Interview: The dark, twisted nightmares of "Bad Seeds" creator Gregbo Watson

Gregbo Watson (@gregbo) is known for a dark, cruelly twisted aesthetic with bold forms and creepy characters. His primary tools these days are digital (Manga Studio, Sketchbook Pro, Adobe Photoshop) but he cut his teeth on traditional media techniques, as evidenced in the layers and texturing in his work.

He’s now penciling and inking comic books for Zenescope Entertainment and doing all manner of creepy commissioned work, including Bad Seeds, the final installment in our month-long #NeonMonsters theme.

Curious readers might wonder where his name “Gregbo” came from — turns out a church group anointed him thusly back when Rambo was popular. True story.

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NeonMob: You’ve said that your work is largely influenced by the “ghostly legends and southern folk tales” that you were raised on during your childhood. Tell us about those — which ones in particular stand out to you?

Well, my Father and Grandfather were both great storytellers and enjoyed telling spooky tales of mountain witches, demon black cats, devilish deals, and other supernatural themes. The stories that stood out to me were traditional ones that originated in England and were then adapted through the years in the Appalachian mountains around the hearth and campfires.The Jack Tales, Jenny Greenteeth, and The Monkey’s Paw were such stories. Also, local ghosts such as The Gray Man and Alice of the Hermitage were favorites as well.

NeonMob: Why do those stand out to you, and how did they impact you when you were growing up? Have you always been affected by them or is it something that grew on you over time?

When my Dad first told me his version of Jenny Greenteeth, I didn’t go swimming for months! I think these tales stand out to me foremost because of the quirky characters. Unlike some stories that were designed to be solely horrific, these tales were often infused with a bit of dark humor which made each “villain” more memorable.

I think that I have always been affected by these characters and stories. In some ways they kind of feel like family. Even as a child, and long before becoming a professional artist, I could always visualize these twisted characters in my mind’s eye.

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NeonMob: Let’s talk about some of the characters in Bad Seeds. You’re clearly pulling from a bunch of different stories — from Alice in Wonderland to Humpty Dumpty to Jack in the Box. Was there a theme or unifying story arc that lead you to depict these characters?

In Bad Seeds, I opened the dark, creaky gates that rattle in my head and allowed many of those beloved friends from my childhood to pass through and meet you guys. The juxtaposition of the creepy and the sweet or the horrible and the humorous are a common theme in my work. Innocence lost is also a theme I enjoy working with as you can observe within Bad Seeds as well.

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NeonMob: And what about your Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole series? It seems like there’s a clear line from some of the Bad Seeds characters to that work; or am I seeing a connection that’s purely incidental?

Well, like many professional artists, I put my heart and soul into my work, so each piece I create is an extension of my personality. In essence, you’re seeing “creepy ‘ol” me in Bad Seeds and Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole!

NeonMob: What’s your process for switching between the dark, layered, gruesome art that you’re known for and the somewhat lighter comic book style on Wonderland? Is that uncomfortable for you, or a welcome change in aesthetic?

I believe it is always foremost about telling the story properly. Whether the story is the embodiment of the character in a single dramatic image or the progressive story of the character over a number of sequential panels and/or issues. Both have their unique artistic challenges.

For example in Bad Seeds I am telling the story of each unique character in single images which need to portray each character as they are, while visually hinting at the hows and whys of how they became that way and where they may be heading. In Down the Rabbit Hole I was working with multiple panels and pages as storytelling tools. And believe me, Wonderland gets VERY dark. So I guess my process is to let each project and story speak to me and adjust my process to best tell its individual story.

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NeonMob: How did you come to work with independent comic book publisher Zenescope Entertainment?

Zenescope’s Art Director reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in working on a project involving Alice in Wonderland. Of course I said, “Absolutely!”. I mean it is Alice, right?!

I really enjoy working with Zenescope. Much like NeonMob, they love their fans and work hard for them. My getting to work from scripts written by extraordinary writers such as Pat Shand and Raven Gregory is an absolute pleasure. Much of Zenescope’s material involves twists on classic fairytale characters, which is a natural attraction to me.

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NeonMob: Considering the recent work you did on Fête Greenville, which is about the migration from print to digital news consumption, would you say there’s a similar lesson for traditional comic book publishers? How would you say Zenescope is adapting to the trends in publishing and distribution?

Zenescope is adapting brilliantly. Comic fans sit on two sides of the fence: convenience and portability versus traditional experience and collectibility. Listening to what their fans want, they offer both digital and print versions for purchase.

NeonMob: Building on that, you stated that you see comic art as “one of our oldest art forms” — but how is it changing in the digital era? What are your thoughts about online storytelling in the comic form, and who is doing it well, in your opinion?

Yes, sequential art predates verbal and written storytelling. It is really awesome when you think about it. The digital age continues to bring forth amazing changes. We have gone from telling stories through paintings on a cave wall in Lascaux to being able to post stories on a digital wall for the world to see and share everywhere.

In terms of doing it “well”, I think digital comics are still defining themselves. In other words, some use the traditional storytelling methods and layouts and produce them digitally, while others infuse new digital methods including animation and sound. The ones who do it well are the ones who focus on the character and storytelling more than the method.

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NeonMob: Lastly, what do you think about NeonMob? What would we need to do to get your son interested in it?  :)

I think NeonMob is awesome. You guys have created a brilliant way for artists and fans to connect. People are able to discover artists and collect art in one of the more unique ways that I have ever seen. From an artist’s perspective, working with you guys on Bad Seeds was fantastic! Also, as I touched upon earlier, you guys really care about the quality of product that you put forth to the fans. I was very impressed with that as we worked together. I am a huge supporter of what you guys are doing and hope to do more together with NeonMob as the future unfolds.

My son, Bret, loves it as well and will be sharing with his friends!

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