A day or so ago I decided to take you back to the wondrous 90’s when Goosebumps, both the books and the TV show, were popular. As you can tell, both mediums heavily inspired me as a kid and sort of was the precursor to watching and reading more adult themed horror. However, as I stated before, the best thing about the Goosebumps books was the artwork by Tim Jacobus and that’s because I was once an artist back then. As a kid growing up on Goosebumps, I would constantly mock and copy the artwork on the cover and in a way Tim sort of molded me into sketch artist but I never really pursued that career. Well, the other day I contacted Tim and asked him to do an interview and to my surprise he responded, “sure!” My heart stopped.
Never in my life did I ever expect to email interview one of my childhood idols. The questions are a little more diverse and I didn’t want to ask him the ‘standard’ questions so if you want to know more about Tim… please read his bio here. Or purchase his book “It Came From New Jersey.”
Why did you take up the artist profession?
When I was in High School, I took a commercial art class at another school. It was the first time art was presented to me as a business rather than a hobby or as fine art. I knew this was for me.
Who was your influence when it came to art?
My art teacher who ran the commercial art class – his name was Frank Nuebaugher. He was a Korean War, Marine vet… not your typical “art guy”. He was tough and he worked us hard. I got a lot out of everything he taught. As a fan, I love Roger Dean. He’s a fantasy artist who did many album covers in the 70’s and 80’s. He was way ahead of his time.
What were goals that you wanted to accomplish in becoming an artist?
I know a lot of artists paint to express or discover themselves. While painting in your free time, what did you learn about yourself?
Being an illustrator is less about being inspired and more about getting the job done. You are given specific variables of subject matter, time restraints and budget. Then, you give it 100% and see what comes out the other side. I enjoy the process of painting - whether traditionally or digitally. I don’t paint much in my free time. I do most everything else - get outside, hang out with my son, Jack, multiple sports, almost anything other than painting. I will eventually paint for myself. Lately, I have thoughts to work large… 5’ x 10’! I’ve only done a couple of larger pieces in my life and I had a blast doing them.
Before you got big, you took a number of diverse labor jobs. What was the most physically demanding job that you took and did it influence your life?
I have had a few tough ones. I gained a great deal of respect for the folks who do it day in and day out. One of the worst I had, was in Alaska. My wife, Laura and I went to Kodiak, Alaska when we were still in art school. We worked in a herring canning plant. We worked on the herring roe line. For 14 hours a day, we took a stick and shoved it up a dead herrings ass, popped it’s belly open and removed the roe… Sounds like fun, huh?
What was your big break and how did it come about?
Getting my first paperback cover was my first break. It was for Daw publishing and the title was “The Fugitive in Transit”. Back in the day, if you walked around to enough publishers and knocked on enough doors, you could get a break.
How were you chosen for the Goosebumps books?
Luck. I had done some other covers for Scholastic books and the thought my style would fit. When Goosebumps was first presented, no one thought it would be a hit. Most expected it to die quickly.
Where you a fan of the horror genre and if so, did anything from the genre inspire your paintings?
I was more of a sci-fi / fantasy guy then a horror guy. Although, I did love Stephen King.
How did you and R.L. Stine collaborate on the illustrations?
R.L. was and is the most prolific writer ever. The amount of pages the guy can crank out is amazing. R.L. was writing the books at the same time I was doing the covers. He would give me just a short description of the story. Generally, one paragraph was enough to get me going. We just clicked.
Tell us a little about the Converse All-Star cameos you put in the illustrations.
The art directors liked the reoccurring theme in the illustrations and encouraged the use of the sneaks. Cons were what my friends and I wore back in school. They were the only decent sneaker you could buy. The Chuck Taylor high tops have remained popular forever. My mother complained about me wearing torn up sneakers. And she would ask what I would do when I had to “grow up” and get a job. I never had to grow up. I may have grown older but I still have my cons. The best part was when a new GBS cover came out. I would buy a copy and give it to her. If the cons were part of the cover, she would roll her eyes and say “ And there are your stinking sneakers”… Truly, the real reason the converse sneakers made so many appearances – It bugged my mom!
Between the first series of Goosebumps and the 2000 series, was there a difference in terms of your illustrations?
Yes, fans wrote R.L. and I often. The thing they began to ask for was scarier stories. Along with scarier stories comes an edgier cover. In the original series, we could not have red blood. We had monster blood, but that was green. Werewolf in the Living Room had skin and fur that looked awful, blood red and sore. The 2000 series was Goosebumps on steroids.
Your other work is also very surreal but is there a difference between that and the Goosebumps books in terms of detail, composition or style?
Goosebumps was unique. The colors were very bold. Even the shadow areas, which normally could be blacks and grays, were full of blues and purples. The big difference was the distorted perspective. Weird twist in floor tiles and ceiling panels. There wasn’t a straight line anywhere.
Is there a specific book that you look back on and say, "I could have done better?"
Time was my biggest enemy. “A Night in Terror Tower” was one that was pushed hard. Normally, I would have the luxury of 5 days to do a painting. Other times, I needed to work with what I had. Terror Tower was painted in one day and delivered the following morning - with no sleep. There are areas that I could have worked better. Although, for a one day painting it could have come out way worse!
What was your favorite book Goosebumps book that you read?
I liked “Stay Out of the Basement”. I had done many covers before I went back and read a completed Goosebumps. After reading it, I got it. I understood what was so great about the books. The structure, the pacing, the hooks were real genius.
What were your thoughts on the Goosebumps TV series?
I didn’t watch many episodes. I didn’t think they caught the real magic of the books. R.L. and Tim Burton had talked of working together. Now, THAT would have been something awesome.
How does it feel that at one point, you were sort of an icon when it came to young horror fans and young readers alike?
It was great. I had been painting for years. Very few people knew my work. I would talk about it when people seemed interested. It was very one sided. When Goosebumps was rockin’, I could talk to kids about my art and they were digging it as much as I was and they knew more about my art than I did! I still hear from some of the old fans. There is nothing cooler.
Aside from painting, is there any other ways that you relax?
I love sports. Youth football starts August 1st. I coach. It is something that I enjoy. And I get to do it with Jack. No one knows or cares about Goosebumps on the field. I’m just an old guy with a big mouth! I love that too.
Is there anything that you would like to say to those who fans of the books as well as your artwork?
Yes, Thank you. It was a really fun ride!
I would like to thank Tim for taking time to answer my questions and I would like to say thank you for everything and all the memories. You truly are an inspiration to me as well as others.
Visit Tim's website: Better Than A Poke In The Eye