I have a very slight ulterior motive in featuring the award-winning Luke Spooner: he produced the cover artwork and illustrations for all of online litjournal freeze frame fiction’s issues to date, and it was on having a piece accepted in their recent experimental volume that I discovered his work. Of course, that’s not the extent of his work – his portfolio of illustration spans an impressive array of publications under the banner of Carrion House with a leaning toward horror, as well as further work aimed at children and young adults under the name Hoodwink House. In this feature I’ll be focusing on his Carrion House work, though his Hoodwink House work is well worth a look, too.
Spooner’s style is loose, scratchy, and inky, somewhere between a Ralph Steadman and a Stephen Gammell, with hints of street art. This style lends itself perfectly to the kind of macabre scene which dominates his work (horror, he says, is his ‘go-to’ genre, for its unrelenting honesty), though he manages to make it work for a vast variety of other scenarios. Nothing is ever quite crystal clear, and even the tamest of subject matter takes on a vaguely uncomfortable air. There is something nightmarish about the work, a broken mirror on reality, which is consistently alluring.
His inspirations come primarily from the story being illustrated, drawing on – to quote a recent interview with freeze frame fiction – “colour, atmosphere or lighting […] tone of a story, as well as character and setting aspects”. This might seem obvious, but all too often in book/cover illustration it seems as if the illustrator has barely skimmed the story if read it at all, never mind picked out such close detail; the end result being something which bears little resemblance to the text. Interestingly in Spooner’s work, oftentimes the image produced is less a direct reference to a specific narrative event, and more of an abstract summing up the work as a whole. It is more akin to a synaesthesia – this story “feels” or “tastes” like this – rather than simply showing us what’s about to happen. It’s a novel approach, and creates a far more engaging body of work than a more pedestrian approach would. His biography states he “believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form […] is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures.” It shows.