Interview : Cartoonist Kim Holm

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When you read the name Kim Holm, Inferno Festival will undoubtedly come to mind. His ambitious venture of sketching bands performing live at the yearly metal event in Oslo is an art project like no other. His atmospheric, yet disorderly style is instantly recognisable. Holm’s work has graced the covers of a number of metal offerings, including Vreid’s latest album Welcome Farewell and Sólstafir’s fourth full-length release Svartir Sandar.

 

Your calling to art came when you were young, and at the age of fifteen you started to self-publish comics. Can you talk about these early days and what art meant to you then?

I’m told I started drawing before I started talking, and it’s been a constant in my life ever since. When I was 8 I read a Daredevil comic by Frank Miller, and while I didn’t understand it I found it did scary things to my head, feelings I wanted to inflict upon other children. So that day I decided I was a comic-book creator, which I’ve been in my mind ever since. All through school art was a way of escaping the hellish boredom of an oppressive system designed to create mediocre, broken humans. When I later started self-publishing, art was an outlet for my growing depressions and a way of building self-esteem, and my early tales were all about vampires committing patricide. Which was a more constructive way of dealing with it than burning messages into my arms and doing loads of drugs (both of which were hobbies when I didn’t draw).

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You have worked with Inferno Metal Festival for a number of years now. How would you describe this partnership and what has the experience been like as a whole?

The people at Inferno have always treated me very well, and as I have found out what I need to work as well as possible they have done everything in their command to make it perfect for me. I’ve made a lot of new friends of both the organizers and volunteers. On the other hand, Inferno has never been able to pay for any of my travel-expenses, and combined with my constant lack of focus and reliability in terms of marketing myself, that means I’ve lost a lot of money on these trips and the books I’ve printed to sell at Inferno. And no-one expects to earn money drawing bands that do not earn a living themselves, but it would be nice to find a way to actually cover my expenses.

 

For what reasons did you decide to avoid copyrighting your art?

I just don’t think copyright fits with any aspect of my intellectual or spiritual thought, and see it as a major harmful element to art and society. Politically, it can’t be justified by either laissez-faire capitalists or socialists, and not by anarchists like myself. Economically the benefits of the exclusive copyright have never actually been argued for seriously against the multitudes of alternate ways of managing intellectual rights to benefit creators. It has simply been taken for granted that it is the “only” way, when it is clearly not.

Morally it is completely disgusting, and copyright is stifling scientific progress, stopping the poor from getting education, and even halting the spread of life-saving medicinal knowledge. (And yes, I’m talking about copyright specifically. Not patents and trademarks though their effects may be similarly malicious.)

But most important for me is what it does to art itself. Art is supposed to be free. As long as there is copyright, we can never again have a character like Robin Hood. We can never again have real folk-music. As long as children are being taught that art is something you own, not something you take ownership of, then art is a pale and crippled shadow of what it should be. And as a side-note, anyone criminalizing their fans for spreading their artworks is a fucking worthless piece of shit. There is no excuse for that.

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Do you have time to get precious about any of your art?

Not the live metal art. I mean, some of them come out nice, but it’s nothing to get attached to. I get a lot of praise for these pieces, but to put it in musical terms it is kind of like getting praise for doing an amazing guitar-solo. Which is nice, but no matter how awesome the solos it doesn’t matter if the music isn’t there. What I want to do is to create “songs” and “albums” that really move people. Those are my comic-books. And yeah, I get plenty precious about them.

 

One of the many things that I admire about your art is its freedom. Have you always been unhesitant about where the first stroke goes, or was working freely and without worry something you really had to practise?

I still practise it every time I draw. The kind of refillable ink-brush I use, I found in 1998, and quickly began practising drawing directly with it. Mostly realistic landscapes and cartoony stream of consciousness stuff, but when I did my first live-metal sketch in 2012 I had been “practising” for 12 years. Yet still, I find most of my work to be too locked, not loose enough, and always with about 5 strokes too many. So freedom is something I always have to strive towards in both art and life.

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You have ink sketched bands from Enslaved to Agalloch, Dark Funeral to Rotting Christ. Who would you say has been your favourite metal band to draw?

Bands that I’m a fan of, like Entombed, Enslaved, Shining (SE), and Rotting Christ, where I know the lyrics and melodies, are always fun. But my favourites to draw are not always what I like the most to listen to. Suffocation was the first band I draw where I thought “Yeah, this shit works!” back in 2010, and I got to draw them again in 2013 it was the same. There’s just something about the rhythms of brutal, technical death-metal that manifests in my brush. So I have to say Suffocation.

 

What reaction do you get from the artists when they see your work?

No one has said a bad word yet. A lot like to see them right after the shows, when the adrenaline is still pumping. The best reaction was probably from Kvarforth of Shining, who praised the art beyond all measure, then continued to go through them and say “This is one shit, this is one shit, shit, this one is good, this one is shit!” Which is how I feel myself.

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Can you recall your first experience of drawing live and how it made you feel?

It was at Hole in the Sky 2010, and I was just broke and hoping someone would buy me a beer if I sat sketching. The first band was Urfaust, who played fantastically, and I remember thinking that while it wasn’t really working yet, there was an affinity with the music there. By the end of the night, when Rotting Christ played, I was head-banging and drawing at the same time, and the next day when Suffocation played I knew this was something I couldn’t stop doing.

How it made me feel hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s always a good way to experience music, but most of the time I just sit there focusing on all my mistakes. “No!Wrong! Fuck! Shit! Gah! Wrong! OK, done…” Then, when all goes well, it’s a magnificently violent meditation where nothing exists for me except the pounding rhythms. No thoughts of right or wrong, no care for the audience or bands, just ink and noise and nothingness. And whether it be through a whole show or just a snippet of a song, it makes everything worth it.

 

I read that you suffer from bi-polar, something I also live with. In my opinion getting involved with art and being creative really is the best therapy. Would you agree?

Yes and no. First of all, I don’t really believe in diagnosis, so whatever you call it it’s just a description of some states of mind and their patterns. However, I do use art when I’m down, to express myself. And my down-periods are artistically important, because that’s where I’m critical enough to actually root out my flaws. But all in all, badly singing old Hank Williams songs is probably more therapeutic.

My relationship with art is often destructive. When I’m in the zone, I no longer care about health, well-being, family, money, responsibility, and so on. And it’s really hard to try and keep a balance. Most of my big depressions come after a huge creative period, where I’ve gone totally off balance.

The metal sketches are especially destructive. While the act of drawing itself is fantastic, and perhaps good for me, everything surrounding it is hell. Meeting the bands and the audience can be genuinely pleasurable, but I’m really in a world of my own when drawing, and being torn back and forth from the real world is a nerve-wrecking experience. And if you add the sheer physical and mental exhaustion from trying to draw as much as possible from every band playing… well, I’m still an angst-filled wreck a week after Inferno.

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You have a strong internet presence and I’m very interested to know what the internet means to you on a personal and professional level?

Thanks, but I don’t really think I have a strong net-presence myself. I’m scattered all over, and full of projects that get abandoned whenever I’m down or get a better idea. Professionally, however, I get most of my work from the net. And personally I’m a techno-geek, so I enjoy all its weirdness. Also, as a research tool it is essential, I mean you can’t really be a cartoonist worth crap until you can draw realistic bear-attacks. Thanks, internet!

 

You were invited to create the art for Vreid’s latest album Welcome Farewell and their music video The Reap. What was this experience like?

Working with Hvall of Vreid is a great. He has a clear vision of things, and still lets me have the freedom to express what I want. Working on the video was a bit weird, since I first declined out of fear, then came in late in the process and had to learn how to animate while doing all the art in little under a month. But I’m very proud of the result, and like the album as well.

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Which bands have you found yourself listening to recently?

Listening to a lot of stuff I drew at Inferno. Things like Sigh, Church of Misery, and Watain which I knew from before, but have gotten a deeper appreciation of. And things that were completely new to me, like Vemod, Kryptos, and Oranssi Pazuzu.

 

What are you working on today?

Still scanning sketches from Inferno. 111 sketches in hi-res take their time. My next project is to draw a guest story of the new Norwegian comic DASS, about the legendary priest and poet Petter Dass, who was rumoured to own a “black book”, hunt witches, and consort with the devil. It’s a pretty funny script, filled with action, drunkenness, horror, and even a bit of the Black Death. Should be good.

 

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