Glenn Chadbourne: Hard-wired for horror

Damariscotta artist visits Boothbay Harbor the day before Halloween
Posted:  Friday, October 31, 2014 - 1:15pm
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Glenn Chadbourne is a spooky guy.

Born in Damariscotta on a late October day some 50 years ago, Chadbourne has been drawing spooky pictures from as far back as he can remember.

His website, in typical Chadbourne fashion, says of his birth: “Nothing spectacular there. No particular fanfare. No sirens bleating in the streets, no cries of joy or horror from those in attendance.”

Growing up in a quiet neighborhood with no kids to “chum around with,” he whiled away his time doing what he did best — drawing.

When Chadbourne, an only child, was in grammar school, his father would take him to a local mom and pop store on Sunday mornings. There he became entranced with comics and magazines like “Famous Monster Of Filmland,” “Creepy, Eerie,” “Vampirella” and “Tales from the Crypt.”

His drawings, which up till then had focused on G.I. themes, began changing direction.

“I started to draw spooky stuff — and again, it stuck.”

Chadbourne continued doing his spooky drawings, and when he was in his twenties he began sending some off to magazines. He sold a few, but nothing to write home about. Then one day in the early '90s he was at Borders Bookstore in Portland and he met Rick Hautala.

Hautala was a fiction and horror writer who had had numerous books published by Cemetery Dance Publications, widely-considered the world's leading specialty press publisher of horror and dark suspense.

“We instantly hit it off,” Chadbourne said. “We're like-minded folks. I had read all his books and he was a hero to me. We got chummy. He was doing a collection of short stories called ‘Bedbugs’ and he asked me if I could dream something up for some of the stories.”

Hautala gave him a rough draft, and Chadbourne read them and started drawing.

Hautala sent the drawings to Cemetery Dance Publications.

“I had sent stuff to them over the years, but that's the nature of the beast,” Chadbourne said. “They had never responded. This time they loved the drawings. Rick helped launch me, because they may never have seen my work if he hadn't given me a plug.”

Chadbourne said now Cemetery Dance is his biggest employer.

Hot off the presses, just in time for Halloween, is a 40th anniversary edition of Stephen King's “Carrie.”

“I did a book report on ‘Carrie’ when I was a senior at Lincoln Academy. And now I've illustrated the new book.”

The illustrations are all in color and they are eerie. They show scenes from King's first published book in gruesome King form. One of them shows a close-up of Carrie's face, complete with the acne that King so aptly described in the book.

PS Publishing in London published the collector’s edition.

Chadbourne said he became chummy with King through their mutual friend, Hautala.

“I did umpteen books for Cemetery Dance, and every year I'd go to this convention, the Northeastern Writers Conference. Horror writers from all over were there. I met Steve's personal assistant, Marsha DeFilippo.”

He became friendly with her, and one day in 2005 while talking to Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance, they got to talking about King and how much they loved his books.

Chizmar said he would write to King and ask him about Chadbourne illustrating some of his stories.

“I forgot all about it, thinking it was a shot in the dark,” Chadbourne said. “A couple weeks later Steve contacted Rich, and said go for it. I was thunderstruck.”

His first book in collaboration with King was “The Secretary of Dreams, Vol 1.”

“There were 12 short stories, and that proved too much for one book, so we wound up doing two editions.”

That project led to more.

“Every one of these King projects I worked on led to umpteen others. It has continued on from there and I've been constantly busy.”

There is now a second volume of “The Secretary of Dreams,” also illustrated by Chadbourne. Two of the stories in the book have been made into movies.

Another short story by King, illustrated by Chadbourne, “1922,” in the book “Full Dark, No Stars,” is a story about a man in Nebraska who murders his wife in 1922.

Chadbourne's illustrations are understandably dark and gruesome, one of them showing the woman, who either survives, or returns from the dead, with rats crawling all over her bloody body. Just the way King likes it.

Chadbourne has a strict schedule.

“I get up around eight, go do errands and get home around 10:30 a.m. and check my emails, then I draw till around 1p.m., grab a bite to eat, then draw till around five. Then I make dinner (my wife doesn't like to cook). After dinner I go back and draw till 11:30 p.m., almost every night.

“By then I'm usually so keyed up I force myself to lie down on the couch and watch a movie so I can sleep.”

Chadbourne just finished writing and illustrating a “kids” book.

“It's not really a kids book,” he said. It's really kind of a horror thing.”

He said a lot of his friends have been dying over the last few years. Among them, Rick Hautala. Then his mother died.

“I got thinking about death, and I thought, well, you can approach it being terribly depressed, or you can approach it with a sense of humor.

“So I wrote this little book. It's called the ‘Rockabye Worm.’ It's about a kid who's going fishing, and he digs worms in a graveyard. One little worm pleads his case not to be used as bait. He's been chowing down on the kid's dead relatives. It's not really for the kiddies.”

You can find out what happens when the book comes out in the spring. It is being published in England at Short Scary Tales Publications.

There are presently over 50 books published with Chadbourne's illustrations, along with numerous magazine and comic works.

In his free time, which by all accounts doesn't add up to much, Chadbourne said he relaxes.

“I sit down with a cup of coffee, play with my dog, and read.”

Chadbourne said he’s happy with his work.

"A good trick in life is to love what you do and do what you love."

Asked if he ever runs out of ideas for spooky art, Chadbourne replied, “No, unfortunately I'm just hard-wired that way.”