This interview originally appeared in HauntSearch Magazine, Issue 8
Chances are, you’ve seen his work before. He’s done work for HAuNTcon, Haunted Attraction Magazine, Horrorfind.com, Gothic.net, ZombiePinups.com, authors David J. Schow and Poppy Z. Brite, Ritual Entertainment, and many many more. His name: Chad Savage. His site: Sinister Visions. His alter ego: “Zombo The Clown”. Chad’s work embodies his passion for the macabre and love for the strange and unusual. While many of us are familiar with him and his work, how many of us can say that we “know” Chad Savage? In this interview, I go behind the paint, behind the art and behind the scenes, to find out what makes Chad really tick. What you are about to read is an unscripted, unedited portrait of Chad Savage. The real Chad Savage.
HauntSearch: If I can, I’d like to start at the very beginning. What was your upbringing like?
Chad Savage: I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived there until 1976. Then we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where we lived from 1976 – 1986. From 1987-1991, I moved back to Dallas. I was raised Southern Baptist but, thankfully, not “crazy” Southern Baptist. Very religious, to be sure, but not obnoxiously so. I went to the same church as the Clintons. Yes, those Clintons. I was always the kid that liked Halloween better than Christmas. I owned October in our house from about age 6. The story I usually tell people to try to explain why I am the way I am: As a kid, my mom asked me to draw something “nice for a change”. So I drew a vampire, a witch and a ghost. They were all smiling. To me, that was “nice”. Just call me “Chad Skellington”, I guess.
HS: Growing up in a highly religious household, were the rules very strict?
CS: My folks were great in that almost Norman Rockwell, idealized-parent sense. Rules were strict in that what rules there were, were enforced. But there weren’t any crazy rules. I consider myself very lucky, actually. I don’t remember my parents ever saying a cross word to each other. I’m not saying they never did, but if they did, I don’t remember it.
HS: Do you have any siblings?
CS: One sister. A year and a half younger than me.
HS: At what age, would you say the “Halloween Bug” hit you?
CS: (In) the womb, man. Seriously.
HS: So you’ve always had a love for the darker side of life. When did you start expressing this “passion”?
CS: As soon as I was able to. However, that didn’t fly, as you can imagine. So I had to keep it pretty much suppressed until October 1st every year. I was doing home haunting in my room when I was 12 and setting up and running the church’s haunt when I was 15.
HS: And once October rolled around…?
CS: The decorations came out, the spooky music started and I got to live life to the fullest for 31 days!
HS: What was a typical October like in the Savage household?
CS: I played my Disney’s Haunted Mansion record over and over. I made costumes. I made decorations. I drew spooky pictures. I found out when different Halloween specials would be on (The only one I’ve never seen as an adult is the Fat Albert Halloween). When I got a little older, I went to every haunted house I could find.
HS: What would you do after Halloween to fill the void during the other 11 months?
CS: Plan! (evil laughter)
HS: Obviously your love for the season has inspired every aspect of what you do now. When did you realize your artistic and creative ability?
CS: I’ve gotta go back to the womb… art runs in the family on my dad’s side. There was never any question about what I’d do when I grew up. It was a foregone conclusion. I never got the “Get a business degree and you can do that art stuff on the side” lectures. I only applied to art schools and finally settled on a dual illustration/graphic design program, since my interests run as strongly in one as the other.
HS: What would you say your biggest influences have been, as it relates to your “style”?
CS: Umm… everything I’ve seen for the last 35 years? I never know how to answer that question or (the question), “Where do you get your ideas?”.
HS: So there isn’t any definitive event that you can recall that really influenced you in any major way?
CS: Nothing’s jumping to mind. I mean, beyond the hundreds of things that happen to you each year that make you go “wow!”. But no, nothing so big that it stands out as a singular, life-altering kinda thing.
HS: You said you always knew art was the career that you were going to take. Did you always know it was going to be horror-related art?
CS: No. And until just a couple of years ago, it wasn’t.
HS: Let’s talk about college. Where did you attend?
CS: I started out at the Otis Art Institute of Parson’s School of Design in L.A. Did one semester there and wasn’t impressed. I wound up at the University of North Texas – strongest graphic design department in the region, just north of Dallas. It was close to my girlfriend in San Antonio, and family in Little Rock. In 1990, I married the woman I’d been dating since high school. I graduated in 1991 with a major in illustration/graphic design and a minor in theatrical make up.
HS: After graduating college, where did you go from there?
CS: Moved to San Francisco, got divorced and promptly remarried in 1992. In 1993, my daughter Raven came along. I moved with my second wife back to her home town of Syracuse, New York, which I friggin’ hated! I had some great friends there, but hated the town.
HS: What did you do for income while in New York?
CS: I worked for a company that did pharmaceutical packaging and business periodicals. I learned Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator while there, though, which taught me how to proof, how to write copy and how to write procedures. Wanna know how I got the job?
CS: I had been sending out resumes. I was a designer/illustrator with a degree, but no practical experience – had been working in coffee shops since I graduated (I worked at the first Starbucks in San Francisco, incidentally). I read an article that suggested that if nobody was responding to your resume, you should get a little nuts with it. So I did two things: I printed it on hot pink paper and I listed fatherhood as if it were a professional job. In my cover letter I pointed out that while I knew you weren’t supposed to print your resume on hot pink paper, I also knew that whoever had read it would remember it. I won the job on the basis of (A:) creativity and (B:) balls. The boss actually told me that. I had had a computer for 3 years, but I didn’ t know the programs they used. They wanted a creative person, so they trained me. God bless ’em.
HS: And this training would become the foundation for your current job?
CS: Yes. Fast forward a couple of years to1998. I divorced a second time and my ex-wife and daughter Raven moved to Chicago. I came to visit them and fall in love with the city. So I moved here to be close to Raven. I got a job with a company that does trial exhibits for court cases and worked on stuff for Microsoft’s defense, actually (during the big Anti-Trust case). I did that for a couple of years, and got back in touch with a woman I’d met years previously, who would become my third wife. I switched up for a cooler graphic design job in 2000, which I lost at the end of 2002. I worked freelance for some friends for all of 2002, then struck out completely freelance at the beginning of 2003 out of necessity. I had a new baby, and my wife was diagnosed with a tumor.
HS: So when was Sinister Visions started?
CS: I’ve been using the name since the early 90’s. I set up my very first website in… probably 1995 or 1996. It was god-awful – I had no idea what I was doing. I learned how to view HTML code in a browser and slowly began to figure out how to do the stuff I wanted to do by looking at the code of people who actually knew what they were doing. It took years. SinisterVisions.com today is the product of years and years of growth and development.
HS: And so fast forwarding a bit, when and how did you get involved with the haunt industry?
CS: In 2000. I discovered the Halloween-L and Hall2000 lists and I needed a screen name so I started monkeying around with a couple of things and came up with “Zombo the Clown”, which struck me as funny, a little creepy and had the potential to be a fun character to inhabit a forum environment. Little did I know that Zombo had his own plans. So I started reading and chatting on the lists, and discovered the Haunt Industry was… well, an industry and that there were whole companies that were devoted to doing graphics just for haunters and Halloween products. Since I was already doing horror-related stuff, and I worship at the Altar of Halloween… well, you can imagine.
HS: Let’s talk a bit about your “alter-ego”, Zombo the Clown. What is the role of this character in your life?
CS: You know, that would be hard to say. You know how when you start drinking and you get to that point during the drinking where you conceive of something mischevious, maybe a little dangerous, and really, really funny? That’s the space Zombo inhabits, minus the alcohol.
HS: What was the reasoning behind your other site, zombotheclown.com?
CS: I had accumulated enough stuff related directly or indirectly to the character to put a site together. It used to be a sub-site of SinisterVisions.com.
HS: With Sinister Visions, what services do you provide?
CS: Web design and hosting, print design, illustration, logo design, multimedia presentations and applications, promotional premiums, such as pens, mousepads, coffee mugs, at the site, you can also purchase Sinister Dolls, listen to Sinister Sonics soundscapes, send Sinister Greetings and more! You name it!
HS: Speaking of Sinister Dolls, what’s the story behind these?
CS: The first NekroKlown, named Zombolina, was created in 1999 as a costume accessory for the first live incarnation of Zombo the Clown. She was a huge hit at the party where she debuted and afterward, she took up residence on a shelf in my home, never failing to draw admiration and inquiries from guests and friends.
Flash forward 3 years to the World Horror Convention 2002 in Chicago. I helped to decorate and man the Gothic.net table in the Dealer’s Room, and Zombolina came along to help spruce up the proceedings. Again, she received constant inquiries about whether or not she was for sale, and whether or not there were other dolls like her available.
Flash forward one more year to 2003. I made 5 NekroKlown dolls and took them to the World Horror Convention 2003 in Kansas City. Though the Con was poorly attended, I still managed to sell 3 of them, plus another one through eBay. The dolls generated a huge response at the convention and people asked how they might obtain a NekroKlown after the convention was over. In April, 2003, NekroKlowns.com was established.
In July, 2003, my daughter, Raven, became the official Sinister Doll Assistant, doing basic prep-work on the dolls and being very excited about seeing her name on one of Dad’s web sites. She’s the ghostly girl you see on the right of each page, holding various dolls. That same month, I made a special, non-klown doll for Raven for her birthday, named Ophelia. Again, the doll was fussed over, so I started making NekroKids and, soon after, NekroKitties, and changed the site to SinisterDolls.com.
HS: Where do you see Chad Savage and Sinister Visions let’s say, 5 years down the road?
CS: Well, one thing I’ve learned. If you want to make “The Powers That Be” laugh, make a plan. Seriously. At any given moment, I’m never doing what I thought I’d be doing five years ago, so why bother, right? In 1999, I never dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing right now.
HS: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
CS: I don’t understand; “not working”? What is that? (laughs). I play with (my other daughter) Ripley and spend as much time with my wife as possible.
HS: What’s one thing that most readers don’t know about you?
CS: I worked at Haunted Verdun Manor, and was good friends with Lance Pope 15 years ago.
HS: If I could, I’d like to do a few word associations right now, just to kind of pick your brain a bit more.
HS: Haunted Attractions?
CS: Sweet Home.
HS: Screamparks (universal, six flags etc)?
HS: The Internet?
HS: The Haunt Industry?
*Since this interview, there has been a changing of the guard at IAHA; Chad Savage is now a member and the webmaster of IAHAweb.com