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On Horror: Monster Design with Derek Lipscomb, creator of The Maroon

(NSFW warning on one of the images below) I started to follow Derek Lipscombs work after I was assigned to review his comic The Maroon on ComixCentral.com (read it here!) and I've been a huge fan since.

Taking a quote from the review: "The Maroon combines Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy with the fantastic mythology of American legends and history, all while never once pulling a single punch or tomahawk throw."

That said, the book doesn't sound too much like a horror story...which it really isn't. What caught my eye immediately with his book is the creature and monster design featured throughout the book. Not every issue has monster in it, but when it does, buckle up because it'll get brutal.

You can check out more of his work here!

Let’s kick it off with your 3 favorite monster designs (any medium) and what you like most about them?

  1. The Predator. Such a great and surprising design. I remember first seeing him on the cover of a Fangoria right before I went with my family to see the film. Yeah, it was spoiled, but to it’s credit, it made me want to see this movie more, despite the gore that used to turn me away as a kid. I love the bizarre elements of a crab, Rastafarian and reptilian man all combined. When I saw him open his maw for the first time, I was a cemented fan. Who dreamt of this? So awesome!

  2. I have to say that my next answer is more of a generalization: I love the Toho kaiju from the early Showa era. For those unaware, that’s basically saying the 1960’s Godzilla monsters. Specifically, Baragon, Rodan, Angilas, Varan, King Ghidorah, which all draw inspiration from dinosaurs and dragons, but with an added whimsy that places them in monster categories. These aren’t snarling drooling blood thirsty creatures, but I still love their composition,

  3. The Gill Man from Creature of the Black Lagoon is my third choice. Brilliant design, especially for the time period. The most visually interesting of the Universal Monsters. He really encapsulates the idea of a prehistoric humanoid fish hybrid. I would imagine that if asked to update his design for a modern movie, there would be very little to update, as evidenced in The Monster Squad.

What do you think is key to making a monster scary in comics? Is it fine details, or is it keeping the beast in the shadows so the readers can create their own image? OR is solely just what the creature’s actions are on the page?

Well, in comics, executing horror is challenging. The old EC comics handled things well, but by today’s standards, where most of us have seen a bevy of movie monsters, I always like the monster you can’t see or it’s actions. The mind always draws upon your personal fears and usually creates something far more horrific than what an artist can achieve, as we are usually drawing from our own ideas what is terrifying.

In comics, designs can be limitless. What’s something about your monsters that you enjoy including the most? Features, powers, whatever? Since my creatures are derived from folklore legend, it’s fun to take the descriptions and bring a real world sensibility to them.

Two examples would be the Stiff Legged Bear from issue #1 and the Flatwoods Monster from #6.With the Stiff Legged Bear, it’s believed that the animal the native people witnessed was actually the last remnants of the American Mastodon. A large elephant-sized brown furry animal on all fours lumbering through the wilderness could arguably be perceived as a monstrous bear. It was fun to create an amalgamation of a bear and mastodon, hence the massive size of the bear and of course, the tusks, giving a certain “truth” to the animal. The tusks make no sense in terms of any functional use, other than an offensive weapon.The

Flatwoods Monster is described a as a dark shape with red eyes that stood upright with spindly arms. Many believe it to be an alien, while others contend that a few people mistook the otherworldly look with that of a barn owl. This was appropriate as I had already introduced the Stikini, who are the shape-shifting owl-women of Seminole legend. I took that logic, and made it into a large dark Stikini monster.

What’s your favorite part of the designing process for your monster characters?

Probably the adaptation process, which is basically working off the words of others’ descriptions and ramping up the terrifying aspects to give them a more terrifying edge.

Since The Maroon’s beasts and creatures all have their roots in Native American legend, what’s a source you used as reference and how much of your own design did you include to stray from legend?

I will usually try to stay true to the core aspects of the creatures. While not of Native American legend, in issue #7, I introduce the folklore apparition of “Screaming Jenny”, who was a woman who caught fire and ran out on some railroad tracks and was hit. I think it would be fairly uninteresting to just have a ghostly vision of Jenny and a bit too revealing to have a mangled burnt corpse floating around. I like my ghosts to have some detail, but also contain a bit of ambiguity, so you aren’t really sure what you are seeing. So I decided to have Jenny still ablaze with a skeletal corpse inside it’s flames.

Can you highlight one of your favorite creatures and go into some detail on the creation process?

For an upcoming issue, I will feature the Baykok, which is another Native American terror, described as a man with almost transparent skin or a corpse-like appearance. They will come at night while a traveler is asleep and carve out a piece of their stomach and eat it. The traveler will awaken in the morning, but suffer a slow death due to their supernatural wound.

Taking that information, I really try to think of what I can do to enhance that visual.

At first, I took an animated skeleton approach, but now I am working on adding layers of transparent flesh draping it’s frame. I may give it a faint ghostly haze or give it a shriveled leathery look. I am going for a gaunt sickly look, and I hope they come across scary! The Maroon will have to fight several of these fiends off!

What do you think are some tropes that should be avoided in monster designs?

I think for a true monster; you have to ignore the laws of nature. Monsters are often an aberration of what makes sense to us, and the more twisted you get, the more difficult it is to understand and it becomes easier to fear the monster.

You seem to have found a wealth of untapped creatures in Native American lore. What do you recommend other creators to do if they are looking for monster design inspiration?

Research all kinds of folklore. There are tons of sites online that document topics like urban legends, cryptozoology, and folklore myths. Draw inspiration from these tales, and remember that these stories haunted people at one time. Try to bring elements of your own fears in these legends and its OK to exercise any logic from them. As I said before, we often fear that which we don’t understand.


©2018 by Anthony Cleveland - Writer & Comic Book Creator. 

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