“There’s a grammar to the way we depict fear,” says Winnie T. Frick, the comic-book artist and illustrator who created the cover art for Topic’s fear-and-anxiety-themed October 2018 issue. Although Frick says she’s not a fan of scary movies, the Brooklyn-based artist drew inspiration from retro slasher films and today’s political climate—two elements that, at the moment, don’t seem too distant from each other. Frick says the terror on the face of the woman in her animation emphasizes the anxiety and uncertainty we live with every day. “Whether it’s economic precarity, one’s own immigration status, or watching the hearings with Brett Kavanaugh and reliving the trauma of past sexual assault—every single day, there’s low-key anxiety and fear,” she says. Frick talked to Topic about her wild googling process, her struggle with sexist horror tropes, and what drew her to comics and illustration.
How many drafts did you go through to get to this final image?
I did probably ten different roughs and got it down to about six possible concepts, plus one GIF animation. Then we narrowed it down from there.
Did anything immediately jump to mind when you were commissioned to do the cover art for this issue?
I’m not someone who’s into horror movies, but I thought that this would be an interesting opportunity to explore the genre. I came to a place where I wanted to work with horror/slasher films as a genre, but make them banal—to take that visual language and strip it of any blood, of any actual, active violence. I was trying to situate viewers in a place where they would be sitting with that internal, buzzing feeling of fear.
Is there a significance to your decision to depict a woman in your piece?
I struggled with that as a choice, because I’m not particularly fond of the way in which women are so often used as these kinds of disposable objects that we watch suffer and twist in agony and fear. But I thought that this particular figure captured that duality of being the possible subject of violence, as well as potentially having to perpetrate aggression upon someone in reaction to it—and that those two violences are different, you know?
Did you draw any inspiration from your own fears?
Yeah—working with this subject matter and using the aesthetics of horror movies and that legacy of women being used as victims was a good meditative opportunity for me to dissociate from past experiences and really think about them from a distance.
What sort of tools do you use to make your work?
For illustrations and comics, I’m generally working on my computer using Clip Studio Paint, which is sort of like a lightweight version of Adobe Illustrator. Prior to the part where I’m actually drawing anything, I build digital collages: I go into Google, type in some keywords, and look at the type of imagery that comes up. Then I start to build more and more narrow search terms based off what I’m seeing, and riff on that. Once I have a folder of 100 or so images, I start cutting things up and rebuilding them, and it goes from there.
“I’m not particularly fond of the way in which women are so often used as these kinds of disposable objects that we watch suffer and twist in agony and fear.”
How did you get into working in illustration and comics?
When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was read comics—and I wanted to grow up and make them. My parents told me that was not a real job, but for some reason they were willing to accept the idea that going to art school and maybe becoming a contemporary artist was a real job. I pursued that throughout my 20s, but I hit a wall in terms of whether it was something I felt like I could actually do. I’m relatively reclusive; I like to just be left alone to draw and be in the studio. It was like, well, what’s the thing that makes me want to wake up in the morning? And that thing was drawing. I decided maybe I’d just start making some comics, and then went to illustration.
Where do you pull inspiration from for your work?
I’m a real sucker for a lot of 1960s and ’70s cinema, as well as video art and that history. The way in which a frame can move through a space is really interesting to me. I think that was one of the things that was so exciting about coming back to making comics later in life after exposing myself to so many other genres of art production.