“Unused talent is wasted talent.”
William C. Cope is a horror artist for the horror fan.
Cope has been a horror fanatic for about as long as he’s been able to pick up a pencil, and horror mavens should celebrate the day Mr. Cope decided to put lead to paper and begin doodling his favorite horror characters. Because these days, Cope is one of the most talented artists in the industry. He has created true masterpieces that he has had the privilege of showing and giving to horror royalty, including the Karloff family and the Price family.
The winner of the 2015 Rondo Hatton Award for the Linda Miller Fan Artist of the Year, Cope carries with him an inspirational story that makes his art as much therapy as it is a personal passion.
Having known William through Facebook for a couple of years now, I figured it was high time I extended an interview request his way and pick his brain a bit.
Before I show off the interview, I’d just like to share this awesome piece of art that William drew up for this piece! This absolutely made my night and I definitely think this would look damn good on magazine racks across the country!
Now, without further ado, my conversation with Mr. Cope.
MANGLED MATTERS: Judging by your artwork, I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you were a huge Universal Monsters fan growing up?
WILLIAM C. COPE: You assumed correctly! I am a huge Universal Monsters fan. There is just something about those characters that have stayed with those of us who were exposed at an early age. From the practical make-up effects to the gigantic sets, those films definitely pulled me in and made me a part of that world as a youngster. Those characters secured an iconic status that very few will ever reach.
MM: Who were a few of your favorite monsters growing up?
WC: I am a Halloween purist so when I think of monsters growing up I think about Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster first and foremost. I grew up in the Collegeville/Ben Cooper box costumes and Don Post mask era so those were important to kids of that time. “Would I be the fanged, cape wearing, funny talking guy or the flat-headed, bolted neck, green guy this year?” was the biggest dilemma we faced. All three of the big companies made amazing costumes for all ages, but you better get to the department store early or you may end up as Raggedy Andy. (laughs)
A lot of my first drawings were based on those monster designs so they will always hold a spark in my mechanically driven, electrode-powered heart (laughs). It was a really great time for fans of the genre and an even better time to be a kid.
MM: The story of how you really got back into drawing is quite powerful. Would you mind sharing what ignited that passion for art again within you?
WC: I had taken a few years off from traditional art because it had become too much like a “job” and the fun seemed to be missing. I found myself doing a lot of personal portrait commissions for other people and very little for the sake of enjoyment. In October of 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer. That’s a tough blow man. No horror book or movie can compete with the surreal feeling you get when you hear the words “you have cancer”.
Shortly after the surgery to remove the tumor, I began chemotherapy treatment. During that treatment is when I began to draw regularly again for the first time in a few years. If you know anyone who has been through cancer treatment, you know that chemo is a long and exhausting process. A patient sits and waits for long periods of time while the treatment is administered. Seconds seem like minutes, minutes seem like hours and the day drags on forever. I needed something to pass the time but more importantly, I needed to feel alive. I needed that joy that can only be brought on by feeling young. That’s when I asked my wife Shannon to bring me a small sketch pad and a pencil.
Being the month of October and reminiscing about a recent trip my wife and I made to Sleepy Hollow, I began sketching a Headless Horseman piece. I feel like that piece revived my love for the talent again. One arm plugged up to chemical pumping machines and the other sketching away. From that day forward, I worked on something daily through treatment and recovery. No matter how bad I felt on some days, I tried to sketch or at least doodle a little something each day. During that time, I also poured my heart into some really great pieces. Two of the most memorable are individual pieces featuring Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, both of which I was proud to personally present to their daughters Victoria Price and Sara Karloff. My art has truly helped me through the process of healing both physically and emotionally.
MM: Who are some of your artistic influences?
WC: Oh wow, that’s a hard one every time! I have picked up new ones along the way but I have some early influences that will always be staples for me. Early artistic influences were mostly children’s book illustrators like Dirk Zimmer, who illustrated some forty children’s books between 1978 and 2008, Stephen Gammell, who illustrated Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, and James Flora, known best for Grandpa’s Ghost Stories. As a teen, I always loved studying illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Graham J. Ingels, Frank Dietz and comic artists like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Nick Cardy. As an adult, I’m all over the place. Everywhere between Jackson Pollock and Winslow Homer. Writers create art through words and some of those writer’s words have worked as a blueprint over the years for me, as well. Poe, Alvin Schwartz, Stephen King, Bradbury and R.L Stine are a few of those writers who inspire me to create.
MM: One of your sculptures is in the personal office of Mr. Stephen King. How exactly did that happen?!
WC: That’s true! My wife and I had just gotten back from our Maine vacation when I started on a small Pennywise (IT) bust I was inspired to do while there. While touring Maine, we decided to visit Bangor where Stephen King lives. In Bangor, we made reservations for Stu Tinker’s SK Tours of Maine, which I would definitely recommend if ever in Bangor. Stu’s tour takes you on a ride INTO several of Stephen King’s books. You get to see Bangor as fictional Derry and visit several of the locations that inspired King during his writing. It also inspired me to sculpt the Pennywise bust. After it was complete, I delicately packed it up and shipped it to Mr. King. Upon arrival, I contacted Mr. King’s personal assistant to inquire if it had arrived intact. She told me yes it had, he loved it and it was now displayed in his office.
MM: You are quite the horror traveler as well. What has been your favorite horror-themed destination to go to?
WC: I love to travel! This quote fits me well: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”.
Not only do I like to travel, but I seek out any oddity or roadside attraction I can find. Much to my wife’s vexation (laughs), sometimes that includes film locations or horror movie inspirations. I have visited everywhere from the fictional town “Twin Peaks” in Washington state to the very real Salem, Massachusetts. I have spent the night in Colorado’s Stanley Hotel (inspiration for The Shining) and the day with a Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. I’ve “done time” in institutions including Shawshank Prison (Mansfield Reformatory) in Mansfield, Ohio and walked the Green Mile at Cold Mountain State Penitentiary (Tennessee State Prison) in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve strolled up The Exorcist stairs in Georgetown and stood outside the Amityville Horror house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island. I could go on for days but my absolute favorite place to visit is Sleepy Hollow, New York. We all know the story but there’s nothing like being there in person. Washington Irving’s gothic tale of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman is one of my all time favorite pieces of literature and you just feel Irving’s writing while you are there.
MM: I can’t imagine the excitement you must have had when you were notified you had won the 2014 Rondo Award for Best Fan Artist. Can you talk us through the moment you accepted the award?
WC: I was truthfully blown away at the support I received through the whole Rondo Award experience. Originally, I was given the proverbial nod from a great artist who I really admire, “Zombie Dad” Roger Koch. As a former award winner, Roger was kind enough to give me some great tips. I promoted my work like never before, got a lot of votes from people I didn’t even know, and won the award! I couldn’t believe it regardless of how many times I looked at my name on the list of winners.
David Colton (who just retired as the Executive Editor of USA TODAY) is a huge Monster Kid and he organizes the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award Ceremony yearly at WonderFest in Louisville, Kentucky. David is an awesome guy who loves the genre and works hard to preserve the glory of it.
The Rondo Awards, named after Rondo Hatton, an obscure B-movie villain of the 1940s, recognizes the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation. To me, it was the equivalent to winning an Oscar! The other artists in my category are amazing so I felt very honored to accept the award. I mean, it really hit me when we were taking publicity photos and I was standing next to, among others, people like horror host Dr. Gangrene, Sara Karloff, Greg Nicotero and Frank Dietz. It was an amazing experience with some great people and huge talents in the industry.
MM: Besides your work in the horror genre, is there a particular art piece that you hold dearest to your heart?
WC: I have some of my earliest childhood drawings that family members have stored away for years and recently given me. It’s fun to look at those and imagine through those eyes again. Those mean a lot to me. I can recreate a lot of things but those are impossible to duplicate.
MM: Do you currently have any of your work available for the public to see?
WC: I’ve been so busy over the past couple of months that I haven’t done any gallery showings recently. However, the closer we get to Halloween, the more places ask to display my art. On September 26th, I will have a couple of pieces displayed in the Grease Lightning Fashion and Art Show at the Custom House Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee. I’m very excited to have an original, exclusive piece for the cover of Malevolent Magazine’s Legends of Horror Special Halloween Issue coming in October. I’ll also be interviewed for the Artist Spotlight in that issue. I have a couple of illustrations that will be featured in the upcoming book Horror 201: The Silver Scream by Crystal Lake publishing.
I’ve been working out details with John Pelico about doing some 3D sculpts of his brilliant art over at Killer Pumpkins. I’m continually working on my own huge undertaking book of southern gothic tales and illustrations for each of those. Oh, make sure you visit my Facebook page for my 31 Sketches of Halloween event every day in October where I will be doing an original, horror themed sketch each day building up to Halloween!
MM: Having such an inspirational career and story with your art, what advice would you give an artist out there who is struggling with finding their place (or re-inventing themselves) in the art world?
WC: Never let your imagination dull. Use whatever is going on in your life to inspire you and sharpen it like a knife. Draw, draw, and draw, every day. I try to doodle at least something every day. Whether I’m at home, in an airport or riding- not driving, that could be dangerous- down the road, I’m drawing. Being successful is doing what you enjoy so stop struggling and enjoy the ride. Life can turn on a dime so make the most of the second you are in. Also, if you are a parent, encourage your children to use their talents. Unused talent is wasted talent.