Updated: May 2, 2021
In the third of our Q&A features, we talk to our artist / illustrator Thom Simpson about freelancing, FoxCult, the earnest drive behind personal passions, and how our consumption of media provides endless inspiration. Today, we welcome you to explore the artist behind our illustrated comic strip - Desert Drive - available in The Needle Drops... Volume One.
Thom Simpson is an illustrator from Somerset in the south-west of England. Following a love for intricate pen and ink work, he has been honing his craft for a number of years, exploring the capabilities of cross-hatching techniques and complex textural work. Thom has launched his own successful illustration brand that features naturalistic illustration alongside an impassioned collection of drawings inspired by his favourite film and videogames. Most recently he has turned his hand to producing a collection of apparel and accessories under the brand FoxCult, centred around the mischievous creatures.
So, Thom - how has it been interpreting and visualising the world of The Needle Drops… so far?
I must admit, I was a little daunted at first! But the more I work on the art - and by extension, see everything come together - the more comfortable I find it to explore each new section. It really helped to have such a strong direction to go on from the beginning, and from there it has been a case of throwing my own spin on the visuals. Finding a way to adapt my usual working process to a new world, and new ground in the format and genre, has been really refreshing; in particular, capturing the mood, the dirt, blood and smoke - it’s been very textural which is just what I like.
Does it feel liberating or constraining when working on freelance projects? Do you prefer having a basis to build off, or a blank slate?
Usually, it very much depends on who you’re working for. As with any collaborative project, there has to be a level of push and pull, of willingness to compromise to each other's ideas- so it helps big time when this feels more like a constructive discussion rather than an argument. Being a creative individual with a pretty rampant imagination, it’s always a pleasure to be let loose on an idea with the simple command of ‘go nuts’. But when you’re working to a timeframe it’s really beneficial having some of the legwork already there, especially when the vision is clear and there are enough specifics nailed down to form the structure. Then it’s a case of adding the visual meat to the formative bones, if you like, and there’s always a liberating experience to be found in the process.
Can you tell us a little about the origins of FoxCult, and the process behind it?
So FoxCult is a passion project for me, an idea I’ve had kicking around in the back of my mind for some time now, but have finally brought to light. When I first started making ‘professional’ artwork, and knew this was what I wanted to do with my life, the idea of establishing my own brand was incredibly appealing to me. It felt like a solid, tangible goal, to create something significant and lasting that I could always come back to. I’ve always loved foxes - not only are they visually stunning creatures, but they have a deep wealth of mythology surrounding them across pretty much every single culture around the globe. I find myself coming back to them again and again in my work, and have taken the fox on as a personal mascot of sorts. In a way, I think of FoxCult as more of an umbrella term for myself across all platforms, rather than just my artwork. I’m currently piecing together a new collection based around Japanese mythology and Kitsune spirits, so keep an eye on that...
"Then it’s a case of adding the visual meat to the formative bones, if you like, and there’s always a liberating experience to be found in the process."
Considering The Needle Drops… is a horror fiction anthology - how do you fare with the genre? Do you have a favourite horror game?
Confession time! I do NOT cope well with horror at all. Or, more to the point, I don’t cope well with a certain type of horror - the closer to plausibility, perhaps, the less I want to do with it in most cases. Don’t get me wrong though, I really appreciate the artistry in horror. Anyone who’s able to create a level of suspense, tension and grim fascination that - even if it is wildly detached from reality - can capture your attention to the point of convincing you ‘Oh God, what if…?’ There’s a genius and a talent in that. As you can imagine from this, I don’t play many horror games, although I do enjoy watching them being played - I actually find the removal of control less stressful than being in the driving seat. The world building from the classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill interests me a lot, and the same can be said for games like Bloodborne and the Souls series - not traditional horror games by any means (hence the numerous hours I’ve been able to actually invest in them) but the disturbing, eldritch themes are all there. Outside of gaming, it’s impossible to not mention Junji Ito in regards to horror comics. Uzumaki remains one of the most disturbingly unpleasant yet utterly brilliant pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. As for film, I really appreciate the physicality of things like Alien, Crimson Peak and a personal favourite, the almost impenetrably artsy Hannibal TV series.
We’ve spoken before about the presence of the gruelling 9-5 alongside your true passion - hypothetically, what is your dream job offer?
Ah, the capitalist machine. Love it or hate it, can’t live without it… In an ideal world, I’d be able to rely on selling my artwork full time. Personally, I’m not looking for any level of wild fame and success - I don’t think I’d cope well with something like that - but it would be great to work on large scale gallery shows, interspersed with following personal projects, and building FoxCult into a viable business model. As for a dream job offer, I would love to be able to create an expansive world full of its own mythology and lore, communicated through a series of visual formats - books, animation, exhibitions, tabletop or even video games… there’s a LOT I want to turn my hand to. Who knows what the future holds...
Could you tell us a little about your illustration process, as shown in your announcement teaser?
Every piece begins as you’d expect - with an idea. Usually, transforming that idea into a physical piece of artwork renders it unrecognisable to the original thought, but that’s just part of the process. You have to get very good at detaching from certain things when creating artwork, and experimentation is key. I usually rough out a load of visuals in a loose, very small format first, before picking the general imagery that sits most comfortably with me. Then, I move on to refining those ideas into something more coherent. Sometimes this can be as simple as a single attempt, more often it takes a few tries to get the right feel about it. I do a lot of just trusting my gut instinct when making images, which is probably down to a level of practice and confidence in my particular approach. Also, I can’t really afford to be too precious with the design stages, as it’s the ink work on the final image that takes the majority of the time. A lot of the more precise details reveal themselves to me at this stage, and I adapt the image as I’m inking to fit. This can be a bit risky, but generally turns out favourably. I love exploring texture, and as I mentioned before - physicality is a really important part of making something engaging. When you’re working visually, you’re trying to convince the viewer not that what they’re seeing is necessarily real, but that it has its own form, its own tangibility - for me, that’s the most important part about creativity. It doesn’t matter what format or style you’re working in; if you can convince your audience that what they’re seeing has significance and a physicality within its own world, then you’ve done a good job as far as I’m concerned.
"When you’re working visually, you’re trying to convince the viewer not that what they’re seeing is necessarily real, but that it has its own form, its own tangibility - for me, that’s the most important part about creativity."
Do you think illustrating a comic / graphic novel is something you’d like to work on again in the future? Any indie favourites?
Oh absolutely, I’ve always loved the format of a comic and I think it’s such an engaging medium for storytelling. A perfect blend of visual and written narrative. Working on The Needle Drops… has actually already inspired me to open up some old ‘cold cases’ from the last few years, ideas that I started roughing out but didn’t have the time to dedicate to them. There’s a unique excitement that comes with crafting a story at any level, and I would love to see how my style influences the way I’d tell a story. I adore any of the work by Jeffrey Alan Love. The Thousand Demon Tree and Notes From The Shadowed City are really excellent examples of how important imagery alone can be to creating a narrative, and they’re damn good to look at as well. One of my favourite musicians, Lights, created an album and graphic novel called Skin & Earth which ties into a soundtrack in a similar way to The Needle Drops… which creates a very engaging way to experience a usually silent medium. I grew up reading classic Batman and the Hellboy series, so I love that combination of pulp, grittiness and bizarre mythology - something that appealed to me so much when The Needle Drops… landed in my inbox.
In three words or less - what can our readers expect from the comic strip?
LOTS of ink.
Thank you, Thom. We can’t wait to debut your fantastic illustration work in Desert Drive - the comic strip of The Needle Drops… Volume One.
Spread between our Contributors fiction, Desert Drive follows a lone survivor on his descent into the deep desert, and his confrontation with those that await on the fringes of despair… Urhi Supporter's get early access to the first panels in the coming weeks!
You can support Thom directly by purchasing his various prints and merch here.
Desert Drive will be available in both print and digital formats within The Needle Drops... Volume One and you can pre-order directly from us here.