On Thursday, January 19th of 2017 I recorded an interview with Mark Riddick, a local artist who specializes in the gory world of underground death metal and black metal artwork. He’s been creating his illustrations of horror and decay since 1991 and he just released his newest art book (more on that in the interview). I highly recommend you follow his Facebook account and/or Instagram account as he regularly posts his new and old work there. Be sure to check out his band’s lyric video at the end of this post that features his artwork. For now, you can download the 29 minute interview as an mp3 here, stream it below by pressing the orange play button, or just read it (my words are in bold). Even if you listen I highly recommend reading along as I’ve inserting several of his images we discuss throughout this post and, simply put, they look awesome.
This is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and for this interview I’ve got Northern Virginia based heavy metal artist Mark Riddick with me. If you’re a metal head then you’ve probably seen his artwork as album covers, merchandise and logos at some point. Bands from Morbid Angel to The Black Dahlia Murder to Absu to Arsis have all commissioned his work before and even more mainstream places like Dethklok from the Cartoon Network have used his artwork. Doomentia Press published Mark’s newest art book, Morbid Visions: The Art Of Mark Riddick [order it here]. Now to get things started here Mark, what vision for this book did you have when you started putting it together?
First of all, thanks for the generous intro. The Morbid Visions book, it probably started about two years ago that I took it on. I published a book through Doomentia Press probably about four or five years ago and that was called Compendium Of Death and that had about 20 years worth of illustration work from the early ’90s up to about 2011 in one giant book so it’s about [a] 600 page tome. That was released and it did pretty well. It sold out in about four months. Over several years I had compiled just a slew of logos from probably about 30 different artists for a book I was putting together called Logos From Hell and that came out in 2015 through Doomentia Press, again another 600 page book. I just felt that heavy metal logos, especially extreme logos, more so the hand drawn ones, needed to be recognized somehow in a uniform way. [I] wanted to really bring attention to the value of heavy metal logo illustration as a legitimate form of expression and logo design. So that was the reasoning for that book and then since that came out last year I thought, you know it’s been about four years, five years maybe since I published an art book so during the last two years, on and off, I was compiling the Morbid Visions book. One of the reasons why I named it Morbid Visions is because it’s a very influential album for me by Sepultura. That was probably one of my all time favorite albums so it seemed appropriate to name it that. It also spoke to the style and content of my work and it’s also more or less the name that I’ve used on some of the branding for the self publishing music that I do for my own band so it seemed like the right choice. But anyhow, it finally came out right at the end of December. [It’s] about 400 pages and it’s all work from the last four years compiled into one book.
Cover of Morbid Visions: The Art of Mark Riddick
You released a series of skateboards with your artwork on them. Did you approach Board Pusher about making them or did they come to you? How did that come about?
I’ve always had an affinity for skateboard art since my youth. I’m not a skater myself by any means but I just remember really appreciating the visuals on skateboards when I was growing up. Looking at Tony Hawk decks or Rob Roskopp, Zorlac I think was the one Pushead had done. I really, really honed in on that in my youth. I always wanted to do a skateboard deck and a couple years back I was solicited by a Swedish skateboard company to do a deck for one of their skaters. I ended up doing that and it was a cool project. [It was] my first time doing that. I’d never done a skateboard deck before. I was really happy with the end result. So I discovered Board Pusher online and submitted some work to them to have some skateboards produced and it just kind of picked up from there and they’ve been great to work with. Their CEO is a very nice guy. He was kind enough to do a couple features about my artwork through the Board Pusher website and media. That was cool. They’re great to work with. I’m really pleased with the quality of their product.
Board Pusher skateboards with Mark Riddick artwork
A lot of people know your artwork but you’re also a musician. You’re the one behind the one man death metal band Fetid Zombie. As such you released your sixth full length album Epicedia on Transcending Obscurity Records which is your second album in two years, along with several splits that you’ve put out. So why do you think you’ve been releasing so much music in the past couple of years?
With Fetid Zombie I like to try to put out at least one album per year. I’ve been trying to stick to that goal. I’ve also been somewhat prolific with writing and recording so between albums I will tend to release about two or three splits per year and that’s just more or less word of mouth like working with other bands or people contacting me asking to do splits and I usually oblige if I feel like it’s the right fit. Fetid Zombie is essentially a solo project but I do most certainly depend on guest musicians to assist with some of the instrumentation that I can’t do myself or that I envision and know I’m not really capable of. I always rely on other guest musicians to kind of help me see my vision through for the project. I think with Epicedia I really wanted to do something more grandiose so I went for lengthier songs, more epic approach in terms of songwriting, really spent more time on it than anything else I’ve done. I’m happy with the end result. I’m already working on new stuff. I’m hoping to continue in that direction where I combine the core of the band, which is old school death metal because that’s what I grew up on, but also borrowing a lot of elements from traditional heavy metal just to keep the music interesting and captivating.
So is there a reason you don’t really have any other full time band members? It’s just you and guest musicians.
I played in a regular band at least on one occasion with my brother-in-law and a drummer and that was great. It’s just, I have kids now, family, and I just wanted to do something on my own where I can do it on my own time and do it when the inspiration was in place and have more or less full control over how it sounded and how it was represented visually. The entire project is not just about the music for me. It’s [also] about the art and presentation. For me it’s about, how is the end user going to experience this release? That’s important to me so I try to give a little bit of attention to packaging, layout, artwork, things that accompany a music release. But yeah I just like having the conveniences of being able to do all the recording from my home studio at my own leisure and, like I said, when the inspiration is in place. Nothing is forced so I go at my own pace with the project.
Cover of Epicedia by Fetid Zombie
Do you ever plan on performing live in any kind of capacity?
No I hate playing live. Absolutely hate it. I’m very introverted so it’s extremely difficult for me to get up in front of a crowd let alone play an instrument in front of a crowd and just the whole concept of coordinating such an event, it’s just beyond the amount of time I have in a day. I have way too many obligations on my plate to bother with playing live. I do appreciate that people might be interested in such a thing but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.
I saw you’ve been getting a lot of press coverage, including an interview in Rolling Stone, for the metal style logos you did for Justin Bieber on his 2016 world tour. It appears you also did some for Rihanna that her backup dancers used during the MTV VMAs last year. Now how exactly did a guy who does all this artwork with skulls and rotting zombies end up working with some of the biggest pop stars in the world?
Haha, I wonder that myself as well. It kind of came out of the blue, I wasn’t expecting it. Regarding the Rihanna stuff, just to clarify, I didn’t do the logos, that was Christophe Szpajdel who, basically if you listen to metal you’ve seen his logos. Emperor, Old Man’s Child, he’s done everything. He handled the logos for that Rihanna performance. I just did the illustrations for the t-shirts that the backup dancers were wearing during the performance. Regarding the Bieber stuff, there’s been some confusion about that too. I just did the Bieber logo stamp. I didn’t do the Pentagram style Purpose Tour logo that a lot of people think I did which I did not do just to clarify. The jobs were pretty much a fluke. It happened after the former creative director for Kanye West had reached out to me regarding some stuff for some kind of show that Kanye was doing. I did a little bit of stuff for them. None of it got published. That project fell through, but one of the people I was working with was one of the guys who helped brand Kanye’s Yeezus Tour. This was all completely new to me because obviously I don’t listen to hip hop music. I don’t know anything about hip hop music but it was an educational experience if you will. Whatever the case, one of the guys involved in that project is the one who contacted me for the Justin Bieber stuff. I was kind of on the fence about it for just a little bit. I thought, I’m going to take a chance on this and let’s see if this starts up a conversation in the metal community and see where it goes. I was really curious and it felt right because a lot of the stuff I’d been seeing in 2016 with the appropriation of heavy metal visuals was kind of getting under my skin a little bit. Not so much that the visuals were being borrowed by hip hop culture, I could care less, but they’re just not doing it right. I kind of was bothering me. It looked too forced so since they were asking me I thought, I don’t want to see any more of this forced stuff out on the market. It was bothering me. So I figured ok, at least they’re asking me because clearly I’m well ingrained in underground metal subculture. So it felt like an interesting test if you will. So I took it on and the end result took place and that’s that.
Justin Bieber logo by Mark Riddick
So do you think you’ll work with any of those guys again?
Well, I’m taking a slightly different approach in 2017 here with my artwork. I actually did get asked last week to do some more stuff for Justin Bieber and I turned it down because in 2017 I want to approach my art differently. I want to do what I want to do. I want to draw what I want to draw this year. So instead of taking guidance from clients and customers about what they want, I just want to do my own thing and then license the drawings out to whomever is interested in the work that I do. That gives me more creative freedom. I’m getting older. I’m 40 now. So by the time nine o’clock rolls around I’m really tired. I just want to watch TV. I’ve had a long day at work, [I want to] hang out with my kids, my wife. I just want to chill out you know? So I figure I still want to draw. I love drawing and I’m still passionate about it but I just want to do my own thing and not feel that sense of obligation. Like oh I’ve got to get this to this band by this time because they’re about to go on tour. I don’t want those pressures right now. 2016 was very productive so 2017 for me, I’m sticking to my guns and just doing what I want to do at my own pace. I’ll still be doing the artwork. I’ll just be approaching it differently.
Now I’d heard that you charged Justin Bieber the same amount as all your other clients. You didn’t raise you rates because he’s really rich or anything. Have you thought about raising your rates after all that exposure?
No. I’m keeping my rates the same. It’s really important for me to be accessible to even the most underground band from maybe a country that might be struggling financially. It’s important to me because I’ve been so involved in the underground metal scene since the early 90s and I know bands struggle. I play in a band. I don’t make money off my music. I don’t expect to. I don’t care. To me it’s about making music and sharing that music. I feel like creativity should never be left to collect dust. If you’re creative and you have a creative output: share it. Whatever means that takes to share it, just share it. Because other people will appreciate your creativity as well. So for me it’s about being fair so that I can still [be] accessible to a really underground band but I’m still easily accessible to maybe a bigger metal band or something along those lines. So no, I have no intention of raising my rates at all. To me it’s just supplemental income. I do favors on occasion too and it just depends on how I feel, you know? Or who I’m dealing with. But no there’s no intention to raise rates by any means. I do want to be accessible like I said.
So what kind of price range do you charge for some of these things like the logos and album covers and t-shirts and things that you do?
I charge a flat rate for all my work. [I] charge the same amount for a logo as I do [for] a finished illustration. One would think the illustration would cost more because it’s more detailed but to me a logo represents a visual branding that has a much longer shelf life than an illustration would so I keep it all at the same price. I charge a flat rate of $350. To me that’s reasonable. If you’re four guys playing in a band, each guy contributes $75 or so, then you get a nice t-shirt design. You know it’s as simple as that. Like I said I want to be fair and I want to be accessible to whoever wants to work with me.
Metalocalypse – Dethklok artwork by Mark Riddick
You also did some work for the Cartoon Network show Metalocalypse and I remember the show’s fictitious band came to the Fillmore Silver Spring in November of 2012 and they had a shirt for sale there that had artwork you had done on it and I knew as soon as I saw it [that] it was yours. Your style is very recognizable. It had this big skull on it with curled ram horns coming out the side and it had people impaled on it I think. It was really cool looking, it was very striking. Certainly the coolest piece of merch they had there. So I’m really curious, how did that come about? How did you end up working with this television network?
So that was kind of a random thing also. I find that every year something unusual falls in my lap. When I get work I don’t go out looking for the work. It just kind of comes to me so. I don’t mean to sound cocky but that’s just how it is. Stuff falls in my lap. I can decide whether or not I want to take it or [if I] have the time for it. This was a number of years ago I was sitting at my computer and I was on the phone with the drummer from my band and just checking my email while I was on the phone with him and I got the request for some band called Dethklok and they attached a picture of the band and there was a cartoon drawing and I’m thinking, what the hell? Is this a joke? I don’t understand this. I tried reading the email to my drummer while I was on the phone with him and he said, “You need to take that job. That’s from Metalocalypse.” I didn’t know what it was because I don’t really watch too much Adult Swim and honestly I’ve probably only seen one or two episodes of Metalocalypse. But anyhow, that’s how it came about. The art director on their team for that part of Adult Swim had reached out to me and they wanted me to some poster work or t-shirt artwork for them. So they’ve come back a couple times. The show is now off the air but during its span I probably did about five or six maybe seven pieces for them that ended up being used for various print and merchandise products. But they were great to work with. They were very fair and they were actually very generous. I charged them my rate and they paid me more on some occasions because they just had the budget for it which is really, really nice of them. So yeah they’re a good client to work with I really enjoyed working with Cartoon Network.
I follow your Facebook and Instagram accounts and I always see you posting cool artwork you’re working on or have recently completed. Are there any cool projects for bands or anything else that you’re working on right now?
I’m trying to get past some stuff from 2016 that’s lingering so really I’m just trying to clear my plate. So that’s basically the stuff that’s sitting there. I’ll try to get rid of and like I said for 2017 I’ll just move forward in my own direction with my own work and then if a band inquires about art I’ll just give them some options but right now I am preparing to work on something for Thrash Attack which is an underground fanzine from Germany. Which is cool they cover a lot of the really classic, old school German bands or just metal bands in general. Mostly thrash given the title Thrash Attack. I’m working on, I’m very excited about this, it’s about six or seven pieces that will be for split 7″ EPs that are going to be combined to create one image. So they’re like individual record covers but if you buy all the records you can put them together and you get this really long, elaborate piece of artwork. So that’s pretty cool and I’ve got about two more covers before I’m done with that. That’s for a Swedish label called Sound Of Records and they mostly deal with represses but they have a couple things coming out. And let’s see I have to do something for Horror Of Horrors. I’m pretty excited about that. I did a 7″ EP cover for them probably in like 1993 or something like that. To me this is the kind of stuff I really enjoy doing, is when an old, underground band from years ago comes back and wants something else. That makes me really happy. So I’m looking forward to working on that. I gotta to help out Hell’s Headbangers with the new Hellcast logo. That’s their podcast, so I gotta get that done. There’s a record label that does shred guitar stuff called Crushing Notes, I gotta do some cover stuff for them. And then a label logo for a California based record label called Repugnant Records. I have something in progress for Hate Eternal. That’s been kind of dragging along. [I’m] just waiting to hear back. I also strangely did some stuff for Metallica that I’m waiting to hear back on so I don’t know if that’s going to pan out. My feeling is [that it] probably won’t. But that was kind of a unique opportunity to be asked to do that. That’s it, that’s all I have kind of lingering from this past year but beyond that I’ll just kind of see what comes my way.
Sketches of covers that will combine for Sound Of Records
You’ve done artwork for a lot of cool bands over the years. Were there any bands that you got to work for that really kind of made you step back and think like, I can’t believe I get to work with this band.
Yeah well the Metallica gig, haha, obviously is a big deal to me. It’s kind of died down a little bit the excitement because last I heard those sketches were sitting with their management so I don’t know if they’ll be approved or not and I know they’re getting ready to tour so if they do want something I’m at the ready but still I’m not really sure if that’s going to pan out. So there’s that obviously but yeah like working on shirts for Grave. Skull Fist is another band I really like. Getting the chance to do a shirt for them last year was pretty cool. My favorite thing is just doing artwork for bands I really like. Like Horrendous or Deceased. Those are two local bands that I really appreciate, it’s cool to be able to do stuff for them. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head but there’s certainly stuff that’s come by that is really exciting to work on as a project. Rotting Christ, that’s one. That was cool. I got to do something for Rotting Christ that made me happy. There’s definitely a handful of projects that [I] really have been honored to have worked on.
How did you get into drawing and doing artwork for metal bands in the first place?
I’ve always had a curiosity since my youth, before I even knew what heavy metal music was, just by looking at the album covers in record stores I was always kind of enamored by them. When I was about 10 years old I started getting into hard rock music and then like most metal fans you kind of graduate to the heavier and heavier and heavier so you know I went from hard rock to more traditional heavy metal to thrash to death and black metal so there’s always been that appreciation for the aesthetic. I’ve always had an interest in drawing so to be able to couple those together was enlightening for me. I think when I discovered the underground death metal scene that’s when it really clicked for me. That I knew I had an avenue to exercise my skill set in drawing. Starting to do demo covers and 7″ record covers and fanzine covers. I love fanzines because I know that those editors put a lot of time and effort into their finished product and I respect that. It’s just really the underground metal scene, that’s where I really found my calling.
Artwork for Ominous Hymn
Have you ever had any formal training for your artwork?
Yeah I’ve had formal training in the sense that in high school I took all the art courses, took some art history. And then when I reached college I ended up majoring in studio art with a concentration in painting which is kind of funny because I don’t paint so much. That’s actually one of my goals for 2017 is to do some more painting, to get back into that a little bit. So I’ll be spending some time on painting this year. So I do have formal training in regarding taking courses in school. I was really lucky to have great art teachers during my education. When I think of my high school years, the two teachers that I had were very supportive, very encouraging and taught the basics but also steered me in the right direction. I guess it helped me be passionate about the art I was doing. When I reached college I was also fortunate to have three professors who were also very wise and had a bit of a philosophical approach to creativity and to art. I felt that that was extremely valuable in terms of applying that to my own work. So, formal training, that’s about it. I do believe that practice helps. I literally draw every day. An artist never creates his masterpiece, it’s always a journey. It’s always a learning process. The masterpiece is never reached but they just get better.
Are you into comic books or anything? I know a lot of artists that do that stuff are into a lot of, maybe old E.C. stuff or even just modern artists.
Yeah I’d say that some of those old E.C. comics played a role in influencing me. I remember collecting some of those when I was probably about 12 or 13 years old. I always had an interest in comic book art, not necessarily reading the comic books but I always loved looking at the pictures and I think at age six or seven I started collecting. I was really fortunate. My aunt Lee [Marrs] and my uncle Mike [Friedrich] were both extremely involved in the comic book industry. I think my uncle Mike created one of the offshoots of the Comic Con. He also created some of the characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy and my aunt she wrote for like Batman and different kinds of comic books. She even had her own indie comic. She was really involved in the feminist comic book movement. So she is kind of considered one of the progenitors of that genre of comic book. They were both really involved in it. We’d give them our comic books and they’d go get them signed by the artists because they knew the artists. It was really cool for me as a kid to be able to have something like that. I always appreciated that. I always had an appreciation for comic book art. Like I said I never really read the stories but I definitely don’t collect them any more. It’s been years since I’ve purchased a comic book but I do have a respect for that genre of art.
Artwork for Cvlt Nation
You almost exclusively work in black and white. Is there any reason for that?
Yeah there’s been a couple reasons. I’d say first and foremost my approach to black and white is just a holdover from my early years in the underground metal scene. 1991 was when I first got into that and all the underground magazines and all the demo covers, even some of the 7″ record covers, they were all done on a photocopier. It was kind of rare at the time that you’d see anything with a color copied cover. The quality just wasn’t great and it was sort of an expensive commodity to have a color cover. So the black and white approach speaks to the whole photocopy era of the do-it-yourself attitude the underground metal scene had at the time. I feel like my work really needs to encompass that real visceral, raw, aesthetic from that time period because it played such a pivotal role in my own freelance art career that it seemed a necessity and so it stuck with me and I learned how to manage the pen on paper and I never stopped. I’m still doing it. I feel like it’s become part of my visual brand as an artist and I feel like it’s important. I can’t change. At this point I really don’t want to to be honest with you. I enjoy what I do. It’s, like I said, part of who I am as an artist.
You stopped doing commissions for a while in the early 2000s for maybe about five years or so. Why was that and what made you decide to come back into doing all this artwork for bands.
It’s interesting that you note that. So it’s probably around the time that I finished college up in the late 90s and started my day job work career as a graphic designer. I started learning more about Photoshop and just graphic design in general so I stopped doing the ink work and took an interest in Photoshop. [I was] creating album covers and Photoshop collages and stock imagery and things like that. So during that time period I was active in the sense that I was doing a lot of experimenting on my own. I did a lot of stuff for Willowtip Records I think around that time. Handling graphic design like CD layout and CD designs but they weren’t illustrated they were all like Photoshop collages and things like that. I feel like the metal scene has just become just over saturated with that approach and a lot of the stuff is just not well done so I started to get tired of it and I missed drawing. It had been a couple years since I’d really done a lot of artwork so when Willowtip came to me and said, “Oh I have this new band called Arsis I’m signing. Can you do their logo and their album cover.” So I thought, I’m kind of tired of this Photoshop stuff. I’m gonna pick up my pen and actually draw the album cover this time and then I went back and put some Photoshop stuff in it. But that was kind of what got me back into illustration was doing that A Celebration of Guilt album cover by Arsis. And so around 2005 or 2006 for a holiday gift my twin brother had purchased the domain name for my artwork and that’s what started the whole Riddick Art brand. So it gave me a venue to start publishing my work. Ever since then, so for the past decade or so, it’s just been nonstop. It’s like second nature for me. Drawing for me is like pissing, you know if that makes any sense. It’s just something I do. I have to. It’s therapy for me. It’s meditation for me. So it’s a necessity if you will. But yes since 2006 I just kind of picked it up and didn’t look back.
Cover of A Celebration of Guilt by Arsis
Alright well what do you think your biggest artistic influences have been?
I would say in my youth the Iron Maiden album covers. Derek [Riggs], his paintings really resonated with me early on. Obviously Edward J. Repka, all the classic thrash stuff [he painted] and then you know when I got into death metal Dan Seagrave‘s work clearly was inspirational. So some of those album cover painters were the ones who initially got me going and then when I discovered the underground metal scene I really took a liking to an artist named Steve Somers who played bass for an underground band called from Wisconsin called Phantasm. A great band. Some of their stuff just got repressed on cassette again which is awesome. I picked them up even though I have the original demos. But Steve Somers, his artwork was so inspirational for me. It was just better than anything else you’d see in the underground scene. Another artist in the early 90s is Russell Evans. He is no longer active in the scene but he had a lot of great pen and ink work. Obviously Chris Moyen needs to be mentioned here. Chris Moyen, I consider him my European counterpart. He’s been doing the same kind of work since the late 80s and I just absolutely love his style. His stuff is all over the place. If you look at black metal music you’re going to see Chris’s work somewhere. So Chris Moyen is definitely an influence on my own work. Those are some of the first artists that I really looked to for inspiration but there’s so much stuff out there now also. A lot of great artists have been around for a couple years are just starting to do some work. I love Daniel Corcuera from Chile. His stuff is just phenomenal. Probably the best around in my opinion. I like Matt Carr a lot, I like his stuff. He goes by the moniker Putrid. There’s so many artists out there now. I can keep going and going you know like, Halsey Swain. She’s done some great stuff for Toxic Holocaust and a lot of other bands. The list goes on. There’s so many artists out there whose work I love.
Are there any pieces or any projects that are your personal favorites or that you’re just the most proud of?
Not necessarily. I think it would be hard to narrow it down. I guess there are more experiences that I really enjoyed like, I collaborated on a piece with Vince Locke whose done all that Cannibal Corpse artwork. So that was really cool for me to be able to do that. I did a collaboration with [a] Japanese artist named Toshihiro Egawa. He does more of like a brutal slam death metal type artwork but he’s freaking phenomenal so it was cool doing something with him too. I don’t have any real stand outs per se, but there’s certainly pieces I know are more successful in terms of the way they turned out versus others but I don’t have any particular favorites.
Vincent Locke & Mark Riddick collab piece for Loculus
Most of your artwork seems to be for underground black metal and death metal bands so what is your favorite kind of metal? Do you like death metal or black metal better?
Personally death metal. I tend to be a little bit more picky when it comes to black metal. If you’re talking anything with the Greek or Mediterranean sound like Mortuary Drape or early Rotting Christ or things along those lines, I’m all about it. I love that stuff. But the core of what I’m really into is death metal. Pestilence Consuming Impulse [is] probably one of my favorite death metal albums of all time. Nocturnus, some of the classics. I’m also really into anything underground. I’m always trying to find new and interesting bands. Anything kind of testing the boundaries of the genre a little bit I’m really curious about. So I’m more of a death metal kind of guy but I definitely like black metal, I definitely like thrash. I like a little bit of doom. I like some [traditional] heavy metal. Just the other day [I was] listening to Keel and Ratt and Dokken so, you know, I’m pretty open in terms of my taste but I tend to hone in more so into death metal.
Well thanks a lot Mark. You’ve answered all my questions here and you’ve taken a lot of time and given me some thoughtful answers. I do appreciate it, thank you.
No I appreciate your time and the interest. I’m really grateful for your time and support. I think I mentioned in an email before, what you’re doing for the local metal scene and the metal scene in general is certainly commendable. As a local myself I’m extremely grateful for it. I really appreciate the service that you’re providing on your own time and because it’s something that you’re passionate about. I really respect that.
Well thanks man. I do appreciate it and again thanks for your time and have a good one.
Alright take care man. Have a good night.