One of the most important figures in the history of death metal likely wouldn’t be recognized if he strolled into a concert. In fact, people would probably think he was a parent watching out for his kids. Vincent Locke is a soft-spoken dad who lives in the Michigan suburbs and spends most of his days working in his art studio. He listens to classic rock; underground metal doesn’t suit his fancy. He illustrated a graphic novel A History Of Violence, that was made into a critically acclaimed Hollywood film. He is enamored with classic artists like Andrew Wyeth as much as he is by underground comics.
But there’s another side to Locke that you will see at any death metal show in the world. Since 1989, Locke has been the sole illustrator for death metal legends Cannibal Corpse, beginning with the Eaten Back To Life album. Locke was just a teenager when he was contacted by former Cannibal frontman Chris Barnes. Barnes liked Locke’s work on the Dead World apocalyptic zombie comic and asked him to try an album cover. Locke didn’t think much would come of it. Two decades later, he is still working with the band and Metal Blade Records.
Locke has since illustrated covers that have become both legendary and notorious. Wearing a Cannibal shirt is a rite of passage for young metalheads looking to scare the crap out of their parents. The infamous zombie doctors on Butchered At Birth, the bile-inducing cover of Tomb Of The Mutilated and the hideous birth scene of The Wretched Spawn are all his handiwork. If you’ve been to a death metal show lately chances are you’ve seen Locke’s work on tee-shirts, patches and buttons.
Locke recently finished his most ambitious project yet for Cannibal Corpse; a full-length Evisceration Plague graphic novel that was distributed at stops on the Rockstar Energy Mayhem tour and during Cannibal’s European tour. The book features a comic strip based on each song. If you don’t have one yet, you might want to start scouring eBay as copies are already scarce. However, Locke hints that a similar collaboration with the world’s biggest death metal band is a possibility.
Locke, 42, is now busy with a graphic novel that he calls “a love story about extreme body modification.” He’s also working on more mainstream fare including illustrating a short story collection on vampires and an H.G. Wells cover for bookstore chain Barnes and Noble. But to the metal community he will always be known for his work for Cannibal. About.com recently had an exclusive chat with the artist about his background; how the graphic novel came about; how he sometimes needs to keep his children out of the studio and the problems he had illustrating Tomb of The Mutilated.
Justin M. Norton: When did you first get interested in art and drawing – did you draw or sketch when you were a child?
Vincent Locke: Like most kids I drew a lot, but I never stopped. A lot of kids get distracted by other things as they get a little bit older. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with art, but I knew I wanted to do something where I could draw or paint. I just fell into drawing comics.
What stoked your passion in art when other people lost interest?
My parents were into art, and my Dad was a sign painter who did hand lettering. He did his own drawings and paintings that I would try to copy. We’d go to museums and I’d be exposed to a lot of art. I saw a book on faeries, a book on giants, gnomes and other things.
What else were you influenced by? Comics? Classical art?
One of my biggest influences is Andrew Wyeth. He painted landscapes. I loved his watercolors and how a lot of his paintings were very sketchy and loose and parts of it were real tight. I also love a lot of comic book artists and painters.
Your work sometimes has a feel like Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror comics. Were those influences?
I didn’t see a lot of horror comics in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. I got a lot of stuff from book illustrators at the turn of the century that worked for pulp novels. I think I was more influenced by that stuff than regular comics.
Has your work always dealt with darker themes and images?
It usually had a weird element to it, even when I was a kid.
Where do you think that came from?
I thought I was just being a kid, into the old monster movies and Cracked and Mad magazine, just different weird stuff. I was into science fiction and fantasy, so for a while I was more interested in dragons and mythical creatures. As I got older it turned to darker, more horror-type stuff.
Were you surprised years ago when you approached by a young death metal band named Cannibal Corpse to design their first album cover?
I was very surprised. I just got a phone call at 10 at night, and it was Chris Barnes (former vocalist, now of Six Feet Under). He tracked my number down and called me up. He told me who he was and what he wanted to do. I said it sounded pretty cool and to send some of your stuff and maybe we can do something.
The Cannibal guys were fans or yours from the Dead World comic, correct?
I know Chris Barnes was.
Did you ever think the relationship would last this long?
I never would have guessed it. It’s been pretty nice, right? I thought (the first cover) would be it. It’s hard for any band to make it. I’ve done other artwork for bands that never comes out and stuff for books that never comes out. I never expected it to last this long. That was my first album cover.