Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Master of macabre collage, Alex Eckman-Lawn, sits down to discuss demon tiger nightmares, scoliosis surgery, and Huevos Rancheros with Guillermo del Toro.
What were your childhood fears?
I was scared of stupid stuff as a kid, I was convinced the sun was going to die out, or a meteor would smash us. I was a weird little dude.
What was it like having your comic Awakening optioned by Guillermo Del Toro?
That was one of the most surreal things ever to have happened to me. It was weird, mostly! Definitely flattering, and an interesting first-hand look at how this stuff comes together. There were scripts and a series bible and everything. We had breakfast at San Diego Comic-Con with the publisher and Guillermo. I felt like a kid at the adult table, he was nice, though. There's a picture of us on my mom's refrigerator (I look like I'm going to throw up).
The show wasn’t made, I learned that these kinds of things are never guaranteed, even if everyone seems 100% on board, nothing is real until you're watching it on tv. I'm grateful it happened, though. It lit a fire underneath us to get the 2nd volume of Awakening finished, and we were gifted with a pull quote from Del Toro, which is wild.
"Genuinely unsettling and scary, Awakening delivers all the moods and the chills– a genre-bending graphic novel.” – Guillermo del Toro
Nick Tapalansky (the writer of Awakening) and I are working on a few new projects together right now, so it all feels worth it to me. Just because something doesn't work out the way you hoped doesn't mean there isn't a positive result. I look back at is this moment in time as a win. Above all else, I will forever be grateful to Guillermo del Toro for introducing me to Huevos Rancheros.
Do you believe in life after death?
I want to. My gut says that we just rot in the ground, but I like to imagine there's a chance for continued consciousness. Pretty much impossible to know until we find out, right?
Describe your artistic process
All of my work begins in Photoshop. I assemble the initial collage digitally, adjust color, add decorative elements, etc., trying to plan for the layering process, which happens later. Then I print 5 or 6 unique layers on a thick paper, hand-cut and layer them, and finally frame them in altered shadowbox frames. The result is a collage with physical depth, like a topographical map, or a little cave.
What are your thoughts UFOs?
I don't believe in any of this stuff, but I still expect to be proven wrong at any moment! I can't prove they don't exist, so maybe they do, right?
What were the terrifying aspects of attending Quaker school?
You did your research! Friend's Select was a diverse school with excellent teachers, a weird building with a pool in the basement, and a field on the roof! That said, I wasn't so psyched to go to a Quaker meeting once a week. Honestly, as religions go, Quakers are pretty awesome, but I realized quickly that the spiritual part wasn't landing for me.
What are your thoughts on psychedelics?
I'm fucking scared of my brain, so I don't know if they're for me. I'm all for other people doing whatever they want with it. I've been tempted to try micro-dosing. Supposedly, it can do amazing things for your brain without the threat of confronting buried monsters.
How did you land on your unique style?
Honestly, It was a mistake! I was working on a collage using a more traditional process, and I noticed that the discarded paper I was cutting forms out of looked more interesting than the piece I had planned. I explored that choosing a subtractive approach. The layering and depth crept in after. I feel like I'm still figuring this process out. There's always room for things to change, even now, when I've settled into a more confident approach.
What was your recurring childhood nightmare?
I had one where a giant tiger chased me around my grandparent's living room. That one stuck with me, for sure. It's all pretty hazy these days! I haven't had the dream in years, but I can try and set the stage a bit better for you.
My grandparents lived in this OLD house, which seriously looked like it was from another century (because it was) kind of residence, in a little town called Ellington, Connecticut. It was a beautiful home, but for sure, creeped me out as a kid.
My grandparents lived through the depression, you know, so they kept their house very differently from my parents. Not many lights on, rooms I never saw the inside of, giant stacks of things they were saving, plus my grandpa was an intense dude, so he had his like forbidden study where he did his "research," and I was always afraid of stumbling into somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. I remember being scared of sleeping there when I was little. Old houses creak a lot, plus I think the bathroom was near the room I slept in, so if anyone had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it sounded like some ghoul was creeping down the hall to get me.
The nightmare was just me desperately scrambling around this tiny living room, like jumping from the couch to a desk, to the floor, running in these tight circles, and the Tiger was pouncing at me and knocking shit over. I have no idea where the Tiger came from, I was never frightened by them as a kid, but I did like the jungle book a lot, so maybe it was some distorted Shere Khan.
What are your favorite sources for images and inspiration?
I use as wide a variety of sources as possible, to get a greater variety of imagery. That said, I do like the British library's public domain archive. Honestly, most libraries have outstanding image libraries, many online.
What was the most difficult time you've been through,
how did art help?
Jesus, not pulling any punches, huh? One of the toughest things I've dealt with was scoliosis surgery when I was 13. There were many horrific parts of the process, but the one that's still affecting me is that it was a surprise. I knew I had a slight curve to my spine, but I guess a growth spurt went into the curve, and I just had no idea, so the news that I would need a back brace and eventually surgery blindsided me. I haven't been able to trust my body since.
Art was a huge part of my recovery. I was stuck in bed for pretty much an entire summer, so I spent a lot of time reading comics, looking at art books, and playing the shit out of some video games. I'm sure that's why I still hold Panzer Dragoon Saga in such high regard. I’ll fight you if you tell me that game isn't full of amazing, unique designs! You can see the Moebius influence through the whole thing.
So yeah, I doubled down on the weeb shit and became super invested in art, animation, discovering art, and practicing my drawing ad nauseam
What is your advice to artists new to collage making?
Collage artists have an advantage in that you choose amazing pre-existing images to work with, but that's also a disadvantage because every other collage artist has access to that same stuff you're working with. It can make it tough to find your voice.
I say, start by finding subject matter that inspires you. Get enthusiastic, and push yourself to make something that feels like YOUR image. Collage often relies on found images, so it's up to you to make them yours, and to make your work feel unique.
What are your influences?
Oh, man, so many things. Collage kind of comes with influence built into it since you're using images that already exist. I love old etchings, and the particular sort of dusty, weathered properties of old decaying photos, and that stuff is literally part of my work!
There are the obvious influences, like Max Ernst's collages (which look like they could have been made yesterday, by the way), but I love a lot of illustration, comic books, animation. I try to let inspiration hit me; however, it naturally happens. I get so excited looking at Moebius' comics, and the crusty 80s anime I grew up on. I also love the way light sneaks through my kitchen window in the afternoon, or the look of my partner's oat milk slowly spiraling down into a cup of iced coffee. I hope this doesn't come across as really pretentious, but I think all of these things are amazing and important to how I approach images.
What are your favorite nostalgic memories?
Oh, man. The 90s were a rad time to be a kid. There was an influx of dumb stuff targeted explicitly at kids that I totally fucking fell for. Shit like creepy crawlers, gushers, and cereal that was also somehow candy. I loved the cartoons, Dexters Lab, Rocko's Modern Life, and Batman The Animated Series (if that counts). I discovered anime at around 9 or 10 years old, and that changed a lot for me. I was all in on the Sega Saturn, which meant I was continually trying to defend my choices to friends with more popular systems. It got heated!
Honestly, this is a pretty rough time right now, so it's effortless to be nostalgic for what felt like a more comfortable decade. That said, I'm encouraged by a lot of the change I see right now, and I think if we manage to survive this year, we could all come out better on the other side.
Favorite Horror/SciFi Movies?
So damn many! John Carpenter's The Thing is a favorite of mine. I love Alien because how could you not? Return of the Living Dead is becoming a favorite; I could watch that movie a thousand times. Cronenberg is a massive influence on me, and I love a lot of his films. It's too hard to choose, man! I love too many things! Oh! Evil Dead 2!
What are the coolest things you've ever found in an Attic?
Oh jeez, have I ever found anything cool? I have piles of old photos that I think are pretty rad, but most of it would be boring to anyone else.
I did find a polaroid on the sidewalk once that I think was from a birthday party, but it was so damaged and obscured that it took on this super creepy mysterious quality. I couldn't quite make out anything specific, but it felt like it had a story that I would never know.
Do you have anything you would like to plug?
Sure thing! I've got a show at Outre Gallery in Australia, that opens July 10th, alongside collections from Moon Patrol, MC Monster and Yu Maeda. I'm incredibly excited about this show and happy to share the walls with so many talented folks. Damn. I am living the dream!
I've got some other stuff in the works, but timelines have become complicated lately since shipping is much more of a question mark than usual. For now, let's just say I've got a print release in the works, another show coming up later this year, and some group shows.
Oh, and keep an eye out for the paperback edition of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern! I made the art for the cover.
I think the rest I can't quite talk about yet… Sorry to be so coy!
You can follow me on Instagram @AlexEckmanLawn if you're so inclined. That's probably the best way to keep up to date on my comings and goings.