The Forgotten Development of Evil Ernie and Interview with Eric Mache
By Jimmy Calabrese for Coffin Comics
The year was 1989 and a young filmmaker influenced by his love of horror movies saw a chance to make his own mark on the horror landscape. But with a grandiose script that called for huge special effects, that even the biggest names in cinema couldn’t get funded, the undeterred young man teamed up with best in the NY horror scene and unknowingly created an overnight comic book horror sensation that Gene Simmons (KISS) in Fangoria magazine praised as “a bloody butcher shop”! This is that story told first hand by Eric Mache, who sat at the right hand of Brian Pulido during that pivotal moment to draw out the true essence of an undead teenage psychotic killer – this is the forgotten development of Evil Ernie!
COFFIN COMICS (CC): Eric, can you give us a little bit of your background?
ERIC MACHE (EM): I’ve been drawing all my life, as far back as I can remember. I’ve got a Masters in Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is where I started doing a lot of cartoons. I had a very influential teacher there who was very much into the underground comic scene like ZAP Comics, and for one of our assignments, he had us doing our own ZAP Comics. And as it worked out, I loved it. It was my favorite assignment and that led to an ongoing comic strip in the college weekly newspaper.
One of the biggest influences on my artwork is S. Clay Wilson, who did the Checkered Demon series in ZAP Comics. He was fantastic as far as I was concerned. And I also loved all the old MAD Magazines the art of John Severin and Jack Davis. The old parodies.
After graduation I moved to New York City a couple years later, where I started doing hardcover book illustrations and also, artwork for exploitation films by people like Joe Brenner and Alexander Beck. The artwork would go in the big variety magazines they used to have for the film festivals.
CC: Are there any films that people might be familiar with?
EM: God, there was so many of them. I did one for Greg Lamberson for the film he directed called Slime City. I did the original artwork for the movie poster, which I think was where Brian Pulido first noticed my work. Slime City was a pivotal 80’s low budget NYC horror film, along with Basket Case. It had a cult following.
Brian got a hold of me. I never met Brian before and he and his friend Adam Goldfine came over to my house with a vague idea about putting together a zombie comic. I think Brian actually started off thinking of it as a film script, but later turned into a comic. He had all these ideas in mind, but he didn’t have any artwork. He just had these very rudimentary sketches he had done. We discussed the whole thing and I worked up some promo art for Evil Ernie and Lady Death.
I had Brian pose for Evil Ernie wearing a straitjacket and a huge grin, giving him a more evil look on his face.
Lady Death was actually modeled after a Playboy centerfold he liked a lot and that was further developed by Brian and Steven Hughes into the Lady Death we all know.
CC: So for Lady Death, Brian gave you all the ideas he imagined and you worked out the design for him?
EM: He said, “Put her in some lingerie add some skulls to it and stuff,” so that’s what I did. And we, ha, the funny thing is that we had Brian’s friend Adam Goldfine pose as the Lady Death character. Ha, you know, just to get the pose right. (laughs)
CC: So Brian just tracked you down because of your artwork? Did you have any mutual friends?
EM: We both lived in New York so we both knew all the same people. We’d all go to the same kind of chiller shows and we’d all go to the same conventions. If you didn’t know a person, you’d know someone who knew them. The cult horror community in New York was very small. You know, it might have been a Fangoria connection because at the time I was, and I still am, good friends with Tony Timpone, who used to be the editor there. So that might have been it.
CC: So what can you tell me about your horror influences back then?
EM: I’ve always been into horror ever since I was a little kid. In my interest in horror, I did a lot of reviews for Something Weird Video for their horror titles. I was doing a lot promotion/concept artwork for Johnny Gruesome.
I was heavily into the Italian horror scene. I used to go down to 42nd Street in Times Square all the time and I would see every single one of those damn things when they had the first showings. No matter how bad they were, I loved every single one of them. I was good friends with Rich Sullivan, who put out the Gore Gazette at the time. He also had a thing in NYC called Club 57. This was way before the days of video. Rick Sullivan would show horror movies — very obscure ones like the Ilsa series and Martin by George Romero before anyone had seen them. He’d also have guest stars come in like Dian Thorn and John Ashland, the guy who played Martin. People like that. It was the only way you could get to see obscure horror movies at that time. Then once VHS came, we’d all be trading between each other and that’s when the horror community really mushroomed. All of the sudden, you’d know people in Europe you’d be trading VHS with. Japan. Whatever.
CC: Going back to the development of Evil Ernie, how long did it take you do? One weekend? A few months? Who took those pictures I saw of Brian posing as Evil Ernie?
EM: I’m a photographer and filmmaker as well. So I would use reference photos and Evil Ernie obviously IS Brian. It’s always been Brian (laughs). It never really changed as far as being Brian from the 1990’s. I took photos and worked from the photos.
I did four covers and a lingerie issue page for him. I also did a lot of other promotional drawings for Brian. We did one which I thought was pretty good.
It was a black and white drawing of Evil Ernie at the end of a pier and there were all these kinda punk zombie bikers and skaters going off the pier behind Evil Ernie.
CC: So Brian brought you a sketch of what he wanted in Evil Ernie, so then you took pictures of him. Who’s idea was it to base the character off Brian?
EM: It was Brian’s idea. He pretty much had in mind what he wanted for all the characters, except for Lady Death. That was kinda foggy. He knew that we wanted the girl to look like the Playboy centerfold, but he didn’t quite know what to do as far as the rest of it went.
It actually wasn’t until Steven Hughes came along and developed her to the point she’s at now. I can’t take credit for that, all I did was take her to the point of the promo material.
CC: So this was like character development you did with Brian?
EM: Between the two of us, Brian and I, we came up with the characters and they were pretty good at that point. I think Evil Ernie we pretty much nailed, especially when I took it to the cover of Evil Ernie #1. What we did was take a look at the promo art that I did and he said, “Well, I think we should make the mouth bigger, we should make the teeth more rotten, invert the eyes, take away his chest and make it so we can see his innards.” You know, that sorta thing.
CC: Was this all talk about making a movie still or was this the comic book only?
EM: At that point, he gave me the script to read so I would get the background of the character and I pretty much knew what the whole thing was about. And at that point he was pretty much resolved to making a comic book about it. As far as I remember. Let me qualify that. (laughs)
CC: It was a couple years ago… (laughs)
EM: (laughs) Yeah, I’m 64 and my memory is not as good as Brian’s, but I’m pretty sure at that point we only talked about making a comic book. By the time he met me, he realized that was an awfully expensive project to make into a movie with all the destruction and mayhem.
CC: Oh yeah.
EM: That would be a horribly expensive movie even if they had all the current GCI and stuff of today, which would bankrupt you in two seconds. So once he resolved himself to the comic, it gave him a sense of a little more freedom with how he could develop the character. He could go all out, go really crazy with it and take it to even more epic proportions than he could have ever done in a movie.
CC: How come you didn’t keep going with Lady Death? How come Steven Hughes took over the character and not you?
EM: Well, at the time, I had a million other things I was doing at the same time. I was doing commercial art, advertising, photography and brochures. That sorta thing. And frankly, it was making me a lot more money.
CC: So working with Brian was more of a fun project you did?
EM: If you are in the arts, you kinda have to keep your hand in it or else you will go nuts. If you just do all the commercial art, you will go nuts, and to do this with Brian and have it in the horror theme, it was a great thing. I was kinda tickled to do it. I was having a good time doing it and it was a nice change from all the corporate crap I was doing.
CC: I bet. Being able to draw a psychotic teenager is a little different. (laughs)
EM: Yeah, dealing with all these suites every day and this corporate world. Yeah, the money’s fine but it gets old really quickly.
CC: Did you develop any of the other characters like Smiley the Psychotic Button, Chastity, or Purgatori?
EM: No, I wasn’t in that far into it. He brought me back to do some other covers, and one which I think was the best one with Ernie with the world blowing up behind him. I really enjoyed doing that because I was able to see what Steven had done and bring it into my style.
CC: Do you have any memories of working Brian back in those early days?
EM: Oh yeah. Brian was a hell of a lot of fun. Hell of a lotta fun. He was always enthusiastic, so enthusiastic he was like a little kid. Like a 15 yeah old kid. “Yeah, yeah, lets do this, lets do that. How about this? I’ll roll on the ground and you take a picture of me and then you draw that?” Oh, ok calm down Brian. (laughs) Yeah, he was probably one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met in my life, which was probably the reason he brought the whole thing together so successfully over the years. You know, because he had this drive but there was this sense of fun behind it. Infectious enthusiasm that would get you going. At one point we considered me doing the inside illustrations before Steven came along and I started doing some drawings and then came to realize I really didn’t have the time to do it. We went to this one hotel for a convention, I can’t remember for what, and I had to take some pictures of him and he ended up rolling on the ground doing all these poses that he thought would be good for the inside art and it was hilarious.
CC: Did you ever meet Francisca Pulido?
EM: I love Francisca, yeah she’s great. I knew her from the start. She was right behind him 100% from the very start. Yeah, she would do anything she could to bring the project along. She was great. I think he had a little bit in mind to model Lady Death after her too. For the original sketch, I always kinda had it in the back of my mind to use her as the model behind it.
CC: Which makes sense because Evil Ernie is Brian…
EM: I think at the time we did Brian posing as Evil Ernie he was actually wearing my leather jacket. And the last Evil Ernie cover I did, I didn’t use Brian as a model. I used myself as the model and just added the Evil Ernie features to it.
The only time I actually met Stephen was at New York Comic Con. We were all doing signings for the first issue. So it was very early in the game.
CC: What did you think of Stephen? Did you guys get along?
EM: Yeah, he was fine. He actually did a drawing for me which was very nice, which I still have. Stephen came along later. He wasn’t actually there in the beginning. He was brought in because I decided I didn’t want to do the insides of the comics because I had too much other stuff to do.
And I couldn’t do them fast enough in the time I had between the other projects. And I just liked doing covers more than doing inside illustrations. We actually did a lot of back and forth to develop the character. It didn’t just happen on the first get-together.
CC: How long did it take to get to the final concept art to be completed?
EM: I would say about a month of going back and forth. And by the time we got around to doing the Evil Ernie #1 cover, we had it pretty well done. Even then he was still making corrections. Elongate the face a little, put a few more teeth in here, this that and the other thing. You know. It was always for the best. It was a great collaboration because his ideas and my ideas worked very well together and by the time Evil Ernie #1 was completed, we got what we were looking for. Brian was definitely there along the way giving his input.
CC: It sounds like you guys were on the same wavelength since you were both into the same horror community.
EM: Very much so. We both had a great passion for the horror movies. Especially the zombie movies at the time the Italian horror movies were playing at 42nd Street. Argento’s Demons and all those Italian zombie movies were great. Brian took that zombie idea and ran with it and pulled off the Evil Ernie concept perfectly. He was able to make an epic horror movie in comic book form, which was the second best thing for what he really wanted to do, which was a movie. Like I said before, the comic genre gave him the opportunity to just go crazy. Brian has a lot of great ideas in his mind and he knows how to get the best people together to execute. And he just keeps going and going and going. I personally would have run out of ideas at this time but he just keeps churning them out, God bless him. He’s great.
CC: What are working on today?
EM: I have a DVD company called Wild East Productions that restores mostly spaghetti westerns. We do interviews with directors, the stars and all that. It’s been very successful we are on our 64th release now. I do all the artwork for the covers and all the graphics and I also shoot the images.
I’ve gotten very much into shooting and editing now. I’m also working on a feature documentary Lunch With Arthur King. It’s on IMDb and it’s about legendary New York City agent Archer King, who discovered Martin Sheen, Danny DeVito, Ron Howard and people like that.
We just interviewed Ron Howard for it. We shot about 3 hours of footage with Arthur and then he passed away. We are lucky we got that. Now, we are going around to old clients and friends to complete the story.
CC: Anything else you want the fans to know?
EM: Just that Brian is the best. He’s a helleva guy to work with, I loved working with him. If everyone that gave me work was as enthusiastic as he was, you know hell! Not only that, he’s been a good friend since then and he’s always been willing to help out, as you can see from him allowing this interview to set the story straight. I think Brian is the reason the comic has been successful over all these years. Because Brian, he’s been dogging everybody to get things right. He doesn’t just put out things that “will do.” He waits until the time’s right and he’s satisfied and then he lets it go. It doesn’t go out until he’s satisfied.
CC: You didn’t get this in-depth with Lady Death though, correct?
EM: I pretty much did that one version of her and left her alone. At that point I started doing some inside sketches and then I decided I didn’t have the time.
CC: Evil Ernie and Lady Death are such a beloved characters with all the fan art, tattoos and influence on other comic book artists, so it’s really great that you were a part of that and can share their legacies!
EM: Yeah, I’m thrilled!
– Coffin Comics