This week I’m stoked to be chatting with Toren Atkinson. Not only is he one of my favorite illustrators (love his raygun gothic art from SSZ), but he is the lead singer and front man to The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, illustrator of Call of Cthulhu d20 roleplaying game and co-writer of Spaceship Zero roleplaying game. If that was not impressive add Screen Actor and Voice Actor to his resume. Did we mention a little video from last year “20 Minutes of Oxygen?” He is an avid watcher of cartoons, particularly “The Real Ghostbusters” and “Jonny Quest”. It’s no wonder this guy is comfortable in goat pants.
pokupo: Firstly, congratulations on 20 years of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, wow. What are your thoughts?
Toren: Hmmm… I’m old! I always assumed I’d die young in a fiery atomic holocaust. I guess it wouldn’t be altogether true to say that I’m disappointed.
pokupo: What came first your art or music?
Toren: Definitely my art. I have been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon. The earliest drawing I remember that I did was a large poster filled with the different kinds of dinosaurs, so flesh-eating monsters from the very start.
pokupo: H.P. Lovecraft and The Real Ghostbusters are your muse or in your case your calling (of Cthulhu). How does your music, art and roleplaying influence each other?
Toren: I became a fan of Lovecraft and Dungeons & Dragons before I started the band, but I was a fan of Ghostbusters before I became a fan of Lovecraft. I would say that my gaming informs my music and my art supports both. I guess the short answer is my art, music and gaming habits are one big tangled ball of nerdiness.
pokupo: You’ve drawn Cthulhu and Spaceship Zero, but what would you like to draw?
Toren: I’ve ever so slowly working on my World Wildlife Federation of Justice property—it would be keen to work on that full time, but at the very least I’m making it my goal to get the next stage of it—which is a 9 page comic story written by Ian ‘Simpsons/Futurama’ Boothby—finished by the summer. The great part of WWFJ is that I’ve gotten a lot of my artist friends involved. I’ve got a gallery of my vampire rhino character ‘Rhinosferatu’ up on my web site with sketches by various comic artists including Mike ’Hellboy’ Mignola and even an origami version. And I received in the mail this very day some resin miniatures of good old Rhinosferatu from my pal at Uncle Mike’s Worldwide, who produces the Lovecraftian miniature skirmish game Strange Aeons. In fact I just announced a contest where fans can win a set of Rhinosferatu and Spaceship Zero monkey astronaut figures at my blog.
pokupo: Who are your influences, artistically?
Toren: I’ve stolen bits of style from various comic artists—some more than others—including Mike ‘Last American’ McMahon, Mike Mignola, Jamie ’Tank Girl’ Hewlett, Simon ‘Lobo’ Bisby, Kent Williams, Steve ‘Nexus’ Rude, Marc Hempel and Alan Davis. Also Frank Frazetta and of course Jack Kirby.
pokupo: Are you cloned?
Toren: Providing there are no follow-up questions: no I am not cloned.
pokupo: In addition to your art and music you have several other projects on the go like World Wildlife Federation of Justice and Caustic Soda Podcast. What else are you working on?
Toren: I am not as involved in the tabletop pen & paper gaming community as I used to be, but I still do the occasional artwork for Strange Aeons and other small press gaming stuff such as barrowmaze.com and Fight On! magazine. Some small press publishers can’t afford regular industry rates but I use that to my advantage in so far as I get to choose what and how much to draw a lot of the time, and I can whip stuff off fairly quickly.
Another project that’s been in the works for some time but is finally getting back on track is the (tentatively titled) Spaceship Zero Radio Adventure Hour! Some of the Caustic Soda crew and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are involved in a six-part radio play which will be available online in the astounding year 2012. I can’t say too much about it but if you like old-timey sci-fi radio serials, you will be pleased with this project. Stay tuned to spaceshipzero.com and my blog for news.
pokupo: In your spare time what do you do for fun?
Toren: If by ‘spare time’ you mean ‘what do you do when you’re supposed to be fulfilling your commitments but are instead slacking off’ then it’s usually watching movies (often as research for Caustic Soda) or playing Fallout 3. I also have a semi-regular gaming group which is currently playing first edition D&D but will soon be switching over to my own post-apocalyptic roleplaying game “Mutilator: Survivors in the Wasteland” which is kind of a combination of Gamma World, Fallout and Thundarr the Barbarian (using a modification of the Spaceship Zero RPG rules). If you punch it into Facebook you’ll find a group I’ve set up for my players and anyone who’s interested in the concept. In the last campaign the player characters freed a bunch of human slaves from the subterranean, cannibalistic morglodytes. Well, those player characters who didn’t die horribly from radiation poisoning or friendly fire, anyway. Life’s tough in the wasteland.
pokupo: Who would win in a fight between Cthulhu and Godzilla?
Toren: You, the viewer!
pokupo: What’s next for Mr. Atkinson?
Toren: Looking for the magic crayons where everything I draw comes to life! In the meantime I’m working on designs for the upcoming Rocket Monkeys cartoon at Atomic Cartoons here in Vancouver. Also, anyone in the Vancouver, BC area can look forward to a live recording of Caustic Soda in late March 2012. Stay tuned to causticsodapodcast.com for details! And check me out on Facebook.
The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – “20 Minutes of Oxygen”