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A few years back while at a Philadelphia comic convention, sandwiched among the Archie comics and oil paintings of Superman, one artist’s table full of beautifully dark prints caught my eye. It seemed ever so slightly out of place—simple black and white color schemes which contrasted with the brightly-colored costumed heroes in their midst. There was one particular image that stood out to me. It was a print was of a skeleton lying in a bathtub with a shower cap on his head, and an unbelievably morose expression on his face. The print was striking, whimsical, and haunting, all at the same time. And as I approached the artist’s table I was introduced to a whole world of charmingly macabre images inhabited by gentlemanly monsters, sinister schoolgirls, and sophisticated skeletons. It was a world I didn’t want to leave. And thus was my introduction to the artwork of Shawn Dubin.
Fans of dark literature may already be familiar with Dreary & Naughty, a series of books Shawn Dubin created along with John LaFleur. This series, featuring Shawn’s artwork, revolves around the son of the Grim Reaper and the daughter of the Devil and the struggles they face living among high school mortals. Shawn’s artistic endeavors span far beyond the book series, however, and he has many projects currently in the works. In addition to a new Dreary and Naughty book soon to be released, Shawn is three chapters into a coming-of-age fantasy tale involving parallel universes and world destruction, and he and his wife collaborated on a short holiday tale called The Dark Elf on the Shelf, involving a Dark Elf employed by Krampus.
Shawn also recently released a chilling series of prints called The Forgotten Children. These beautiful images of skeleton children are the perfect combination of innocence, isolation, and terror. “They were influenced by days spent leafing through daguerreotypes and other old photographs in antique stores in Philadelphia, as well as multiple visits to the Mütter Museum and their enormous collection of skulls,” Shawn says, explaining his inspiration behind the series.
Shawn’s description of his art style as darkly illustrative. “I tend to draw creatures and characters that would be described as spooky or monstrous doing mundane things and lean toward the fantastic,” he says, which is precisely why his work is so charming and attractive—he manages to seamlessly merge the real world with the world of the supernatural.
With such a style, one might expect his inspiration to be rooted in all things dark, but his sources can’t be quite so easily pinned down. Citing Saturday afternoon TV viewings of black and white Creature Double Features as his earliest influence, he also gives credit to artists and visionaries such as Shel Silverstein, Hayao Miyazaki, Jim Henson, Mike Mignola, and Salvador Dali, just to name a few. It’s also worth noting that he currently lives down the street from two cemeteries in Louisiana, which, as you might imagine, he says doesn’t hurt either.
And one thing you might notice when perusing through Shawn Dubin’s artwork, is that a large portion of it feature skeletons, and wonderfully expressive ones at that. So what is it that draws Shawn so much to skeletons as his subject matter? “Skeletons are fun to draw,” he says. “Despite all of our differences in this world, we can all agree that beneath our skin and meaty parts, we all have skeletons. As such, they’re a great unifier; something instantly recognizable and, mostly, relatable.” An answer simultaneously simple and profound.
If you’ve yet to explore Shawn Dubin’s art, I can not recommend it enough. To keep up with his recent works, you can check out his random drawings, concept designs, and process illustrations on Instagram as well as purchase his prints online at shawndubin.bigcartel.com. You can also stay updated on his Facebook and Twitter feed. You should also keep an eye out for his next Dreary & Naughty book, Home for the Hellidays, which will be out next fall. He says the book will be a bit heavier than the first three, but he promises it will still have lots of light-hearted, spooky fun.