I began the Featured Creature posts only a year ago at the beginning of September 2012, but it now seems like an eternity has passed. This has been a tumultuous and eventful year globally and personally. My work on the Featured Creatures has followed a similar roller coaster path of development.
I had the idea of doing a weekly creature sketch percolating for several years and had never been able to actualize it before September of last year. As soon as I began posting, the ideas and energy took off like a rocket. I began the Featured Creature to help me keep my hand drawing skills moving forward. It quickly evolved into something more.
At the behest of a fellow artist and blogger, Vincent, I made a change to an early post, The Devil's Head. The original image had only whites for eyes. It made the entire head look very mask like. Vincent challenged me to add eyes to the figure. I added wolf eyes in Photoshop and that one change began a chain reaction. I began playing with the image further by adding grey tones. This simple act dramatically changed the future direction of the Featured Creature pieces. Each new creature would receive the same tonal treatment. Looking back, this evolution seems so obvious a choice, but at the time it was as though the clouds had parted to reveal the sun. This would not be the last revelation of this kind within the art of the Featured Creature.
During the second month of the Featured Creature, I gave myself two personal mandates. The first order was that I needed to add more environmental elements to each of the drawings and the second directive was a simple one I'd been moving towards for some time: more zombies. I'd been taking a long look at the work I'd been posting and discovered that for a blog called Zombie Bites, there were surprisingly few zombies.
As October progressed, the Featured Creature began to evolve even further. Halfway to Halloween, I began tagging the posts with a new logo and following the mandate for more zombies, I gave myself the personal challenge of producing a zombie trick-or-treater a day for the thirteen days leading up to Halloween: the Halloween Zombie Outbreak. Looking back, I'll be the first to admit that I was drunk on the possibilities and enthusiasm the Featured Creature posts had generated within me. Much like the zombies of the HZO, this would come back to haunt me, but not in the way you might think.
For the rest of October, I focused the Featured Creature posts on the HZO. The Ghost Trick-or-treater zombie was first post to sport the new Featured Creature Logo. Later for consistency, I retroactively attached the logo to all the previous Featured Creature posts. It was a hectic time. I was frenetically drawing and Photoshopping everyday and pushing myself to new creative limits. I didn't realize it until closer to Halloween, but I was experiencing an aesthetic zombie apocalypse.
One of the aspects of Zombies in visual fiction that I feel is a requirement for a respectable zombie story is that the zombies look real. The movie that was lingering in my head during all of this was the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. The original had been influential in the populating the horrorscape in my head and the remake gave me fresh landscapes of fear. In my personal attempt to achieve a level of realism with the zombies in the Featured Creature and the HZO I sought out true reference material for death and decay. I found a website that portrayed explicit photos of corpses and this seemed to suite my purposes.
As I continued in my work with the HZO, I began to encounter an unexpected internal resistance. Each new piece was more and more difficult to complete. I couldn't figure out where my dysphoria was coming from and my deadlines were getting tighter and tighter. Shortly after completing The Black Cat piece I came to understand. The Black Cat was the first of the zombies to be absorbed in shadow, but also she is one of the most gruesome. Something in this piece showed me my dilemma: I realized that I had been looking at images of mutilated corpses every day for over a month.
October 2012 had become my own personal month of the living dead. I found a limit within myself as to what I am capable of withstanding mentally and emotionally. I had hit the wall. The Halloween Zombie Outbreak had literally taken its toll. I was forced to stop work on the zombie pieces and take a break for my mental and emotional wellbeing. I posted an apology and finished off the HZO with several zombie images I had in reserve. Five pieces remained in the HZO set I had planned. I've tried multiple occasions since October 2012 to complete those last pieces, but to date I have been unable.
In the process, I learned a valuable lesson. I had underestimated the power and effect of the material I was working with. In the long run I am grateful that my silent internal humanity pulled me back from a brink I did not understand I was nearing. It also helped me to answer a personal question regarding where entertainment ends and something darker begins. Having made the decision to back away for my sanity's sake, I was worried at that time that I had reached my limit with horror, that I was incapable of creating work of this nature any longer. That was not the case.
Everyone needs a vacation once in awhile and that's what was needed for me then. I took several weeks off from creating new horror, instead posting material I had already completed or was of a comparative lighter fare. I took a short break, but it would not last long. In late November, I would struggle with a more personal fight against infection, decay, and death that had nothing to do with zombies.