Interview: M.S. Corley

rightoWe bumped into M.S. Corley’s artwork when looking at the covers he did for The Aether Age and after spying some of his illustrations on “Horrors in Literature”, and his retro book covers for classics such as The Haunting of Hill House, we decided to sit him down for a little chat about book covers, design and, of course, horror stories.

IFP: Can you introduce yourself to us in 100 words or less? Get ready. Set. Go!

MSC: M.S. Corley is a freelance illustrator and graphic artist whose work reflects his determination to showcase seemingly normal ideas in completely new and striking ways. Corley graduated with a degree in animation, but as he started making art full time, he found a calling in illustration. Raised in Northern Florida, Corley now lives in Kirkland, Washington.

IFP: Can you tell us about your artistic background? Are you self-trained or did you attend art school?

MSC: I am both self-trained and schooled. A lot of trial and error growing up, evidence shown through photos prove I’ve been drawing since I had the motor function to hold a writing utensil. From age 8-12 I was obsessed with drawing my own Mega Man boss characters, I drew hundreds of them. I wanted to grow up and make a Mega Man game someday, which sadly hasn’t happened yet, but then again, I’m still growing up.

Later in life, I did end up going to art school. I attended the Art Institute of Seattle for three years and got a degree in Animation, which I don’t do at all. Going there helped introduce me to a lot of artists and that helped broaden my style, or at least my desire to experiment with many styles.

IFP: Please define your design style.

MSC: I have difficulty trying to classify my style as anything specific. If you look at one of my illustrations, you could say I draw in a comic style, or another in a realistic painter style, or others it’s just straight up graphic design, retro or modern. Style can only be defined in the context of the piece you’re looking at.

Whenever I see new styles I enjoy in both fields, I try them out to see what it would look like coming from my hand. I love experimenting and I pride myself in not being stuck in one mode of art.

hill houseIFP: What are some of the artists that have influenced your artwork?

MSC: Keiji Inafune for his Mega Man boss designs had a large impact on me as a kid, and then as an adult, probably the most influential have been Mike Mignola and Tetsuya Nomura.

IFP: What about books, music or movies?

MSC: Movies I would say most all Miyazaki films inspire me, as well as anything from Studio 4 °C.

Books that influence me are mostly old pulp horror stories. Favourite authors being H.P. Lovecraft, W. Hope Hodgson, M. R. James.

And design-wise, Penguin by Design is a huge inspiration for my retro work.

IFP: Could you walk us through your design process? Sketching, materials used, etc.

MSC: It all starts with an idea that I’ve probably been mulling over for weeks. I have a little book that I write all my ideas down in so that I won’t forget to make them some day when I have time.

Then I go though the sketch phase, sometimes drawing thumbnails or sometimes just drawing the piece full scale with no real planning.

Afterwards, if it’s a digital piece, I would ink it with a Staedtler Pigment Liner pen then scan it in and color it in whatever style I am planning for the piece.

If it’s a traditional piece, well, lately I’ve been doing a lot of sumi ink work. So, I use that same Staedtler pen (which is the best I’ve found because it doesn’t bleed or smudge) on cold press watercolor paper, then I brush on Sumi ink, which is kind of like watercolor but in black-and-white, and you can get some solid blacks by not diluting with water.

dayofthetriffidsIFP: Do you have a favourite book cover you’ve designed?

MSC: I really enjoy the collection of faux-Penguin Classics I’ve made because it was a fun design exercise for me, combining my love for retro designs as well as some of my favourite series of books. Specifically of those sets the Lemony Snicket‘s are my favourite.

I also really enjoy the Day of the Triffids cover I made, perhaps just because I liked the book so much.

IFP: What about other artists’ covers? Can you mention some of your favourites?

MSC: Some of my favourites are Sam Weber’s cover for Ender’s Game.

Matt Taylor’s cover for The Island at the End of the World. And Jim Tierney’s covers for Jules Verne book.

IFP: What is your dream project?

MSC: Two dream projects I have had for a long time would be to design bosses for a Mega Man game. And to illustrate a classic book to be printed through a publisher such as Folio Society.

Or frankly, just designing published book covers.

IFP: What projects are you working on?

MSC: I’m working a huge set of interior illustrations for Dungeons & Dragons books. I don’t know a whole lot about D&D but I believe the pictures will be peppered throughout a couple of scenario books.  Also a friend and I are starting our own gaming comic strip called ‘Double XP’, kind of in the vein of Penny Arcade. We’ve been discussing and planning it for a while so were excited to start posting soon.

IFP: You seem to be fond of horror literature. What are some of the scariest stories you’ve ever read?

masque_of_the_red_deathMSC: I love horror literature because of the imagery my mind thinks up when I read it, being scarier than some of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Which, ironically, I don’t watch scary movies because the images stay in my mind too long. Being a visually minded person, that kind of stays with me forever.

Most of the scariest stories I’ve read I drew an interpretation of for my ‘Horrors of Literature’ series. Some of my favourites are:

“The House on the Borderland” by William Hope Hodgson: This is probably one of my absolute favourite stories of all time; I’ve read it many times. It really creeped me out the first time I read it; those swine-things just had a bizarre effect on the story.

“Pigeons from Hell” by Robert E. Howard: I don’t remember the plot being very impactful on me when it comes to scary stories, but Miss Celia from the story, with her deranged look hulking around with an axe to chop people’s heads off, man that just got to me. She is seriously crazy looking in my mind.

“The Horla” by Guy de Maupassant: This was scary to me only because I had a marginally similar experience with what can be called the Old Hag Syndrome in which something visual happened in my mind or in real life…who knows. And when I read this story, it took me back to that incident.

1984 by George Orwell: Not scary to me in the horror sense, but more in the government-controlling-everything sense.

World War Z by Max Brooks: I just read this last month, very good book and scary to me because my largest fear in life is zombies. A completely rational fear, mind you.

the reptile roomIFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian character or creature, who would you be and why?

MSC: Probably the Outsider. I just felt so bad for him finding out what he was after being down under the earth for so long. Sometimes, I hole myself up in the house working so long I feel like him when I go outside for the first time after days in artificial light.

IFP: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

MSC: I’m trying to get my ‘Horrors of Literature’ series done. I’m aiming to complete 50 and then publish them into a book. This would be the first published book of my art, so understandably, I’m pretty excited about how that turns out.

Visit M.S.Corley online.


Cover art for The Aether Age by M.S.Corley.

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IFPInterview: M.S. Corley