Hello and welcome to the latest issue of The Ghoulish Times. My name is Max Booth III and this is my spooky newsletter. Today is Betty Rocksteady Q&A Day for the newsletter. It’s a really great interview and I hope you check it out. But first, a few things:
We were meant to spend this weekend selling books at the Nightmare Before Christmas horror vendor market in San Antonio, as advertised in our last newsletter, but we had a change of heart and decided to bail. We love doing these events, but boy oh boy have we been doing a lot of them lately, and burnout is real. Plus, my partner Lori has other day-job commitments today and tomorrow, anyway, and I didn’t really feel like doing the table by myself. “I need a weekend to just relax and rewire my brain,” I told myself, before spending half of Saturday working on a newsletter with further plans of getting a bunch of more work done afterward.
Someone on Twitter posted a photo from Powell’s Bite Size Horror recommendations shelves, and I happened to notice our very own Scanlines was displayed.
How cool! I can’t believe they actually have that front cover displayed to the public. Incredible. I would love to one-day make it out to that store.
Over at Ginger Nuts of Horror, an in-depth review of George Daniel Lea’s Born in Blood Volume One was published. Check it out HERE.
Every month I host a spooky comedic variety show called The Ghoulish Show in Austin, always on the last Tuesday of the month, at Radio Coffee & Beer. We try to record every episode for folks who aren’t able to make it. Behold, November’s episode! Featuring Andrew Hilbert, John Baltisberger, RJ Joseph, Ryan Bradley, Michael Louis Dixon, and Lucas Mangum giving thanks before feasting on A HUMAN FREAKIN' BEING LIVE ON STAGE.
After the show ended, we were approached by someone named Ami Plasse who showed us his sketch book, and we discovered that he’d been sketching us during the entirety of our show. I included the illustration in the intro of the above video, but here it is again as a separate image.
By far one of the coolest things to ever happen, imho. If you’d like to follow the artist on social media, here’s where to connect — IG: @amirocks73 / Twitter: @amirocks / FB: amitai.plasse / Web: Gonzoviz.com
If you’re local, consider checking out the next episode of The Ghoulish Show, which will occur on Tuesday, December 27th, at 8pm CST. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a Christmas musical, if I can convince my performers to sing on stage (fingers crossed). I am also going to attempt to purchase a Santa Claus outfit and make everybody sit on my lap, so this may be the last episode ever, come to think about it.
We have a shit-ton of books to package this weekend and mail out Monday morning. If you’re waiting on an order, expect it to ship then—even Hares in the Hedgerow, our copies finally arrived earlier this afternoon, hooray!
Last week we opened for questions from our readers to direct toward Betty Rocksteady, author of several weirdo surreal books. Just from our own press, we have published Betty’s Like Jagged Teeth, The Writhing Skies, and the brand-new just-released Soft Places.
To celebrate the release of her novella / graphic novel hybrid, we bring you this extensive Q&A.
(Note: The interview’s length might exceed our email limit; we recommend reading it in your browser instead.)
My daughter has been drawing since she was little. She mostly does anime. I was wondering if you could give her any tips on drawing for publications. As well as your favorite art books. Thanks, Betty!
Tips for publication I guess would depend on where in the journey she is! So in the beginning stages, the first thing to do is draw a lot and hone your personal style by experimenting. I like to spend some time copying panels from things I really admire to learn from the techniques, and then you can incorporate some of those tricks in your personal style. When I was starting out drawing more seriously, I illustrated a short story once a month for an ezine called Theme Of Absence. It was cool to get the experience illustrating other people’s work, and you can also play around with that by just illustrating short stories you like for fun. Once you build a solid portfolio to show off the kind of thing you like doing, you can start opening up to commissions. I’m still sort of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks myself, but basically I’d say just draw a lot, let people know you draw, and just keep making cool stuff.
As far as instructional art books, a couple I found really helpful and fun were Figure It Out by Christopher Hart, and vintage cartooning books like Fun With a Pen by Andrew Loomis (http://www.alexhays.com/loomis/).
Who are your favorite artists (visual, film, comic, etc)?
Visual - I’ve been really vibing with Wizard of Barge and Jeremy Fish lately. Emil Ferris’ art in My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is also very inspiring.
Film - For animation, I really like Ralph Bakshi’s grimy rotoscoped style. Favorite horror directors are John Carpenter and Jordan Peele.
Comic-wise, right now I’m gonna say are Sam Kieth’s The MAXX, Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, and Tove Jannson’s Moomin.
What are your favorite panels/drawings from Soft Places? Any alternate or unused drawings you loved but didn't make it into the book?
I especially like all the double-page spreads. I think the art looks cool spread across the two large panels and they’re all very dramatic with crazy moon faces. There’s also one page near the end with Johnna’s face split horizontally across the panels that I think is really cool.
I had all the panels plotted out before I did the final art, so everything I drew made it into the book. Originally Dr. Gonne was supposed to look a little different but I wasn’t sold on the character design and I decided to give him sort of a Captain Haddock from Tin Tin look. There is some early inspiration art that’s been shared in the Ghoulish Newsletter a couple weeks ago, when I was working out style and feel for the book before I actually wrote it. I’m playing around with some more art that takes place in the Soft Places world, just for fun, so you might see some of that in the future.
As a writer, is it harder to sell books with art in them to publishers?
It probably would be! I don’t know of a lot of publishers that are seeking out this kind of thing. I had already published with Max and Lori before this project, and they had been kind enough to be enthusiastically into my last-minute idea of including a bunch of illustrations in The Writhing Skies. I wasn’t positive if they’d go for a novella/graphic novel, and I’m not sure if I would have pitched it anywhere else if they said no and would have maybe tried self-publishing? I’m so glad they thought it was a cool idea, because there’s no way I could have pulled that side of things together as expertly as they did.
What are your top 5 favorite horror movies and why?
Right now the first ones that come to mind are Ginger Snaps (cool weird girls, one of my favorite takes on werewolves), The Night Of The Living Dead 1990 (classic zombie fun and Barbara is way more badass than in the original), A Nightmare on Elm Street (love me some dream horror), Return to Oz (it’s got enough fucked-up content to count as a horror movie), and Demon Knight (Billy Zane.)
What comics/comic books/manga are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading the massive collection of Eightball by Daniel Clowes. It’s a series of his comics from the 1990s, including Ghost World and Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. I recently read Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron for the first time and it was insane, surreal, and beautifully illustrated. I loved every second of it.
Favorite cartoonist? Favorite cartoon character?
I really like Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Everything is very simply and precisely drawn with a great use of blacks and the exact right amount of details, not a single line too many.
My favorite cartoon character is Bimbo from Max Fleischer’s 1920s/1930s Talkartoons, also known as Betty Boop’s boyfriend. I don’t even know how to explain it. Everything about his character design is incredibly appealing to me and I would follow him anywhere.
What are your thoughts on Don Bluth?
Don Bluth is cool. He has a very distinct art style and the animation always looks very smooth. I wouldn’t list him as a favorite, but all the cartoons of his I’ve seen (Fern Gully, Titan A.E., Rock-A-Doodle) have been pretty cool. Rock-A-Doodle probably my favorite of the three. I should probably watch Secret of NIMH, now that you mention it.
Why is rubber-hose, black and white animation so freaking fascinating?
Ahh that’s such a good question! There’s something very raw about it. These were the cartoons they were making when they didn’t even really know what cartoons were yet. Neither the tropes nor the content standards had been set yet, so there was lots of WEIRD stuff that slipped through with very surrealist imagery and explicit or strangely dark happenings (Betty Boop’s constant underwear showing, Felix the Cat committing suicide, etc). It was all hand drawn fast and loose, so the characters didn’t look consistent from one cartoon to the next or sometimes even one scene to the next. The plots were nonsensical and slippery and surreal. And they all had super catchy music. Plus, personally, I watched a lot of them when I was very young and impressionable so they just really got stuck in all the right spots of my brain.
At what age did you first start drawing cartoon/comic art? I bet you have always drawn, but at what age did you realize that there was something more to this than play? Also, was there a particular cartoon/comic that inspired this change in perspective? Some particular artist that you became interested in their process and body of work?
When I was a kid, my dad had a cartooning show on the local cable channel, where he took some of the lessons from those old mail-order cartooning books and adapted them to teach you how to draw. So from a very young age I was drawing along with him on TV. Then all through my childhood and teenage years drawing was always something I did casually. It got more intense as I got a bit older, always carrying a sketchbook with me and often drawing my way through social interactions.
I started taking writing and drawing more seriously at around the same time, when I was 29 or so (9 years ago). The drawing I was doing at that time was more pen and ink gothic style than cartoony, though it still had a few elements of cartooning. After a while it started to feel very stiff and confining. I got an iPad and started consciously trying to loosen things up a little. I got back into Betty Boop hard again around this time and rewatched a ton of episodes and experimented with some creepy stuff in that style. Those cartoons always feel kind of creepy to me anyway, and I think it adds a cool unsettling feeling to things. I did some commissions in this style, and illustrated The Writhing Skies in this style.
A while later I got really interested in Bushmiller’s Nancy and spent a couple months copying Nancy panels and learning from them. Then I reread The MAXX and thought about how fluid Sam Kieth’s style was, and sort of applied those principals to the black and white art I was doing, and then here we are today.
What is the strangest / coolest thing you've discovered in nature?
I really like mushrooms, they are all pretty cool and I’m always excited to see them.
My favorite thing was this hag stone I found on a walk a couple years ago!
If Soft Places was adapted into a movie, would you want it to feature a mixture of live action and animation?
Yeah, I think it would have to. You could probably do it as JUST animation, with two different styles of animation, but I don’t think you could do it with just live action.
Imagine you have three uninterrupted months to draw and create. All of your basic needs and amenities are taken care of. Would you choose to do so at the ocean, a city, desert, or woods?
OK that sounds amazing and I hope you are asking because you are planning on making this happen for me. I would choose the woods because I like looking at trees, and I think being alone in the woods would be very spooky and magical. There would also be lots of fun things to draw. I would also accept ocean or city. The only one that doesn’t sound good is the desert, I really don’t like to sweat.
Is elevated splatterpunk a possible new horror genre?
I always think of splatterpunk as being elevated, and that’s what distinguishes it from extreme horror, although I think there is some overlap there. I know people tend to think of extreme violence or hardcore sex as somehow a lower form of art, but I really work under the premise that there are artistic reasons for using explicit and extreme content.
You did a one-card tarot reading for me once, and it was 100% on point btw. What is it about tarot that draws you? Is it a casual or more committed practice, and, do you have a favorite card?
That’s awesome, I’m glad it was so accurate for you! I read tarot cards all through my teenage years, and recently got back into it when Gary Hall’s Mystical Medleys (a 1920s/30s cartoon-style tarot based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) was released last year. I’ve tried quite a few different methods of divination including palmistry, runes, pendulum, various oracle decks, etcetera, but tarot was the one I always seemed to gel with the most. I worked through a guidebook last year and got really familiar with the new deck. I was hyperfocused on it for a while and it guided me through some stuff, but lately I’ve just been picking it up every now and then. I think it’s something that will probably always come into and out of my life. I follow a lot of Jungian sort of ideas about consciousness, synchronicity and symbolism, and I feel like tarot is a way to speak with your subconscious and invite meaningful coincidence into your life.
Which is harder, getting your imagery into words, or into drawings? Because words can be so descriptive, but pictures literally show, but I know I struggle to get an image from my head onto paper and wonder if it's like that for you?
The answer to this would be different at different times in my life! Over the last 8 or 9 years of taking creativity seriously it’s flipped back and forth a number of times. Right now I think I probably find art easier because I don’t have to think so hard about it, it just sort of flows out. I used to struggle a lot more with getting images from my head to the paper, but I think a lot of practise, and just as importantly, accepting flaws and imperfections in my art has helped that a lot. I used to want it to look like someone else drew it almost, and now I’m happy that it looks like I drew it, that I can see my personality sort of stamped in there. I do still often take a few different cracks at sketching something out and pulling it together, but it’s not so hard to express what wants expressing anymore. Oh, and getting an iPad and drawing digitally made a huge difference in the ability to get it to match what’s in my head too, because I can so easily erase and use layers and all those other little tricks. When it’s pen on paper, there’s no flexibility.
With words I still get kind of scared sometimes. Even writing out the answers to this, I had to give myself two cracks at it, with one super rough draft. Once I get into the flow of writing the nervousness passes pretty quick and I get more absorbed in it. I just have to remember to get out of my own way first and allow that really messy first stage.
Oooo.....how do you go about getting ideas and does that influence your writing style?
I used to get ideas on purpose, like force ‘em out. When I was teaching myself how to write I was focused on just writing a lot of stories very quickly and learning from them, so I would take any old idea and develop it. Now I find I have a lot of starts and stops and need a lot of daydreaming time in between. I’d say for each project I do, there’s 1-3 false starts, where I spent a few weeks plotting something out and preparing for it to become a thing, and then for whatever reason it doesn’t sing to me for long enough and I just let it go. Most of my ideas start from a very vague seed that gets gradually developed.
Like with Soft Places, I knew I wanted to do something that featured illustration heavily, so then I thought about what I wanted to draw a lot of and the answer was mushrooms, snails and girls with wild hair. Then I think the ideas of third eyes and alternate worlds came next, and then I read an article about what the local mental health system is like, and I thought about my dreamy wild character being forcibly confined in the hospital with long, horrible waiting periods full of anxiety and dread. And so on, and things gradually started to come together.
There would have been lots of threads and ideas at this stage that got rejected or rethought out as I went along pulling the pieces together.
When are you putting Eryn in a book? Hahaha seriously though: will you be doing another graphic novella?
My next few projects are definitely going to be heavily illustrated and I’ll definitely be doing more comic-type stuff, but I doubt the format will ever be exactly the same as Soft Places. Lately I’ve been thinking about doing a story told in the form of a series of occult zines from the 90/2000s, and I had actually been thinking I’d name one of the girls Harriet after your high school zine Harriet’s Final Repose, so that’s kind of like putting Eryn in a book!
What music are you listening to these days? Does music influence your art at all?
The primary genre I listen to is indie hip-hop, and specifically I’m really into Aesop Rock and have been for uhhh 20 years now. Lately I’ve been mostly listening to his album Garbology. It’s abstract, arty rap, with lots of occult and mysticism in his last couple albums.
Music does influence my art, mostly by influencing/helping to create a mood or vibe. Often I’ll listen to a particular album over and over when working on something. Writing Soft Places I listened to The Weather Report’s album Mr. Gone quite a few times.
What are your top 5 bugs?
Slugs, snails, caterpillars, worms, and I like spiders but I don’t always vibe with every spider, especially if they are super spooky and in my house, like I am just doing my best here.
Who is better pettins: fuzzy fren, or slipp-slimy fren? Make sure to explain why. I expect minimum 3 paragraph responses or you will not receive a passing grade.
OK, so you’re not the boss of me, but definitely fuzzy fren is better to pet. Like I love snails and slugs but I’m not convinced they love me, and especially I don’t think that they want my physical attention so I’ll keep my pettins to fuzzy frens who enjoy it, such as this dummy.
Why are themes of nature so important in your work? What does nature do for you? Are you only interested in the darker side, like the decomposers and saprophytes? What's your best memory of an interaction you had with a wild animal/plant/fungus?
I was going to say that nature doesn’t always come up in my work, but now that I think about it, it really does, especially in the form of bugs and insects. And of course, even more so in Soft Places a lot more so with all the mushrooms and plants playing a bigger role. So the answer is, I’m not sure, it just sort of seems to come out that way. In Soft Places it was especially about the strange corners of nature infiltrating the stark, shitty, white walls of the hospital. I guess I think nature is very weird, unpredictable, and in a lot of ways mysterious and unknowable, and it’s easy to forget that when we live in regular human society, so it’s fun to play with in a speculative way.
I haven’t been getting outside as much lately as much as I was last year, and I do think my mental state really benefits from getting outside and looking at the sky and finding a cool bug and breathing in air every day. It reminds me that I’m not just Betty that works and does things and lives in a house, I’m also part of nature, part of the outside, all the time. I should start going for walks again.
I don’t know if I’m only interested in the darker side, I think there was lots of light in Soft Places, but I guess the little gross bits are just sort of what appeal to me most, that’s where my attention naturally goes and I just follow it.
I really like the inkcap mushrooms that come up in the same spot in my yard every year and I always make a point to go look at them and wait for them every day in the fall. I also like rain and staring at the sky on my back deck, I get nice sunsets where I live. I like when the sunset turns everything pink or orange.
Soft Places is available now wherever books are sold.
ALSO AVAILABLE: Bookshop | Indiebound | Indigo | Barnes & Noble | Amazon
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See you next time, ghouls
great issue. Just bought a copy of Scanlines online from Powell's in Portland. Great bookstore. I was there once this summer. Worth the trip if you are in the Pacific Northwest.