Meaghan O’Keefe is among her people. She’s in a comics shop in Burbank, California, at a release party for her first graphic novel, a dark terror tale titled Identity Thief, written by Bryant Dillon. Most of the crowd are wearing goth black. A few are sporting Mohawks, including her boyfriend, Robert Burrows. Burrows illustrated Something Animal, another graphic novel, co-written by Dillon and Sam Rhodes. Both books deal with psychological disturbances and twisted transformations and are narrated by images more than by text. Both also debut the new publishing arm of Fanboy Comics.
Dillon happens to be the president of Fanboy Comics, a Los Angeles–based enterprise devoted to “all things geek.” Its site provides advance reviews of movies, TV shows, and video games as well as comics. It also produces a daily e-newsletter of geekworthy news links called The Fanboy Scoop, a Week in Review podcast, and exclusive interviews. And the Fanboy creative team maintains a regular presence at events such as the Long Beach Comic and Horror Con coming up this weekend, on November 3rd and 4th (you can see my report on last year’s LBCHC here).
Both O’Keefe and Burrows render their stories as paintings, practically identical to each other in their tormented, Francis Bacon–like Expressionism. In addition to comics, O’Keefe does character makeup effects, which have been seen on Showtime’s Dexter. She also operates an online business, OpenWound FX. Here she specializes in custom prosthetics and “gore couture,” which includes bloody clothing items named after the 1950s serial killer Ed Gein.
And so our conversation begins on the dark side.
Who are your company’s typical clientele?
There is no “typical” client for me. My customers range from seasonal Halloween shoppers to professional makeup artists. All types of people, and all ages. I get a lot of burlesque dancers, photographers, roller derby girls, and models. And lots of men too.
How did you get into this field?
I was doing building and decoration for haunted attractions in Michigan and was exposed to some incredible props from companies like Distortions Unlimited. I grabbed all of the catalogs I could find lying around, under tool benches and in piles of garbage in the corners of the building. Eventually my tinkering led to prosthetics, which has become my specialty.
And what inspired your garter prosthetics?
In 2007, the corset company Exquisite Restraint hired me to model for a runway show. I knew my legs would be bare and I was trying to think of what to wear on them. The day of, as I was doing my hair, I was thinking that I should wear some nylons and garters when I suddenly got the idea to do garters holding up my skin instead of the nylons. So I created the first incarnation of the “Gartered Legs Prosthetics.”
Have you gotten blowback from anyone who’s offended by your gore-wear or feels it condones violence against women?
I get the occasional comment online about my work being “gross,” “disgusting,” and such, but those comments have only come from people who find gore itself disgusting. So such a visceral reaction from them is about as close as they can get to complimenting my work.
I have never been accused of endorsing violence against women, or anyone else for that matter. My products actually empower women by offering an alternative to the revealing, sexually provocative novelty outfits that seem to be the only costume options advertised to women these days. Rather than having to choose between a degrading costume or an unflattering one, a woman can now stand out by using the flattering, yet gory, aesthetics of OpenWound FX prosthetics to create a truly unique costume out of any outfit or theme, any time of year.
How did you develop your design skills?
I’ve done design for OpenWound FX out of necessity. And I’ve done a bit of freelance design for other businesses as well. It has become a more serious part of my career in recent years.
For Identity Thief I designed the whole book. Every page was a piece of design work. Every panel. All of the lettering. And designing the promo materials was really just another piece of the book. I particularly enjoyed doing the bookmarks. I love designing printed materials.
What were your early childhood influences?
Some of my earliest memories are of my mom reading to me. Looking back at it, I was drawn to the darker stories, and she read them all enthusiastically. Specifically, I recall her reading The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. I made her read it to me over and over, and I still remember vividly all the visuals I created in my mind.
I also loved the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series with Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, and Heckedy Peg with Don Wood’s beautifully dark paintings. These artists were my earliest influences. I feel like they molded my brain into a bit of the darker tastes and cemented me in a more “painterly” style.
And what comics artists have inspired you?
I was introduced to Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum in 2010 and suddenly realized I loved comic art. At least the real painty, arty stuff that they were doing. I immediately started playing around with the sequential style and fell in love with it. I loved being able to illustrate a story or a thought through a sequence of paintings rather than just one. Identity Thief is definitely influenced by Sienkiewicz and McKean’s work. I love using the airbrush and paint, and using panels to pace time and emotion.
How did you develop your painting skills?
Lots of practice, patience, and having better taste than skill.
I’ve painted and drawn since I was a little girl. I was always frustrated that my skill did not live up to what I wanted it to be or what I thought was good. Once I started taking illustration seriously, I learned that you just have to be terrible a lot. Every time you’re terrible you’re learning something that will make you less terrible the next time you go at it. So I’ve come to accept doing the best that I can do, even if I hate it, and just pressing forward. The best that I can do will continue to improve as long as I never stop working at it. Though I’ll probably never think I’m “good” by my taste.
But I believe that your taste should always be better than your skill so you can keep aspiring to live up to what you think is good and thus keep improving. This philosophy has allowed me to not get discouraged and to actually be really happy with the best that I am capable of at the time, and to actually have the patience to keep doing it.
Any plans to expand beyond the horror realm?
I’d love to do some fantasy work. I love fantasy stuff as much as I like horror. I love painting mermaids and strange places. Most of my old paintings are mermaids. And come to think of it, they were always a little scary-ish. I think horror is just deeply embedded in my brain.
Aspire to make your own graphic novels? See Andy Schmidt’s The Insider’s Guide to Creating Comics and Graphic Novels, available at MyDesignShop.com.