Rob Sheridan: The Reddit AMA Interview: Feb 11th 2020

Earlier this month I did a Reddit AMA (following a Patreon-exclusive AMA) and it was a huge success - thanks to everyone who came out and asked great questions! It turned into a very robust interview covering High Level, NIN, minimalism, glitch art, design, Year Zero, future projects, writing, life, and yes, even The Dancing Baby... You can peruse the whole thread here, but below you'll find a transcript of some of the best questions presented in easy-to-follow interview format. I'll be doing more Patreon AMAs and live chats soon - sign up to join the community!

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Rob Sheridan Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' February 11th 2020:

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Q (u/MidnightClad):

I LOVED High Level! Will it continue even though DC shuttered Vertigo?

Also, what is one of your best memories working with NIN over the years?

A:

Thanks! The short answer is yes, High Level will continue one way or another, although I don't know where. I need to finish the story though, the whole thing has been planned out for several years, so I'll make it happen somehow. With Vertigo shutting down midway through High Level's initial run (thanks, AT&T), it seems unlikely to me that volume 2 will happen at DC. It would be great if it did, but if not I'll seek to finish it elsewhere. I pitched a complete 12-issue story, so everything that's left hanging at the end of issue 6 actually has a purpose and an explanation and a trajectory. I'm going to finish it, whatever it takes - volume 2 is where it gets really crazy! Obviously fan support helps a lot in getting the next volume going as soon as possible, so I appreciate it!

Best memories working with NIN? Definitely the various tour productions. Creating art that thousands of people experience in real time, and adapting it and changing it and feeling the visceral energy of the crowd as they go on a journey you've helped create... there's nothing like it.

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Q (u/pakalypse):

I love the idea of a companion album. Who came up with the idea and how did you decide that Justin and Asian Steve would be a good fit?

A:

Steve and Justin and I have been friends for a long time through NIN, and one of my favorite things about them (and the whole Black Queen gang) is that, like me, they love making cool shit just for the sake of making cool shit. Profit isn't their concern (which, as artists, is always one of our great strengths and worst faults), they'll go out of the way to make stuff cool or make unique experiences, and that's something that's always been important to me and was really important when I was with NIN. So it started with me wanting to put a trailer together for High Level ahead of the first issue coming out last year. I asked Steve if I could use some instrumental Black Queen music since they own it and it wouldn't get flagged for copyright or whatever. Steve said "let me make something new for this, it would be cool." What he made is the track "Ascension," and it sounded so perfect for the vibe that it spurred a conversation about how cool it would be to have an ambient soundtrack designed to be listened to while you read a comic. And then, as the comic rolled on and we kept talking about it, him and Justin just started... making it! Now they have almost 40 tracks done, and they're just doing it for the sake of making something cool. Now it's turned into a triple vinyl release on the horizon! It's so much fun working with people who think of art first and practicality later. It's not always a good approach in today's climate, but it's awfully refreshing.

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Q (u/thechabuku):

Alright, there is something hidden in the static-stuff at the end of the Ascension EP.

I know you are a "hide things in the static or the margins" kind of guy.... so... wat is it?

A:

Not only am I that kind of guy, but so are Steve and Justin, which is why they're so fun to work with. My lips are sealed! Secret messages are fun. ....But it ties in to what happens next in the High Level story.

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Q (u/Malashaan): 

Do you think there's a future for multimedia storytelling such as the Year Zero ARG? When that was going on, I thought many stories would be told after it in a similar way, but it didn't happen. And why do you think that is?

A:

It's a really good question, and I genuinely don't know. I think one of the things that made Year Zero special in the context of multimedia storytelling was that we didn't approach it as marketing. We purely wanted to create an art experience, and took advantage of an album marketing budget to make it happen. Because there was no company making sure we were pushing a product enough, or marketing research people making sure we covered specific demographics or did certain things in certain ways, we were free to create the experience we wanted, and that made it more pure and authentic to the fans who followed along. That's rare, because building a campaign on that scale is VERY expensive, and you certainly don't see record labels (or movie studios, etc) handing out that kind of money and asking for no control anymore. I think people are yearning for real-world experiences that extend out across media and outside of the internet the way ARGs did, but it's really difficult to make them happen in today's climate, especially without just coming across as crass marketing.

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Q (u/KnowledgeNate):

Hi Rob - what did you learn while living in the forest? And how long were you there?

Thank you. Your artwork is amazing.

A:

Steph and I were both increasingly feeling buried by our lives in every way when she came into my life at the beginning of 2016. I don't even know how it happened, but there was this mutual desire to burn it all down and just leave - sell our houses, sell our stuff, leave our cities and our careers, buy an RV, and just... GO. So we did, and it was very out of character for me (my friends/family thought I'd lost it), but somehow it turned out to be exactly what I needed. We stayed in the forest as long as we could - most of 2016 and part of 2017 - before the money started running out and a lot of realities of life started to creep back in. I came to really embrace minimalism, I started to view all the "stuff" I used to so preciously collect as just heavy emptiness weighing me down. I realized how little I actually needed to be happy, and how few of the things I thought were making me happy actually were. It was a very revelatory experience, and I'm really hoping we can do it again - perhaps in a less life-destroying way next time, but the fire and urgency of that experience were really necessary.

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Q (u/Azeda_):

Hey Rob, your personal photos on your site inspired me to start photography several years ago. I had the chance to tell you that when I met you on the street in Asheville! What are the odds we see more personal photo journeys from you?

A:

My most recent, and most personal photo series I've ever taken, is this series I call "wander," taken 2016-2017 while traveling offline and aimless with my now-wife Steph: https://www.rob-sheridan.com/photography/wander/1/thumbs - it re-inspired my love of landscape photography, and I found something new to say in that space when I didn't think I had anything left. But it really requires escaping into world, and I haven't had much time for that type of art-centric travel in the past couple years. So I really hope to get out and do some photo trips this year or next, I already miss it.

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Q (u/nascentia):

Hey Rob! Love everything you’ve done, from your work with NIN and HTDA to High Level to Population Paste.

Two questions:

  1. You’re a phenomenal writer and I miss your blogs. Any chance of Demon Baby ever making a comeback, even as just occasional one-offs?
  2. What led to you leaving NIN and LA? It all seemed abrupt from the fan side but obviously we know nothing.

Looking forward to checking High Level out now that the whole first volume is in one compendium!

A:

1. I'm not really the same person I was back in my blogging days, but I do really miss long-form writing. I think all of us who were involved in the glory days of blogging miss it. It's definitely one of my missions going forward to find an outlet for that.

2. It was just... time. There was a lot of really personal stuff going on for me, outside of NIN - divorce, midlife crisis, etc - and my head wasn't in it at the time. I realized I really needed to get out of LA. The subsequent couple years of disappearing into the forest and growing a lot as a person was really good for me. Sometimes you don't realize how much you need a change.

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Q (u/tricil):

Rob, how do you deal with constant NIN/HTDA related questions? You seem to be taking it in stride for sure and I know you’re still cool with everyone but does it get tiring?

A:

I was with NIN/TR/HTDA for 15 years, almost half of my adult life and my entire professional career at the time we parted ways. I didn't go to college (I left art school after one year to work with NIN), I didn't have a normal journey through the professional world, and being on tour with a rock band wasn't a very normal way to spend my 20s & 30s. I 100% grew up with NIN (even before my career, as a fan in high school), and learned everything from the experience, and became who I am as an artist. So it's always going to be in the fabric of who I am. So, you know, I guess to me it's just like a filmmaker getting questions about their early work. I do tire of people asking me current questions about Trent that I have nothing to do with, but it's not too often anymore.

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Q (u/padaw4n):

Hey Rob! Has there been any proyect you thought about but never really got the chance to execute?

A:

The Year Zero HBO series never being completed haunts me to this day.

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Q (u/kawaiian):

do you find that imposter syndrome never goes away, even when you’re Rob Sheridan?

A:

It never, ever goes away, and don't let anyone tell you it does. I think it's just a part of having a creative personality and having to put that part of yourself out into the world to be consumed and judged.

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Q (u/Bawitdaba1337):

Are you on good terms with Trent/NIN/HTDA, and is there a possibility you might work together in the future?

A:

Yeah, I am. Not sure what the future holds, but I definitely would work with Trent again. Haven't seen him in quite some time, so I'm looking forward to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in May!

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Q (u/Malashaan):

What would you say is the best way to support artists for people who don't have a lot of money to spend?

A:

Share their work! The hardest thing amidst the speed and noise of the internet is getting noticed. If there's an artist you love, spread the word where you can. If you love artists who make products, like video game developers or authors, give their stuff good reviews/ratings in the places they're sold. Little things like that help boost their work in a world of algorithms.

Oh, also - TELL THEM how much you love their work! I forget to do this sometimes, I appreciate things people create and just take for granted - especially if they're successful - that they hear enough how awesome they are. But artists who aren't as well known don't hear it nearly enough, and that bit of encouragement can mean a lot.

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Q (u/AlexRain1):

Will you ever consider, before your retire or something, making a new, modern dancing baby website in order to bring your career full circle? [Editor's note: If you have no idea what this is in reference to, enjoy]

A:

Only if I can break some sort of record for how many html tables and hideous animated GIFs can be put into one web page.

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Q (u/-chrispy-):

Who inspired you to get into visual arts, specifically the "glitch art" style? Who do you follow on social media for inspiration or because you enjoy their work (if anyone)? I love your work and you are a source of inspiration for me. Thank you!

A:

I grew up drawing - I wanted to draw comics when I was a kid, actually - and experimenting with computer art as soon as I could, so visual art has always been a huge part of my life. I really didn't get into glitch art until I started working with Trent and NIN. I learned a lot from watching him in the studio recording The Fragile, how he would use things the "wrong" way to get new sounds. The beauty in noise and chaos. So when tasked with making art to accompany his sounds, I started thinking about ways to use visual tools the "wrong" way, and my first glitch art aesthetic - for the "With Teeth" album - was born.

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Q (u/reznovskaya):

Hi Rob. Let me say that I loooove your work. Especially the nin design and the video for the black queen.

Two questions: One for you and one that'll piss you off I guess because it's the typical nin fan question stuff.

Q1: As an artist you had the tools (ideas and abilities) for High Level but I'd be interested how you approached the project itself. I mean, creating glitch art and telling a story in a comic are pretty different. Did you study comic books from a different POV or did you have someone who helped you on your first steps?

Q2: regarding nin/trent - I'd just be interested how trent (and you when it was your work) felt about fans using nin stuff and trent pics for photoshops, shitposts etc. Trent approved remixes of his songs on nin.com a while ago before it went away but how did he feel about the same thing with pictures?

Hope you're doing great and have an awesome week.

A: 

1. I've always loved writing and storytelling, since I was a kid, and always brought that into my visual work. Even when my work is completely abstract, there's usually a narrative process and internal logic behind that's driving it, and that's helped a lot in making projects that span multiple types of media stay aesthetically cohesive. Working in tour production really taught me a lot about structuring a narrative experience -- we thought of, and designed, live shows more like plays than concerts, with visual narratives that developed, dramatic arcs, and a three-act structure. So it was really comfortable for me to move into comics because (aside from the fact that I've been reading comics my whole life) it's a visual storytelling medium, like everything I'd done before. But it was a HUGE help to have my editor, Andy Khouri, guide me through the particulars of comic writing, and all the medium-specific tricks, along the way. I couldn't have done it without him, and I've learned so much now, I can't wait to get to my next writing project.

2. It's not for me to speak on how he feels, but I think that type of stuff is just part of being famous now. I'm sure he knows most of it is in good spirit, even when it's annoying.

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Q (u/zerohero83):

How long have you had the story for High Level in mind? Was this a years in the making idea or something over a couple months?

A:

I've been sketching some of the characters for many years, but they didn't have a story behind them yet, they just had spaces and aesthetics. I had just really refined the character of Thirteen and started thinking about stories I could put her in when my editor at Vertigo reached out asking if I had any pitch ideas. It happened at a time when I was traveling offline and aimless with my wife in an RV, living in the forest, and the world was heading in a dark direction at the time. It got me thinking a lot about a lot of themes that became the world of High Level, and over the next few months an entire world came together, mostly written in the forest. One of those rare creative situations where all of the stars seemed to align.

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Q (u/KabaU):

Hello Rob! Glad to see You outside of Patreon.
Is there anything from everyday life that inspired You and eventually developed into visuals of Your NIN/ High Level work? Like Gary Talpas with Pretty Hate Machine cover.
Thank You for giving us a dancing baby gif.

A:

The first album art I was ever tasked with making was for NIN's "Things Falling Apart." It was a companion album to "The Fragile," which David Carson did the art for. Carson was a design hero of mine, so of course playing in his style was exhilarating but also very intimidating for a very young, very new designer. A lot of Carson's imagery was accidental snapshots of every day things that he'd capture with disposable cameras and polaroids, and the out-of-focus nature of them turned simple things into abstract art (the red texture on the cover of The Fragile is an out-of-focus snapshot of the inside of a shell, for example). To start capturing some of my own for TFA, I experimented with a macro lens for the first time, and later bought one to make imagery with. It sounds like basic art school shit now because you can get a macro lens for your phone for like $30, but it was very expensive niche equipment back then. Through that lens, and taking what I'd learned from Carson, I started to see art and texture in everything I looked at. Needing new imagery for a project and just looking around wherever I am and finding tiny details in it has never steered me wrong ever since.

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Q (u/Caprifolium):

Aside from high level, do have anything else coming soon ?

Loved the work you did with NIN, be it the Bleed through / With Teeth, Year Zero and The Slip art or all the photographs you did for Ghosts. I also truly believe your artwork starting with How to destroy angels and leading to your glitch series is terrific.

What's your academic background and what led you to work with NIN and such huge productions ? Your work encompasses so many different mediums such as photography, digital and analog manipulations, drawing, painting...

Life's a bit strange for me right now and I'm trying to reevaluate it. I studied business and graduated with a bachelor degree, went on to do a masters, worked for a year in retail and quit my job. Truth is, I've never liked my studies not my job. In my spare time I like to shot photographs and work mainly with film (35mm, instant film, maybe medium format some day...) and people seem to like my output and tell me that I'm talented by I tried so many times to have my work published without much success... Only got 4 pictures featured in a fanzine once and a shirt interview on Lomography's website but that's about it.

I'd like to share my work, have it printed or exhibited, I'd like to study silkscreen printing, cyanotypes and risography but I'm not sure how that would pan out and I'm afraid I'd be back to square one and without a job just like I am right now...

Anyway, love your work and I might grab a copy of High Level even though I'm not usually into comics ! But cyberpunk and Rob Sheridan ? It's gotta be good !

A:

Yes, lots more on the way - I'm busier than ever working on pitches for comics, TV, film, games, and some other unusual and very cool things I can't talk about yet!

I'm definitely the wrong person to ask about academics. I'm not formally trained in anything that I do professionally, I'm pretty much entirely self-taught. So I'm a big advocate for developing fundamental aesthetic skills, whether that's design or competition, or storytelling or communication. I was often thrust into a lot of new situations early in my career with NIN because Trent liked to do things in-house and trusted my artistic sensibilities and my understanding of what he was trying to say creatively. So there was a lot of "Let's just have Rob do it. Rob, you can do [thing I'd never done before], right?" and I said sure, I'll figure it out, and I learned new technical skills as I went along. I'm always hesitant to pretend I can offer any useful career advice, because my career trajectory has been so unusual. It's really hard to find a business in art, these days more than ever, and I got very lucky to have the opportunity I did to develop a career under the umbrella of NIN. Don't stop making art though, no matter what.

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Q (u/qwell):

Other than Dancing Baby, are there any other atrocities you've secretly bestowed upon us?

A:

Well, when NIN's Ghosts album came out and we invited people to make their own videos for the music, I secretly made this atrocity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mcXvZwwzCc

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Q (u/njackso2):

Hi Rob

You are a man that likes to create puzzles and secrets with in your art and design. Through out your career and the history of NIN there has been lots of secretes and hiding puzzles created. Has the public completely missed any, and if so can you give us a hint on where to look?

I am a huge fan of your work. Your design work inspired me to become a designer my self!

Best

N

A:

It is near impossible to get anything past the scrutiny of NIN fans. I can't think of anything that was missed. In fact, the fans were SO good at seeking out hidden things that we sometimes had to throw them off the trail. Ahead of releases they started looking for open directories on the NIN website to see if there were any files up that weren't meant to be public. So one time we left a HUGE zip file sitting in a folder called like /newalbum or something like that. The zip was filled with huge WAV files of long static noise. So of course the web snoopers found them and thought they'd outsmarted us, only to end up pulling their hair out trying to piece together a puzzle that didn't exist.

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Q (u/PWEI):

Whatever happened to the Closure DVD release?

A:

Interscope at the time decided they didn't want to release it, so we leaked what we'd made so far onto Pirate Bay.

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Q (u/trashpanda692):

Hi, Rob! Congrats on High Level! I'm sorry my questions are kinda random;

  1. The colors you tend to work with are always really visually interesting to me, and from all the pics you tweet, your entire house seems to be decked out in the stuff. How did you do that? What inspired it and what got you started? Has changing your lighting improved your quality of life in some way? 1.5) If someone wanted to set up something similar, how should they start?
  2. A ton of people do webcomics and enjoy how they can be in control of everything and work at their own pace as their ideas develop. How long did it take you to get started on High Level? What was it like working with a team? Did working with others improve the experience?
  3. [Bonus] Have you played Hyper Light Drifter? It's an indie game that came out in 2016 and aesthetically seems like it might be up your alley. It's also entirely dependant on the visuals and sound design to tell the story. (On mobile rn. Here's the opening https://youtu.be/9rVdUufUBss)

A:

  1. Back when I was living in LA working on artwork for How To Destroy Angels and developing my analog VHS/CRT glitch style, I spent hundreds of hours in my studio filming off of old TV screens in the dark (you have to do it in complete darkness to avoid any reflections off the glass of the TV). I got really immersed in being surrounded in the strange cyberpunk lighting of flickering CRT TVs, and through that glitching process that became the HTDA art I really opened up my color palette and became obsessed with rainbow and neon colors, and found myself evolving artistically in a way where I could find darkness and mood in really vibrant colors - "Rainbow Death" is how I lovingly refer to my aesthetic now. And around that time Philips Hue lights came out, and I discovered them and started changing out all the bulbs in my studio, at first using them to light creative projects and then using them to light my surroundings. I started living 24/7 in neon color schemes that I'd adjust according to my mood, and since then I haven't been able to go back to regular lighting. Every room of our house now is bathed in rainbow color (but of course, since they're controllable, you can make them all white when you need to). I highly recommend Hue lights, but they're very pricey, so if you're not able to take that plunge the good news is that there are now tons of lower-end controllable color light bulbs and lamps available. Look around online and you'll see you can start to add a lot of customizable color to your home for a very low entry price.
  2. I generally like working alone and having all the control, and as a visual artist I was naturally very nervous to hand over the art duties on High Level to other artists. Thankfully it was one of those VERY rare collaborations where Barnaby Bagenda (pencils) and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. (colors) totally understood my vision and references, and made the work BETTER with their art. That's not something I encounter very often, and it made the collaborative aspect of High Level an absolute joy as my first foray into comics.
  3. Yes! I really enjoyed Hyper Light Drifter! 

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Q (trill13):

Was there anything from the Year Zero ARG that didn't go as you all expected? Maybe something that the fans/players didn't catch on to that you had to provide a nudge in the right direction? Or an element that the fans figured out before they were supposed to?

Thanks again for the AMA and good luck with the new project.

A:

The ARG experts at 42 Entertainment are masters at keeping the game structure just fluid enough that course corrections can be made in real-time to adapt to how the audience is playing the game. It's a fascinating art to observe and be a part of. One of the funnier unexpected things that happened was after we did the secret show as the culmination of the ARG, where a fake SWAT team burst into the warehouse and the players in attendance had to be rushed out in a frenzy as the SWAT team supposedly took NIN away. Some of the players who had that experience went back to the online community and exaggerated it, adding their own fiction to the experience. Some were saying they actually did get taken away by cops and held for interrogation all night long. We found out about this early the next morning when Trent's manager called him in a frenzy saying "I've got the lawyers on the line saying people are saying you kidnapped them last night and interrogated them?? What the hell is going on with this ARG??"

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Q (u/dennnnnnis):

What is your favorite piece of art you’ve created? What are you most proud of and why?

A: 

I can never decide, really. There's stuff that's really personal and important to me in different ways, but I tend to always go back to the Year Zero ARG and the Lights In The Sky tour production. Aside from how fun and collaborative they were to make, I think a big part of it is how unique it was to be so directly engaged with an audience and seeing its impact in real-time. You don't always get that sense when you put a piece of art or a piece of writing out into the world - people are experiencing it far away, and you rarely get to see them enjoying it and get that visceral feedback. But with the ARG and the tour, there's a rush of instant gratification in the whole experience, and really feeling the impact it had on the audience stuck with me.

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Q (u/MrsRandaII):

Have you ever thought about documenting your process? Something like this coming together with so many moving parts: comics, then graphic novel, soundtrack or in previous projects — the Year Zero ARG and then the Lights In The Sky tour and artwork. I would think people would love to see the behind the scenes of what it takes to make these things happen. Or do you prefer not to lift the veil on the effort behind the magic and just like the result be received without sharing the journey to it?

A:

I wish we'd had the foresight to film more of those big projects with a lot of moving parts, like the Year Zero ARG. You get so involved and things move so fast that the last thing you're thinking about is documenting the (often chaotic) process. Those type of things truly need an outside director/crew to be there from the beginning to capture and make sense of it all. We had a camera crew from Vevo filming the very hectic Tension 2013 tour production, and most of the time it was so annoying having cameras around and we wanted to tell them to get the fuck out of our faces. But we were glad we didn't, as it turned out to be really interesting having a document of the process (look up NIN Vevo Tension tour on YouTube, there are two making-of specials). Next time I'm involved with something like that, I'll push to get it documented if it's feasible.

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Q (u/Horican93):

How involved were you in the art of High Level. Obviously all credit to Barnaby and co who did amazing work, but as a visual artist, was there much back and forth/micromanaging, or were you able to give up some control?

Or in other words, did you feel more like a director, or a writer?

A:

Because I'm a very visual person, writing High Level was a lot more like directing for me. I wrote out a TON of visual details, which Barnaby and Rom translated in their own creative ways. There was a lot of back-and-forth early on, but as the series got going Barnaby really had the vibe down perfectly, and was always excellent at taking my descriptions and improving on them - a very rare creative collaboration! If you want to get a sense of how much was in the script and how it was adapted by the artists, I put some script-to-page features together here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/33801506 and I posted the full High Level chapter 1 script here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/33238967

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Q (u/nosmokewhereiam):

How do you organize the many projects you have going? Like, do you have a giant mind map, do you use a large calendar...?

I've always wondered how creative people track and follow up on the many things going on at once.

A:

This struggle is extremely real! When I was working for NIN as a full-time, my flaky creative brain was steered by specific projects, deadlines, and the band's manager keeping me on course. I didn't have to manage myself or figure out how to prioritize creative projects. Going out on my own was terrifying because I suddenly had to manage myself. And honestly, I got lucky by marrying a woman with a business background, who now manages and produces all my projects, negotiates and deals with money, schedules, priorities, answers emails, everything. It's a life saver that keeps me focused on my work, because I absolutely suck at administrative shit. Artists need managers, it's really true.

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Q (u/pandara9):

Good morning, Rob! Super excited for High Level and a fan of your work.

Do you get "stuck" when trying to think of new ideas to create and how do you overcome this block? What gets you inspired? Any tips for other artists on how to put your work out there and get noticed for a decent portfolio?

Thanks! Btw, love the color palette of High Level

A:

I absolutely get stuck. More often than not the "coming up with an idea" part is the worst part. I love when I just get an idea for a new thing, and I just go and make it. That always feels so inspiring. The worst is when I have a specific assignment - a project I took on that I felt like I would have ideas for - and then I feel like I have no ideas for it at all. I've racked my brain to the point of madness more than a few times, desperately feeling like I had no ideas at all and wanting to give up entirely. Usually it's in that madness and desperation, with the deadline looming, where the idea finally comes. That's one of the most relieving feelings.

As for artists getting noticed, it's harder than ever these days with so much out there and things moving so fast. The biggest hurdle I found is not being afraid to market yourself. Tell people about your work every chance you get, and be proud of it! A lot of people won't notice, but that's just the nature of content now. But eventually you'll get some people who do notice, and that can't happen if you're not reminding people loudly and proudly that you exist. It's a hard instinct to have as an artist, I loathe self-promotion. But you'll disappear without it.

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Q (u/GetReady72):

Rob, my favorite Twitter personality! What were the band's parting thoughts on HTDA when it had run it's course? I loved the music, art, videos. I took a vacation just to see you guys in Vegas and Garbage the night before. I recall the theater being rather empty though, and couldn't believe people wouldn't turn out for Trent and Co. Maybe it was just a Vegas thing though?

High Level is my jam. First comic I've bought in years. Now it's led me to Saga.

In light of the Oscars, it's a good time to relisten to Parasite!

A:

I don't know that there were "parting thoughts," because NIN was starting up right at the time of the HTDA tour, and one kind of blended into another, and then HTDA sadly just didn't continue. I really wish we'd had a chance to play more shows on that tour, it's one of the coolest things I've ever worked on and it's a damn shame only 13 cities got to see it!

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Q (u/zerohero83):

Did your year long away from the internet time affect your approach to any and all future art you’ve done/will do?

A:

Yes, absolutely. I recommend it for anyone feeling stale in their ideas. Marketing yourself on the internet is an exhausting but very necessary part of being an independent creator, and I still often hate doing it. But it's really, really healthy to take breaks and just spend some time in raw inspiration, away from the constant distractions and feedback loops, from negativity and toxic influences, and the feeling that nothing you're ever doing is enough.

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Q (u/humanjunk):

What is the absolute worst thing about the music industry and comic industry respectively and what is the best way to move past it?

A:

The worst things have always been corporate bullshit. AT&T bought Time Warner which owns DC right as I was launching High Level, and sure enough, Vertigo was first on the chopping block. Back in the mid-2000s the music industry collapsed because it couldn't adapt to digital, and that was because all of the labels had been bought up by giant uncaring corporations. Now, more than ever, indie is where it's at. Work with small labels who have tight teams of people who are in this because they care and they love what they're doing. Don't let your passion end up getting steered by the decisions of invisible corporate accountants or lawyers who don't even know who you are or what you make.

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Q (u/Meryl-D):

Hi Rob!
I'm sorry I don't actually have a question about High Level as I haven't read it yet (I do plan to order it soon, though!)
First, I'd like to see I absolutely love the art you did for the recent The New Regime record!

I have a question about one of the artworks you did for NIN's The Slip, specifically Demon Seed. What does it represent exactly? I like the way it stands out from the other artworks.

A:

Demon Seed was the end of the journey of the red line that moved through the artwork of that record, trying to make sense of the rigid forms, sometimes fighting them, before finally overtaking them. It was Trent's idea to have the line take over Demon Seed so completely/aggressively. It tied in to the meaning behind the music, which isn't my place to discuss as TR tends to keep that stuff close to his chest.

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Q (u/ConstipatedElephant):

Do you have any tips, advice, or suggestions for someone who’d like to get into creating their own glitch art?

Are old analog TVs and monitors a must-have? Can a lot be done in programs like photoshop? What are some key pieces of information or tips you’d be willing to share regarding the use of old tech like that?

A:

For me, using the old hardware was important as an artist, because it takes me out of the perfection and control of Photoshop, and the chaos of the flawed hardware gives back to the creation process as much as I put in. It's sort of collaborative, in that way. Of course you can fake a lot of it in Photoshop if you're skilled enough, but sometimes limitations are the best forms of creative freedom. I have yet to put together a proper tutorial on my specific glitch methods, but I did put an equipment list together to help people get started with experimentation (which is the biggest part of it): https://www.patreon.com/posts/getting-started-17726795

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Q (u/Huubidi):

Did you happen to cross paths with Marilyn Manson while he was working with Trent? Got any stories?

A:

Yes, when we were doing the Starfuckers video, and then when Manson joined NIN on stage at Madison Square Garden. Manson is a hell of a character, and a funny dude. I have some stories, buuuut I don't think they're for public release.

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Q (u/ZeeKrinkle):

Just picked up the first 3 issues of High-Level this weekend — for some reason it reminds me of some of the sci-fi coming out of China that Ken Liu has translated — have you read any?

What was your favorite opening act during your tenure with NIN?

A:

I haven't read any, but I'll have to check it out! When we were looking for artists for High Level, one of the things I wanted to capture was a distinctly non-American, vintage sci-fi style (Moebius was a main reference). So as soon as I saw the work of Barnaby Bagenda (from Indonesia) and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (from the Philippines) I loved the look they were bringing that reminded me of 70s Heavy Metal, 2000AD, etc. A core element of the story was that although it was a distinctly North American adventure, I wanted it to live in a future space where North America felt completely alien. Keeping the art stylistically away from what you'd see in contemporary American comics helped with that feeling tremendously.

For your second question... I don't know if I could name a favorite opening act (QOTSA were always a blast to tour with on a personal level), but I do have a distinct memory of a favorite opening act *performance*. It was Atari Teenage Riot opening for NIN at Brixton Academy in 1999. One of the band members wasn't feeling well so they decided to just do a 30-minute set of pure noise. It pissed off everyone in the crowd who was waiting for NIN, they booed and jeered - but ATR didn't care, they just kept going. It was punk as fuck. They actually released it as an album later: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_Brixton_Academy_(Atari_Teenage_Riot_album)

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Q (u/tupungato):

What webcomics do you enjoy?

Do you have a favorite XKCD?

A:

I need to discover more webcomics - recommendations appreciated!

As it happens, I do have a favorite XKCD. This one: https://www.xkcd.com/150/ hangs in our living room. My wife Steph had ordered a print of it years back before we got together, as it just so happened to be her favorite one as well. It's kind of our life mantra.

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Q (u/stonerhead_1984):

Rob, many artists in the past and present seem to promote their source of inspiration through usage of drugs and alcohol. What are safer alternatives you have taken or would consider young artists to practice to reach striking creativity in artwork?

A:

Taking breaks from the internet and getting out in the world, spending time in nature, isolating yourself or putting yourself in situations that are new or uncomfortable, traveling, etc. It's all about breaking out of your patterns and comfort zones and experiencing the world in new ways, and I think a lot of that can be had by pushing yourself into new experiences, no drugs required.

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Q (u/Chavaluria):

Hey Rob, greetings from México.

Recently you shot a video for L7 with an iPhone, giving you the files and quality needed for it.

Have you ever considered to record only using this device or do you prefer still using the "traditional" ones? (DSLR cameras, a proper recording cam, etc)

A:

I'm a big fan of using whatever hardware is available and gets the job done. I'm not a purist at all when it comes to that sort of thing. If you can express what you want to express with a phone, then I say do it. People don't realize how lo-fi and DIY most of my processes are. I've become very good at working very scrappy, and I think it's a valuable skill for every artist to have. Relying too much on your equipment can become very restricting.

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Q (u/catfoodparty):

hi Rob - you featured some of my collage work on your social media a few years back (for which i’m eternally grateful) — i had a question about making prints.

what set up do you use to make prints? i’d previously used a local fine art printer but i’ve been researching equipment and paper to use at home. i’m curious what you would recommend.

thanks ~

A:

I've been using an Epson Pro 4880 for years now, and the print quality is incredible. Pro printers are pricey (and huge), but it's great having the control of being able to make my own gallery-quality prints. A big part of it was finding the right paper though. After a lot of trial and error I settled on Hahnemuehle photo rag matte fine art paper. Absolutely beautiful quality, texture, and color reproduction.

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Q (u/ianmalcm):

Why do all the exciting forward-thinking contextual storytelling projects happen as a marketing exercise for something else?

A:

Because they're very, very expensive to execute well, and that's usually the only way they'll get funded. Sadly, it's very hard to just make something like that as pure art. We got very lucky with the Year Zero ARG in that we were able to get a marketing budget from Interscope and then use it to make something cool, without their involvement. I don't know that it could happen like that anymore.

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Q (u/Horican93):

How was working with Neil Kellerhouse? He’s one of my favorite designers who aren’t you

(Also did you ever get to directly work with David Fincher, or was it more remote?)

A:

Neil's fantastic, he's a true designer's designer, he really thinks about process in a dense and intellectual way that I was really in awe of. I'd love to work with him again. And yes, I did work directly with Fincher, I actually went to Sweden to film supplemental material on the set of Dragon Tattoo, stuff that we used for the Mouth Taped Shut viral campaign. David is incredibly intense, he's everything you'd think he would be. Brilliant, focused, and an aggressive perfectionist.

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Q (u/TurbinePoweredVagina):

Hi Rob! Do you have any dream projects, like some medium or format you've always wanted to try, or a big idea that would take a ton of time & resources? Also, what was art school like for you?

A:

I think my next dream projects are in video games and film/TV. I have some ideas and am currently developing some pitches in those directions!

I really enjoyed art school. Growing up in the middle class suburbs, my high school was very focused on sports and barely had any funding/support for the arts. I was "the art kid," that's how few we had. So going to New York for art school and suddenly finding myself in a huge cultured melting pot of a city with thousands of other kids who were "the art kid" from their schools was an incredible, mind-opening experience for me.

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Q (u/beatsmike):

Hi, Rob!

If you were to develop a video game (in whatever role, creative dir., writer, artist, etc.) what kind of game would it be?

Love your work, and I'm picking up High Level this morning at my coffee/comic shop. Thanks for giving me an excuse to treat myself (and for making a dope looking thing).

A:

Thanks! I actually have one eye on video games for future projects. I love video games so much, it feels like a natural step. There are a lot of types of games I'd be interested in making, but I specifically have some ideas for 2D platform/Metroidvania games that I'd really love to explore. Partially because I'm an old school gamer, but also because it feels like an approachable scale to get started with.

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Q (u/Skaryon):

Hey there! First time I learned about you. Your art immediately intrigued me, so I ordered high level right away :) My question: What do you think makes good sci-fi?

A:

Thank you! I think the ingredients of good sci-fi are the same ingredients of good horror: They extrapolate our current societal anxieties and express them in fantastical ways, to help us better deal with them. Some of the greatest science fiction work of all time has been rooted in contemporary social commentary, but masked in a futuristic setting. Sci-fi, horror, and fantasy allow people to escape the structures and biases of their real-life experiences and process raw emotions in a displaced setting. Sci-fi is a tremendously powerful and important medium, and I think it's foolish to dismiss it as pure escapism.

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Q (u/Max_McDougall):

Hi Rob. Always been a fan of your work. Do you have any stories about specific technology that's left a mark with you, taught you new ways of thinking? For me I've explored and learned so much from understanding the functionality of CRT displays. From Vector and Raster based art, how the shadow mask works, the fact that I'm manipulating a particle accelerator with magnets.. I attribute my current career as a lighting designer, moving light/media server programmer, and general work/artistic endeavors with my years of tinkering and learning from these devices. Just wondering if there might be a specific tool or piece of technology that was influential to you?

A:

There have been a lot of new technologies that have opened up creative possibilities for me - and, in turn, career possibilities. For example, prosumer DV cameras and Final Cut Pro made it possible for me to edit my first commercial concert film, NIN's "And All That Could Have Been" in 2001, entirely in-house on a Mac at Nothing Studios without any fancy/expensive Avid rigs that were the standard at the time. That gave us a degree of control, and a freedom from budget, that allowed me to learn the craft and develop skills as I went along. Was I the most experienced editor? Not even close. But did I know the material and aesthetic the best (I filmed most of it)? Absolutely. So thanks to that new technology, the person closest to the work had the flexibility to become the one to assemble it, and from then on, I was a video editor.

In terms of perhaps a bit more what you're talking about - CRTs in particular - in recent years I've found it's the *removal* of technology that's opened me up most artistically. I've been a digital guy my whole career, it played very well with my desire for solo creative control. But when you can do anything with digital, it can become a creative hinderance. Working with CRTs and VCRs and other analog hardware has made me more creative through the limitations and chaos of the medium.

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Q (u/mdfmkmfdm):

Just wanted to let you know how amazing and inspirational your work is. I’ve been a huge NIN fanatic most my life and it wasn’t just the music that inspired me. It was also the art that accompanied with music that brought it into an almost tangible experience. My computer is full of screen savers of your work and I never get sick of looking at it. Thank you for all you have (and will) do. Question: is there any way your work might be ever be released in an art book form that’s not a limited edition NIN promotion?

A:

Thanks! I don't own the work I did for NIN, so it's up to them how they might want to release it in the future. A NIN art book (or series of books) would be awesome, though. I am working on a book of my analog glitch art!

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Q (u/DouzePancakes):

Hi Rob,
I can honestly say that you are my main inspiration for doing photography, ever since I've watched every flickr album for each show during NIN tours, your traveling pictures and every single picture off of the Ghosts project for example.
What has been your all-time favourite gear to use (cameras, lenses) for concert, traveling, etc. ?
Thank you.

A:

I tend to be pretty simple and minimal when it comes to gear. I've been using the same camera (Canon 5D Mark III) and lenses (EF 24-70mm F2.8, 50mm F1.4, and 70-200 F2.8) for years, as they can accomplish pretty much anything I need, unless I'm doing high-end film work where I need to rent some pro cinema cameras. A bit more on my camera/lens approach here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/16185299

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Q (u/What_The_Funk):

I've been wanting to create a comic/graphic novel of my own recently. Trying to prepare, I didn't find a lot of good resources on storytelling for comics/graphic novels. Or resources on anything but the graphical art component. Now that you've gone through the process, what were your biggest learnings with highlevel and what would you recommend an amateur/noob like me? Thanks for the ama.

A:

Definitely check out Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics," if you haven't. Then I would look at resources for learning about script writing and film directing in equal measures - not the specific mechanics of them, but the conceptual approach of how to tell a story visually. Comics writing is like a combination of those two things, and a lot of the lessons you can learn from directors and screenwriters can be applied to comics. I was fortunate enough to have a great editor, Andy Khouri, guiding me through the process and teaching me all the comics-specific storytelling tricks. I started out by writing spec scripts for existing characters. Pick a comic character whose world/characters your'e familiar with, and write an issue with a simple story structure. That takes away all the creative agony of developing your own characters, and gives you a space to just practice the storytelling parts of it. When you're comfortable doing that, it'll make writing your own story/characters so much easier.

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Q (u/SomeDude0839):

Rob, your work with digital and analog manipulation of images is consistently outstanding, and has inspired me tremendously. What processes beyond glitch manipulation have you explored? Have you worked with any alternative development processes for film? And would you ever want to work with film photography again? Thanks so much!

A:

I think spending so much time in all-digital work is what pushed me towards analog methods of experimentation. Everything can get be controlled and perfected with digital, which I found myself taking advantage of to a fault years ago when I started to get really good at digital work. There was something liberating about starting to work with physical hardware, damaged scanners, macro photography, old VCRs and CRT TVs. They introduce an element of chaos and remove some of the control, which I feel has made me a better artist. I don't know much about alternative film development processes, but it's definitely something in the same vein as my analog manipulation that I'd be interested in exploring.

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Q (u/Smegmasaurus_Rex):

Do you have any interest in venturing into narrative film?

A:

Yes. My next round of pitches will also include film and TV!

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