone knew I loved horror because I was always wearing creepy t-shirts and stuff.
Before your next question, I just want to add that working for Rue Morgue for 15 years was a huge part of my training as an artist and where I got a lot of my passion. When I got the job, I was still at that design firm doing packaging artwork. I met them at a film festival and knew I had to get involved. Before I knew it, I was I was their art director and, before I knew it the magazine took off and I was on their covers; and then, before I knew it I quit to start [my company] Ghoulish. It’s been insane but awesome. It’s been a crazy ride! And I still write my column for Rue Morgue but now I’m working for Fangoria as well. As a horror fan, I really couldn’t be happier. You know what it’s like to contribute to the things that you love, right?
DC: Absolutely, man. I feel like I’m living the dream!
GP: And I love going to conventions and meeting people, too; people who I can just talk about old VHS covers with, you know?
DC: One of the best parts of the job is being able to meet and interact with fans.
GP: Absolutely. I love to travel and see North America; I get to exhibit my work and meet my idols and I get to work with them sometimes. Like, I can’t even believe I’m talking to Dread Central right now.
DC: We’re honored to be talking to you! Tell our readers about your column at Rue Morgue and what, specifically, you’re doing for Fango?
GP: I do an art column for Rue Morgue where every month I feature a new artist. It’s always good to give up and comers a spotlight and I feature established artists too. For Fangoria, they’ve hired me to do illustrations and I did two big illustrations for their new issue and I’m really excited to be a part of that.
DC: It’s currently hitting mailboxes worldwide. I’m waiting for mine to arrive.
GP: I’m waiting for mine too. I saw the “unboxing” on Shockwaves and it was really exciting. I was like, “Wow this is really cool!” So, hopefully, I’ll be contributing more work for future issues. It’s been great, you know, getting that email asking me to be a part of the relaunch. It’s crazy and it’s been really good to see that happen. It’s just a really good time for horror right now, not just in films, but in music as well. Just look at John Carpenter: He’s not directing right now but he’s performing; he’s up there on stage—he’s a fucking rock star! We saw the Toronto show; it was like a family reunion, kind of, with half the horror fans in Canada in attendance. We’re all walking out of the show and everybody was just floating. That’s exciting considering his age. And he’s doing the new Halloween and it’s supposedly really good. And if you’re a filmmaker or a writer or an artist, it’s a great time to be in horror too, because the horror genre is supporting it. It feels like things are growing and getting better.
GP: Yeah. I just got an email and there it was! They had an idea for the cover, Alfred E. Newman as the twins from The Shining, and they wanted to see what I could do with that. So, we just went from there. If you look closely, the tongue on the Converse say “Room 237” and “Redrum”. It’s so cool to be working for a magazine that I grew up with. It’s like playing baseball as a kid and growing up to play for the Yankees when you grow up. It’s such a trip! I’d love to do another cover.
DC: I wanted to get your opinion on enamel pins since they’re really popular right now. Is that something you do as well?
GP: They’re fun to do. It’s not the focus of what I’m doing but I like doing them. It’s like wearing a little piece of artwork. They’re clever and cool and the demand is insane. I try to do ones that are different, totally original pins. People want pins and posters and soundtrack artwork and I’m happy to do it all. I even enjoy stepping out of the horror genre from time to time; I’ve done posters for comedies and documentaries as well.
DC: Just don’t step outside the horror genre for too long. You’re a treasure of our community and we love you!
GP: I’m just so happy being part of the horror genre. There are so many amazing artists right now, I’m just happy to be on the field with them.
DC: Since you brought it up, who are some artists who you appreciate or are inspired by?
GP: Oh man, as far as contemporary artists, there Jason Edmiston, Phantom City Creative, a lot of the screen-print artists are awesome. I also love Alex Pardee, I love Joe Coleman, Charles Burns (Black Hole)—and all these artists are still working today.
DC: Some good names for our readers to check out if they aren’t already familiar with them. One of the companies you’re most associated with is Mondo. You’ve been doing amazing work with them for a while and I’m curious if those limited-edition prints are becoming valuable?
GP: Yeah, they do. It’s created a whole collector’s market. Some people buy them to display and exhibit, but others buy them just to flip them. I make artwork for walls; I want people to want to hang them, but if they want to flip them, there’s nothing I can do and they end up on eBay. With Mondo, those posters are inducted into the Motion Picture Association of America as official historical prints, which is pretty amazing. Mondo has obviously helped my career a lot too; art director Rob Jones and Mitch Putnam—I love those guys. Rob Jones wrote the forward in my book. Then there’s Larry Fessenden who also did a forward and introduction in Ghoulish. It’s awesome hearing them talk about my contributions to horror.
DC: Yeah, talk about some serious validation!
GP: It is, and it’s crazy to think about! Back in the Rue Morgue days, I got a letter from Chas Balun, who was the editor of Deep Red back then and he also wrote for Gorezone and Fangoria. He’s passed on, but he sent me an awesome letter telling me that he really loved my artwork. I was like, “Wow, this guy has his finger on the pulse of horror and he likes my work!” It blew me away. Another time I was at a Chiller convention in New Jersey maybe 20 years ago and Forrest Ackerman was sitting in the lobby. I nervously went up to him and told him I was a big fan and he was like, “Oh you work at Rue Morgue? What a fantastic looking magazine!” I was just like, “Whoa!” I walked away from that meeting feeling like the magazine was really going places.
DC: You’re clearly in love with genre films of the 1980s and with so many reissues and re-releases coming out these days, you get to revisit them fairly often. But how do you feel about modern horror films? Do you have the same love for genre movies being produced today?
GP: Absolutely. Certain ones, for sure. Like Martyrs and The Decent and Get Out are all great. I still watch horror movies and often think I’d like to do posters for them as well, like Hereditary or something. If it’s a strong film, it will stand on its own. A lot of people say horror’s making a comeback, but for me, it’s never gone away.
DC: Don’t call it a comeback! You mentioned that you would have liked to have done a poster for Hereditary. What are some other films that you would have loved to do artwork for, but never got the opportunity or couldn’t get the rights?
GP: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; that would be great! Anything by Quentin Tarantino would be awesome too. Jaws, even though that’s a tough one. I have to consider if I can bring something new to the property too. Sometimes, it can be hard to reinvent the same things over and over again.
DC: You’ve built an incredible, immense body of work over your career. What are some of your personal favorites from your own library?
GP: What does Freddy Say? “You’re all my children now!” I don’t know, it’s hard to pick favorites. I did a Psycho print for a gallery in 1988; my Mondo Vertigo; Re-Animator, My Bloody Valentine, and Creepshow for Waxwork; The Monster Squad soundtrack is right up there!
DC: Since it’s been about a year since you released Ghoulish, let’s talk about your book for a bit. How has it performed and do you have plans for a follow-up?
GP: The book’s been great. It met my expectations and then some! We were looking into the possibility of special editions, and my publisher asked me for my wish-list of album covers I’d like to do the artwork for. I was like, Alice Cooper, Goblin, John Carpenter, and The Misfits. We reached out to all these guys and Goblin bit back! So, we used these live tracks from Austin, and I’d already done the merch and gig posters for the band. So, I did that and it was really cool; we released a special edition with Goblin. I also did some exclusives for Amazon that came with 3D glasses and they sold out.
DC: What are you working on next? Anything especially titillating?
GP: Nothing I can really talk about, but more stuff with Mondo and Waxwork. I’m just doing cool posters including a documentary poster. And I’d love to do some more covers, so we’ll see!