A Chat With MondoCon Artist Daniel Danger

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Q: You’ve been a poster artist for quite awhile now. Can you tell me when you got started andhow you got into it?

A: Back in high school I was in a band The Dangerouslys -- named after the Michael Keaton movie “Johnny Dangerously” (where I got my namesake actually) -- and I was simply the “artsy one;” I would design our flyers and such for promoting our horrible basement shows. This was all punk cut copy paste aesthetic stuff and crude drawings, but I enjoyed the process of trying to turn it on its head regardless. Somewhere in the late 90s I saw a Jay Ryan gig poster for the band HUM, this beautiful silkscreened illustration of an astronaut coming out of a shuttle, and that sort of changed everything for me. I saw what gig posters could be, how much irreverence and freedom you could have with them, and how beautiful silkscreen looks. I IMMEDIATELY went home and did a crappy knockoff of the poster for my own band, because that’s what 17-year-olds do. That poster is now framed in my studio.

So I did all the designs and posters for my own bands, then my friends’ bands, and then friends of friends’ bands, and finally someone gave me $50 to design a flyer and I bought a month’s worth of Spongebob Squarepants mac & cheese at the dollar store. In 2005, a friend and I hobbled together some dollars and I released my first art print entitled “...and i need sunny days,” which is now eBay gold. It’s a crude image, but its release showed me that maybe my posters weren’t always selling just because of the band name. What followed was a series of art prints that represented more personal moments in my history, using prose and quotes as the titles, which has become a bit of my signature. When I left college, I just sort of put my head down and tried to land as many poster jobs as I could, trying to hone in on what my eventual personal style would become. So I basically tried out ‘Daniel Danger art prints’ and slapped a band name on them.

Q: Your personal work seems to have a really strong narrative style. Do you try to keep subjects cohesive over multiple prints, or is each one kind of its own story?

A: I guess I have a set of unspoken rules, narrative and aesthetic, that I’ve followed. Most of my early prints were based on very real things from my life sort of turned into strange, quiet moments, with borderline abstract prose titles; things someone might have said, or will say, or would say if they could. And often the imagery was simply a place for that quote to exist in. I’ve been obsessed with those old SIERRA computer adventure games since I was a kid (King’s Quest, Space Quest, etc), which really nailed in the idea of “a progression of environments as a long form narrative,” and that’s almost how I look at my work as a whole. But like, way sadder.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the ghostly themes that seem to run through the majority of your work?

A: That’s probably part and parcel to simply growing up in New England, which is a genre of horror itself. It’s an old place, it’s never changed much, and once you get out of the cities, everything is in a long running state of falling apart. I’ve always recognized it as a place of terrible things happening quietly [‘my only daughter abigail born in june’]; and if you abide by “the rules of hauntings” tropes, terrible things stick around. Any important event leaves a mark, and those moments get locked in a loop and repeat forever, stacking on top of each other. One of my narrative rules is ambiently representing multiple moments in time at once, taking those spirits and making them a bit lost, behind a different open curtain.

Lately, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of spirits in these old houses watching nature and life creep back in and engulf them [‘they will take it back, piece by piece’], slowly, and wanting to escape these loops they’ve been trapped in. [‘you have a wanderlust’ & ‘or is it the dying little light of the soul’]

Q: When tackling a movie poster for someone like Mondo, is the approach wildly different than with your own work, or is it relatively the same process?

A: I always joke that my pitch for any movie poster is “the sad quiet scene where nothing is happening.” I generally look for where my path crosses with the movie, the more open, airy, unspoken moments in films. Margot and Richie Tenenbaum hiding in the museum, Thomas Jane driving the truck through the brutal finale of The Mist, Daniel Radcliffe holding his lantern out into the darkness in The Woman In Black, etc.

Q: Speaking of process, can you elaborate a bit on how you get from idea to finished piece? Are you using physical mediums, or how much do you rely on the computer?

A: The bulk of my work is done on clayboard, which is sort of like scratchboard with a much thicker surface. It allows me to ink out huge areas in black, etch through with a knife to create a white line, and then go back and forth inking and carving. Typically, when drawing on white paper with a pen, you’re always drawing shadows. My brain processes drawing light better than shadows, so I prefer basically drawing in reverse. So, I’ll do all the linework that way, scan it in, and do all the silkscreen and color separations digitally. It’s also fairly physically brutal on my hands due to the ‘pulling a knife through a physical surface’ tension involved over the weeks a single piece can take, so I’ll sometimes work with a Wacom tablet and use basically the exact same 1:1 process digitally, which causes less strain on my hands. Fill tool, eraser tool, I try to keep it simple. Analog or digital, I still have to draw every single tiny line. It’s common these days for pieces to take 100-200 hours. I worked on Crimson Peak for 23 days, and I’m about halfway through a piece right that’s already clocking in around 350 hours. My hands fucking hate me.

Q: When working on movie posters, how important is the property to you? Is it imperative that you love the film, or are you able to view it as just another commercial illustration job?

A: I’ve made the mistake of working on movies that I hadn’t seen, and ultimately didn’t care for, so I try to avoid that now as best I can. If I’m going to take one of these jobs, I want to make sure I connect with it, that I find my scene in it. Any commercial work I do is going to be seen alongside my very personal artwork, so lately I've been a bit more protective of ‘my brand’. Me doing a print for The Matrix would be stupid, me doing a print for The Conjuring would be great.

Q: You’ve done concert posters, movie posters, art prints, toys, gallery shows, and more. Which part of our career do you want to focus on moving forward? Any big aspirations?

A: I’m really trying my best to steer the truck towards larger and more thematically cohesive gallery shows; I come from a family of people who love grand productions, and I want to do more grand productions. I’ve been cooking that goose for a few years now. I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to have accomplished and participated in every show and release and event; but most of my aspirations simply involve being better, being more ambitious in scope, and never doing lazy work. I’d really love to do an illustrated narrative book and explore writing more longform pieces, designing a pizza box, and lighting a school bus on fire while rocking a bitchin’ guitar solo on top.

Q: The first incarnation of MondoCon took place last year, and you were one of the first people on board. Can you share a bit about your experience from 2014’s con?

A: The inaugural MondoCon was kind of terrifying. A convention for poster collectors? Most of us artists who attended were all fairly convinced Mondo’s own releases would drown out anything we were trying to do, or that, like the many Flatstock poster events of the past, the collectors would be there for the first two hours and bail. Nobody really knew what to expect. I had a lot of reservations, but ultimately I decided whole hog was the only way to go. I had a 10x30’ banner printed that wrapped my entire booth, I released five new prints, and I did everything I could to make my booth command attention. But while the show was crowded and occasionally disorganized, everyone was ecstatic, everyone was having a blast. It was hundreds of people from this strange little world all in one room at once. Hell, Aaron Horkey was just walking around giving out drawings like some kind of fucked up Santa Claus. It was hands down the best convention event I’ve ever done personally. I only had two or three total assholes, and I spent the week eating Lucy’s fried chicken. So win-win for me.

Q: Since you’re coming back for 2015, do you have anything special planned for this year’s convention?

A: A bigger banner. Past that, we’ll see. I want to go hard.

Q: You seem to attract attention from a lot of aspiring illustrators. What kind of advice do you typically share with them?

A: A lot of incoming questions from upstart illustrators often seem like wanting to be pointed towards shortcuts, so what I try to communicate is there is absolutely no substitution for time and craft. People will ask how I do the work that I do; and it’s simply devotion, a lack of much of a personal life, and Friday Night Lights DVDs. Always keep working; trying to break yourself as an artist is a Sisyphus boulder that always needs momentum. If you stop, you’re committing yourself to starting over.

Q: I know this question gets asked a lot, but are there any movies or TV shows that you’re dying to do a poster for, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

A: Corrina Corrina (1994).

This was originally published in the September issue of Birth.Movies.Death. magazine. MondoCon is a celebration of of movies, art, comics, music, toys and food. It's a weekend curated by Mondo, featuring incredible Artists & Creators from around the world, Panels, Screenings, Food Trucks & Interactive Events. The second annual MondoCon 2015 will take place October 3rd-4th at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre. Tickets are now onsale at mondo-con.com.