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A Decadent & Obfuscatory Interview with the Artist, Eric Schaller

What other books have you provided art for, and where have your stand-alone pieces appeared?
I started out being more of a comic-style artist, producing sequential work that I wrote and illustrated. This resulted in two chapbooks, the surreal "The Coat Closet" and the William Blake-inspired "Meanwhile, In Hell." I have gradually moved toward shorter pieces, either individual illustrations or a group of images that will all fit on the same page. Much of my recent work, over the last six years or so, has been published in a zine named The White Buffalo Gazette, which is assembled by a DaDa-esque collective of artists. Meeting up with Jeff VanderMeer provided the inspiration to produce illustrations that accompanied someone else's text. I ended up providing illustrations to a couple of published pieces by Jeff - to "The Strange Case of X" which appeared in the anthology White of the Moon and to his short novel The Early History of Ambergris. Mind you, these were only single illustrations, the one in Early History being part of a footnote and this in a story that had over one hundred footnotes, but those initial collaborations with Jeff led to the more recent and larger-scale collaboration.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
I have a love for the work of numerous artists, but I will confine myself here primarily to those whom I am aware have had a direct influence on my art. Because I work in black and white, many of these artists have a pronounced sense of line and are masters on how to arrange elements within a frame for maximal effect. Picasso: for the linework in his etchings and for his ability to break down a form into parts. Frans Masereel: a brilliant woodcut artist, who produced beautiful novels all told in bold black-and-white images with no words. Arthur Rackham: one of the great fantasy illustrators who has done much to shape how we visualize the creatures of fantasy, whether they be elves, fairies, or talking animals . Aubrey Beardsley: who approached perfection in his bold use of blacks combined with some of the thinnest line work in the history of illustration.

What was your approach to doing the art for The Exchange?
Jeff had told me that he had imagined the characters, when writing the story, as being reminiscent of some cartoons I had drawn of a character named Sad Bird. So, I had that as a jumping off point in terms of what I would do stylistically for the characters. I also wanted the illustrations to reflect the time in which the story takes place, which would be comparable to about 1900 in our world. That led me to the decision to work with a more art nouveau style, and also allowed me to incorporate some of my Beardsley influence. Beardsley's style is almost too perfect for the emotional turbulence contained in the story, and so the art nouveau style comes to the story refracted through the warped glass of German Expression.

When it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of creating art, I now use both traditional methods and the computer. I like the slightly jittery quality of hand drawn artwork - it tends to hold the eye better than the smooth lines produced by a computer - so all the line work was done by me with pen. Where the computer does help is filling in black areas in the artwork as I no longer have to do this with a brush. Instead, I scan the line work into the computer and then fill in the blacks using Adobe Photoshop.

What was the biggest challenge for you during this project?
It took a little while for me to settle on what the actual images would be in the artwork. I am a firm believer that the artwork should work in tandem with the story, and not simply recapitulate information present in the story itself. The reason that this presented an initial challenge is that Jeff's story is very visual, thus illustrations could easily be superfluous. What I resolved to do was to concentrate almost entirely upon the characters and have the illustrations reflect their emotional state and their responses to the environment.

Did you collaborate on the text as well?
The story "The Exchange" is entirely Jeff's work. Where I collaborated to a limited extent was in the additional text found in the advertisements and the biographical statements that follow the story. For these, Jeff and I bounced ideas back and forth, Jeff wrote text (often complete short stories in themselves), and I then edited these down to fit into the restrictions of an advertisement.

Where can we find more of your work? Any future projects planned?
I should be having another stand-alone piece in the forthcoming issue of The Silver Web, a marvelous magazine of the surreal put out by Ann Kennedy's Buzzcity Press. I will also be contributing some illustrations to Jeff VanderMeer's collection City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris due out this coming summer.

More Exchange Information:
The Exchange by Nicholas Sporlander
Embarrassing and Inaccurate Praise for Jeff's Prior Ambergris Fiction
A Lurid Explanation of the Ultra-Decadent Hoegbotton & Sons Imprint

Please contact Eric Schaller at egs@cisunix.unh.edu for questions regarding art or production of The Exchange. Jeff VanderMeer can be contacted at vanderworld@hotmail.com.

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