Interview with Mark Rudolph, illustrator, cartoonist, metalhead

To commemorate the release of his latest metal tribute book Metal Gods: A Tribute to Judas Priest, enjoy this chat we had with Mark Rudolph regarding, among other things, the pleasures and trials of paying homage to Priest. 


Mark, how long have you been working for Decibel now?

Since February 2009. Issue 52. The Darkthrone cover. It’s been awhile. I just went back and looked at the first one a few weeks ago, it was the one and only split illustration between Napalm Death and Sepultura. I remember really stressing about it and it’s fine I guess, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance to refine the lead review style over the last hundred and change issues. At the time it was on odd thing to see in a metal magazine, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much they dig it. Bands too. I never thought I’d be able to combine two of my favorite things from different worlds: Mad Magazine and death metal.

Metal Gods is your third illustrated metal tribute book. I remember you almost did one on Quorthon. What made you realize Priest was the way to go next?

Yeah, that was the plan. It was going to be more of an oral history than a tribute. I was collaborating with another guy on it and we were getting things translated from Swedish to English, and our translator kinda fell off the face of the earth. It may see the light of day at some point, but for now it’s in limbo. For half a minute it was going to be Voivod, but Albert talked me out of that. He’s the one that suggested doing Priest and I was like… duh! Of course it should be Priest.


What did you learn from Morbid Tales, your tribute to Celtic Frost, and Satan is Alive, the Mercyful Fate book, that helped make Metal Gods bigger and better?

Do more of the artwork myself this time. Mainly because of the shorter than usual turnaround for the book, but also I wanted there to be more of me in there. Showcase some other sides of my art. I also learned to change up the contributors too. There are a few that have been in all three, but I made an effort to get more women involved this time around. Metal art can be a real boys club and I know so many great female artists that I wanted to show off their work. Like Em DeMarco, Raquel Diez and Rachel Kahn for instance. Three incredibly unique artists that really made me up my game and really elevated the rest of the book.

When did the title come to you within the timeline of this project? Were there any other contenders for the title?

That was the first thing that came to mind. Kind of how Morbid Tales is the only thing I could have really called a tribute book to Celtic Frost. But I did have others: Beyond the Realms of Death, Living After Midnight, Hellbent for Metal, and briefly Better by You, Better Than Me. Metal Gods just seemed to be the best fit.


How did you go about curating some of these killer one page pieces?

Some were people I follow on Instagram, some personal friends, some prominent artists/muscians and some were stabs in the dark, just cold calling and asking. That’s what those first few books taught me, is that nobody is off the table. Like Dan Swanö, I contacted him on Facebook and he got me a contribution within a few hours. I attribute it all to people’s love of Priest.

An early sketch for the Judas Priest tribute.


How did the Bloodstone comic come together? Did you and J. Bennett hatch that out over some beers?

That was all Bennett! Unfortunately, I’m in Detroit and he’s in Los Angeles, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to visualize his madness.


How long have you wanted to illustrate that comic for the song “Metal Gods?”

Okay, I’m one of those guys who doesn’t always pay attention to lyrics. I initially thought, since it’s so bombastic, that it was about how they were just a great metal band. The Metal Gods! Kind of like a self-congratulatory, Queen-ish anthem and it stayed that way in my mind for years. When I actually sat down and read them, I knew it was something that I needed to draw. It made me think of dystopian 60s sci-fi flicks. Kinda like a Richard Matheson script or something.


Is that Charlton Heston?

Yes, good eye.


I love the Electric Eye comic. Can you shed some light on that one?

That’s done by a fantastic artist from Kentucky, J.T. Dockery! He’s got a manic, almost R. Crumb intensity and energy to his work. Everything he does from the lettering to the panel border has his stamp on it. The man is a hell of a conversationalist and storyteller. A true original.

Getting Rob right.

Talk to me about Rob’s nightmare. Everything about it rules, from the sword-kill to the abyssal vagina, to that bulky daddy at the end. What were some of the joys and pains  of writing and illustrating that one?

The writing on that one was handled by my friend, Rachel Deering. She’s a novelist and comic writer and if memory serves she wrote that on an international flight with very little sleep. Her script had everything there, I just pushed it a bit more over the edge. As far as the actual art, I did the original pages about twice as large as anything else in the book. I wanted to really add a level of detail and insanity to it. Push myself. I remember the first read through of the script and was dreading drawing some of that stuff. Like really… I have to draw dinosaurs and bedroom sets and houses, but once I stopped being lazy I really embraced it and pushed everything further. Making more work for myself, but it’s kinda the crown jewel of the book.


What’s your favorite piece in Metal Gods that you did yourself? It’s not that abyssal vagina is it?

Sorry, but a close second. Even though I didn’t do it all myself, the last scene in “Before The Dawn,” with all the demonic toys, was a blast. I actually have my dad’s old Howdy Doody marionette from the 40s hanging on my studio wall, so I knew that needed to make it’s way in there. So the psychotic Howdy Doody is my favorite thing.

One of the pieces MR did for an Autopsy boxset.

Who was the most fun to draw out of all the metal celebs whose likeness you captured for this book?

I think it has to be Robert Garven. He has such a unique look and he’s a really sweet guy on top of it.


You were handed a real gem with that anecdote provided by Rob Garven of Cirith Ungol. How fun was that to draw?

That was pretty incredible. The first round Rob sent a little shorter version of it. More streamlined. I told him I wanted to really make this epic and the second draft is the elegant jewel that you find in the book. I really did a fair amount of research to get the Starwood to look as it did in that era and Rob was very helpful getting me reference photos of him and Tim from then.


Has Mr. Halford seen this yet?

Not to my knowledge.


When was the last time you saw Priest? When was the first time? How many times have you seen them in-between, and when was the best time?

Well, this is really easy. I’ve only seen them once. I had the opportunity to see them with Ripper Owens years ago, but I passed on that and every other chance, I had other things going on. So the only time was 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. I hope to see them again.

What’s your favorite Priest album?

Kind of a cop out, but Unleashed in the East. The best “live” album ever recorded in my opinion and a close second would be Sad Wings of Destiny. But I really love Angel of Retribution too. It changes on a daily basis.


So who gets the Rudolph treatment next?

Next, I’m focusing on some personal work that has nothing to do with metal and see if people cares about it. Haha! But I have a notebook filled with ideas for a new book in the style of the tribute books, but more of a historical piece.


Thanks, Mark. Any last minute acknowledgements to squeeze in?

Without the contributions of all the other artists and musicians, this book wouldn’t exist. It’s always a thrill putting these books together and being able to delve so deeply into a single subject. Also I’d like to thank Decibel Books for all the support and letting me do exactly what I wanted. That’s a rare thing these days.


Get your copy of Metal Gods: A Tribute to Judas Priest.

Visit Mark Rudolph’s website.