Book of the Dead
by Claire Horsnell
They’ve invaded our cities, our shopping malls and our graveyards, but there is one place that has so far escaped the inevitable onslaught of ravenous skinbags: our coffee tables. What may be the last bastion of civilization has fallen, though, with the publication of The Zombook, a glossy, 250-page, full-colour art book, featuring all manner of creative depictions of the zombified undead.
The book is the brrrrrrraaaaainchild of British tattoo artist Allan Graves, who owns the horror-themed studio Haunted, in London, England. Graves had initially intended to put out a sketchbook comprising his own art, but he wanted it to look as pro as possible, rather than just binding together some photocopied sheets. Serendipitously, a friend introduced him to independent publisher Graffito Books, a young and dynamic company focused on producing volumes dedicated to “contemporary visual culture” – and one that was looking for help putting out a book on tattoo art. “It was love at first bite,” writes Graves, in his introduction to The Zombook.
“I said, ‘I’ll help you out but I have more ideas,’” explains Graves. “They liked the idea of the sketchbook but suggested [including] colour work and more pages, so I thought that I could include more people and just focus on zombies… they loved the idea! So I parked the sketchbook for a while and started digging up artists.”
It was a fitting endeavour for the man who claims that he’s been a horror fan since before birth – his mother attended a late-night screening of Night of the Living Dead while pregnant – and that he’s loved monsters ever since he can remember. Graves’ father was a painter, so he also grew up surrounded by art, which helped fuel his own passion.
“I’ve been a tattoo artist for twelve years now, and I became one by chance, as all I wanted was to draw monsters,” he says. But his slavish devotion to the ghoulish and the grotesque meant that he had a good sense of who was working in the field when it came time to put together The Zombook.
“I think there are plenty of horror artists out there,” he says, “and some of them are kind of my idols. So to have been working with them is like a dream come true… Paskal – the Meteors cover artist – doing a brand new piece for the book was super cool!”
The Zombook features more than 150 artists from all over the world, including The Pizz, Gris Grimly, Eric Pigors, Brian Baugh, David Hartman, Dan Mumford, Matt Dixon and Mitch O’Connell, as well as Rue Morgue alumnus Ghoulish Gary Pullin and Jason Edmiston. And much of the art is original to the book.
“I tried to make the ultimate zombie art book, so I was determined to get as many good artists as possible,” Graves explains. “When we realised that we had so much [material] to work with, I thought that somehow we had to separate the art. So I decided to make thirteen chapters – I think thirteen is a good number – and give it a narrative feeling to make it more dynamic.”
When asked, Graves is analytical about the enduring appeal of zombies and the Apocalypse.
“I think that they’re so popular these days because we are living in a critical time, with apocalypses and all that stuff knocking at our door. Watching the news today is like going to the cinema to see a horror flick years ago,” he says. But his own fascination with rotters is part philosophy, part pragmatism.
“They are what we can be, and that’s pretty terrifying,” he notes. “Also there are so many ways to draw them…”
The Zombook provides ample evidence, showcasing myriad artistic styles in a range of media, from pen-and-ink drawings, to digital art, photography and visual effects. All are gloriously monstrous images, but a surprising number juxtapose iconic, beautiful visuals – often channelling pictures of film stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood – with gruesome violence, mutilation and rot. The fact that it’s a theme that resonates heavily with so many artists speaks, perhaps, to our fascination with the uncanny powers of beauty and decay, the susceptibility of the former to the latter, and the power of the first to transcend the second. It’s a theme that recurs in Graves’s own work.
“I think it was just subconscious from me,” he says. “I’m always interested in the beauty and the gross at the same time. It’s a bit like a creepy ying-yang.”
There’s also a heavy emphasis on the classic pin-up aesthetic in the book.
“I’m fascinated with ’50s Americana, and all that style,” offers Graves, “so that’s [also] influenced the book.” Folks looking for the perfect gift for the psychobilly fan who has everything, take note.
What’s next for Graves, while he’s killing time before the Zombie Apocalypse?
“Now that the book is finished, and the tattoo one too, we’re moving on to more projects,” he says. “I can’t really reveal anything right now, but I can say that you will definitely see more horror from us in 2013… that’s if the zombies don’t eat all of us, though!”