Thanks to the internet, the world of horror art has become an exponentially smaller place. However, there always seem to be something (or in this case someone) new to discover and in the end that’s what I love most about being a horror– it never grows old, it never dies, it simple reinvents itself.
Like some of our past Little Shops of Horror guests today’s spotlight falls on an artist who is not only terrifyingly talented, but has unlocked a way to combine both his love for art and his passion for horror into a viable business. His name is Christopher Ott and he is the Owner/Creative Director of London 1888, a kick ass online storefront that serves up “genre based art prints, t-shirts, stickers and more.” So strap yourselves in everyone… ’cause London [is] calling.
Thanks for joining us, Christopher. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have never been able to tackle a true 9-5 job because of this dreaded question. To quote the great character Louis de Pointe du Lac, “Should we start like David Copperfield… I was born, I grew up. Or shall we begin with when I was born into darkness?”
To me, there [just] isn’t an answer that comes across as less than pretentious.
Yeah… I know. It’s the questions right before your favorite color or what kind of fruit you’d be.
No offense, I know it’s an icebreaker… I’ll do my best at not giving you the normal BS.
Music and film control my life. My dad was always on top of technology, and he had a great setup to dub VHS tapes while doing a great job at preserving the quality. This led to an obsession of him going to the local video store and renting nearly every new release, each week, and copying it. I’d say it’s pretty safe to say that I have at least seen part of 85% of the movies that came out since the 70’s.
I’ve always had a large amount of musically talented people in my life as well. I’ve always been into the less popular kinds of music, [like] metal and many of it’s sub-genres. I sing/scream for a couple of bands, currently. Ninety Minute Reflex is a grind/death project I have been involved with for a decade. I also recently started doing vocals for a more 90’s style metal/hardcore/stoner band called King Hippo. It’s incredible that I didn’t name that band because one of my favorite quotes that a friend has ever said about me is, “That music is gonna play at your funeral,” when he heard Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out playing in the background of a phone conversation.
In the past year I have dedicated my full time attention to working on my art and I am the Owner/Operator of London 1888.
So you have an affinity for 80s/90s nostalgia- what was your favorite cartoon growing up?
Oh man, what wasn’t. I absorbed as much of it as I could. The earliest thing pushed on me by the TV gods, was Masters of the Universe. That was the cartoon of my generation… being born in 1980. I had everything! My mom really hooked me up; all the sets, Grayskull, Snake Mountain, the Slime Pit… I can still remember the way all of that stuff smelled. Thundercats was a great replacement for that, and I liked C.O.P.S. Beyond that, I fell for everything that was franchise based and sent to cartoon. Hulk Hogan’s Rockin’ Wrestling, Karate Kid, Rambo, Robocop… I got into Beetlejuice and The Real Ghostbusters too, but those were right around the time when I switched gears and started watching VHS tapes of my favorite movies, constantly… over and over.
And did you watch it while slamming back some Count Chocula cereal?
I certainly did! I was more of a fan of fruit-flavored cereals though. Franken Berry was a good friend of mine. I’d snag some Boo Berry once in a while when it was around, same with Fruity Yummy Mummy. To this day, artificial fruit sugar overloads are my weakness. Starburst, Skittles, and let’s not even talk about the Lemonheads and Friends line of candies.
So how did you become interested in horror movies?
My interest came at a young age, I grew up really close to my uncles, they are only 10 and 15 years older than me. They really liked to hang out with me and scare the shit out of me. We had a house with a dark basement and it was [nothing but] constant, terrifying pranks from them. Not in a mean spirited way [though]. They got me into a lot of good movies, sci-fi and horror.
Phantasm was one of the earliest horror movies I saw, so Angus Scrimm will always hold a dear place in my heart. I remember one night while my uncle Scott was watching me, and it was bedtime on a school night… we were talking about WWF and I started to say how much I wanted to see They Live. A few minutes into me being in bed he came to get me up, my other uncle had come home from the video store with They Live, completely coincidental… so they allowed me to stay up and watch it with them. It was so epic! My mom tells a story of me being a very young infant/toddler and in the room during a viewing of Friday the 13th. I don’t remember it but I certainly have a huge love for Jason.
So is Jason your all-time favorite movie monster?
Wow, I hate choosing favorites… it feels so unfair, and you might get a different answer from me at any time. I’d say my parent’s influence on me makes that easy, they were more into the psychological suspense terrors, so I saw a lot of those growing up. Real people scare me, guys who just lose it, who never found their place in social existence and found weird shit to cope with it. People like that exist, in fact… they are in your neighborhood and my neighborhood. Tom Noonan as the Tooth Fairy in Manhunter. THAT’S a scary son of a bitch!!!
Seems like your family had a big impact on you. Was there anyone else who influenced you as a kid?
My Grandfather was a stage actor in New York. After being noticed for several great performances, he was cast in an old horror movie directed by grindhouse legend, and fellow Staten Islander, Andy Milligan. It was called Legacy of Horror and it played on 42nd street. My grandfather always told of the movie magic behind the kill scenes. He was killed with a pitchfork through the throat, and he told me how they did the trick. Another scene had someone gutted and he told me how they used animal guts. These were all things that piqued my interest into the genre from an early age.
So what’s the significance of your studio name, London 1888?
Jack the Ripper… love the thought of him. Turned the Whitechapel district into a complete nightmare realm. You say to most people, “Imagine London in the 1800’s” and they picture a beautiful, fog covered cobblestone walk in a fantasy vacation. They don’t think of brutal murders. Same applies to our shop, London 1888 sounds like a store in the mall where your wife tries on 15 different pairs of jeans, the reality is IT’S FILLED WITH BRUTAL MURDER!!
I can totally picture a store like that now… how Hot Topic SHOULD be, bodyparts hanging from the rafters and whatnot. What are a few of the biggest challenges you’ve found to owning your own business?
Man… it’s hard doing everything, there’s a lot that goes into it. If I wasn’t behind most of the art it would be easier, [but] I don’t think it would as be rewarding though. I’m not in this to sell shower rings or steak knives, or any other product I can buy cheap and flip– heart goes into every piece. The Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey print is the first that was designed by someone else, Matt Tobin. Matt is a good friend though, and his love for those “Wyld Stallyns” was what made me even ask him in the first place. His excitement, transferred over really well and became all of our excitement into making it a success. I want the business to grow to a point where we are bringing in a lot of other artists. I really don’t see myself ever being a “Here’s the budget, do this, change this, Stamp Approved” type of guy. The Tyler Durden in me will never stand for it…
Also, I’d be dead if I didn’t have my wife. She is a wonderful help and understands how consuming this is.
Who/what has served as sources of inspiration to you both as a business owner and an artist?
I have always been into creating things– ALWAYS. When I was a kid I wrote mini movies for my sister and I to perform to the family. I made music with anything I could and I wrote song parodies [too]. I drew pictures of funny situations that [were] easier to see in a picture than describe with words. Whenever I wanted something that didn’t exist, I made it myself… even if it just turned out to be a horrible version of what I wanted. Eventually, those things got more and more cool.
When I was about 11 years old, my dad got me a Nightmare on Elm Street video store display, he asked them to hold it for him when they were done with it. I set it up in my room [but] as cool as that thing was… eventually it got old, so I decided to make it cool again. I recorded all of Freddy’s lines on to a cassette and put a crappy tape player behind the display. I spaced out the lines so every once in a while a Freddy line would come out. That actually got boring kinda quick too, but whatever.
By 13, I started playing in bands and I was always the one in the band who had the most drawing skills, I created all of the artwork. To this day, I really have never “not been” in a band. So in everything I just described, I grew up with this feeling that I was the “unknown version” of Rob Zombie. It’s not to say that I am a huge fan of everything Zombie has ever done… hell I’m not a fan of everything that “I” have ever even done. But the fact is… I really can relate to him and his need to create in every way possible. Hopefully some day I can make films and people will absolutely love to hate me for them, too. So he is at the top of both of those categories for me… I love his art, and he’s done a great job at pushing himself as his business.
I also read the book Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez. I don’t think he ever says in words what I took away from the book, [but] essentially it inspired me to set everything up for success because failure cripples creativity. If you do things knowing that, at worst case scenario it will end like “this” and I will have gained all this knowledge and experience. Plus, I did something for myself even if it was for the wages of a dead end job. That makes the next project so much easier to attack. It’s the drive that inspires me.
I gotta ask… how did you end up with a complete storyboard book from Army of Darkness?
Hahaha… is that thing awesome, or what?? Bob Kurtzman is an amazing guy!! We were both at a convention. God he had so much cool stuff. He had the word processor-typed script for From Dusk til Dawn that he paid Tarantino 1500 bucks to write, set design sketches, blueprints for the Titty Twister, ugh… dude, pure nerdgasms. [And then] there “it” was, thicker than 2 of the best Stephen King novels stacked on top of each other– the complete storyboard set given to him in ’91 when he was brought on board to do the effects. I am an artist with a strong desire to make films… [so it] doesn’t it get better than having something like this at your fingertips.
I spent nearly every minute of break from my table, at Kurtzman’s table that weekend. Just picking his brain and listening to stories. After having the book for so long, it had gotten to the point where he says it was pretty much just always sitting on his bookshelf. He felt good about how much use I would make of it [and] we worked out a great deal. The first thing everyone asks is, “Oh my god, how much did this cost?” That tells me how much value it holds in peoples eyes… I’ll never part with it.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the horror side of art?
Man… advice from the best of the best people out there is still left up for interpretation. If advice from someone else is gonna make that much of a difference to you, then you’re doing it wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll answer any specific question someone asks me about technique, and methods, and (since we are in a digital world) settings. I will say this… the digital world I mentioned has made the 6 degrees of separation sound like ancient folklore. The world is a lot smaller than you think, we’re at more of a 3 degree range now.
Go make opportunities happen. If you’re already sitting on a ton of great work and waiting for someone to come and find you… it’s not gonna happen. Name one career where that happens.
That said, what’s next for London 1888?
Another year on the convention circuit. We’ve been hitting many of the east coast and mid-west shows [and you can] expect us at most of them this year. We try to do limited edition debuts at as many shows as we can. We’ve got a killer show coming up with Pam Grier and Sid Haig as guests: Cult Fiction Drive-In. We’ll be debuting our new Jackie Brown piece there. This one is the furthest we’ve stepped out of the horror world. We’ve also got Limited Edition Evil Dead, and Phantasm stuff coming right around the corner, including a few others that can’t be named yet.