Born in Connecticut, Johnny Dombrowski now lives in New York City where he received his Bachelor’s degree in illustration at the School of Visual Arts. He works as the Art Handler at the Society of Illustrators in New York while also pursuing a freelance career.
First off I’d like to ask you a question in the spirit of Nightmare: What scares you the most?
Not many physical things scare me, like spiders or heights. Instead it’s always been more mental and psychological fears. The fear of creative blocks, losing the ability to produce work or anything along those lines. Illustrating has always been a necessity for me. I would probably go insane if I lost it.
Let’s hope this interview doesn’t contain dramatic irony for readers in the future, when I’ve lost my hands in a freak shark wrangling or paper-maché accident.
What inspired Leagues, the image appearing as the cover of this month’s Nightmare?
I drew that illustration while reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea for the first time. The imagery in the book is unbelievable and he’s still, to this day, one of the best science fiction authors out there. I have come a long way since that illustration, but it was a big step towards what I’m now trying to do with my work.
It’s probably fair to say that the diver in Leagues is afraid of tentacles, but what do you imagine the monster is afraid of?
Survival. Thanks to people like Jules Verne and Charles Darwin, nature is no longer a world of birds singing love songs. Now it’s survival of the fittest. Struggle to live or be wiped out. Mother Nature shows no mercy.
You have a wonderfully graphic style, and have had DC Comics as a client. Did you read a lot of comics and graphic novels as a child? Do you still read them? If so, how have they influenced your work?
Comics are what first drew me to art. They were that first peek in to what was possible. When I was younger I was really into superhero comics, but that’s changed a bit over the years. Though I’m still and always will be a fan of work like Batman and Hellboy, I’ve been flipping through stranger stuff lately. A lot of work by French and Italian comic artists from the ’80s, for example. Doesn’t matter if the dialog is in English or not; I can look at those pages for days on end. Because I’ve read comics my whole life, I’ve begun to visually think with that vocabulary. Sharp black lines with flat graphic color. Work that throws a punch.
Your website mentions your fascination with film noir, and I think its influence is readily visible in your art. What is it about this particular style of film that inspires you?
The atmosphere. You can pick a shot at random from any film noir and it will be composed and lit beautifully. When the first stage of working is in black and white, stills from those movies are a wealth of inspiration. At the same time, loving the bold style of comics, I love the smoky feel noir gives off, so I’ve tried to put that in to my work. Starting with the flat colors, then building more depth and atmosphere within the image.
What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
Ink and Digital. It’s always been there for me and it feels right. I was fortunate to start using Photoshop in high school and haven’t left it since. On top of that, it’s the quickest, which is very important when you’re working as a freelance illustrator. When developing a technique, you have to stick with one that not only produces the best work but also gets it done in the shortest amount of time.
Besides being a freelance artist, you also work as an Art Handler for the Society of Illustrators in New York, which means you get to work on new installations and see to the care and proper transportation of pieces. Do you think working as an Art Handler has uniquely informed the way you approach creating or displaying your own pieces — or vice versa?
Working at the Society of Illustrators has been an incredible benefit. There is a constant flow of contemporary work moving in and out of the building. It’s the first place to see new trends forming in the illustration world. Also, you get to work with the museum’s permanent collection. Art is worth its weight in gold, and has an amazing history to go along with it.
Last, is there a certain scary place you’d like to visit someday? For example, a specific tomb, ruin, or haunted house?
I would love to see the Decorated Skeletons of The Basilica of Waldsassen in Germany, someday. Definitely check them out if you haven’t seen them yet. Beautiful remains presented from head to toe in gold and gems. Worldly possessions worn over to the other side. A really amazing sight.
Spread the word!