Alison Sampson's work provides glimpse of our surrounding world while also giving life to horror and superhero stories. Her most recent, Winnebago Graveyard with writer Steve Niles, is a horror story about the all-American roadtrip gone horribly wrong.
With the collected edition available now and the obvious question of "What's next?" brewing, Newsarama reached out to the London-based artist/architect to ask that question - and some more. Sampson spoke about her inspirations, her work, and advice for the next generation of artists looking to make a name for themselves.
Newsarama: So Alison, what are you currently working on at the moment?
Alison Sampson: Drawing a comic, I can't say what. It is great fun though and I'm honored to be asked to be involved with it, especially now.
Nrama: With Winnebago Graveyard wrapped up, what will you miss most about the miniseries?
Sampson: Drawing Chrissie, probably. But I don't miss her too much. I've already completed two illustration projects, attended six conventions (two in the United States and four here), put the graphic novel together, and done a bunch of promotion work for it since I finished drawing Winnebago Graveyard. So on to the next thing, you know?
Nrama: Looking through it, I found a lot of techniques and similarities to the likes of David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz. Do you have a pantheon of artists that gave you inspiration through this.
Sampson: Not in comics, not...so much. There are artists I am influenced by, like Robert Rauschenberg, Goya, Jeff Wall, Emma Rios, and Jorge Zaffino - because I see their art every day on the walls of my house, so they've seeped in over the course of many years. And I love a lot of different artists' work in comics - I have quite Catholic tastes. But you see, I came to comics late after more than two decades of architecture practice and an art-making based education before that, and some time making and exhibiting fine art. That life's practice is my biggest influence.
My architecture school was run by Peter Cook of Archigram and I've spent a good chunk of my life working on and delivering art based designs, and working on a lot of old buildings too (I specialise in 20th Century conservation, at the 'low' end). I've seen decay, toxic pollution, and the insides of of thousands of people's homes. I wanted to be a biologist but couldn't abandon the idea of making art. I'm closer in age to Bill Sienkiewicz. So it is possible that rather than him being an influence, I share some of his influences. In architecture, you make the thing that suits what you are trying to do - it is a constant process of invention- and I don't think comics is much different.
Nrama: Tell us about the Winnebago Graveyard trade. What extras will readers find when they pick it up?
Sampson: Well, it's lovely and velvety and feels nice. Steve has given one of his best stories and it is very entertaining. I'm happy with the art and what everyone has contributed, and I've been able to work with some of my favourite artists and get unseen levels of work out of them (including Paulina Ganucheau's first but hopefully not last horror work). We've finished with good vibes in the team and I think it shows in the pages. I've put in quite a lot of backmatter. There are new non-fiction essays from Sarah Horrocks and Claire Napier; I've collected Casey Gilly's essays from the singles on real life satanism and there's guest art from the likes of Jen Bartel, David Rubin, and many more. Also, a number of stores have exclusive signed bookplates. I wanted to make it quite eclectic, to make nice things for as many people as possible, and I hope we've done that.
Nrama: Before Winnebago Graveyard, where would fans have found your work?
Sampson: Probably the thing most people know in comics--because it sold a lot of copies- is Genesis, the GN I did with Image that came out in 1994. I've also drawn Jessica Jones for Marvel, with Chelsea Cain, contributed to DC/ Vertigo's Mad Max art book, Creepy for Dark Horse, some covers, and various projects for Image Comics, including contributing to The Wicked + The Divine twice. I'm also in Shelly Bond and HiFi Color's Femme Magnifique anthology.
I really enjoy doing commercial illustration work and have been super-lucky with my clients. To be honest, most people will know my work from its place in the real world, although they may not have known it was mine. If you live in London you've almost certainly seen it, lived or worked in it, walked through, or on it, or been influenced by it.
Nrama: Let's talk about your process. What's the first thing you aim to do when starting a new page?
Sampson: I read the script and make thumbnails and layouts for a whole issue in advance of starting specific pages, and I try and do all the research then as well and file it into a folder system so it is ready there when I get to pencil the specific pages. Then I can pencil it straight away without having to break off to work things out. The layouts are so important to me, and very ugly with lots of experimental lines and I refer back to them right through the process. Most of the time for me is in the penciling, and then the page comes to life in the inking.
Nrama: How do you think your style has evolved since initially starting out?
Sampson: To be honest, it hasn't been that long. I'm certainly a better inker and artist and a lot faster, I think that comes with practice. I've tried to stay critical of my own work and I try and figure out what the bits are that can be done better. I'd probably say I'm a bit less uptight. I've also moved from a standing start - I didn't know how to use photoshop, I made my first graphic novel with a tiny ancient laptop, I'd not drawn on opaque paper, I'd inked precisely one drawing since 1995 and I'd never drawn figuratively. I didn't own a pencil. So there's that.
Nrama: Would you say you prefer commercial work over comic book work?
Sampson: Comics work is commercial, or at least it is to me. It is one thing not to make much money from comics work (it is underpaid in relation to other fields for the same amount of work), but it is another to see it as something other than a business. I like experimental comics too, but I'd still like to show them to people / monetise them. This said, as I said, I've been super-lucky with my illustration jobs. All of them, though, have come through the comics connection, so one cannot say they are better...they are connected. The pay is better. The projects are a sequence of sprints as opposed to a marathon at sprint speed, so less of a mental endurance. My most recent project was a series of sequential illustrations for London's Hayward Gallery to go in the exhibition catalogue for the upcoming Lee Bul exhibition. It is something of a challenge for an artist to illustrate the work of another artist and it was fun. The Hayward is used to working with fine artists and wanted to hear what I had to say. So that was cool.
Nrama: If you could pass on advice to aspiring young artists, what would be the at the top of the list?
Sampson: If you make art, then you are an artist. Make your work count.