Chris Bodily is a local Utah artist whose illustrations are instantly recognizable by his coloring, style and his line work. He was commissioned as the artist for a prequel comic to the upcoming horror film Hellskate. The comic book was released at the first ever Salt Lake City Comic Con last month and it created a lot of buzz among the conventions visitors. Chris has been a fan of comics since he picked up issues of various Marvel books as a kid. He would spend his time reading the books and then trying to recreate the images he had just read. You can tell from just one conversation that he is passionate about art and storytelling. If you get him all to yourself you’ll find he is deeply intellectual about art and the way images affect our emotions and our thinking.
Chris’s work has been featured in City Weekly and in Utah Stories. The building momentum of a career that is taking off attracts all kinds of opportunities. He has more choices for artistic expression now than the custom illustrations for families, corporations and the occasional dog portrait commission he was doing in the past. Those works helped build his notoriety as an artist with a unique and fun style, but his work also speaks with a deep and sometimes dark voice.
Bodily created some special pieces of pop-culture art in his unique style specifically for the Salt Lake City Comic Con but it was his custom creations that drew the producers of Hellskate to him as a collaborator on their book. He sat down with me and shared his opinions on the comics medium and to talk about his work on the Hellskate prequel comic. The conversation was a wonderful behind the scenes look into how an emerging artist thinks about his work and storytelling.
Big Shiny Robot: Traditionally artists have had to leave Utah and head for larger cities to gain notoriety. Do you still think that’s a must for artists or is the Wasatch Front a place for talented artists to make a name for themselves?
Chris: Before I moved here I was living in Cedar city and this is definitely a larger market than I was used to. The best thing though, about living in the day and age we do today, is that the internet opens up a global market to everyone. You can create something and share your ideas with a global market instantaneously. I think that’s how I connected with The Hive and through my exposure at the Hive, that’s how I connected with Sahna Foley of Hellskate. Utah is a wonderful place and people like to bad mouth it from time to time, but it’s been very nurturing for my creative outlets.
Comics is an interesting medium; where every panel is an individual image, but the page itself is also an image.
I’ve said before though, that I didn’t think my style of art would fit here - but I’ve made a very good living here in Utah. Take for example, the Salt Lake Comicon. They didn’t want one here; and then they tried for so long to get it here and the first one blew everyone away. It exceeded everyone’s expectations. There are people in Utah that want something fresh and something new. Just because traditionally this has not been a place people think of as an artist’s launching point, doesn’t mean that’s the case. There are so many creative outlets. Really though, you can live anywhere in the world right now and still find a market for whatever you do creatively.
Big Shiny Robot: Have you worked on any other comics in the past?
Chris: When I was in high school, I did a comic-zine called Hat and I’d print it on a Xerox copier. I sold it at school for like two dollars. In addition to that I’ve done other visual narratives like children’s books; but, for me this is kind of the first real project of its size and shape. They went and got it professionally printed and they were really great to work with. They knew what they wanted and that it was part of a larger project. It was nice to have that production side backing me up with what I did.
Big Shiny Robot: You have a style that people are recognizing. Someone will see your work and instantly know, that’s a Chris Bodily. Is that why the Hellskate production chose you for their collaborator on the prequel comic?
Chris: Yeah, I met Sahna and Carl when they came to one of my shows at McCools. We got to talking and I did some commission work for her for and Animal rights project. The images I did for her went viral. Sahna is really great at the marketing side of things. The image was everywhere. She came back to me after the fact to have me do translations into French and Japanese. She really championed that cause.
This project was a pet project that she and Carl had been stewing on for years. The project was meant to build traction for their movie. They liked my work and Sahna told Carl, “We have to get Chris.” Their reasoning was they wanted something a little bit fun but a little bit dark, and that’s my specialty.
Big Shiny Robot: When they handed you the story, was it Marvel method or was it a full script? How much structure were you under? Did you have artistic freedom?
Chris: Carl had it pretty well mapped out frame by frame as far as what he wanted but it was still within a boundary where I was able to express myself creatively. They gave me the leeway to design the characters and other things like that, but the book was fully scripted. That being said, the autonomy they gave me allowed me to take it in a direction I wanted.
Big Shiny Robot: Who did the lettering?
Chris: I did the drawing, the inking and the coloring. I did the lettering too. It’s a way different process than say, DC or Marvel. They’ll divide the job up. I did all the layouts; I did the drawing and the coloring and then the lettering. It was a time consuming process but it was rewarding. That being said, if I had to do it over again, I’d try to bring in some other artists I know and use their help.
Big Shiny Robot: Many of your pieces of artwork have the pop look to them. Not to force a genre on you, but many would call it a pop-serialism. You look at that and it doesn’t tell the entire story of your artistic vision because many of your pieces are haunting and full of emotional distress. Hellskate is the story of a Roller Derby Girl being taken over by demonic procession. It’s the perfect match for your style. How then, did you choose the look and feel of Hellskate?
Chris Bodily: What’s instantly identifiable about my work is my line work. Everything I have to communicate is in the lines themselves; Even more so than the images. That’s how I tell my stories, is through the line. A bold line, a strong line, the direction of the line communicates so much at a subconscious level.With all the work that I do, I try to keep that in mind. Even more so than just the images and the story they have on the surface, is what kind of psychological feel is the piece going to have? What do the small details communicate about the piece?
I try to tell a story with every image I do. But, there is also a strange interaction between panels that goes on, that’s exciting.
Big Shiny Robot: And you’ve got to do that with each panel?
Yeah, comics is an interesting medium; where every panel is an individual image, but the page itself is also an image. As a reader, we’re instantaneously processing all of this information. We can give something a cursory read, but there are so many subliminal things going on that feed into your experience and interaction as a reader. So, I wanted something where the tension was felt and where there is a sense of wanting to belong. Hellskate is a story about wanting to belong and so that’s what I tried to convey. I wanted to convey a sense of not fitting in and trying to come together out of messy chaos.
Big Shiny Robot: Do you have any future aspirations for the comic’s medium or with telling stories using sequential art?
Chris Bodily: Yeah, certainly. It was a fun process, and I’ve found that creating a comic was a very different experience than doing an illustration. That’s what I do for a living is illustration work. I try to tell a story with every image I do. But, there is also a strange interaction between panels that goes on, that’s exciting. What I’m looking for is a project that allows me to express myself fully. I don’t have plans to draw Superman, but I like the idea of telling stories and being able to communicate something through images. So, yeah, I definitely plan to do more of these kinds of pieces in the future.
Chris was kind enough to let me post some of his work from the comic in this article. The prequel is a wonderful short read this time of year and can be obtained through Hellskatemovie.com. As HatRobot he won the City Weekly 2013 Arty for Best Illustration Exhibition. You can view many of those award winning illustrations on display at The Hive gallery in Layton, Utah and digitally at Hatrobot.com. He regularly posts new work and sneak peeks at future illustrations on his Facebook page located here.