Personal Essay: Jonathan M. Chaffin
Picture a darkened apartment about a decade ago, festooned with all manner of skulls and knives and movies and books. A poster for “Return of the Living Dead” (“THEY’RE BACK FROM THE GRAVE AND READY TO PARTY!”) dominates one wall. Flickering candles, two rocks glasses full of cheap bourbon, and a scratched burned CD with a hand-scrawled “ep. 001” occupy the wooden coffin that serves as a table.
I have a story for you . . .
Around about the sixth of June, 2006, my friend Pynk (Ben Phillips to you) asked me if I remembered an old writer’s group I’d been in with him years prior, and further if I remembered Serah (née Steve) Eley. I did, of course, and Pynk said that Serah had a successful science fiction podcast and was looking to spin off a horror-themed podcast called Pseudopod.
The website needed graphics, a logo especially, and seeing as how that’s kinda my thing, I did about a hundred drafts for them (maybe you’ll get to see them sometime). That’s how Pseudopod got the “I have no mouth and I must scream” creature and logo that’s stuck around for the last decade. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have made it easier to use.
Back to the aforementioned darkened apartment, and the dulcet tones of text-to-speech reading the name of the episode (that was not a keeper of an idea) followed by Mur Lafferty (that was). Also, MAN the compression artifacts in that first recording. If I recall, a fair amount of the following discussion was dominated by how we felt about the tagline “I’ve got a story for you, and I promise you . . . it’s true.”
Same apartment, other side of the wall, six episodes later, I sat down to narrate for the ’cast. Turns out, it takes a lot of work to record a story, and vocalized pauses are a BITCH to remove. But I got better. “Waiting Up For Father” was my favorite story to record.
I’ve enjoyed an awesome relationship with many Pseudopod and Escape Artist personalities, both on and off the air; Pynk, Serah, Mur, Alasdair, Shawn, Alex, Marguerite, Jesse Joe, Melissa, Jennifer . . . them and many more through the years . . . all dedicated to exploring and exposing the best in short horror fiction to a new and wider audience. It’s not just great work; it’s important work. Some of those terror-filled recordings even transcend their awesome written stories. I listened to “Kill Screen” alone, after midnight, in an empty house, and the frisson of the experience almost made me piss myself rather than leave my chair, which was backed safely against the wall.
Over the years I’ve designed lots of things for these folks; t-shirts (PodCastle’s is one of my favorites), the Escape Artists identity graphics, CDs, LOTS of ads . . . For a while my wife and I ran PodDisc, and that experience helped lead directly to my starting my own company, Horror In Clay. I design literary-based horror-themed tiki mugs, bitters, barware, and accessories through HorrorInClay.com (I also write horror movie reviews and speak at pop culture conventions on a variety of subjects). The tiki mug that’s part of this campaign? It’s one of mine. I always wanted to design a mug to go with an anthology of fiction, and Alasdair, Alex, Shawn, and all the slush-masters made that dream a beautiful reality. It has work from some of my favourite authors in it too!
Pseudopod is important. And filled with awe and terror and stories. We should feed it unwary visitors by the mouthful.
The densest of poison gardens, beautiful and deadly, sprouts from a single seed. In a darkened room. Maybe with two glasses of bourbon. I promise you . . . it’s true.
Jonathan M. Chaffin is a graphic designer, art director, pop culture panelist, and horror fan. In addition to drinking his way through every tiki bar he can find, Jonathan constantly works on art or design projects, builds props and sets with family and friends, and writes horror movie reviews. The occasional off moment finds him wandering local antique stores collecting tiki mugs and gibbering about monsters, mugs, and madmen. Jonathan releases collections of tiki mugs as HorrorInClay.com and helps his wife curate MugCrate.com, a quarterly tiki mug subscription box.