While Dan Henk has made a name of himself as a tattoois and illustrator, he’s also often expressed himself as a writer of both fiction and non-. With Permuted Press recently reprinting his 2011 novel The Black Seas Of Infinity (paperback, digital), I spoke to him about the origins of this horror novel, as well as how this new edition compares to the original.
I always like to start with the basics: What is The Black Seas Of Infinity about, and where did you get the idea for it?
It’s one man’s journey. He feels he’s meant for greatness, but as he grows older, his childhood dreams start to fade into the harsh drudgery of real life. A chance discovery of an alien artifact breathes a second wind and gives him more than he ever dreamed. But it’s not all roses. Not only does a new shot at life come with a serious dark side, but the whole world starts to collapse around him just as he attains it. As if that wasn’t enough, creatures from beyond this world return, and they are none too happy to see him.
I’ve had the core of this idea for a very long time. As in over twenty years. Though it wasn’t this refined, and initially I wanted to express it as a graphic novel. I went through four storybook versions, even obtaining interviews with several comic companies, before I realized that it would really take a novel to lay out what my ideas had morphed into.
Who do you think were the biggest influences on this book, both in terms of what you wrote and how you wrote it?
We didn’t have a TV until I was in the fifth grade, and even then my parents limited my viewing to an hour a day. So I really grew up on comics and sci-fi novels. I used to go to the local library, check out a huge stack of books, and have them all read by my return trip the next week. As I grew older, more and more I preferred a darker tone to everything. And I’m nothing if not overly ambitious, so I took clues from my favorite authors: The surreal madness and boundless imagination of H.P. Lovecraft; the clinical skill and subtle layering of Alan Moore; the grandiose scale and fantastical elements of Frank Herbert; and the attention to minutia and the feel of total involvement that is a trademark of John Steinbeck. Hopefully, I was able to incorporate some of those elements. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the biggest single influence on the way I illustrate as well, seeing as to how I included some visualizations of scenes in the book. So, major props to the far too obscure John Totleben.
Are there other non-written influences on your work; do you see the influence of any movies, comics, or video games on the book?
I think everything you experience in life influences you. Movies are a major influence. I might not have watched very much television as a kid, but my dad was a huge sci-fi and war movie fan, and he took us to see everything from Star Wars to Time Bandits to Apocalypse Now. My absolute favorite were the stories weird, fantastic elements. I much preferred Blade Runner to Star Trek, and Pumpkinhead to Friday The 13th. Though Jason himself is a great character, I refer to him as the coolest guy in the worst movies.
I think growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s really helped. That seemed to be when cinema took it’s biggest chances. Phantasm. The Fly. The Thing. Robocop. The Terminator. The list of movies is amazing, and I could go on all night. But that feel of anything being possible, that was a huge influence.
Comics were the other major influence. I kind of look at the main character as a little bit like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. A disillusioned loner that the world won’t stop fucking with.
Besides writing this book, you’ve worked as a tattoo artist and illustrator. You kind of touched on this earlier, but why did you decide to write The Black Seas Of Infinity as a prose novel, as opposed to an illustrated one?
There are two things I love about novels. The huge scope they manage to encapsulate in just a few words, and the fantastic elements that aren’t limited by someone else’s imagination. As I mentioned, I initially started this out as a graphic novel. The early form of it even got picked up by a division of DC Comics, and then Kitchen Sink. Both went belly up before they put it out, but sometimes when one door closes, a better one opens, and I think I was really able to do this story justice with more words and less illustrations. A few to fuel the imagination, but not to many to limit it.
So I do think it would work as a comic, but I think it works better as a novel. If anything, I think if it popped up in another format, a movie might do it justice. But, I think the book would still need to be the backbone, and the movie would just be the icing on the cake. Maybe an expanded version with more full page illustrations might be my ultimate pick.
Did you at least draw the cover art?
Definitely. I actually went through a few small publishers before I found one that would let me do the cover. The story has several interior illustrations by me, and in my mind at least, it wouldn’t make sense to have anyone else do the cover. The first publisher I did find, though, talked me out of using my initial cover, and I used another painting instead. Fortunately, with the Permuted version, I’m back to my original vision.
Has anyone asked you to do a tattoo based on something in the book?
Funny you should ask, I had someone just recently ask me to do the whole book, starting with the cover painting and delving down into illustrations that illuminate the story. It’s a full leg sleeve, and I start that early next year.
I have to ask: Were you ever doing a tattoo on someone when you came up with an idea for the book, so you had to stop to write it down? And if so, did you ever almost accidentally write the idea down on the person’s skin? Cuz being the dumbass that I am, that’s totally what I would do.
Ha! No. I’ve been tattooing fifteen years. I tend to get in a groove and place myself in a mental zone while tattooing. Though I have stopped what I’m doing and written down an element I want to incorporate. I sometimes come up with what I think is a great idea, and I want to jot it down while I still remember it.
In writing The Black Seas Of Infinity, did you use tattoos as a characterization technique? Like if you had a character who was a dull guy, did you give him a generic tattoo?
No. I separate things in my mind. Tattooing, like anything you do, can’t help but affect the way you think. But it’s more broad that just throwing a tattoo on someone. It might sound a little pretentious, but it really affects the way you look at the world and the people in it.
You’ve also written for some tattoo magazines, including Tattoo Revue. Has writing that kind of non-fiction had any influence on how you write fiction?
I have always written a lot. From punk rock fanzines when I was in high school, to novels that will never see the light of day, to articles in a huge variety of magazines and more. I’ve been doing it so long, that I am sure everything is somehow influencing everything else, but it’s nothing I construe a direct connection out of.
Now, The Black Season Of Infinity originally came out through Anarchy Books in 2011, but was recently reprinted by Permuted Press. First off, why is the book being reprinted so soon?
Well, Anarchy Books was a small publisher out of the UK, and I never felt like they did it any justice. The guy who started the imprint is an author for another press, and he first talked a good game about advertising, releasing it in paperback and hardcover, and all that. Then he branched into films and music, never really did much of anything, and even eventually lost most of his authors. Wayne Simmons, a horror author out of Wales and a good friend of mine, recommended Permuted Press, so I decided to try them. Fortunately they took it.
Did you change anything about the book for the Permuted version?
I did a slight edit for the Permuted version. Mainly, I took out two illustrations that I didn’t feel were the strongest. More refining the book based off some suggestions I received in the initial run than anything.
And my understanding is that you have a second book coming out through Damnation Books. What can you tell us about it?
The second book I have is titled Down Highways In The Dark…By Demons Driven, and it will be out in June. It’s a novella, followed by a collection of short stories, mostly horror with some weird, fantastical elements thrown in. Maybe it’s my comic book roots, or my love of the world of H.P. Lovecraft, but everything I do kind of takes place in the same universe. There are references, a bit obscure so a really have to look for them, but I mention characters or events from other stories, including from The Black Seas Of Infinity.
Finally, I usually like to end my author interviews by asking the writer which of their other books fans of their new one should read next. But since The Black Seas Of Infinity is your first book, and the second isn’t out yet, I’ll ask this instead: If someone really liked The Black Seas Of Infinity, what book of someone else’s would you recommend they read next and why?
Oh, that’s hard. I hate to compare my books to any, so I’ll just go with some of my favorites, which couldn’t help but be influences, so in a roundabout way it sort of makes sense. Frank Herbert’s Dune, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, almost anything by H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Caitlin R Kiernan’s Daughter Of The Hounds, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, or Miracleman…this could be a very long list, but I’ll stop it here. I think all capture that sort of dark, surreal, anything is possible feeling I am striving for.