Matt Coyle - Drawing down on the dark genre


Matt Coyle is a Tasmanian based Artist and Writer who burst onto the dark genre radar with the beyond excellent graphic novel Worry Doll. While we would like to claim Matt as one of our own he is also sort after by the wine and cheese set, with a number of galleries featuring his work, and regular exhibitions of his work in Australia. Well received by both Critics and Reviewers, Matt's work is also gathering a huge following amongst dark genre fans both Downunder and in other parts of the world. Matt took time out of dark musings to answer a few questions the team aimed his way

ScaryMinds - Do you consider yourself a Writer, or an Artist, or are both fundamental to your work?

Matt Coyle - I have come at all my graphic novel projects primarily as an artist. I have never had a real yearning to tell a story and hence I don't see myself as a writer. But I have always been interested in narrative driven artwork, even if we are talking about one image. So while I have produced a few graphic novels, most of the stand alone or one off drawings I do have a strong narrative feel to them. The graphic novels I have produced are obviously more about the images than the written word, as the writing is minimal or non existant, and the narratives are more dream like than a traditional story. The narratives in my work are based more on feel than anything else and it is generally a process based on pictorial concepts that I tend to trust and just go with. I only tackled the writing for Worry Doll once I had finished all the drawings and even then I had no idea how I was going to write it. I really felt out of my comfort zone having to deal with the written word. But I managed to get there in the end.

ScaryMinds - Your work shows a disturbing quality, for example the slightly ajar door in Self Portrait With Television, is this something you aim for or does it naturally occur?

Matt Coyle - I know that there is often a disturbing quality in my work, in some pieces more than others, but it is certainly something I don't consciously go looking for. It really happens just through habit now. When any artist decides on an artwork they are going to create they will go with the idea that most excites them. And if you are doing the work you most want to do then you know you will produce your best work. Your heart has to be in it. So invariably, when I come to concepts, they seem to have a dark edge. I don't usually stop and think "hey this might be hard to sell beacuse it is too dark (perhaps I should)" I just drive on ahead and produce the piece. And I think that quality is also bound up in the style or technique I employ. I am aware that the rapid pen strokes in my drawings add to the percieved tension. And drawing solely in black and white doesn't help the darkness factor! So although my early teen years were spent watching masses of horror films and being obsessed with gore, and a lot of that influence came out in my earlier work (Registry of Death), I do now try to employ a certain subtlety in my artwork. I'm interested in creating something that looks relatively life like but where there is a nagging sense of things not being quite right. And I think that sensation can create fear, perhaps, or excitement. There is a fine line. But I think a lot of the little details like the door you mention in Self Portrait with Television aren't entirely intentional in terms of adding to the sensation. I probably had it open to help with the composition or to assist with more dramatic lighting. But then again I'm sure I am on auto pilot when I make some of these decisions and eccentuating the atmosphere could be on the subconscious agenda.

ScaryMinds - Your work is regularly displayed at art galleries etc, how do you find the wine and cheese set react to what are very dark visions?

Matt Coyle - It is a difficult one. Although I find that there has been quite a lot of interest in my work and I get a lot of compliments for the technique, it isn't the sort of work that most people want up on their wall. I think my work is more popular with collectors rather than someone looking for something to brighten up their living room! It is for a niche market I'm finding. Various drawings of mine adorn the walls of my 9 and 11 year old daughters' bedrooms and they find the drawings fun and interesting rather than disturbing. But they have grown up around my artwork and are used to it.

But I have to say that I've received a lot of support across the Australian art scene since I started exhibiting in 2007. And I think most of that interest has been in the graphic novel work I have done, like Worry Doll, and most recently my series The Shades, which appeared in Art and Australia magazine.

ScaryMinds - What was the genesis of Worry Doll, what lead you to the whole toy angle?

Matt Coyle - Funnily the whole toy angle was based on my failed attempts to create a children's book where I actually spent a couple of years drawing it. It didn't work on many levels but what it did do was set up a framework to produce a parody of a childrens book. So the children's book started much the same way as Worry Doll but where in the children's version the impetus for the dolls to flee their home is the sight of fellow dolls being mistreated by the children in the house, the adult version has them stumble across the murder scene of the family that share their home. It was fortuitous in that I probably wouldn't have had these pictorial ideas or concepts for Worry Doll had I not already created it as a children's book. A lot of work to get to that point but that's sometimes what you have to do in order to stumble upon what could be a good idea.

ScaryMinds - "Worry Doll" has become a classic for both the Art and Dark Genre communities, were you surprised by the overwhelming praise from both camps?

Matt Coyle - Getting praise from the art community is something you can never count on but I have always had a strong conviction about what I do artistically - I think you have to if you decide you are going to go for it and have a career as an artist. You have to believe in what you are doing. So from an artistic point of view I was very happy with Worry Doll and I just hoped that others would appreciate it too. But yes I was surprised by the response and the positive press.

And obviously I knew that the book was a dark piece of art. I put a lot of thought into trying to create a book that would build from page to page in intensity, revealling unsettling scenarios throughout.

But it is also a difficult book in terms of its narrative and format. It isn't like normal comic books and that is something that turns people off. And something that also makes it difficult to market. Bookstores sometimes don't know which shelf to put the book on. I understand that some people find it frustrating to follow but that was something I wanted to present in the work. I wanted it to be difficult but to retain clues and meanings hidden throughout. And of course there are some aspects to it that don't make sense to me too but I like that about it.

I love horror fiction, film and art, and am always hunting for original forms of the genre - something new. And I think a lot of other horror fans are the same. I hoped that Worry Doll would be successful in that way.

ScaryMinds - While Worry Doll is now available in Australia, Registry of Death is hard to source. How have you found dealing with Downunder Distributors? Are the International Publishers more open to cutting edge dark journeys?

Matt Coyle - It was very hard to find a publisher for Worry Doll. Mainly because it doesn't really sit comfortably as a straight out graphic novel. To me there is no confusion about it being a graphic novel - it is just unconventional in its approach. But that is what I like in other graphic novels - any art form for that matter. But at the same time I understand publishers have to make money so they aren't always going to take risks. Mam Tor Publishing in the UK is a very small in-house set up and the publisher Liam Sharp was very passionate about publishing Worry Doll from the start - he was determined to publish it no matter what. However, being such a small and new publisher they had a great deal of distribution problems and this has been frustrating for all of us. And these difficulties were with all distributers both here and overseas. Diamond was the original distributor which was great for getting the book into comic shops but hopeless for getting it into general book stores. We have just decided to sell the remaing books through my website rather than from the UK as most of the orders are coming from within Australia.

As for Registry of Death - Kitchen Sink Press don't exist anymore so any remainders are available on eBay or second hand online.

ScaryMinds - Can we expect more dark delights from the forthcoming Shades or are you becoming more restrained?

Matt Coyle - Yes of course. The Shades is probably darker in some ways to anything I have done before. In fact it is like an unravelling nightmare but it has a slow burn to it. I am however more interested in creating a tone rather than producing "in your face" scenes as I may have done in the past. It may sound more restrained but to me, trying to recreate the essence of a bad dream, or a bad place or happening, through atmosphere, if done well, can be the most unsettling form of horror. That said, The Shades is only a third or quarter finished and a lot has to be worked out in terms of direction. It is already a fairly dark piece and I imagine it to become darker and stranger...

ScaryMinds - Has the expansion of the e-book medium impacted on you or are you more inclined to traditional book publishing?

Matt Coyle - I'm more inclined towards traditional book publishing mainly because I want the detail in my work to be presented in the best possible way. Because the pen work in my drawings is very fine, it isn't always represented that well on a computer screen.

ScaryMinds - Could you ever see yourself collaborating with another dark dreamer, say Brett McBean or Shane Jiraiya Cummings?

Matt Coyle - I'd always be interested in a collaborative project. But there would have to be a lot of freedom to roam and do my own thing.

ScaryMinds - What can we expect from Matt Coyle in the future, what are you working on?

Matt Coyle - Generally I am working on pieces for upcoming exhibitions. The drawings are generally one off pieces ie with no sequential link to other drawings. As mentioned they take a long time to produce so as soon as I have finished one I've got the next one worked out and I'm on to it. I literally have to utilise all the time at my disposal. A lot of the drawings I have been working on lately have focused on figures in some sort of narrative or situation, drawn against a white background or negative space. It has been a nice change for me to just focus on the figures and to not have to worry about filling the entire page with pen marks. So, I have been having a break from The Shades series but am feeling almost ready to get stuck back into that project.

ScaryMinds - How do your family and friends react to having a devilish imagination in their midst?

Matt Coyle - It has been part of my art for as long as I can remember and so everyone close to me is well aware of the general content in my work. But people who know me well percieve me as a pretty gentle soul and I think probably just think the old cliche of "well, at least he gets his demons out on paper". It was a little different when I was drawing Registry of Death and to a certain extent The Tresspasser (unpublished) where there was a lot of very graphic violence. If you are depicting lots of mindless violence in your work people, upon meeting you and seeing what you get up to on your drawing desk in the middle of the night, sometimes are a bit taken aback. And I remember a few times people quizzing my wife "do you really know who this guy is that you sleep next to at night?"

So with the work being more macarbe now than blood and guts I get less comments. I think most friends think that this is something I do and is very seperate from the me they know.

ScaryMinds - What is Matt Coyle's working day like, do you set out to achieve x amount of words or do you have set writing times?

Matt Coyle - I don't actually do any writing at all. The only text that I have written was for Worry Doll. Both The Shades and The Tresspasser are wordless books. But I do draw every day that I can. Usually I have around 3 full days to draw and then I would also do an hour or two, five or six nights a week and usually some more on weekends. I have 3 children so my hands are pretty full. I generally like to work when nobody else is around but I can't be to choosy about that. I am pretty productive at night when the family is all in bed asleep and I can work late. After many years of just drawing at night due to day job responisbilities and so forth I have just got into a habit of working better late.

ScaryMinds would like to thank Matt Coyle for taking time out of his work and family committments to chat with us. We wish Matt and family all the best in the future and hope to see a continued evolution of his themes and style.

Internet References for Matt Coyle

Matt's Official Site - Well worth a visit and a browse.