Haunting Commercial Illustration

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"Not now death, I'm painting". Comic by Karen Strum

September brought chaos to many with a barrage of hurricanes. I, for one, cooked off a tuna can stove for a week. During this uproar, we quietly lost legendary monster artist Basil Gogos. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and to celebrate I decided to write a blog in tribute to this great creative soul. If you were a child of the '60s and '70s, chances are you devoured the magazine “Monsters of Filmland”. It was here that many fell in love with the vibrant and stylish work of Gogos. Not only do I love the spooky nature of his work, but I also find inspiration in his humble beginnings as a traditional commercial artist.

Gogos Body of Work

Gogos was most known for his artwork of Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and other classic creatures of the night. However, he was an established commercial illustrator with many mainstream clients prior his fame in the horror industry. During the 1960s, many New York publications featured commercial illustrators. Gogos was frequently hired to depict scenes of war battles, jungle perils, crime and even pin-up girls.

What is an illustrator?

An illustrator such as Gogos will create drawings for commercial applications. It can range from a simple black-and-white cartoon to a full-color billboard. When I graduated college I was employed by Thomson Multimedia to draw technical diagrams for their instruction manuals. As the years progressed, I also worked on projects for the automobile racing, real estate and medical industries. Like Gogos, many of my illustrations are for traditional corporate clientele but much of the theory applies to my fine art.

Trademark Style

Gogos's work is recognizable not only because of his subject matter, but it is also due to his use of stark lighting, radiant colors, and an expressive technique. These stylistic elements can be seen in his work for mainstream clients as well as the horror industry. As for me, two decades in advertising have influenced the composition, typography, and color forecasting principles used in my work. I hate it when someone looks at my fine art and says, “You can totally tell you're a graphic designer”.  I suspect that I have trademark tendencies present in both my commercial and fine art.  I should learn to take the comment as a compliment.

Cult Following

I received an email from Netflix stating I was one of their most active classic movie fans and asked whether I was willing to moderate a series of online chats based on the genre I enjoyed most. I suspect an email similar to this was sent to several thousand people, but I liked the idea that Netflix deemed me an expert in cult films made popular by the likes of Gogos. I relish the time he spent with Warren Publishing illustrating movie icons from this magical period.

I would love a job drawing monsters. I was first introduced to the classics 10-15 years ago by a friend who was also a graphic designer. One night after sushi and a few games of Guitar Hero, she popped in a 1962 British film that had been released in the US as “Night Creatures”. I was hooked. She knew I would enjoy a tale about pirates, smugglers, and underground passageways. We started a regular movie night and slowly worked through her library of titles. I became a cult follower.


If you've looked at my fine art, you know I haven't painted many monsters. Most of my art depicts scenes of natural beauty like landscapes and wildlife. Perhaps my portfolio would lend well to illustrations for National Parks. In the meantime I'll gladly accept projects that involve comps for your product patent, cartoons for your flyer, or architectural renderings for your presentation. Gogos was an epochal illustrator that left us a collection of "haunting" work that will remain popular long after he is gone. I can only hope to leave a mark on this world as significant as Gogos.  He offered creative renderings uniquely his own yet still capable of capturing wide appeal.  He was an inspiration as a benchmark for all illustrators to achieve.

Monster Illustrations by Basil Gogos


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About the Author: Karen Strum is a Tampa Bay illustrator available for freelance projects. A unique cast of characters in her style can be designed for use in advertisements and materials for which you want something extra special. Karen's cartoons use retro imagery and vintage color palettes that add charm to every image she creates whether it is a comic, logo, diagram, book cover, or concept image. [Send an Email]


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