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We interview the multi-talented artist behind some of the genre’s most eye-catching and iconic modern movie poster art, Mike DiGrazia.

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Movie lover, artist, and author Mike DiGrazia — probably most well-known for his work on the Sharknado movie posters — was kind enough to sit down and share more about his work. We discuss key art, fine art, who he would love to create a movie poster for, and what prompted him to publish his unique and personal Who You’re Stuck Being: An Introspective Year of Haiku Journaling.

Morbidly Beautiful: You have made a career for yourself creating movie posters for a slew of films with a special focus on B Movies. How did this all begin for you?

Mike DiGrazia: First and foremost, I’ve always been a huge movie fan! Growing up in the ’80s, I spent a lot of time wandering through video stores. I was fascinated with VHS box art and movie posters and always had a poster or two hanging on my bedroom wall. If I liked a movie enough, I would even cut an ad featuring the poster out of the Sunday paper and slap that sucker on my wall as well. Back then, the movie poster felt more like an extension of the film itself.

Fast Forward to the early 2000s. I was still a big movie fan and was really into collecting DVDs. It was a fantastic way to finally own a ton of those films (and their amazing key art) that I loved as a kid.

At that time, my childhood dreams of becoming either a ninja, a rock star, or a comic book artist had all fallen through, and I found myself working in the computer lab of a large format printing company. In my spare time, I would occasionally design merchandise and album covers for friends who were part of the Chicago music scene, so I knew my way around Photoshop and all that jazz pretty well.

One day in 2005, I was flipping through an issue of Fangoria magazine when I stumbled upon an ad for a couple of low-budget horror movies that were coming soon to DVD. For whatever reason, I remember looking at the DVD artwork in that ad and thinking, “I bet I can do that.” Before that point, I had never considered the possibility of designing movie posters for a living.

I looked at the ad to see what company was releasing those films, and it turned out to be… THE ASYLUM. I found their contact info and reached out on a whim to see if they were looking for any designers. It turns out that THEY WERE! Those wonderful maniacs gave me a chance, and long story short, I’ve been doing it ever since. Viva Asylum!!! I am forever grateful.

MB: Movie posters and VHS box art were a huge deal for us when we were kids. What were some that you distinctly remember having an impact on you?

MD: There are soooo many! Roger Kastel’s poster for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is my favorite movie poster of all time. That one had such an impact on me that it was my inspiration for the artwork that I did for THE LAST SHARKNADO. Also, for anyone who doesn’t already know, Kastel’s EMPIRE poster was inspired by Tom Jung’s GONE WITH THE WIND poster.

Others that blew me away were Eliminators, Barry E. Jackson’s Escape from New York poster, Jaws, Big Trouble in Little China, Dreamscape, Future Kill, The Stuff (VHS art), Microwave Massacre, The Mutilator, DefCon-4, Chopping Mall, The Video Dead, Mad Max, R.O.T.O.R., Fright Night… I can go on forever! How much time ya got?

MB: Do you feel that the passion for key art has waned in the past several years?

MD: Absolutely! It definitely seems like it’s not as important to the average movie viewer as it once was, but it makes sense when you look at the way most people consume movies these days. Not only do most folks stream the majority, if not ALL, of what they watch, but a good amount of them also watch it on their laptops, phones, or iPads. So, when browsing through streaming services, the key art they’re seeing on those devices is a postage stamp-sized representation of the film… and sometimes services will even swap out the key art with a single STILL from the movie with its title slapped across it!

It obviously has to grab the viewer’s attention, but the interaction between the viewer and the product isn’t the same as it was during the reign of physical media.

Back in the days of the video store, the potential viewer was exposed to full-sized movie posters, cardboard cutouts, and endless rows of VHS tapes or DVDs for them to physically pick up and examine. As a matter of fact, in the early days of VHS, box art was generally the only representation of the film available. You couldn’t instantly watch the trailer or read a thousand reviews. It was the art and synopsis on that box that was largely responsible for whether you were going to watch that movie or not.

That tangible connection to the product doesn’t seem to exist anymore for the average movie viewer.

MB: You have a book making its way to the masses very soon: B Movie Art: A Career in Black and White. Can you tell us more about this and where we can pick it up?

MD: Yes! The book will feature 120 different pieces of movie art printed in black and white without title treatments. A good majority of the art included are final pieces of key art, but some are never-before-seen alternate versions, early teaser art concepts, and even DVD wrap art. The page opposite each piece of art will feature the movie’s title and synopsis to give it some context.

I came up with the idea when I was working on a project and accidentally flipped the color mode to grayscale. I was shocked at how striking the imagery looked in that format. It gave it a whole different vibe than its natural color state, almost like something out of an old pulp or science fiction novel. I was intrigued, and before long, I found myself going through years of key art pieces and converting them into black-and-white versions of their former selves.

Compiling them into a book just seemed like a natural progression.

As to where and when you can pick it up, I am not 100% sure yet. It was originally planned to be released in October, but I had a couple of setbacks. Anyone who is interested can follow me on Instagram @digmovieart, where I will be getting the word out as soon as the final release info is available.

MB: You have another book already out, which is completely different on every level. Who You’re Stuck Being: An Introspective Year of Haiku Journaling is humorous, reflective, and perhaps at times a bit personal. The one passage that strikes me hard is:

That place where you run

To be done with the running

Is running your life

What prompted you to put this out there for the world, and what do you hope readers take away with them?

MD: Thank you for mentioning this.

Well, while going through some trying times back in 2018, I decided to journal as a way to deal with it and work things out that I was going through internally on paper. In an attempt to make it interesting for myself, I decided to journal in haiku form. I did it every day for about a year. At least one haiku a day. I managed to channel a lot of thoughts and emotions into those haiku, and writing them daily definitely helped me through that year.

Eventually, I packed that journal away, and the next time I saw it was when I dug it out of a moving box in January 2021. A lot had changed. I had just moved across the country, and we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When flipping through the haiku journal for the first time in over a year, I found some good bits of optimism and truth in what I’d written.

As I mentioned, it was the middle of the pandemic, and everybody was pretty bummed out, but reading through that journal reminded me that it was possible for me to be in a positive place again. It was just what I needed at the time, and I thought that maybe somebody else could get something out of it as well.

So, I decided I’d compile it into a book and put it out there. I thought at the very least a few friends would pick it up out of curiosity but was surprised that it was received as well as it was.

If there’s anything I would hope a reader would take away with them after reading the book, it’s that EVERYONE is going through their own shit. Everyone gets stuck in their head sometimes. And that’s ok. It’s part of being human. Nobody is perfect… in spite of what social media may lead you to believe.

Haha! Thanks so much for picking it up. I really appreciate it.

MB: You not only create movie posters and obviously write, but being the creative that you are, you also paint and sculpt and express yourself in a multitude of mediums. How early on in life did you know that all of this was important to you? Was your artistic drive embraced or encouraged in any way?

MD: When I was a kid, I loved to draw, and all the way through college, I had legitimate aspirations of becoming a comic book illustrator. I was into comics for a very long time. When I was in elementary school, I would draw weird comic books, make copies, and mail them to all my relatives. When I was older and got into playing music, I would send them copies of the stuff I had recorded as well. I guess I always felt the need to share anything that I created with as many people as I could. If I couldn’t share it, it felt like it served no purpose.

So, I guess very early on, I realized that being creative was my jam.

As to my artistic drive being embraced, yes. It definitely was by friends, relatives, and one specific teacher. As for it being encouraged… I think it’s more of a case of it not necessarily being discouraged. Haha! There were definitely some folks in my family who would have preferred I set my sights on becoming an engineer, a lawyer, or something more along those lines, but in the end, they supported me going down the path I chose. And I’m grateful.

MB: What filmmaker do you dream of creating a movie poster for one day?

MD: John Carpenter, FOR SURE! He’s my favorite director of all time. The Thing, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China are all on my top 10 list of favorite movies… AND their posters are phenomenal as well!

To do a poster for a John Carpenter film would be a dream come true. Actually, being involved in ANYTHING John Carpenter-related AT ALL would be a dream come true.

MOVIE ART

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FINE ART

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