Richard Wells, who often creates under the name Slippery Jack, is an artist whose work is steeped in horror and the macabre. With a fondness for traditional mediums that lends his work a chilling authenticity, his illustrations have made perfect adornments to book covers and heavy metal record sleeves. His TV work includes graphic design for Doctor Who and the recent BBC Dracula adaptation. Now he’s crowdfunding an illustrated collection of classic folk horror tales, featuring such authors as Arthur Machen, M.R. James and Robert Aickman. We caught up with Richard to talk about his influences, his inimitable style, and his love of our favourite genre.
Tom: We first became aware of your work because of your collaboration with the folk horror-themed doom metal band Green Lung. Can you tell us how this collaboration came about?
Richard: I’d been working with Tom from Green Lung on a different project, and some way into it he mentioned he was in a band, and asked if I’d like to do some artwork for it. It’s as simple as that! I’m on Twitter and Instagram a fair bit sharing my artwork, so presumably he’d seen it on there and figured it would be a good fit.
Tom: There’s clearly a great deal of European and British 70s folk horror influence in your artwork. When did you first encounter this sub-genre?
Richard: I feel like I’ve always had a love of it. I’m sure it started with The Wicker Man, which I saw as a teen. This was long before the term ‘folk horror’ became a thing. It was one of the films that first got me hooked on the horror genre and had me seeking out more films in the same vein.
Tom: Folk horror is enjoying an astonishing cultural resurgence at the moment. Why do you think that is?
Richard: Well, from a dull film marketing perspective, it’s probably largely down to the unexpected hit of Robert Eggers’ (brilliant) The Witch, leading to folk horror suddenly being ‘hot property’. It’s like Scream launching endless ironic teen slashers in the 90s, or Saw launching endless torture films in the 00s. Now’s the time for folk horror! Of course, the sub-genre has a striking resonance now, what with our increasingly ‘Summerisle isolated community’ situation politically, but that’s for more academically minded people than me.
Tom: There’s a particular pre-occupation in your work with the stories of M.R. James and you’ve recently produced artwork for Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Martin’s Close. What particularly appeals to you about his work?
Richard: I love a good ghost story for starters, and M.R. James was/is the master! I love the subtlety of his stories, how the horror and dread quietly creeps in and takes hold. They don’t beat you over the head with horror imagery; your imagination is left to run riot. There’s a lot that appeals to me personally: dusty manuscripts, old libraries and ancient curses! What’s not to like?
Tom: A lot of your work uses traditional and highly tactile mediums, such as drypoint etching and linocut. What first drew you to working in this way?
Richard: In my day job, I largely produce artwork digitally, so I think it’s all about kicking back against that and regressing to my college days, when I could have fun with clay and paint and ink! I find it’s mentally healthy to experiment with different forms of art, and not spend all your time focusing on a computer screen.
Tom: You’ve been involved in the recent BBC Dracula adaptation, creating props that are indistinguishable from historical artefacts. Can you describe the research and manufacturing process for making these?
Richard: On a TV production, the pre-production schedule is usually fairly tight, so a lot of the research has to be limited to what you can find online. But I was lucky enough to have a bit more time on Dracula, so I was able to view old documents in the British Library for up-close period research. I also found eBay surprisingly useful, buying fairly cheap collections of Victorian paperwork and documents to examine in detail. Then it’s all about creating a good facsimile – sourcing paper with a similar texture/weight, and searching for period-appropriate fonts, etc. I always hesitate to call myself a graphic designer – I’m just good at copying things!
Tom: Where did the idea to produce an anthology collection come from and how did you go about selecting which stories to include in the collection?
Richard: It all came out of working on Martin’s Close. I produced a lino print of a pamphlet illustration I made for it (featured over the end credits), then decided to expand it into a series of designs based on the ghost stories of M.R. James. The folks from Unbound saw them online and contacted me about possibly collaborating on something. At the back of my mind, I’d had the idea of producing a separate series of lino prints based on various classic folk horror stories, so from there the project evolved into a published anthology. I then spent a good couple of months reading, checking out suggestions from people in the know, and doing a lot of browsing through folk horror forums and the like for authors to seek out. It’s been a highly enjoyable process, digging though dusty old anthologies for stories that might fit the bill. I feel a bit like a character in an M.R. James story! I fully expect to end up publishing a forbidden cursed story, unleashing upon myself an ancient evil…
Tom: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to let our readers know about?
Richard: I’ve had to close up my print shop due to the current virus lockdown, so all I’ve got going on at the moment is this Damnable Tales project with Unbound. So please check that out, share, and ideally pledge to help get the book published!
We’d like to thank Richard Wells for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him the best of luck with Damnable Tales!