Interview and Exclusive Book Excerpt: Mark Rudolph

For more than half of Decibel’s decade-long history Mark Rudolph has been a key component of what makes the magazine special. He illustrates the lead review in each issue and has designed covers for all of Decibel’s annual specials dating back to our 100 best death metal albums special.
When he isn’t busy with the magazine or his Detroit-based art business Rudolph edits and curates graphic books on our heavy metal heroes. The first was a King Diamond tribute Satan Is Alive. Due next is a tribute for Tom Warrior. Morbid Tales! A Tribute To Celtic Frost will be released by Corpseflower Records in an initial run of 1,000 copies.

You can preorder a copy of this fantastic book here. Mark also graciously shared a preview of the book with his Deci-comrades; visit his page to get an idea of what to expect in full-resolution glory not available via WordPress. Then read more with Mark below. Are You Morbid?

When did you get into art?

I grew up in the middle of Michigan in a small college town. I was a fairly withdrawn kid and drawing was the first thing before music that got me. It made me feel that nothing else mattered. It started with a love of comic books and cartoons. And then my Dad gave me a copy of MAD magazine which was one of the few cultural touchstones we agreed upon. I started seeing caricatures when I was about eight and it excited me a lot more than Spider Man. MAD made me realize that people were making a living doing illustrations. It got me into pop culture and put an extra twist on it with social commentary.

Jack Kirby was a big influence, correct?

In the late 70s and early 80s I wasn’t super aware of who specific artists were. But Marvel Comics always made an effort to make sure people knew Stan Lee and the artists and put personalities to them. I became more aware of Kirby in my late teens and early 20s and started to appreciate what he did for the world of comics. When I got into college I recognized what a genius he was; he could abstract the human figure and his work also transcended reality.

When did you decide to combine your metal fandom with illustration?

Chris Dick and a few other longtime Decibel contributors did the Requiem fanzine from 1992 to about 1998. It was photocopied. At that time album covers were paintings or Photoshopped. I tried to cater my illustration style to that at first. I also had a stint at Relapse in the graphics department. This was when everyone and their grandma was getting into design.

After Requiem died I did some design work and photography. I’d always been doing comics for myself. It wasn’t until about 2008 when I was in Decibel – I think it was issue 52. I’d been doing a lot of sci-fi comics with Twilight Zone endings. I was visiting Chris in Philadelphia and I gave Albert (Mudrian, editor) a copy of a comic I was doing called Mulligan’s Run. It was sort of like an EC Comic. Albert got a hold of me to do a lead illustration each month and it scared the shit out of me. Decibel was the first time I’d had metal in my illustrations outside of some fanzines.

Your illustrations have become part of Decibel’s aesthetic.

For the longest time I think any illustration having to do with metal was so serious. It was all traditional covers. The way Decibel is – I want to think of a good way to put it — it’s not just about super underground and true kult. It had a reach and that’s what I wanted with my work. You can have a sense of humor about things you love. When Albert approached me about the death metal cover I thought of the idea of doing a huge montage with different elements from album covers. The response has been fantastic and we have yet another special in the works.

What’s your favorite Decibel piece?

The ones that push me as an artist. The Danzig cover was tough but it would have to be the death metal cover, which got a great response. It made me reevaluate all of these album covers from when I was a kid.

After you did the book on King Diamond when did you decide to do a book on Tom Warrior?

The King Diamond book was a shot in the dark and it worked. I’ve always been a huge Frost fan and ended up reading copious amounts of interviews and I already had an idea for another book.

Tom’s story seems to lend itself to a graphic retelling.

Yes, especially his childhood. He definitely had an interesting upbringing and I respect how he took the inner turmoil and turned it into something rather than turning to drugs or less savory activity. His childhood is like a fairy tale. He was this kid that overcame these things to become a force. I was drawn to him because I also created my own worlds. And I was drawn to how he did that through music. I have a story in the book about my broad interpretation of him as a child overcoming those odds and becoming the Tom Warrior character.

Tom has been able to create an entire life out of the fantasy life he had as a kid.

Tom always tried to do something different with his career; just look at the back catalog from Hellhammer to Morbid Tales to Into The Pandemonium

I understand you heard from Tom?

I woke up one morning and he befriended me on Facebook and sent me a message asking about the book. I sent him a synopsis and pointed him to the Mercyful Fate book. He said he was honored and humbled by the gesture. When I approached King Diamond about the book he politely declined. I thought Tom might ask me to stop and I was honored he seemed stoked.

It’s interesting that the two books you’ve done have been on artists who pay painstaking attention to their image.

It might gave been completely unintentional (laughs). But it’s a testament to how identifiable they are. They are almost like horror movie icons. They are the musical equivalent of superheroes.