The hike to the small mountain hut took a total of four hours, but inside the heavy North Carolina rainfall, four hours can feel like ten. With each step I remind myself of why I’m doing this: I’m here to meet the legend known only as SickJoe. His work transcends the boundaries of macabre art. His mastery allows him to create things that can range from beautiful fantasyscapes to unique stylized caricatures to visceral brutality. Now it was time for me to move past the art and meet the man behind it all.
You’ve done spectacular work on the Aberrant Ink titles Hellgorythm, Whale Song and Exits – A Paranormal Comedy. What other projects are you working on?
I finished Outrider [a fantasy western comic] not too long ago and I’m currently doing a trio of comics for the Geek Cast crew, but I dunno if I’m allowed to talk about what exactly. I’m also working on a zombie card game, In the Shadows.
That’s a lot of projects you’re working on. How do you keep up with the work load?
Being clear about what is expected as far as turn-arounds go. The ones that need more, sooner, are generally also the ones that have money saved up specifically for these projects. The rest of my clients enjoy the more relaxed pace of one a week.
What would you say your most important inspirations are?
Anything really. Good music, films, art, conversations. As long as ideas are being moved around in one form or another, it gets my mind churning.
I’ve heard you’re a fan of True Detective.
Both seasons, yes.
Is time a flat circle? Because I don’t understand that shit at all.
If the ‘Big Crunch’ is how our universe works, then it’s possible. Time is time, uncaring of the matter that moves within it. But if they’re saying this existence will be repeated again and again? I dunno about all that. Feels like the matter of the universe would get redistributed in a different array, the outcome of life in that timeline would be completely different… who even knows if Earth would even form out of that new seed.
Fate and Destiny are bullshit… in my opinion. Granted you may be destined to the same sins as your ‘father’ if you never develop yourself and fall back into what is natural as opposed to what is right in the situation at hand.
This sounds slightly Nihilistic, what are your thoughts on that topic?
I honestly don’t think there is a point to anything, but to me that just means freedom. I don’t think I’ll get punished for my wrong deeds, but that doesn’t mean I should indulge in fucked up behavior. I have a chance to be whatever I want and if given the chance, I choose to try and live up to my best self, even when everything inside me on an animal level says otherwise. To not care just seems like a cop out. You have a chance to give a shit but life has pulled the rug out from under you so many times now that you’re afraid of giving a shit because that means there’s a chance that you put yourself out there and you’ll get hurt… again.
I guess nowadays I’d rather risk getting hurt because I know I can handle it even if it goes sideways… because it has before and I made it through that shit too, with a broader perspective.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give aspiring artists?
Learn to take criticism, it’s part of the job. Learn to learn from your failures so you don’t feel like a piece of shit when something doesn’t turn out like you wanted, plus you end up never walking away from the situation empty-handed. Even learning what not to do is a lesson. I respect people that try and fail more than I do people that talk and never produce.
Don’t do anything for validation. Know how much your time is worth. Never give up. You can be an amazing artist, but another part of the job is getting out there and making your own connections rather than sitting around hoping to be discovered. It’s better to be proactive and [that] generally increases your odds of landing jobs because as you continue to do the work, your skills develop (especially if you focus on developing your weak areas), you continue to build a body of work for new viewers to dive into, it shows you’re a worker to possible employers and plus you have no fucking clue who’s gonna see what [what you make, and where they’re gonna see it], so it’s better to sprinkle your goodies over as wide a range as possible.
And just general human being advice, learn to set boundaries, communicate, be honest and fuck anyone who has a problem with what you choose to do so as long as you aren’t hurting anyone or taking from them against their consent.
More of SickJoe’s work can be found at https://sickjoe.deviantart.com/
His latest comic Outrider can be found on Comixology.com