Scott Hampton: The Horror of an Illustrator

Simon Dark

In looking at the graphic novel it is apparent that more than not, the genre is misconstrued as cartoony depictions of real life events; simply pictures put to words in order to provide entertainment to the lazy reader. However, this stereotype is being challenged daily by the works brought into the literary world and the impact that they can have beyond just the element of entertainment. Recently I viewed a video interview with Scott Hampton, a graphic novel artist who has been in the genre for 25 years. Hampton provided several substantial arguments for the genre of horror as seen in graphic novels, recognizing the importance of his artwork in developing characterization in order to honor the genre. While he delved into details his own future project, by the end of the interview Hampton even reveals what he believes to be the most influential part of a comic book in general.

Revealing vague references to his personal life, Hampton engages the audience by recognizing that he had many experiences with the subject of death and rarely found the means to cope each time he faced death in his life. He admits that he found a sense of catharsis by reading and drawing, which eventually led to his interest in the graphic novel medium. Hampton begins describing horror as “what we try to avoid in our lives,” acknowledging that his true interest lies in real horror because he feels he had experienced it so much in his life. A bold move for an author or illustrator of any kind, Hampton admits that his characters are based on people he knows – he wants them to be real to his audience because they are very real to him and it is his way of coping with the terrors he has experienced throughout his life.  One aspect of the interview that I found to be the most enlightening was that Hampton said that he cannot make his characters too likeable because then when the terror starts happening to them, the audience will get more caught up in whether the character will survive or not than becoming caught up in the plotlines and the action of what is happening in the story. I thought this was a very unique approach to illustrating graphic novels, as normally it would be assumed that the characters (at least the protagonists) are meant to be likeable characters. As Hampton eloquently puts the matter, he wants to “create empathy without creating too much sympathy.”

Although Simon Dark has already been published, at the time of the interview the series of monthly comic books was still in the planning stages. Simon Dark is a series which Hampton illustrated, and what he was the most excited about was the fact that he was going to create his characters on one sheet of paper, the events and action on another, and then combine the two on Photoshop in order to create an almost animation-like tone in his illustrations. Authored by Steve Niles, the series followed a 17 year old boy who paralleled a Frankenstein-like character, speaking to the search for identity all people seem to face in their teenage years.

So what was the most influential part of comic books in the eyes of Scott Hampton, an illustration guru? The gutter. Coincidentally enough, this same secret was actually revealed in one of our class sessions, but to hear from such an esteemed graphic novelist such as Scott Hamptons adds a sense of reassurance we could all use. In his example, one panel may show a person preparing to kick another, and the next panel will have the victim’s head flying back. We never really see the kick, but as readers we use the gutter space to assume what happened between the panels. In those moments, we (the audience) have the chance to use our imaginations in the best possible way to visualize what happened in those sparing moments. So although the graphic novel genre would be lost without its illustrators, it is a nice vote of confidence that one of the best artists in the genre recognizes that his audience can be just as vital to the success of a comic as he can.


If you are interested in viewing the video for yourself, the link is provided below: