George Cotronis was born in Gothenburg, Sweden in ’85. He started doing illustration work in late 2002 and started working as a freelance illustrator and designer in 2005. He currently lives in Sweden’s Alaska, Luleå. His latest project Aghast is currently undergoing a Kickstarter campaign. Featuring some of horrors brightest names, this looks like it is going to be a must read.
Hi George, could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I’ve lived half my life in Greece and the other half in Sweden. I’ve been doing illustration work for the past ten years and I’ve been running my small press, Kraken, for the last three. Horror literature rules my life and everything around me.
Author, illustrator, and editor. Do these different personas fulfil different creative needs or do they all stem from the same seed of creativity?
They are completely different things, but I’m not sure about them fulfilling different needs. When you’re doing work for yourself, it’s fun to be able to do an illustration and then maybe write a short story. When you’re trying to further both of those careers (and I use the term loosely here), it’s more frustrating, if anything. You do one, you neglect the other. No time to write today, I have to finish this book cover for my client. Not tomorrow either, because I have to lay out that book for Kraken Press.
I’m only technically an editor. I edited our first anthology (American Nightmare) and I will be editing Aghast, probably, but it’s back-breaking work. Not something I enjoy at all, but I do love reading submissions.
Out of all the book covers you have produced which is your favourite?
That’s tough. I tend to like my newest stuff the most, even when they’re not very good. I like the three covers I did for Aghast. From those, I’d choose the Nun one. I suppose before that, it would have to be the one I did for Brandon Barrows for his collection The Altar In The Hills and Other Weird Tales.
And is there any book that you would love to do a new cover for?
Are we talking dream gig? I’d love to do a cover for a Thomas Liggotti book. Maybe Nightmare Factory. That, or the Drive In series by Joe Lansdale.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
They usually confuse me. I call what Aghast publishes horror/dark fantasy and I find that accurate only in the sense that some of the writers I like say they write in this subgenre or an anthology came out that used the term to describe itself. Of the three, I’ll take Horror. I think Weird Fiction is a different beast than horror and Dark Fiction could encompass other genres.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Caitlín R. Kiernan, Joe Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, Jeff Strand, Stephen King, Laird Barron, Thomas Liggotti, Chuck Palahniuk, Gemma Files, Graham Joyce and Robert McCammon. Man, I like a lot of authors, that’s not even half of them.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
I have weird categories in my mind. I’ll break your rules and give you more than one.
Best movie to show to a friend and blow his mind: Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man. I’m not even sure if it’s a good movie, but it’s basically an adaptation of the Italian Dylan Dog comics and it’s batshit crazy.
Best movie for nostalgia reasons: Brainscan. A ridiculous movie starring that kid from Terminator 2. It has some gnarly 90s imagery and dumb plot twists, but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind, so I will always love it.
Best movie for serious occasions: The Shinning. I don’t think I have to explain why.
Get ready to clutch your pearls because my favorite horror novel is John Dies at the End. It’s just a fun book to read and I like that it’s genre-aware.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Middle aged men and their families moving into a new house. I like haunted house novels, but man am I tired of seeing old fat white guys move into them with their three boring kids.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
I think it’d be cool to live next door to Elvira. She’d probably do something crazy with the house décor and there would always be booze around.
I’d hate to live next door to one of those superheroes from the Avengers. They look insufferable to be around.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
I think it’s doing okay. There are some great authors that are active today, I mentioned a bunch of them above, there’s new voices coming up all the time, there’s a number of magazines that cater to fans of the horror genre. It’s not better and no worse than any other year, I think.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I finally read Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon and it was just amazing. I avoided it for the longest time despite everyone telling me how great it is, mostly because no one could say why it’s so great. But after reading it, I get it. It’s this big, rambling book, but there’s not a scene in it that I would cut. It’s perfect.
Doctor Sleep was probably a bit disappointing for me. I’ve been a huge fan all my life, but that book just didn’t work for me at all. Even going in knowing that it’s a sequel, I just really expected that it would share some themes with The Shinning. Well, other than alcoholism I mean.
Tell us about Aghast where did the original idea come from?
I love magazines. I like making them too, I’ve done a few fanzines and oneshots for cons and the like and it’s something I love doing. I’ve been wanting to do a horror magazine for ages, so here we are. I think magazines like Shimmer and Shadows and Tall Trees kinda opened my eyes to what a magazine could be like, so it felt like the right time. Deciding to lean more towards dark fantasy clinched it, because I enjoy reading in that subgenre lately.
How did you decide on the name for the anthology?
For the longest time I thought the quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost was “Aghast the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is” but of course it’s “Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is.” Anyway, the word stuck and I liked the way it looks and sounds, so it felt like a good choice. If you add an exclamation mark at the end it almost sounds like a 30s-era pulp magazine. Aghast!
There are many anthologies out there, what would say is the unique selling point of Aghast?
I don’t think we’re doing anything that’s a lot different than other magazines. One of the selling points is the artwork which I’ll be responsible for and I think the overall look of the magazine is going to be amazing. Other than that, we want to publish a certain kind of short stories and that’s really all you can offer readers. We like these kind of stories, do you like them too? And if the answer is yes, you have a fan, maybe for the life of the project.
You have decided to go the route of crowd funding, to many this would seem like an easy way to gain funds. How hard has it been to drum up interest and more importantly funding for the book?
It’s hard as hell. Maybe it’s easier for others, it certainly seems that way, with campaigns that raise amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars. We’re only halfway (time-wise) in ours and I think it’s going well. We have a pretty reasonable goal and the backer levels offer good value. You can get a digital copy of issue one for 5$ and a print copy shipped for 15$. If you wanna splurge a bit and help support us, we have some fun stuff as well, at higher levels.
It’s hard to get people to talk about any project, because there are just so many out there. I assume the bloggers and podcasters I contact are getting a ton of similar emails and when the only way to communicate is by email, there’s no way to stand out. It all depends on if you can grab someone’s interest with what you’re doing.
On the other hand, there’s something really cool about watching people pledge their hard earned cash for just the promise of something awesome. It keeps you going.
Unlike a few other crowd funded anthologies, you have steered away from offering slush pile bypasses to investors. How important was it to you to keep the perks on the level.
I didn’t want to offer any perks that catered to authors. I’m looking to fund Aghast by offering fiction to readers, not taking money from authors. I’m not gonna judge other campaigns at all, but yeah, no perks like that for us. There’s a perk level where you can get a short story edited by Max Booth III, but that’s a straightforward exchange.
Talking of slush piles, how big has this one been?
I think we’re over 600 submissions now, maybe more. It’s a lot to go through!
What’s the most common mistake that authors make when submitting a story for inclusion?
Through no fault of their own, sending me stories that just don’t fit with what I have in mind for Aghast. I mean, you try and explain by mentioning specific writers, specific ideas, but unless you have published a first issues, it’s hard to communicate to people what the magazine is about.
I like stories that have elements of the supernatural and the fantastic. I like folklore, but probably not fairytales. I like stories that are genre-aware. I don’t really like extremely violent stories and anything with child abuse or rape is an automatic rejection.
And have you had any nightmare submissions?
I think all publishers get their shares of crazies, but it’s not something that bothers me. I laugh and send a courteous rejection. So far I haven’t gotten anyone who got angry or upset with me.
Can you tell us about any of the authors that you have lined up for the first issue?
We have a really good line-up for the expanded first issue. All the stories for Aghast will be new stories, so I don’t actually know what any of them will be about, but I’m excited to see what these guys come up with.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Flesh & Bone Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin. I thought it’d be cool to see what he comes up with for a magazine like Aghast.
Award-winning horror author Gemma Files is best-known for her Weird Western Hexslinger series (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all from ChiZine Publications). Gemma is probably the author that most embodies the kind of stories we’re looking to publish.
Jeff Strand is the four-time Bram Stoker-Award nominated author of such novels as Pressure, Dweller, Wolf Hunt, A Bad Day for Voodoo. I really liked Fangboy.
Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections in the horror and urban fantasy genres. The Nekropolis novels really sold me for his inclusion in this project.
That’s some mix of authors, with that in mind how do you go about finding the right running order for the stories?
When I was doing American Nightmare, I thought a lot about that, but it wasn’t a hard thing to do. It’s like making a mixtape, you just look at what themes the stories deal with, what the word count is and try and break them up a bit, make sure two similar stories don’t up one after the other and so on.
Apart from the obvious big, big names, who would most like to see feature in future editions of the book?
Probably some of my favourites, like Caitlín R. Kiernan, Laird Barron and Tom Piccirilli. And why not, if I’m allowed to dream, a Thomas Liggotti story.
When is the first issue of Aghast due for publication?
Aghast will be out in October this year.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?
Just the answer to these burning questions: My favourite drink is rum and coke. I really wish someone would send me some cyberpunk stories for Aghast.
For more information on George and Aghast follow the links below
It's the 1950s. There's always something good on the radio, cherry red Cadillacs cruise the streets and everything is always perfect. Marilyn is still alive and the War is over. America goes to bed, nuclear annihilation postponed another day.
Welcome to the American Nightmare.
Nuclear families dabbling in the occult. Little League games in the summer, old blood spilled in the dust. Unspeakable things hiss and crawl, unseen along the 38th parallel, camouflaged under muzzle flashes. This is what happens behind the white picket fences and waving flags.
Praise for American Nightmare:
“Buried in the nostalgia and innocence of bygone days, American Nightmare is a riveting collection of dark stories that leaves the big-block motor running, as we sneak into a deserted alley to huff on a Pall Mall, our hair slicked back, a switchblade clicking open as the shadows close in around us. Behind a closed door, away from the manicured lawn, the music continues—guitar licks and a back beat that just won’t quit—drowning out the screams, as we pull the blinds down, wash off our tentacles, and cinch our masks on tight.”
—Richard Thomas, Staring Into the Abyss
Grandma Elspeth's Enchiridion for Domestic Harmony - Rachel Anding
In the Blood - Mark W. Coulter
Chiaroscuro - Dino Parenti
Bow Creek - Raymond Little
Glow - Adrean Messmer
Lucy's Lips - Madeleine Swann
Pear People from Planet 13 - MP Johnson
Ghost Girl, Zombie Boy and the Count - Chris Thorndycroft
The Two Monsters of Levittown - T. Fox Dunham
Double Feature - Neal Litherland
The Black Pharaoh of Hollywood - Ian Welke
The King - W. P. Johnson
A Night to Remember - Tim Marquitz
All the Beautiful Marilyns - Max Booth III
For more great interviews and reviews follow the links below