Drawn to horror

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Artist Glenn Chadbourne has left his mark all over Lewiston, but it’s subtle: You’ve driven past it or nibbled on garlic knots beside it and probably never known.

His work for Maine’s king of horror? Less subtle, heavy on zombies.

Chadbourne’s latest book with Stephen King, “The Secretary of Dreams,” came out Dec. 11 from Cemetery Dance Publications. It’s a half-dozen of King’s older short stories set to Chadbourne’s often comically grisly pen and inks.

In March, he’ll be at the World Horror Convention in Toronto for the hardcover debut of King’s “The Colorado Kid.” Chadbourne, 47, was one of three artists picked for cover and interior art. (PS Publishing is making a separate edition for each artist’s work.)

That same month, he’ll start painting murals at DaVinci’s new restaurant in the Bates Mill.

Busy, busy guy. Nice, too. He sat down for an hour to talk all things horror, cuddly and King.

Chadbourne: Ask away, I’m ready to rock.

SJ: You live in Newcastle, what brings you here once a week?

Well, I’m very friendly with Jules, who runs the place (DaVinci’s). Ever since having done these murals, we struck up a friendship. I’ve gotten to kind of love the old town.

How did the Lewiston Pawn Shop work come about?

I got to know Rick at the pawn shop, he’s a really nice guy, he saw some of my stuff and we just sort of shot the breeze. At one time he was talking about doing some historical thing on the side of the building, something that would just add a splash of color to the downtown, you know, the renaissance of Lisbon Street and all that. We struck a deal and I wound up doing the long side of the building. This past summer I did another mural on the back. So one thing leads to another, you know, it’s like dominos.

Yours is such an interesting resume. Some of them just made me laugh out loud, like illustrating the horror poetry book, Slasher Sonnets.

Ode to Leatherface and Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger and all that stuff.

Has horror always been your thing?

Horror has been my thing since I was a carpet crawler. I’ve grown up on a steady diet of EC comics (reads like “Tales from the Crypt”) and the old Warren magazines (reads like “Vampirella.”) It probably makes me a sick bird.

And never any nightmares? You never scare yourself?

I love nightmares. Love ’em.

Any formal training?

Well, I went to art school, but pretty much so I could get out of the house and party.

What was your first commercial gig?

There is another horror writer in Maine, quite famous in his own right, called Rick Hautala, you can punch up Ricky on Google. He’s a very nice guy, a dear guy and probably one of my best friends on earth. Six or seven years ago I happened to meet him and we discussed the horror world and whatnot and he was looking for an artist to illustrate a short story of his, a collection called “Bedbugs.” I had tried previously – for years I’d send stuff in trying to get bites for a gig and it just wound up in slush piles. (Rick’s publisher Cemetery Dance) liked my stuff and that started a beautiful relationship with them.

Prior to that had you been doing art, just not books?

Oh, I’ve done murals and sign work, what I call bread-and-butter art for years, probably 20 years. This is just dream-come-true stuff in the last 10 years or so.

So for “The Secretary of Dreams,” it sounds like you had an idea and made a pitch to Stephen King that started all this off.

Richard Chizmar and I at Cemetery Dance had talked off and on for a long time, and I’ve done a ton of stuff with them, and of course we’re huge Steve fans. I also know his PA up there (Marsha DeFilippo,) she’s a sweet woman. And so one thing led to another and we just pretty much said, what the hell, let’s pitch him. We had this idea for doing some of his early short stories bringing them to a graphic format. I waited on pins and needles and a couple weeks went by, sure enough he said yes.

What were you thinking your chances were?

Slim to none. I mean, I grew up on the guy. He gave me free rein. He just said do what you do. He had faith in me. In my letter I promised him to treat him right, treat his stories right. They’re like old friends to me.

An average working day:

I’m a big soap opera freak. I get up about 9 in the morning and get whatever groceries the wife and I need. I go down and visit my mother in the old folks home, I get back around 11, eat lunch, sit down and draw. I watch all my soaps and stuff and I draw until about Oprah time.

Then I make dinner. We cuddle up, shoot the breeze for a while, and then I’ll draw until about 11. That’s what I do six days a week.

How long can you agonize over a page?

Some of those pages in that story took me a week of (drawing) every day, because I wouldn’t be satisfied. It’s like microsurgery with these little squiggly lines

Art for the book took two years. Did you send it to King at any point for approval?

Again, he gave me carte blanche, but I like to send copies. He e-mailed me and said thanks for the beautiful work, so I knew he liked it. I always want to pass by things, just to make sure, because it’s Steve, man, he’s the bomb. You want to make him happy. I’m delighted he let me do it.

I was reading on the Cemetery site, one of the special volumes of “Secretary” sold out in five minutes. That’s crazy. (The 52 lettered copies retailed for $1,500 each.)

Signed by him. It hasn’t got (anything) to do with me, to be honest. (Laughs)

Is the main character drawn to look like King in the first story?

That is Steve. His PA Marsha said he came out of the office laughing like a bastard, saying this is great, because I wondered about that.

Are you in here at all?

Not in this one, no. I might be in the second. I might sort of go crazy and have a little cameo in there, I might be driving by in a car or something. A cameo’s fun.

Has exposure like this led to other offers?

Oh god yes, never hurts.

What do you have in the wings?

I’ve probably got six months to go on “Secretary II,” and that has led to, I think, eight other books with different publishers and stuff, and in the meantime, local work, mural work. I’m even going to be doing some painting on motorcycle tanks for some of your local bikers here.

Can you give me some examples of your softer stuff?

I just did one, “The Domed Bug” (by H. Louise Bernstone), which is a very cute little kids book. It has to do with a kid who collects bugs and puts them in a Mason jar, as many kids do, then he starts to feel sorry for the bugs; it’s a cautionary tale. I’ve got these little pictures of bugs dressed up, little convict outfits with striped uniforms, balls and chains. So in the end he frees all the bugs and he’s skipping around with butterflies.

I’m curious how much Maine has influenced your art.

Again, these stories are like old friends – you know, the horror stuff. I don’t know if anybody’s ever coined this phrase, but, because we do have Steve, I have always sort of considered Maine (as) … the Transylvania of America.

Do you notice any theme among your fans; you must have a lot of teenage boys as fans?

You know, you’d think so. You would stereotype (his fans) as young sort of gorehound boys who like to go to the splatter movies. Not so, not so. I get a lot of women my age, housewives. I’ve had people on their walkers in their 80s come up to me. It’s a guilty pleasure to a lot of people. There’s a certain level of horror snobbery in my mind in the literary world. A lot of people won’t admit to truly liking this stuff. Believe me, they do.

Clearly, it looks like you’re having fun with all of this.

Oh, I’m having more fun. I could drop dead tomorrow and have done everything I wanted to in life. And not a lot of people can say that. Might be a good closer line. (Big laugh)

It’s perfect.



“The Secretary of Dreams,” limited to 5,000 copies, is only available now at cemeterydance.com and going fast, we hear.



Interview edited for length and clarity.



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