Interview: Dreadful's Mark Slater

We’re coming up on our first year of Comic Book Daily and I’ve managed to interview a whole lot of artists at different points in their career, and I can honestly say that the interviews that are the most fun are the ones with young, undiscovered talent. The energy and enthusiasm that seems to come forward is really inspiring.

Mark Slater is one of those interviews. His passion for storytelling and the comics medium is pretty awesome to witness. He made a splash on the internet with the webcomic series Saints and Warlords written by Jesus Hates Zombies’ Stephen Lindsay. He’s done work for LucasArts and Tops and has recently finished Dreadful a full-length, forty-page book featuring three short stories – two by Mark and one by the great Lance Sawyer.

I caught up with Mark from his home in North Bay where he was recently profiled by the local newspaper.

Pete DeCourcy: I really enjoy your art. I thought I would tell you that straight off the bat. I see the [Atomic Robo artist] Scott Weringer influences most definitely. I totally see Scud The Disposable Assassin. I don’t know what it is.

Mark Slater: That was just something that Lance said one day. I’m not trying to promote myself as “oh this is totally how I look”

PD: “Oh yes, that’s exactly what this is!”

MS: No, I just thought “Yeah, I can kind of see it”

PD: It’s really good. It’s vibrant, especially in the black and white which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

image from Dreadful #1 "Drywater"

MS: True. My original idea when I was making that comic was, at that time I was really in to the Sin City books and I just started collecting the Hellboy trades and stuff like that. So I really like the way Mike draws his style. I wasn’t trying to be either of those artists.

PD: The inking, there is one scene specifically, where it’s the total Sin City homage.

MS: The stripper?

PD: The stripper! I thought “This is Nancy!” No, it works really well.

MS: Thanks.

PD: We’ll get there, but first I want to ask you How did you get into comics art?

MS: Getting into art, well basically I’ve been into drawing since I could hold a pencil. My grandfather was really the only one in the family who could either draw or paint. He was an artist. I sort of inherited that talent. When I was in high school I started getting a lot more into comics. When I was in Grades 7 and 8 we had this sort of business fair at my school and my buddy and I each made comics for that. Mine was really bad actually. It was called Ping-Pong and it was based on – have you ever read Kaboom?

PD: Um..

MS: Written by Jeph Loeb way back in the ’90s.

PD: It was kind of like a bombshell thing?

MS: Kind of. He had these giant gloves.

PD. Okay, no. I can honestly say I have never heard of this character then.

MS: Alright then, Look up Kaboom. Jeph Loeb, Matsuda, put out by Awesome Entertainment.

PD: That’s Liefeld’s company, right?

MS: I’m really not sure.

PD: It feels like it is. Because only “The Rob” himself would have something called Awesome Entertainment.

MS: True. But yeah, I did that comic for my Grade 7/8 business fair and it really wasn’t that good. And then I actually didn’t have a lot to do with comics. I mean I really enjoyed comics but throughout the later years of high school I was still drawing and thinking up characters and things like that but I never really did much with it. Then I got really into movies and collecting movies and horror and all that other kind of stuff. University, my first year I took Psychology and everyone said “Why the hell didn’t you take Art” because art is all I’m really good at. And so in second year I did, and I did really well. So I got my Fine Arts degree from Nippising. And then I’ve basically been drawing all the time as a hobby. About a year ago I wanted to finally start making a comic, so I did. Particularly right after I just got back from Fan Expo last year. I went, it was amazing and I said I really want to be here next year. So I started making up a comic, I got into some work doing pages for other people, and last year, my fiancee she bought me Jesus Hates Zombies #1 for Christmas. I thought “Oh my god, this is amazing!” So just for fun I did a pinup and I posted it online on my blog and the next day, this was in January, I got a message in my inbox saying “Stephen Lindsay has added you on facebook and Stephen Lindsay has sent you a message on facebook”. And I was like “Who the hell is Stephen Lindsay?” I didn’t clue in! So I opened it up, and it said “Hey! This is Stephen Lindsay, I made up Jesus Hates Zombies and I really loved your pinup, drop me a line.” So I added him on facebook and wrote him back saying “If you want me to draw something for you like a pinup, drop me a line”. I was thinking this will never happen, never in a million years. He’s a hotshot, busy dude. And he was on facebook, online and he said “Hey man, how’s it going” and I said “Not bad, how ’bout yourself” and he said “Want to draw a comic book for me?” I said “You’re shitting me!” He said “No! I want you to draw a comic!” And I was like “Don’t tease me, because I’ve been teased before.” He said “I’m not teasing, I want you to draw this comic, it’s going to be about vampires and werewolves and street gangs in the 70s.” And I was Like “Done. I’m in.”

Click the link to check out the webcomic

PD: So that was the start of Saints and Warlords.

MS: That was the start of Saints and Warlords. So things kind of went from there and I finished that up I think in March. So it took a while. It took about a year because I am really slow and I procrastinate a lot. But we got it done, we got it lettered. It was a web comic for a while, and then our colourist dropped out so the book right now is in black and white and we’ll have it for sale at Fan Expo.

But the way that Dreadful came around was also back around February-March of this year I was surfing the Deviant Art and I came across Lance Sawyer who had been doing sketch cards and I thought this was awesome. Before that, I had seen that Mark Irwin, who does stuff for Upper Deck, he used to be in charge of all the Marvel stuff, and I kept bugging him asking if I could do cards for this and eventually he was like “Stop bothering me, just check my D-A journal for updates”. Eventually I found Lance and thought this stuff is amazing, how can I do sketch cards, I really want to do these. Fortunately, he’s a really cool dude. He dropped my name to the guy at Brajent, they did the Golden Age Super-Heroes, he dropped my name to Steve at 5finity, and the guy at Sad Littles and fortunately they dug my art and I got to work on the Golden Age of Heroes, Zombies vs. Cheerleaders and the Angels, Devils and Dinosaurs so I got heavily into that.

We were talking more and more and I showed him the comic I had been working on as a side project from the Saints and Warlords which was the first story in Dreadful called “Drywater” which is the one that is really strict black and white. He really liked that a lot and I told him I was making this comic up in time for Fan Expo. There was only going to be a 32 page story and I thought that was maybe going to be a bit too short and I realized about a month ago that I wasn’t going to have enough pages in time. So I asked him if he wanted to throw in a story of his own and he said “Absolutely, I’d love to.” And the second story in Dreadful, the “Safe and Sound” one, which is greyscaled, that happened a long time ago.

I got emailed by a dude who was putting together an anthology of zombie comics, and he asked if I wanted to do a story, about 10 pages for him. I said “Sure! I’d love to!” So I started drafting up the first five pages thinking “It’s going to be amazing to be in a full published anthology for the first time!” So I talked to him again and asked him how it was being printed and distributed. And he said “Well, you send us your pages, we print the anthologies and then you buy the books at cost from us and sell them off on your own!” So I was like “And I’m out!” So I never did send him any pages or anything like that, I just kept it, and it was sort of on the shelf. I thought, I haven’t got enough pages for the full book, so I threw that 10 page story in there, and I threw Lance’s 5 page story in there so we’ve actually got just about a full 40 pages now for the book. So a lot of time this year has really been put into making the effort to make my own comics. Which has really been great.

PD: So let’s just talk a little bit about “Drywater”. In your forward you talk about how you wanted to do a Western.

MS: Yeah

PD: You had no interest in doing cowboys or anything like that. So you actually picked one of my favourite movies, which is “Last Man Standing”.

MS: Yeah, well that’s the thing. I had just seen “Resident Evil: Extinction” and the trailers I thought “Oh my god! This looks like a zombie western! They’ve got the six-shooters, they’ve got the pump action rifles, this is going to be amazing!” Then I saw it and it wasn’t. So I really wanted to do something like that but I didn’t want it to be guys in duster coats, riding horses and really low technology. And then I thought of “Last Man Standing”. They’ve got that feel but they’ve got automatic pistols, they’ve got machine guns, they’ve got cars, and I thought that’s the kind of town it should be in.

PD: So what is going to separate your zombies from all the other zombie comics that are out there right now? There’s quite a few.

MS: Wow, it’s like an interview for a job!

PD: That’s how I look at it. “You want me to buy your comic, buddy?”

MS: I do! Mine is my own. I’m not trying to make it like a T-virus zombie, I’m not trying to make it like a Romero zombie, they are just sort of zombies. I wanted to have a story that was kind of like an old Tales from the Crypt. Because I want the book to continue on with short stories in each book so it’s these short horror stories. I wanted the first one to be zombies, and I didn’t really want there to be any kind of explanation as to where these zombies come from. It’s just a drifter shows up in town and he’s already a zombie. There’s no explanation for the infection. They look at it a little bit and they know this guy is infected with something, but they don’t know what. It’s basically that his blood is infected and every time he bites somebody they get infected, but that’s about as far as it goes. It’s not really trying to delve into the scientific explanation as to why there are zombies, it’s just a short story where “BAM!” there are zombies. And that’s all of a sudden a problem in this sleepy town.

PD: And that’s perfect. That’s really how zombies should be, right? That’s why they’re there. The thing I really really loved about “Drywater” – now is this going to be the first part of “Devil’s Town” or are you going to change the name.

MS: “Devil’s Town” is no longer the title for the book. “Devil’s Town” was originally going to be the title for – before I had more that one story, it wsa going to be “Drywater” as just one big story but the book itself was going to be called “Devil’s Town.” The idea was going to be that each story takes place in a different part of the world where dark and supernatural things happen and that would be the Devil’s Town of that particular issue. But before this went to print I thought that “Devil’s Town” doesn’t seem like that great a title for a book so I decided to call the first story “Drywater” because that’s the town where the story takes place and to call the entire collection of books “Dreadful” based on the idea of the Penny Dreadful where you have a collection of short stories that are all horror based that will appeal to…

PD: They have these great kind of twist endings too, right?

MS: Yeah.

PD: The great thing about “Drywater” that I really, really enjoyed, I don’t know if there’s more that comes after what I’ve read but

MS: Yeah, I only sent you the first – if it ends with they guy in the bathtub then…

PD: Yes it does. It does.

MS: There is more after that.

PD: I’ve shown it to a few people and we all agree that we need more. In any other zombie story, that guy who just got bit, the sheriff, he would have been the very last person to turn, but the fact that we don’t really know who to root for is really interesting.

MS: No, that is actually what I really liked. I’ve found that I don’t really storyboard a lot. I just kind of go page by page and the story writes itself basically. As I was doing it I kind of liked the fact that the guy that found the zombie in the first place is not the guy who you follow throughout the story. He gets bit then all of a sudden, he’s infected, he’s dead. It actually moves on from there. Another guy gets infected and…

PD: Well that’s the thing, you introduce these characters. You’ve got the sheriff and you’ve got the coroner as well and then you’ve got the woman. You kind of think that there’s got to be something there because you start giving backstory, almost right away for her. So you think okay, I can trust her, she’ll be fine and then a page later her skin has been ripped off. It’s really well done and I enjoy that in my comics. What are some of the challenges you had in getting this book ready in time for Fan Expo.

MS: As I said, I procrastinate a lot so that’s already a problem right there. Basically trying to make pages that I was happy with. Way back when I was doing comics as a kid I would just draw straight onto the page with marker, I wouldn’t even pencil first. So that was kind of weird for me because I can sketch something out really quick and think that’ll be so cool when it turns out. When I come to ink it, I’m almost hesitant because I don’t want to ruin this page and have to start from the beginning again. I’m worried that if I ink something, I’ll ink it wrong and it’ll look awful. It was taking the time to make sure I did it right.

PD: What are you inking with?

MS: Sharpies.

PD: Oh really? I guess that’s where the name Sharpie Mark came from?

MS: Yeah on DM, I’m Sharpie Mark. I have used Pilot Fineliners quite a bit because they don’t bleed as much, which I found handy. But generally, I’ll just use Sharpies, even for all the cards that I do. I’m really angry at the fact that there’s an ad out now where the guy draws Sharpie filled post-it notes, I thought I could have got sponsored! Time was also a bit of a constraint. It’s to be continued right now, the Drywater story in Dreadful. I only had 22 pages ready before I got Lance and before I finished the 10 pages for the other story. I thought I wasn’t going to have enough pages to finish this book in time. So there was that, and then there was the problem of getting it printed. There’s a place that I found for scanning at the university up by my house that can scan stuff really well and they are way better than Staples, but I found they were a bit too expensive for my printing costs. Grand and Toy wanted $400 to print 50 copies just black and white with a black and white cover for a 32 page book, and they wanted $500 to print a 32 page book with a colour cover. Online printing was pretty good for that, about $1.88 a copy, but then I worried about shipping. Would it get here in time for Fan Expo? I had already booked the table. Fortunately I found some guys in town who could do it for the price online and they’re local.

PD: If you’re going to keep going with the Dreadfuls, is it going to be book format or will it be through web comics?

MS: Dreadful never really went as a web comic, Saints and Warlords did. Lance and I have talked about it and we both want to really keep going with Dreadful because he’s stoked at the idea. We’re both finally published, even though it’s self published we are officially published now. We think we’re going to stick with it in book. We may post preview pages on the web to get people hooked but other than that we’ll just stick to book form.

PD: What are you most proud of with Dreadful? What’s the sense of accomplishment that you feel?

MS: I’m really just stoked to have a book. Ever since I was a kid I thought it would be amazing to have a comic of my own published. It would be amazing to do pages for Marvel or DC. And then I went away and when I got into it I thought I really love making comics, I really want to have a book. It’s kind of like a dream come true, I finally actually have a hard copy to prove it. This is the book! I look at it and I think holy crap! My artwork is a comic book now! That’s amazing! I didn’t know what to expect when I see it in book form because I had seen it on the paper I drew it on and in the computer but once it was printed out, and cropped and had the edges trimmed off, and the printer handed me a finished book, I was like “Oh my god! I actually have a finished book, and it’s mine!” So that’s what I’m most proud of. I have a printed book. I can go to Fan Expo and say “I’m a comic artist! Check out my stuff!”

PD: It’s kind of exciting to see how excited you are. I hope for good things for you. There’s this great kind of looseness to your art that is exciting to see. Even with balloon placement, it’s well done. You look at it and you think “wow!” It’s just very well done. I hope that comes across. I hope other people get that.

MS: I’m glad you appreciated that. At times I’ve looked at it and thought it looked really sloppy. I hope people still want to pick it up.

PD: Are you familiar with Paul Grist?

MS: If I looked him up I could know who he was.

PD: Paul Grist does a series called Kane. When you look at you layouts, it seems your layouts are similar in a lot of respects. Especially in your use of black and white where it’s either BLACK or WHITE and it works. You should check him out because I really thought he would have been an influence on you.

MS: I will. That’s really cool.

PD: What are the five books that made the most impact on you?

MS: Wow, five books. Well, I can tell you stuff I collect. I’m really into Walking Dead.

PD: Singles or trades?

MS: I collect the hard covers. I’m big on that. My buddy Lance, he’s on issues that are past book 5 that I’m on now. I really like the hard covers It’s odd because I’ve never just sat down and looked at the zombies and tried to draw what I was seeing on the page. I just really like that style. I guess maybe Sin City for one, more for just Frank Miller as an artist. The things he does with black and white, the way he makes it work on the page is just incredible. I guess Hellboy too. I really like the idea of jumping from one spot in the world to another and having all these weird supernatural things happen. I don’t think I’ll ever have stuff like golems and witches and stuff like that. I might have a vampire later on because I actually have a story mapped out for the next issue. It’s a stroy about a human who gets mistaken for a vampire. I collect stuff like the Jeph Loeb-Tim Sale books – the Long Halloween, Dark Victory, that kind of stuff. I really like the Punisher Max series.

PD: By Garth Ennis?

MS: Yeah

PD: Have you read any of the Jason Aaron series?

MS: I’ve got all the ones by Garth Ennis.

PD: Yeah, those are fantastic. One of my favourite runs of all time.

MS: Absolutely. I really like Dave Johnson, the artist. He’s a wicked cover artist.

PD: I only found Dave Johnson through 100 Bullets. I want interior work from him and I can barely ever find it. I think the first couple issues of Red Son are the only things I own by him.

MS: Yeah, He really only does a lot of cover art. So Punisher Max, I really like that. I like the fact that there are books out there for adults. I like the fact that the Punisher Max series has a no holds barreed kid of thing. It is violent. It is what you would want to see from the Punisher.

PD: You don’t even really care about the Punisher because he’s just like a force of nature in that run. You know these people are going to get killed so Garth Ennis spends a lot of time just making these people as horrible as possible. The Slavers arc in particular…

MS: It funny. I didn’t actually find out about the Punisher Max series until my buddy Ed came over from England and he told me about it. He said “there was this one book called the Slavers and the guy had his intestines up in a tree”. I thought “That sounds fantastic!”

PD: Yeah, that pretty much summed it up for me.  So you’re a supply teacher right now? What do your students think of your art?

MS: Students have liked it. Being a supply teacher is a little bit of extra freedom in the classroom where if I’m not actually teaching a lesson, it’s just sort of like babysitting where I can say “Hey kids, do the work the teacher left behind for you”, and if the class is quiet and works really well, I’ll bring along a sketch book and I’ll actually work on pages in the classroom. It’s funny. Occasionally kids will get up and ask what I’m working on. They’ll see it and think it’s so cool. No students have seen the finished book yet, only rough pencils, but they really like it from what I could tell. Actually I chaperoned a group from one of the local schools to Anime North in Toronto. To help raise money I actually did sketch cards of students.

PD: As zombies?

MS: No, just as themselves.

PD: Even better. So where will we see you in the future.

MS: I’m dong some work for the Star Wars: Rise of the Bounty Hunters sketch card series. It’s awesome, but because I found out I had a bunch of editing to do because of resizing and spelling n Dreadful, it took a week more than I thought it would. I want to get all 100 cards done by the 24th. I leave for Toronto on the 25th. I kind of have my work cut out for me. Once that’s done, I’m working on the Hack/Slash sketch card series coming out from 5finity which is pretty fun. And then there’s more series coming out from Sad Littles. They’ve got a cowboys and Indian girls series coming. I’ve been playing a lot of Red Dead Redemption and I’ve got sucked in to the whole Western thing. Because Lance jumped really on board with the whole Dreadful thing he’s already got a second story in mind for

the second issue of Dreadful. We’ll have that put out as soon as we possibly can. We’re both busy guys but we really want to make this a continuing book series. We need to find people who will want to fund it so we only need to cover printing costs. If we can do that we can start putting it out more.

PD: Thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it. And best of luck.

MS: Thank you.

Mark Slater will be sharing a table with Lance Sawyer at Fan Expo this weekend. He’ll have copies of Saints and Warlords as well as Dreadful #1s for anyone interested. Check out His table, which is located here:

Check out his ‘blog here and his deviant art account here.

Comic Book Daily Staff
Comic Book Daily Staff

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