A self-described artist of “spooky, scary, and sexy,” Corin Howell has had a long-standing fascination with horror stories. Ironically enough, it was manga that inspired her toward an artistic life, and her first comics gigs were in genres nowhere close to horror. Since then, though, she’s made up for lost time and embraced the dark side for some wholly distinctive storytelling.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Austin, TX
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Why comics? What attracts you specifically to working in this format?
Corin Howell: Comics have always been a way to express the stories I’ve wanted to tell. It’s very expressive, and doesn’t require anyone’s permission to create. You can draw in any style, and draw any story in any genre you want.
KS: Much of your portfolio is horror or horror-adjacent illustration. What’s the appeal for you with that type of material?
CH: I love how weird and obscure details are in horror — it sometimes shocks the mind and body into oblivion. Especially the body horror; the Lovecraftian aspects of horror are not what you usually see in typical scary stories. It’s not just God and the Devil; it’s eldritch gods, monsters, and mangled humans whose minds have twisted into insanity. I guess you could say, I like the chaos?
KS: Have you been a long-time horror fan, or did you come to it later?
CH: I want to say, since I was in middle school. I went to a Catholic school for 12 years of my life, along with my parents being very specific with what I could watch. But when I hit middle school, I was given some slack to the movies I could watch in my dad’s massive VHS collection. My first love was the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
KS: Since that first movie, Freddy has become more of a comedic character over the years. What are some horror tales in any media that have legitimately scared you?
CH: One of the few books that really got me was Night by Elie Wiesel. I guess you could say it was due to the Catholic school system sugarcoating a lot of history, or the fact that I didn’t really have access to my own computer til high school, but real-life horror stories weren’t really talked about much. So, reading a firsthand account of the terrors that happened in World War II genuinely made my skin crawl. When it came to movies, a lot of the fear of certain films came from my mother saying, “No, this isn’t for you,” and that was her final world. Hilariously, the movies that she kept me from watching — Signs, Alien, Predator — turned out not to be all that scary. In any case, it made me more curious, and it hasn’t stopped.
KS: Moving over to comics, what did you reading list look like growing up?
CH: I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and, unfortunately, I did not have a lot of access to comics. My first comic was literally a Pokémon short about when Ash meets Pikachu. I didn’t get my hands on real comics until I was in middle school; technically, it was manga —Trigun, to be exact — but it was my first introduction into the genre. I got into the TMNT and Transformers Armada comics when Dreamwave was still around, but manga was my primary comic source.
KS: Once you discovered manga, what was your source for those books? Finding regular imported titles is easier today than it used to be.
CH: Back in the day, Waldenbooks was pretty much the only game in town that had an extensive manga collection. Gainesville wasn’t really a town for art — it was all football — so a lot of connections were limited. So, cue me, a wee middle schooler/high schooler going to the mall with my mom or dad any chance I got just so I could make a beeline to Waldenbooks. Sadly, it’s no longer in the Oaks Mall.
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How about a comic story that had a particular impact on you as a reader?
CH: Definitely the Trigun manga series. I remember wanting to get it because I liked the cover of Vash the Stampede in his long red cloak, yellow sunglasses, and his spiky head. I loved the art style, but as I read it, I found myself sucked into the story; how Vash was torn up over his past with his twin brother and his vow to never kill yet he’s met with enemies that are extremely threatening. That, and it's a space western — how can you not love that?
KS: Do you have a specific early memory of thinking “I want to do that” in relation to an art career? Or where did the idea originate, to the best of your recollection?
CH: After I started reading Trigun, I began to search out more manga. I found a manga made by a SCAD alumni called Re:Play by Christy Lijewski, and it kinda inspired me that if she could draw comics for a living, so could I.
KS: Had you been dabbling in any kind of art before seeing Re:Play?
CH: Yes, I was. As long as I could remember, I’ve always looked forward to art class in school. I would doodle silly, horribly drafted cartoons in class or at home. I preferred to draw more than go to PE class.
KS: Do you recall the first time you ever got paid for a piece of art?
CH: Hilariously, it was for a penciled piece of Yu-Gi-Oh for a friend of my mom’s.
KS: Was this a commission?
CH: Oh, it was a commission. I think it was around, like, $40? This was in 2002-2003 when I was 12 or 13 years old, so it was a lot for a kid back then.
KS: Because many of our readers are aspiring creators, let’s talk about how you broke into comics. I believe you first started self-publishing, but how did you distribute your work back then?
CH: I actually got my first job right out of college. It was the year I graduated from SCAD, and the sequential program was hosting its “Mini Comics Expo” during the same weekend as Editors Day Weekend — basically editors from various publishing companies would come and review the students' work. I had a small table with my mini-comics I made during my last quarter, and that’s when my first editor, Joel Enos with VIZ Media — thank you, Joel — came up to my table, flipped through my comic, and asked, “How do you feel about drawing boys’ action comics?” I said yes, and it took off from there.
KS: If you went to SCAD, you must have had some type of artistic goal in mind. What kind of long-term path did you envision — as much as a person in college envisions long term?
CH: Comics. It was always comics. I had a clear goal to be working in the comics industry when I was out of college, and I was fully committed to making that happen.
KS: Did you have parental support for that school choice?
CH: Well, it was a bit tricky. My parents and I came to an agreement that I would do two years of Santa Fe College in Gainesville [Florida], to get the basic classes out of the way — also because my dad had a prepaid college plan and didn’t want it to go to waste. When it came to SCAD, though, my mom was all for it; she was very excited the day I got accepted, scholarships and all. My dad, though, took some time.
KS: You got on VIZ’s radar at the school show, but what was the opportunity that first opened in order for you to really get in the door with a publisher?
CH: [It was] after I attended the apprenticeship with Sean Murphy. I learned a lot from the apprenticeship, and it gave me more confidence to go to more conventions. Specifically, SDCC— it was intimidating to me because it was across the country and in a place I’d never been to. That, and I was traveling alone with very, very little money. But, thanks to a little help from my mom, I was able to fly over and stay the whole convention. That’s when I started meeting with editors and sharing my portfolio; I met with Oni Press, IDW, Disney, and a few others. I actually geeked out about Transformers in front of the editor, not knowing he was the editor until someone pointed it out after the fact. After SDCC, I got emails about projects, including a phone call from DC asking me if I was interested in working on Bat-Mite.
KS: As a Bat-Mite fan, I need to hear more about this!
CH: It’s kinda funny, actually. Not too long after the Murphy apprenticeship, I was at home in Savannah, GA, working on a small project for VIZ. My phone goes off, and it’s just a moment of silence before a man over the phone said, “Hello?” “Hello?” I said. “Is this Corin Howell?” “Uh, who is this?” Just an awkward exchange over the phone before the guy said he was an editor from DC and he wanted to talk to me about a project. Apparently, that same day, Sean went to the DC offices and handed out copies of Cafe Racer, the book that we worked on at the apprenticeship. Upon seeing my art, the editor immediately asked for my contact info. So yeah, thanks, Sean!
KS: If you look back at that early comic art, what’s something that especially stands out as different vs. the current version of you? This doesn’t have to be something worse, just different.
CH: I want to say when I was working on my early mini comics, they weren’t horror. It was a story about an artist adapting to life as a single dad. Looking back on it, it does feel a little strange that I went from family friendly to obscure sexy and spooky body horror. But then again, it was back when I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do in comics.
KS: Other than type of material, what about the skills you’ve picked up along the way?
CH: Inking and refining my style. I was more cartoony back then, and my inking style lacked variety. Granted, it’s still a little difficult to mimic the same texture as a real pen, brush, or nib, but Clip Studio has an infinite library of brushes that look more and more like the real thing. So that, coupled with the proper guidance and a boat load of studying — and I’m still studying — I was able to steer my art closer towards a more refined style, where detail and deep blacks reside.
KS: Yea or nay: listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work?
CH: Both. It depends on the day; some days I work in complete silence, others I’m blasting Rammstein. Really up to the mood.
KS: Hypothetical time: For one day, you can stand "over the shoulder" of any artist from the history of comics, watch them work, ask any questions, etc. Who’s your pick?
CH: Bernie Wrightson. I only met him once at Boston Comic Con one year, but by then I wasn’t sure if he was still drawing. [H]is eye for horror and inks are just so intense yet smooth, I would have loved to learn his techniques. Given the chance, I would ask him what was his full process of illustrating Frankenstein.
KS: Tell us about a passion of yours totally unrelated to comics or art. Something you study, collect, practice, whatever...
CH: I’m a giant transforming robot fan. I grew up with Optimus Prime and Megatron; my love started with Beast Wars and skyrocketed after Armada. I’m part of a few TF Discord servers. I’ve read the comics ever since I was in middle school— my favorite still is the Megatron Origin illustrated by Alex Milne. I loved the More Than Meets The Eye and Lost Light comics with IDW — and yes, I am still sour over that ending of MTME. I even have a few figures, though recently it's been building some model kits from Flame Toys.
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
CH: It’s tough to say. I flip back between books every so often. I guess my current obsession is Levius by Haruhisa Nakata. His inking style just has me in awe every time I flip through the few volumes I have, and his ability to illustrate action in each fight is incredible. I study the pages any chance I get.
KS: Finally, talk a little about what we should be on the lookout for from you in 2022 and beyond.
CH: I’ll be working on a Barbaric arc coming up in the next few months, followed by a few more rounds of Shadow Service. And of course Lilith — can’t forget the bloody sexy lady.