Tom Hodge Interview : Author of ‘VHS: Video Cover Art’
Tom 'The Dude Designs' Hodge is a freelance art director, designer and illustrator of key art for movies such as, 'They Live' and 'Savage Streets'. He's also worked on numerous poster campaigns, including 'Hobo With A Shot Gun', 'The Innkeepers' and Troma's 'Fathers Day'. Tom's love and passion for VHS cover art is clearly evident within his own work and his unique ability for creating exceptional visual pieces are enough to demand anyone’s attention.
This month see's the release of Tom's first book, 'VHS: Video Cover Art', of which he is the designer and curator. The book is a collection of over 240 complete video sleeve artworks, many seen here for the very first time. Whether you’re a fan of movies or a fan of art in general, this book is quite simply fascinating and will immediately transport you straight back to those wondrous days of the video store!
Recently I was lucky enough to catch up with Tom to talk a little about his new book and his love for VHS.
RP: Tom, thank you so much for speaking with me today. How are you?
Yeah not bad thanks!
RP: Do you remember the first VHS you ever rented?
Yes I do! I went to the video shop with my Mum and cousin, I remember being in awe of all these movies on the walls. It was the first video shop in the area, it was called 'Blaby Video' (named after the village it was in). I rented Tron and my cousin rented the Hulk movie, he tried to make out he’d picked the better film… oh boy was he wrong!!!
RP: When did you first become interested in VHS cover art?
I was a VHS addict from the start and all the tapes back then had such amazing covers for all these random films, you couldn’t help but get excited by the artwork. We (me and my cousin) used to get loads of old sample covers from the local mobile video shop, I still remember the excitement of going through the boxes of covers and picking out the ones we wanted. 3 of those covers which survived have actually made it into the book; Trapped, The Chinese Typewriter and The Big Town.
RP: Can you recall the first cover you worked on?
The first commissioned cover I worked on was Jaguar Lives. It feels kind of rough now looking back on it.
RP: As an artist, what inspires you and who are your favourite artists?
Lots of things inspire me, I’m quite a visual hoarder. But for the poster work its mainly a mixture of old poster art, video covers and pulp fiction books.
My favourite artists have to be Enzo Sciotti, Renato Casaro, Caudio Casaro, Graham Humpherys, Laurent Melki, Drew Struzan, Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazzetta.
RP: Are you generally allowed full artistic freedom when designing cover art?
Well to a degree, but there is always criteria which you have to cover, elements the director wants to include or two concepts get merged into one. I do try to talk people around if I feel super strongly about a visual aesthetic. Like life though, some compromises usually have to take place.
RP: You've designed countless covers and posters for movies, is there a particular piece that you're really fond of?
It varies depending on what new job comes in, I’m quite chuffed about a piece I did for a cult zombie film at the end of last year, but it hasn’t been released yet. Obviously Hobo with a shotgun has stood me in good stead and I do love The Innkeepers poster still.
RP: What's the worst cover to a movie you've ever seen? Whether it be past or present.
Well I’m always surprised how they keep butchering films on DVD covers, especially some of the classics which already have great artwork. So virtually any new design created for general DVD release 2000 upwards.
RP: When did you first get the idea to do this book?
It was an idea I had been toying with for ages, I’d dip into all these amazing video cover artworks for reference and there was no books out there which treated video cover art in the same way they do with poster art. There have been some video books released in the past but mostly they focus on collecting or they crop the covers etc. I wanted something which clearly and concisely displayed the whole image and was a good solid collection of the best designed video covers.
It was screaming out to be done. I even told people who had published film books that they should do one, but no one took the hint. I guess I was the one who had the passion and drive to see it though, so I knuckled down and did it myself. It was a lot more work than I realised, I even had to miss my birthday last year to work on it. So it was a total labour of love.
RP: The book contains a foreword by fellow VHS obsessive and man from Mondo, Justin Ishmael. How did Justin become involved?
That was a sort of last minute thing, I had to compile some testimonials for the back cover and I spoke to Rob Jones at Mondo having worked with him on ‘The Heat’ (he project managed that job), It was his idea to speak to Justin who he said was a massive VHS head and he’d most likely be up for writing a foreword. So I sent over the working artwork for the book and told him about the project, he obviously knew me from my work and ’The Heat’, he loved it and said yes basically.
RP: Can you remember how many VHS covers you looked through in total while compiling the book?
Man, hundreds! I scanned a load more than I put in the book too, but you have to cull the page count at some point!
As well as my own collection I met up with two of the UK’s most prolific collectors Dale Lloyd: Viva VHS (www.vivavhs.co.uk) and Phil Baker: Video Collector (www.videocollector.co.uk) who between them have over 9000 videos!
RP: The particular style of cover art featured in your book seemed to fade away during the 1990's, what do you think of the path that it's taking today? I mean as far as most being slapped together in photoshop?
Yeah it sucks, films are poorly represented and the covers don’t inspire anymore, not like they used to. Its all homogenized crap for supermarket sales, distribution sales departments have the final say and its some suited guy/girl who has no creative training. So to do something they can easily quantify and control they drag it all down to a basic level.
RP: Why do you think cover art is so important?
Because it was a cultural art form which touched us all growing up. I still see the isles in the video shop as a sort of twisted pop art gallery, they inspired creativity and imagination in kids and I think its had a lasting effect on anyone who experienced it in its heyday. You always see people smile and their eyes light up with, "Ah yeah, I remember that cover at the video shop". Its art as far as I see it!
RP: Finally, if you had to pick your favourite 80's movie based on the film itself and its cover art, what would you pick?
So many!! I love Neon Maniacs, which is why I’m holding it on the cover! All be it flawed and a troubled production, its a great 80s concept for a horror film and its only a film which could have been made back then, with the characters being Monsters, Samurai's, Rambo's etc. The young budding director makes horror films on her video camera with the teen kids at school and the grand finale is at the school disco, complete with bad 80s bands! It has it all!!!
Tom Hodge's new book ‘VHS: Video Cover Art’ is available for pre-order NOW at www.vhsvideocoverart.com
For more information on Tom's work, you can also visit his official site www.thedudedesigns.com