Mark Riddick is a prominent illustrator whose artwork decorates a wide range of both underground and popular metal records. His distinctive art style featuring black & white linework and horror-infused vision mashed together has brought forth some of the most recognizable extreme metal art pieces.
While he is primarily known for his illustration, Mark is also a passionate multi-instrumentalist and the creative force behind death metal act Fetid Zombie. Although, I’ve focused my questions on his artistry exclusively, I highly recommend to check out his band; especially 2016’s “Epicedia“. / Links at the bottom of the post.
What struck me as surprised in the most positive manner having received his answers, was his down to earth attitude and openness. Without further due, meet Riddick Art!
Could you share what were the weirdest commissions that you’ve ever received?
I’ve received several unique commissions in my career. One of the most interesting commissions that comes to mind was when I was asked, among five other established artists, to interpret a new automobile that Volvo was releasing in 2014. I was sent some preliminary images of the vehicle to use as reference and I was to interpret the vehicle in my own artistic style. The illustration was completed and displayed at the Detroit Auto Show to tease the official release of the vehicle.
Another unique commission I received, in 2016, was to illustrate some merchandise in support of the “Revolution Radio” album by Green Day, I was able to preview the cover art options before the band had even settled on a cover. I completed three illustrations within a few days, as it was a rush job, but I don’t think any of them were ever published. I’ve had some other opportunities to illustrate for more accessible bands like Metallica, Slayer, Avenged Sevenfold, etc. but they went unpublished for various reasons as well.
What was the original influence that got you into the line of black & white illustrative work?
Almost the entire body of my work is illustrated in black and white because when I got my start in the early 90s, the only affordable means to reproduce demo covers, fliers, and fanzines, etc. was via a black and white photocopier. I’ve continued in this direction because one of the goals of my artistic approach is to capture the essence of the old school underground metal scene.
When you decided to aspire as an illustrator for the death metal underground, did you get enough support from your friends and family? I mean, given the macabre nature of this line of work, it often raises eyebrows especially from people outside the metal community.
Yes, my family has always been supportive of my creative efforts. In addition to my parents, I credit my aunt (Lee Marrs) and my uncle (Mike Friedrich) for nurturing my interest in art during my youth as they were both very involved in the comic book industry and would share their work with me, or get some of my comic books signed by the artists and writers they knew.
In regard to my love of music (albeit extreme), I credit my parents for nurturing my interest as they would always take me to record stores so they could purchase their favorite 80s record singles, and would make compilation tapes to listen to during our summer vacation travels. I received my first cassette player and a copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at age seven and I’ve loved music ever since.
Do you think nowadays is easier to become a professional freelance illustrator / designer for extreme metal bands and labels?
Yes, the Internet and social media has made it more convenient and faster to network with bands and record labels. In addition, bands and labels also have many more options in terms of what artist(s) they choose to work with.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced as an artist back in the day?
Although I never perceived it as a challenge at the time, getting exposure for my artwork was more limited. It certainly took longer to get published because communication was handled via postal mail and the number of people who engaged with my art was limited to whomever bought a demo tape, fanzine, or saw a flier come through their mail while tape trading, etc. Nowadays, I can post an illustration on social media and thousands of people can engage it within minutes, making it much easier to overcome the challenge of exposure.
What do you think about discipline versus waiting for inspiration to come? I’ve personally noticed that many people are inclined towards the latter but is this an efficient approach for creativity, though?
I think that nurturing your creativity, for example by drawing every day, can make it easier to overcome a creative block. “Waiting for inspiration” can lead to unfinished work, not meeting deadlines, and general procrastination, in my opinion.
Have you ever thought of quitting art for a different job? If positive, why?
No, I’ll never quit until I’m physically unable to draw. Drawing is my lifeline; it is one of the many pursuits in my life that bring meaning and joy to my existence.
In your eyes, what are the most important traits to succeed as an artist beyond hard work?
There are several important traits to becoming a successful artist but it’s vital to define what success looks like to you as an individual first. In my creative pursuit, some of the traits I have found enduring include, commitment, self-discipline, humility, patience, perseverance, and most important—a sincere passion for art.
Do you recall your first paid project that you completed? What was it?
I can’t remember my first paying job. Most of the work I completed early in my career was on a volunteer basis or by doing trades so that I could gain experience, get published, and expand my portfolio. I can recall some of the bands who first published my work in the early 90s: Landfill, Dogod (now known as Cardiac Arrest), Deteriorate, Son of Dog, Eve of Mourning, Morbius, Horror of Horrors, Agonia, Torture Krypt, Internal Bleeding, etc.
Having so many years of creative work under the belt, I assume art blocks are no strangers to you. How do you manage to escape them once you recognize they are getting a grip on you?
While not frequent, if I find myself lacking inspiration, one remedy I’ll turn to is simply going through some of my old fanzines from the early 90s and begin to mentally absorb some of the filler art and various band logos, etc. Another remedy is going through some old piles of my artwork; sometimes I’ll find an old sketch that I like and will decide to resurrect it.
What’s the most important lesson art has taught you?
Nothing happens without taking some form of action. If you have a will or a desire, you must impose it upon reality in order to yield results. While results may be positive or negative, making an effort is better than making none at all.
Outside artwork predominantly for death metal features, do you take interest in concept art for the game and movie industry?
I certainly appreciate the artwork and creative output from both the gaming and movie industries however I don’t have an interest in pursuing either of these paths. I’ve found my niche in the music industry but if requests reach me from these other avenues, which they have in the past, I’ll gladly take on a job—time permitting—to try something new and a little removed from my familiar line of work.
If you could advise the younger Mark just starting out, what would you say to him?
I took a break from my illustration work in the early 2000s, wherein I wasn’t quite as productive, perhaps I would instruct my younger self to carry on and not take a break. I’m sure there were some missed opportunities due to my absence in the early 2000s, but this timeframe was a lull for metal music in general. Upon reflecting on my career, I’ve had some opportunities that I never imagined would take place, I’m sure I’ll continue to have experiences like this as I continue my creative path.
In moments when you feel like motivation is on the low, what do you put in action to get you up and keep you forge onward regardless of the hardships?
If I have a challenging job that I might be creatively frustrated by, I’ll sometimes step away from it for a few days so I can revisit it with fresh eyes. Another approach I’ll take is to simply set some time aside to explore ideas by drawing a handful of thumbnail sketches related to the task. I usually find that one of these techniques will help me to get new ideas flowing, resulting in a better finished product than I had initially started with.
If you would compare what it was back in the day and presently, when do you feel the magic of making art was stronger (and why)?
The “magic” of making art has always been present, the stuff that excites me about it as an adult is different from what excited me in my youth. One thing that has been consistently rewarding about the experience is being able to draw for bands who I happen to be a fan of, that’s always been a privilege.
As a connoisseur of old school underground death metal, why do you think there is that innate longing for the past or the good old days of all things metal?
Old school metalheads, like myself, don’t want to let go of the past because there are so many memories attached to their experiences; new school metalheads have a genuine curiosity about the old days and ways of doing things (tape trading culture, etc.). The new school metalheads are hungry to revive the old ways and happen to be doing a good job of it, in my opinion. Just listen to some of the bands publishing music these days: Superstition, Obscene, Zealot Cult, Tomb Mold, Rotted, Ossuarium, Horrendous, Transcendence, Skeletal Remains, etc.
Let’s talk about death metal and cultural appropriation: To what extent do you think it changed since the 90s? And what are some of the present traits that you see unfit for this genre?
It’s a sensitive subject for some but I tend to remain neutral regarding appropriation because I think it can have both positive and negative results. Much of this depends on perceptions, context, and the quality and sincerity of the appropriation.
Speaking of killers, what is the biggest one that affects art in your point of view?
Censorship has been a longstanding problem for the arts in general. Art should be regarded as a safe and healthy form of self-expression regardless of the output. It is a form of communication that can be both utilitarian and simply appreciated for its visceral nature. Nowhere else in the animal kingdom is the creative arts embraced in such a way than by humans; it’s what sets us apart from the barbarity of life on Earth; it gives us pause and a moment to reflect.
Before we wrap things up, let me ask you one last question. What is a lifetime lived well to you?
I’ve found much solace in my creative endeavours and I’m grateful to have been able to insert such meaning into my humble existence by pursuing this path.