“My Fear Caused An Obsession”: Alan Robert On Art, Horror And The Future Of Life Of Agony
There are many things that we know about Alan Robert. For one, as bassist and lyricist of Life Of Agony, he has played an integral part in recording some of the most brilliant – and traumatic – songs to emerge from the ’90s. Many will also be aware that he has long been a professional artist, too, having worked on a host of graphic novels, including his excellent(ly grisly) horror comic Wire Hangers for IDW.
But, of late, Alan is fast becoming known for something else, too. It all started in 2016 when he ventured into the world of colouring books, and promptly found himself the proud creator of a No.1 Amazon bestseller in the form of his book The Beauty Of Horror.
The revival of the colouring book medium – particularly for adults – has been the subject of countless column inches in recent years, many praising the calming, therapeutic qualities of unplugging your mind and simply focusing on colouring within the lines. (Or not, if you wanna be a rebel about it.)
What makes Alan’s unique, however, is that his are the by-products of nightmares. The hyper-detailed images that make up his pages come to him at night and he painstakingly translates them into a world inhabited by a pulseless girl named Ghouliana. From there, it’s up to us to use our own creativity…
“It’s been so cool to see what colourists from all over the globe have been doing with the designs!” Alan tells Kerrang!. “It’s been a mind-blowing experience to see these pages come to life. The Beauty Of Horror fans are absolutely great: their passion comes through in their creativity and it inspires me to really put the time and extra effort.”
Last year, Alan released his second colouring book in the series: The Beauty Of Horror 2 – Ghouliana’s Creepatorium (“Like any good horror movie… there’s got to be a sequel,” he quips). As for what’s in store for 2018? More sequels! In fact, we have three due, with the first, The Beauty Of Horror 3: Haunted Playgrounds, due for release July 24. Alan’s even made a creepy search and find video for it which everyone – bar those consuming hot drinks or who are prone to heart failure – should watch with the sound cranked up very loud…
Watched it? Good. Now read what Alan has to say about painstakingly drawing for hours on end, creating worlds derived from his obsessive love of horror and find out what Life Of Agony have in store for the rest of 2018 and beyond…
Rewind the clock for us Alan, why were you first drawn to doing your own colouring book series in 2016?
“A few years back, colouring books for adults flipped the books industry on its head, topping the bestseller charts with nature themes and mandala patterns. But for horror fans, like me, there were basically zero titles to sink our teeth into. So, I’ll never forget it, it was actually April 1, 2016 when I pitched the idea to IDW Publishing. I told them I wanted to draw the very first ever, high-end, horror-themed adult colouring book. I sent over the cover image and one page of intricate, disturbing line art. They responded with the fastest ‘Yes’ I ever received for a book project, and I’ve done several graphic novels with them over the years. They literally got back to me within a few short minutes with a green light for The Beauty Of Horror! I got cracking immediately and I quickly found out that this was some task! There’s 88 pages of extremely intricate pen and ink work, and each page took me about eight hours to draw, from start to finish. It was a bit daunting at first, but my goal was to make the biggest, baddest horror colouring book on the market. It had to have everything horror fans would want to colour: vampires, werewolves, zombies, monsters, serial killers and more. I wanted to make the book I would buy as a horror fan. To my surprise, upon its release, The Beauty Of Horror, A GOREgeous Coloring Book became an instant No.1 Amazon Bestseller and is still Amazon’s No.1 Most Wished For adult colouring book in its category, nearly two years later.”
Are you trying anything new with the coming three volumes?
“Volume One gave me the confidence to expand on the world I created and to dive even deeper into the characters. The Beauty Of Horror books all feature a little undead girl by the name of Ghouliana, who I’ve written poems about, and drawn in so many different settings and scenes. The devilish tricks she plays on colourists is a lot of fun, as they search high and low to find all of her hidden items inside the pages of intricate line art. Ghouliana has a slew of undead pals and pets, and it’s been awesome drawing these guys the last couple years. Volume Two came out in 2017, and it also became a huge hit, allowing me to release three new Beauty of Horror titles this year! On July 24, The Beauty Of Horror 3: Haunted Playgrounds hits bookstores, then in September, The Beauty Of Horror: Ultimate Nightmare lithograph set gets released, and finally, just in time for the holidays, The Beauty Of Horror: Ghosts of Christmas Colouring Book comes out… which just may be the most brutal. I mean, Ghouliana really destroys Christmas! Since Volume One, I’ve pretty much been drawing non-stop in between tours with Life Of Agony. It has kept me very busy, but I really do feel that each book has gotten better along the way. The creative juices have been flowing and I’ve found my rhythm.”
Is there a grand narrative working away in them?
“Yeah, definitely. Ghouliana is very mischievous and is always looking for ways to mess with the colourists. So, while each book has its own specific setting, Ghouliana is constantly up to something. For example, in the new one, The Beauty Of Horror 3: Haunted Playgrounds, Ghouliana is searching through abandoned amusement parks and haunted carnivals trying to collect all of the missing limbs and organs to resurrect her dead monster friend, while in The Beauty Of Horror: Ghosts of Christmas she’s hunting down her lost presents at The North Pole… dismantling Christmas as she goes! I’ve actually been working on ways to bring the Ghouliana character to life in other mediums too, outside of colouring books, for games and television. There’s a whole lot that can happen with her! In fact, while promoting book two, I flew out to Los Angeles to produce a Beauty of Horror commercial with my buddies Director/Creature FX master Robert Hall [Teen Wolf, Laid to Rest, Chromeskull] and Nick Principe [Chromeskull, Laid to Rest] with the help of Cinematographer Brandon Trost [Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance] and VFX/Editor Josh Petrino. Robert Hall designed the Ghouliana make-up and costume based on my illustrations and we brought her to life on film. It was surreal!”
What’s the biggest misconception about colouring books?
“Well, I think it was a big surprise to a lot of people, a few years back, when colouring books for adults even became ‘a thing.’ It seemed like overnight, colouring books for grown-ups had become this huge phenomenon. There were colouring clubs popping up in most major cities, and colouring groups forming all over social media. You could find the books everywhere, even at the grocery store… but what really did it was the enormous sales. Even the colouring pencil business benefited by its popularity – they couldn’t stock coloured pencils quick enough for the demand!
“At one point, The NY Times Bestseller List had a few colouring books on it. All of a sudden, people started to take notice that this trend was not going away anytime soon. Book stores created entire sections devoted to colouring, even stocking colouring supplies, accessories and sets. After the explosion of nature and pattern books, the niche books like mine started to give colourists even more options. Sure, there are some colouring books that are just published just for the sake of novelty, or as a goof, but others are completely breath-taking with unbelievable artwork, like Johanna Basford’s books, or Kerby Rosanes. The real art form comes from the fans themselves… what they bring to the table with their own creativity. That’s what I like most about it, I think. The interactivity. When I put out my graphic novels, fans get to enjoy them for a while and then set them on their bookshelf. With the colouring books, the fans complete the work of art the way they see it and then they can then hang it on display in their homes, or just turn the page to work on the next design. From an artist’s perspective, it’s pretty amazing. I get to put out something that really takes on a life of its own.”
A lot has been made about colouring books – particularly adult colouring books – and their applications for mental health. Do you think they can do a lot of good to that end?
“I’ll tell you, if I had colouring books like the ones they publish now, I probably would have never left my house as a kid! But growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, we had crappy colouring books… just basic designs printed on thin, newspaper-quality paper. Even the colouring tools we had sucked – it was nothing like what’s available today. I can see why adults are using colouring as art therapy now. They get to turn off their screens for a bit and lose themselves in their own heads for a few minutes. It can definitely be an escape. I know for me, drawing the books for hours on end, it relaxes me doing something creative. I zone out, for sure, drawing all these nightmares.”
Whether we’re talking Wire Hangers or Beauty Of Horror, why are you so drawn to horror?
“I’ve been attracted to horror ever since 1979’s The Amityville Horror movie. Or maybe I should say obsessed?! I was eight-years-old when that film premiered on HBO. I begged my parents to watch it. After all, I knew Amityville, Long Island was a real place, not too far from home in Brooklyn. We had friends and family on Long Island that we would visit, and we would pass the Amityville exit sometimes, so knowing that this haunting took place somewhere close to home was kind of fascinating to me. Long story short: I didn’t make it past the opening credits. The music scared the shit out of me! All the chanting and all that… in a few minutes I ran out of the room terrified and hid under my covers. ‘I’m safe!’ I thought to myself. That was a terrible idea wanting to see that movie, but the only problem was my bedroom was located right next door to my parents’ room, separated by a thin wall. I heard the entire movie through that wall, which probably turned out way worse, because my imagination was probably scarier than the actual film. From there, I think the fear actually caused an obsession with everything horror. Before long, I was getting Fangoria magazine and renting all the classic horror films. My drawings immediately started to get bloodier and bloodier…”
So if you take a step back and look at you career, is there a relationship between your artwork and your musical output – a through-line that can be traced between the two?
“I’ve learned something important about myself throughout all of this. For me, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s art or music, I just enjoy making something out of nothing. I love the process of having an idea, scribbling that idea on a napkin, developing it over time and eventually releasing it into the universe. Creating something tangible and real out of nothing. That is what I love most about all of this. And often times, it’s not an easy process either. Half the battle is getting frustrated with myself to try an achieve something that may be out of my comfort zone. But I always push myself to learn new things and to try to expand my skill set. Trying something new and failing at it, only to eventually overcome that fear and succeed at it, is way more rewarding than doing something you always knew you could accomplish.”
Do you currently have any other work in the pipeline?
“I recently hooked up with a talented claymation animator named Trent Shy who is working on a short animated piece for The Beauty Of Horror: Ghosts of Christmas. He just started the character designs and they are turning out incredible. I’ve written the script, and we’ve already produced the audio for it, so it’s making fast progress. It’s going to be insane. Ghouliana is going to completely destroy the North Pole! Outside of that, my production company Wasted Talent Entertainment has been developing a live-action film based on my Crawl To Me graphic novel. That has taken some giant steps forward in the last few months, with a great new script. We’re talking with directors now. Life Of Agony is on tour for the rest of the year, and in the start of 2019 we head back into the studio to record our sixth studio album. Very exciting times!”
So, let’s get an update on LOA…
“We recently re-signed with Napalm Records to record another album for them. We’ve already started writing and demoing material and plan on hitting the recording studio first thing in the new year! We’ve been on the road with this Rise Of The Underground tour for most of 2018, all through December, so in between legs, we’ve been carving out time to work on the new songs, and then on the road – backstage and at soundchecks. We’re so excited about the new ideas flowing, and we’ve been having such a blast together onstage and traveling, that momentum and energy will definitely be felt in the new album. We also added a new member into the group this year, drummer Veronica Bellino, and she instantly became part of our family. Previously, she played with Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Jeff Beck, DMC of Run DMC, Richie Sambora, and a bunch of other established artists over the years. She has a great spirit, is an amazing player with incredible groove, and is an absolute pleasure to have with us on this new journey.”
Finally, do you have any plans to hit the UK soon?
“Definitely in 2019! Looking forward to it.”
Words: George Garner
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