Out Of This World
Browsing through a book store is a favourite pass time for many. Buying a book however, involves far more. Our eyes seek out the most striking, most interesting and memorable covers before we even know what the story inside is about. Creating a captivating cover is an artform itself, one which Dale Halvorsen, also known as Joey Hi-Fi, has perfected. Fantasy, science-fiction or horror, Halvorsen delves deep inside the story to capture the essence, translating it into a visual feast. Venturing further into the publishing world, Dale has also co-authored the Vertigo Comic series Survivor's Club, along with fellow South African Lauren Beukes. I spoke to Dale about the world of science-fiction, giant squids and letting his imagination run wild.
You seem to be the go-to guy for anything strange and weird in the publishing world. What kind of projects do you usually receive on a daily basis and / or do you prefer to go out and find interesting projects to get involved in?
Dale: I seem to be a lightning rod for weird. So I am very lucky in that a lot of interesting projects just seem to find me! The majority of the briefs being for book covers - which I chose to specialize in. As a book cover designer every cover you produce is an advertisement for your work. So I get a lot of my work via authors or publishers seeing book covers I have done, either in store or online, and then seeking me out.
“...I was obsessed with the depths of the sea and what might live there...” - Dale Halvorsen
In the same interview you spoke about deep sea exploration and giant squids, obviously the mind goes to 20 000 Leagues under the Sea, it seems people, and especially creative people, are just fascinated by exploration itself, the journey and adventure it can hold - what is your take on those old classics by Jules Verne and the like and the stage they set for future sci-fi writers and illustrators?
Dale: Ray Bradbury once said, “We are all, in one way, children of Jules Verne. His name never stops… Verne is the verb that moves us to space”. One of the things I like about the Sci-Fi genre is it’s ability to inspire. And Jules Verne did that in spades. Even inspiring others to turn science-fiction into science fact. From the electric submarine to the splashdown ship. 20 000 Leagues Under The Sea certainly did inspire me as a kid. I was obsessed with the depths of the sea and what might live there. At the age 4 or 5 I used to walk around my neighbourhood in Johannesburg dressed as a scuba diver. I imagined I was exploring the sea bed. I called myself a ‘Diver Uncle’. I was particularly drawn to the scene with the Nautilus crew battling the giant squid. I loved the horror aspect. I think it has led to a lifelong fascination with aquatic based horror… and tentacles. A few years back I was fortunate enough to work on a cover for Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. Which involved drawing a plethora of sea creatures. And tentacles of course.
Apart from your book cover work you are also co-writer of the Vertico Comics series Survivors’ Club alongside Lauren Beukes, how did the series start and what has the reception been both locally and internationally?
Dale: Lauren and I have a long history of collaboration. Like two twins hatched from the same birthing pod - we have developed some kind of psychic mind meld over the years as a result. My first book cover was for her very first book! And since then I have done all of her South African book covers with some becoming international covers. She is a legit genius and a dream to work with creatively. Like a lot of things in life, Survivors’ Club had it’s start due to skill and timing. Lauren had recently written Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom for Vertigo comics (and imprint of DC Comics) and had also been pitching her own series ideas to the then editor, the legendary Shelly Bond.
I was rather optimistically (and insanely) trying to write and draw a collection of horror short stories between paying commissions. During this time I was using Lauren to bounce ideas off. I was re-watching 80s cult horror favourite, Child’s Play, and as the end credits rolled a short story idea popped into my brain. Which was very, very simply - ‘What if the 80s horror movies were real? And where are those kids today?’. ‘How would ‘surviving’ a trauma like that shape you as an adult? What would happen if you got a group of survivors of various horror genres together in the same room? What if some of them weren’t survivors at all - but collaborators? And what if they are all connected somehow?’.
“...It is incredibly rewarding to have the authors look at your work and give two fear induced, shaky and sweaty thumbs up...” - Dale Halvorsen
My mind started racing. That short story idea was the embryo of an idea that mutated into the monster that became Survivors’ Club. I told Lauren, she loved it and suggested we pitch it to Vertigo as a creator owned series as they were in the hunt for a new horror series. And as luck would have it, Lauren was going to the USA to meet with Shelly Bond. We developed the idea a bit further and Lauren pitched it to Shelly Bond - who also loved it. It is our love letter to 80s horror, but with our unique and wicked spin. 80s infused horror is great sandbox to play in. Most people think they know the rules. They are in some ways our generations dark fairytales. Many are familiar with Freddy, Jason… Amityville. People’s familiarity with 80s horror helped us twist and subvert various horror tropes in interesting and unexpected ways. But at its core Survivors’ Club is about battling your demons. Sometimes literally. There is great quote by sceptic and ‘ghost buster’, Dr. Robert Baker - ‘There are no haunted houses, only haunted people’. That was a yardstick for us while writing Survivors’ Club.
In terms of reception. We have our fans I think, but we didn’t set the world alight! We got some great shouts for our book from the likes of Joe Hill, Warren Ellis & Kieron Gillen. So reception was positive - but not enough to keep the series ongoing. This was very much ‘comic book writing school’ for us. And as we learned in the US comic book industry it is very much sink or swim. Sales are what matters. We got to issue 9 - where we wrapped up most of the story and gave our survivors a pretty gory and emotional send off. There is still more story to tell. Perhaps like all iconic horror monsters a return from the dead is always possible.
How do you keep your mind from going too dark and not have your imagination run away, or if it does, how do you get it back?
Dale: I love just letting my imagination just run wild. When Lauren and I work together and are riffing off each other we call it, ‘Creepy Playtime’. It is a very dark game of one-upmanship! "The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself”, Wes Carven once said. Horror is very personal. What scares me may not scare you. Yes, there are common fears all humans have such as the dark, for example, but there is a particular thrill in plucking a fear from your mind and presenting it in a way that makes others feel it too. Lauren and I took great glee in freaking each other out while writing Survivors’ Club! There is also a insightful quote by Stephen King - “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones”. That sums up a lot about what I like about the horror genre. It is a safe space to explore and understand our deepest fears and darkest thoughts. If we can survive the monsters in horror film and fiction, we feel more equipped to deal with the demons in our mind, even if it is just by virtue of not being afraid of them. Survivors’ Club is in a way an expression of that.
In my role as book cover designer and illustrator, it is also thrill translating a writers words into, hopefully, unsettling imagery. I recently got to illustrate a poster commemorating S.L. Grey’s Downside Trilogy - the Mall, The Ward, The New Girl. I got to illustrate all manner of creepiness. based on their work. It is incredibly rewarding to have the authors look at your work and give two fear induced, shaky and sweaty thumbs up.