Like most horror fans, Dan Henk surrounds himself in everything creepy, crawly and undead. He prefers to hang out on the dark side with like-minded people — and since his brain is one of the creative varieties — he expresses his thoughts and passions in the form of art. A writer, illustrator, painter and tattooer, his stuff is definitely worth a look at, especially if you love horror. We’re lucky to have such a talented horror creative here in our town. Currently on the road, we did this interview via email but I do hope to sit down and talk more horror with him and maybe get a tattoo off my list.
When did you start writing? We didn’t have a TV in my house until I was in 5th grade, and even then my parents severely limited access, so I’ve been creating my own entertainment ever since I could crawl. Reading books and comics, drawing, building tree forts, that sort of stuff. I think I always had one foot in an imaginary world. I don’t remember the first thing I wrote, but I remember the first full novel (which I’m sure is horrible if you read it now). I wrote that in 6th grade.
Favorite authors/influences? My heavy dose of comics and books had a huge impact, and with thousands to pick from, it’s hard to narrow down the list. Some of my favorite illustrators are John Totleben, Frank Frazetta, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Brian Bolland, Bary Windsor Smith, Jeff Jones, Al Williamson, and John Harris. Some of my favorite writers are H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, Walter Simmonson, Neal Stephenson, H.G. Wells, Karl Edward Wagner, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Mathesson, Alan Moore, George Orwell, and John Steinbeck.
Current writing projects? I’m working on a collection of horror short stories. They aren’t directly linked, but they all take place in roughly the same universe. The trenches of Word War I, the secrets of Loch Ness, and the real truth behind Santa Claus are all grist for the mill! I recently completed my first full novel, The Black Seas of Infinity out via Anarchy Books. I went through several publisher’s before I found one that would allow me to design the cover and do 11 interior illustrations, but I’m happy with how it all finally came out, and it’s doing well on Amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles.
Tell me your “art story.” My parents sent me to oil painting classes in the third grade. With my heavy dose of comic books, I had started to illustrate everything, including my 6th grade novel! I lived my early high school years in Gainseville, Florida. I made friends with a few of the independent comic artists there, and started to draw full 11″x17″ storyboard pages, getting tips and subjecting them to what I’m sure was my incredibly raw work! Moving to a new state and high school, I got into punk rock. I was the guy that could draw, and I ended up painting almost everyone’s leather jackets. I did fanzine and band art, and was kind of the go-to guy for art in the local scene. I was kicked out of the house, my parents moved and I was homeless — like living in the woods homeless — for 8 months, but eventually bounced back, and started doing political cartoons for Madcap Magazine (during which time I made fun of everyone and received more hate mail than all the other artists combined). I did a cover and interior illustrations for an issue of Maximum RockNRoll, plenty of local band and club art, and started interviewing with comic companies. Both Paradox Press and Kitchen Sink were interested in putting out my stuff, but both folded.
I decided to up the ante and went to art school. I got a second job as a bouncer (at the Black Cat, it was usually slow, giving me a chance to read my school books). After two years, I left early, at the advice of my teacher, for a career in New York City. I ended up working shit jobs, doing tons of band and fanzine art on the side. I interviewed with DC Comics, but wouldn’t do superheroes, and it went badly. Finally, on the recommendation of a friend of my brother’s, I went into tattooing. I’ve been at it 12 years so far, and it’s been a great ride. Funnily enough, I’ve now done book covers, magazine illustrations, and been asked by quite a few people to do comics, something I no longer have the time for! I’m happy with my current schedule, illustrating books and magazines, writing fiction, and doing, detailed tattoo work of my choice.
Do you sell your art and if so where/how? I sell prints and a few paintings online. I do conventions around the world, and sell prints there as well. I’m usually in several galleries a year, and often have paintings for sale in the shows. I’ve been commissioned for quite a few pieces, and obviously those go to the buyer.
Since a big part of your art is also tattoo work, tell me your “tattoo story.” I always wanted to be covered in tattoos, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it for a living at first. I had seen people like Mike Ness on MTV, and I was like, “I want to look just like that!” But my impression at the time was that tattoos were the simple folk art of an earlier era, and I wanted to do more complex realistic work. I had a friend of a girlfriend, a tattoo artist in Virginia Beach, offer to teach me, but I politely turned him down. Eight years later, in an incredible stroke of luck, a tattooer by the name of Chad Divel saw my artwork, and offered to teach me. By this time I had seen the work of people like Guy Aitchison and Aaron Caine, and had completely changed my mind. I jumped at the opportunity, and it’s been a great journey — opening my mind up to the huge underground culture of tattooing, and allowing me to travel the world, all the while doing my art for a living.
Where are you tattooing at currently? I’m at Medusa Tattoo, 2706 South 1st street, in Austin.
Best tattoo you ever did and why? I don’t know that I have a single one that is my favorite. I think my best experiences are that I meet a diverse group of people — horror fans from all walks of life — who come to me with the intent of starting huge projects. I’ve completed sleeves of everything from old school monsters, to surreal Inception based work, bio-mechanical Giger designs, zombie pirate/naval warfare, German zombie/World War I air battles, a Resident Evil landscape, and plenty more. I’ve started sleeves based off of Return of the Living Dead, Rob Zombie movies, an Evil Dead montage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, steampunk, and too many others! All great projects I’m excited about every time I work on.
What kind of tattoos and clients do you like? The ones who let me do what I want! Ha! I work by appointment only, mostly doing horror based work, so I really get to pick and choose. Most of my clients are metal heads, punk rockers, horror enthusiasts, and the like, and we usually just rock out to great music, talk about our fucked up country while I work on their latest piece. Even when I do the occasional portrait, or realistic nature scene, my clients tend to be interesting and intelligent. I think the people who put the effort into getting something well planned and researched tend to be of a bit smarter breed, and by going to me, they’re just fucked up in the head enough for it to work!
The craziest or most dumb ass tattoo request that you turned down? I had a guy come in, back when I was at a shop in NY, and ask me to do a full back piece. I was like “oh, cool, what did you want to get?” He responded “I want all the angles of heaven, descending down with Christ the Lord.” I said, “What out of my portfolio directed you towards me?” “Oh, I love your realism.” I told him,“that’s cool, but I’m not going to do it.” “Why not? You can do whatever you want with it!” To which I responded, “none of that’s real.” His mouth dropped, and he just left.
What made you decide to move to Austin? I was in NYC. I had gone through brain cancer, my wife died in a hit and run, and hipsters were filling the area. I decided it was time to get out. I re-connected with a girl I knew back in high school, tattooed her at the Dallas convention. One thing led to another, and we started dating. She was like “you’ll love Austin.” I came and did a guest spot, and decided to move down. Little did I know she was bipolar crazy, would be responsible for putting my dog to sleep while I was away at the Miami Convention, but that’s another story! I got free of her, but liked Austin enough to stay.
Favorite things about Austin? It’s one of the most tattooed communities in the US! I walk around covered in tattoos, with a blue mohawk, and almost nobody says anything. It has the feel of a big city in it’s development, too-good food, music, art, and culture everywhere, but without the congestion and hordes of judgmental rich people you see in NYC.
The first horror movie you saw and how old were you? Oh, I don’t know! I’ve been watching horror movies since long before I was legally able to do so! Especially in Florida, when I was in 8-10th grades. I saw Bad Dreams, each new Friday the 13th movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and many more on the screen. I had a friend who lived in a trailer with a single mom, and he would get all the best movies! Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Robocop! Evil Dead! It’s really too many to list, but horror movies, comics, and metal made up most of my childhood!
Do you have a favorite type of horror movie? My absolute favorites are the supernatural/creature movies. Pumpkinhead, The Fly, Phantasm, that sort of thing. I really like dark sci-fi too like Robocop, Aliens, Blade Runner, and Event horizon. I think I’ve pretty much had my fill of slasher/serial killer movies. I’ll make an exception for Jason though. I’ve always said he’s the best character in the worst movies!
Any horror movie types that don’t interest you much? Like I said, the serial killer/slasher thing is really growing stagnant right now. Unless it’s based on a true story, it’s just been done to death. The virus outbreak/shaky cam/pseudo-zombie movie is getting pretty old too. The demonic possession thing never had that much air in it’s tires, and hasn’t been done well since the original Omen or Exorcist.
Top three favorite horror movies? That’s really hard, there are so many good ones. Maybe Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Shining? But like I said, it’s really hard, and where would horror be without the likes of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg!
Most over-rated horror movie(s)? Saw. There are other worse ones, that did well in the box office, like Hostel, but I’m surprised that the original Saw is so well liked.
Favorite horror movie quote? “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s work.”
For more information on Dan visit his site at: www.danhenk.com