Friday, March 2, 2018

Great Cover Artist Jeffrey Kosh Grilled (and Well-Done!)!

Today, on Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley, I’m stoked—stoked, I tell you!—to have special guest, Jeffrey Kosh. Who is Jeffrey Kosh, I hear you asking? Only one of the most talented book cover artists I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Just check out his awesome cover for my book, Dread and Breakfast
But, as much as it pains me, enough chit-chat about me. Let’s move onto grilling Jeffrey. (His front side’s nearly done, time to flip him…)

SRW: What’s up, Jeffrey? Thanks for consenting to a thorough grilling.

JK: My pleasure. However, I demand to be served with a side of jacked or roasted potatoes, if you don’t mind. I love potatoes.

SRW: Fair enough. (Adding a lil' seasoning.) Let’s start at the beginning… I see you studied art at Primo Liceo Artistico di Roma, a college in Rome. Tell us a little about that.

JK: I always had a knack for art; I used to spend time drawing even when I shouldn’t. In addition, being born in Rome (Italy), I was surrounded by so much art that it was impossible for my creative mind to not be affected by it. Hence, it was natural for me to join this prestigious art school. But I must be honest, I learned almost next to nothing there. All the techniques I use today in my craft are self-taught. Back in my time, colleges were quite bad in Italy; there was not much passion burning inside poorly-paid teachers and no place for innovation. Nowadays it’s different. That very art college now has computers, graphic software, and excellent teachers. 
SRW: Did your studies prepare you for the dark, macabre extremes your work would lead you to? Or are you a self-taught, disturbed individual?

JK: I have always loved horror. And this put me into trouble often at school. All my craft had a darker tone that was not really appreciated by my mentors. Later, I discovered some great American fantasy artists that really influenced my style: Caldwell, Elmore, Frazetta, Parkinson. Call me sexist, but I love creating images featuring improbable bikini chain-mail wearing babes swinging big swords. Exactly like my idol: Clyde Caldwell.

SRW: Some day I hope to see an actual bikini chain-mail wearing babe. You’re somewhat of a Renaissance Man, Jeffrey. Not only are you an artiste extraordinaire, but you’ve acted, and written several books and a ton of short stories as well! Is this just your way of shirking corporate drudgery?

JK: I consider myself an artist first, and a hobbyist storyteller next. As for being an actor… Well, I was mostly a figurant with very limited speech. I like to experience things. I was a cowboy hand (a really poor one, especially with the lasso; heck, I can’t throw that thing right even today) in Arizona, a receptionist in a timeshare resort in Kissimmee, Florida, and an apprentice in a famous TV show (I did nothing, I was there just to learn and help), and ended up working as a terrible bartender in an English pub. The majority of my life I spent working as a mortician. My first wife was the owner of a funeral parlor. In Thailand I had my first ‘major’ role in a movie (I was a generic modern-day pirate in Far Cry 3: The Experience) and it was at that time that I felt the need to start writing.

SRW: (Hmm...I wonder if I need to see both Far Cry and Far Cry 2 to fully appreciate Far Cry 3... I'm on it!) I’ve read your walking dead/pirate novel, Dead Men Tell No Tales, and highly recommend it. You certainly write with the eye of an artist. I spent a long, long, LONG time as a corporate artist of tedium. It certainly didn’t allow me to express my creative side, but rather sucked it dry. Do you find the two talents complement one another? Do you prefer one over the other?
JK: Honestly, I love writing. My head is full of stories and I like to share them. But that doesn’t bring the food to the cave nowadays. The market is flooded. People are getting used to buying books for 99c. Luckily, after many years of doing many jobs I didn’t like, I decided to try my hand at my own business. A writer friend of mine pushed me into this (Hi, Jaime Johnesee! Yes, I’m talking about you) and she was right. I’m finally doing a job I really enjoy and that has reconnected me with the world of filmmakers (I have done many movie posters in the last two years). I’m finally happy being my own boss. And I am a terrible boss.

SRW: Okay, let’s get specific. You’ve told me you work in 3-D modeling. In layman’s terms (i.e. without being boring), walk us through this process. And you will lose points if you’re boring.

JK: I started this job with photo manipulation. But I didn’t like it. You were limited with what you could find online and what the commissioner supplied (not much, because exclusive stock photos can be expensive and many of my clients were struggling indie writers). I discovered that there are certain programs — once only used by CGI artists for movies, but now commercially available to the general public — that allows you to create your own models, dress them the way you want, and finally put them in the right pose. The programs themselves are not expensive, but the content… Well, to have a big library of models, props, scenery, and clothes you’ll need to shell out some of your hard-earned dough. In addition, you’ll need a computer with a lot of RAM, a powerful graphic card, and computing power. I put money aside and finally turned my job into what I always wanted: a virtual movie studio where I can set everything like a director. See? I didn’t go too technical.

SRW: I love that your cover work looks like paintings and includes details particular to the actual novels. I know this may sound like a no-brainer statement, but after having been force fed stock photography on 18 of my novels’ covers, your work is a refreshing change of pace. I don’t like seeing fashion models on my covers. Do you consider yourself on the cutting edge of cover artistry?  Can we look forward to more of this in the future and fewer Chippendale dancers on covers?

JK: I wish the trend would change. Honestly, like you I’m fed up with all those ‘headless torso’ book covers. I’m old style; I’m in love with those ‘80s paperbacks that featured unique images from great artists. I love movie posters that show you just one mysterious and intriguing image (The Silence of the Lambs, for example). Mind you, I’m forced to create a lot of stuff I don’t like in my job, and I do it gladly because that brings the bread to the table, so to speak. I don’t think this trend will change. Actually, I’m quite pessimistic; it will get worse.

SRW: I think your art’s spectacular, Jeffrey. Clearly so do the smarty-pants guys of Grinning Skull Press, as they’ve hired you for a slew of excellent covers. Let’s look at some of them…

Natch, there’s Dread and Breakfast. It blew me away. Not only was it evocative and fit my tale, but it reminded me of the classic horror covers Tor Publications put out in the ‘80’s by Robert Bloch, Charles L. Grant, and other writing greats. Were those covers an inspiration?

JK: Of course they were. As I said, I love old style. To me those were covers that lured me to buy great (and even not so great) fiction. For Dread and Breakfast, I immediately had the idea of the house and the skull. But I had not read the book, so I mistakenly plunged the whole scenario under a rainstorm. Michael Evans, Grinning Skull’s acquisition editor, told me that the story was set during a snowstorm, so I had to redo it. I read the back blurb and got intrigued; it made me think about Motel Hell, an ‘80s slasher flick. So, I thought, ‘I’m gonna buy this one once the paperback goes out.’ I did it. And I was pleasantly surprised: it wasn’t at all like Motel Hell. It was one million times better. I loved all the characters and the way the story unfolds.

SRW: Ah, thanks for that, Jeffrey. Let's just take a moment and bask in Dread and Breakfast love... Sigh. Moving on... Here we have Substratum. Channeling your inner H.R. Giger?
JK: This was a difficult one. It was described to me as something like the Alien Queen in Cameron’s Aliens, but set on Earth in the Roaring Twenties. I had no idea what to invent, and I had no time to read the book. So, yes, I took inspiration from one of my favorite sculptors, Mr. Giger.

SRW: I’ve noticed you’re also very good at how you handle cover fonts. How important do you think fonts are to a good cover? Any trade secrets you’re willing to let us in on?

JK: Fonts are extremely important. I've seen wonderful fonts being wasted on the wrong cover, or beautiful covers with unreadable fonts. Sadly, there's no secret trick; it's just a question of composition. There is only one way to learn: climb on someone's else shoulders, look at what other artists do for successful and striking images.

SRW: Hey, here’s Reunion. Look out! I believe this book is one of Grinning Skull’s top sellers with your cover acting as "gotcha" bait for readers. (I know I’m reading it now.) Scarier than the infamous Jaws poster, what inspired this work?
JK: You said it. Jaws inspired me. But I went more close, I wanted to see only the teeth of that creature. After all, it’s not really a shark…

SRW: Your covers for the charity-driven, holiday short story Deathlehem series, are a bunch of mini-masterpieces. Lined up together, they form a nice triptych (yeah, okay, I know there’re four in the series now, but I’ve always wanted to use that word), ready for wall-hanging. Did you envision this as a series? And how much leeway do the Grinning Skulls give you on cover ideas?
JK: O’ Little Town of Deathlehem was my first commissioned work from Grinning Skull. It was a pain in the side to realize. At that time I had no 3D program to help me and all was made by cutting and pasting different images. The second one was much easier to do. The third had to be the final one, so we opted for an image that contained the first cover in it (I was inspired by The Grinch movie poster for this). My favorite one is the last: TheShadow Over Deathlehem. Here I had free reign. The title made me think about the cover of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game’s supplement Escape from Innsmouth. There was this guy hiding behind a wall, his face contracted in horror as he watched the shadows of some Deep Ones growing inside an alley. I wanted to pay homage to John T. Snyder. Here we have Vicky – one of my recurring polygonal models – hiding behind the wall. She looks more battered than the original guy, as if she had just come out of a bad encounter with the Krampus that is stalking her. And we see the beast’s shadow growing in the alley. Except, this monster knows where its prey is hiding.
SRW: Finally, here’s one of your more disturbing pieces (and that’s saying a lot), the just released The Goat Parade. Yow! I alternately want to read this book and keep it at arm’s bay due to that twisted cover. What kind of damaged childhood did you have, Jeffrey? Explain yourself.
JK: A good childhood, actually. That’s how Caravaggio would do this cover (a real painter, unlike me); holy and profane, light and shadow. There is no other cover that can fit the story in this book. I don’t want to spoil it, so read it and you will understand.

SRW: I’ve only tapped the keg on your cover work. Are there any you’re particularly fond of that I didn’t mention?

JK: Oh, there are so many. I’m particularly proud of the movie poster I did for Fragile Storm, a short feature that won many awards around the globe. Then there’s Lost Girl of the Lake, my own The Haunter of theMoor, and so many I can’t remember. Each one is unique.
SRW: Okay, before we wrap this up, I’ve got to ask… What’s the deal with the acting? What’s the most embarrassing acting you’ve done (I’d have to go back to junior high school for mine)?

JK: It was on the set of Far Cry 3. I had to simulate being killed by an explosion. I acted really bad and was not selected for that scene. Not a big deal because in the end the whole sequence was cut off.

SRW: Anything you’re working on at the moment, art or writing?

JK: I’m finishing my first novel in a trilogy. I’m taking my time with this one because is something totally different from my usual fare. It’s a fantasy comedy based on tabletop role-playing games. It’s a work of love dedicated to all those old geeks that used to spend hours around a table fighting dragons and stealing treasure from dungeons. Comedy is a very complex thing.

SRW: Don't I know it. Where can people find more about you? Maybe give you a hire. And, hey, folks! Jeffrey admits he’s cheap, too!

JK: You can see my portfolio here:
Or you can visit my Facebook page:
I also have an author website:
But you can just look for my name in your preferred search engine and you’ll find all the places I’m featured (including Imdb).

SRW: Thanks for being a good sport, Jeffrey. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do for my upcoming horror short story collection from Grinning Skull Press, entitled (uncannily enough) Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley!

JK: It has been a pleasure. Now, can I have some potatoes?


  1. Stuart, quadriptych is the word you want for that 4 panel cover art. ha...

  2. Excellent interview. Jeffrey is an amazing graphic artist, and and excellent story teller, but I didn't know about the acting.

  3. Great interview. Jeff's one of the best out there for original, old school horror (and sci-fi) cover designs that manage to look as fresh now as they did back in the hey-day of 80s horror fiction. Jeff has done a few of my covers now and I will be using his services for future book covers.

  4. What a fun interview. I loved learning more about Jeffrey and seeing more of his work. And I do have to admit, Dread & Breakfast is one of my favorite covers. Hope the potatoes were tasty!