Amy Brereton Gives Life to a Wonderfully Macabre Underworld

This Canadian illustrator has brought a carnival of gorgeous horrors to Tokyo.
Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) «Papillon» illustration.

Amy Brereton (@amybrereton) brings life (or death) with her illustrations which embody horror. In her universe, mythological and spooky creatures and pop culture beings emerge from the depths with disfigured grimaces, blank and tearful stares, drops of blood, and sharp weapons.

Meandering black line-work is the protagonist of her drawings, making them seem to have materialized from the pure darkness, twisted on itself. Her colors are dark reds, pinks, and pale greens, colors of death.

Amy Brereton (@amybrereton) created this mermaids for her Pisces «Horrorscope».

However, there is something else about the creatures that Amy draws. They all seem to have a sweetness, an innocence, which contrasts with their terrifying appearance. They did not seek to do evil, they did not want to produce terror, but something led them to be cursed and that is why they appear to suffer. This gives an unsettling depth to Amy’s art.

Amy was born in the Canadian city of Calgary and studied art in Vancouver, but for more than a year she has lived in Tokyo. Fascinated by her illustrations, I met her and posed these questions.

Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) cursed Sailor Moon.

Chorareii: How would you define yourself as an artist, or how would you define your style of illustration?

Amy: I always struggle to answer this question as I hate writing “artist statements” [laughs]. I’d describe my aesthetic as being quite romantic, feminine, and macabre simultaneously. Most of my work has a gentle sense of melancholy surrounding it, especially my comics.

While living in Tokyo, I’ve realized my illustrations shares similarities with a genre of art specific to Japan called “kawaii noir”. Japanese artist Junko Mizuno popularized this category of art. She inspires me a lot, along with many other underground manga authors.

Why did you decide that Japan was the place you wanted to be?

I’ve been an avid Manga reader since I was a kid,  and in fact, a lot of my first childhood drawings were done in a generic “anime style”. this specific interest in illustration has lead me to gain a wider appreciation of Japanese culture. Japan has a very developed visual language, which as an illustrator is nothing short of inspiring. 

Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) first repeated pattern, based on a demon boy illustration.

Your illustrations are certainly scary! What is your connection to horror? How did it become your form of expression?

Since I was very young I’ve felt a very strong lust for life, but simultaneously a fear of death that most people define as “existential dread.” I feel as though the horror genre is almost an extension of this kind of dread that most of us feel. It’s an expression of our fears, our anxieties. The dark elements of my own work are symbolic of my personal feelings surrounding mortality and impermanence; the fear of the unknown.

You mentioned a personal connection with the Japanese illustration style known as “kawaii noir”. We just talked about the “noir” side, but what is your kawaii side?

My work has a very “feminine” side, so to speak. I love drawing mermaids, unicorns, butterflies, clowns, and flowers for instance. I feel a strong connection to “girly” imagery which makes me nostalgic for my childhood.

Gemini clown twins from Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) «Horrorscopes».

You already mentioned Junko Mizuno. What are your other artistic references, especially the Japanese ones?

Off the top of my head, I can’t recommend enough horror manga authors Suehiro Maruo, Shintaro Kago, Junji Ito,  Shigeru Mizuki, Hideshi Hino, and Kazuo Umezu.

Another manga artist that I love is Inio Asano, who created the “Goodnight Punpun” series. The series begins with the main character as an elementary school child and continues until he is an adult. I had never before read a comic that serializes a character’s entire adolescence. He goes through really intimate moments of growth and coming of age that are quite relatable at times. It’s a fantastic comic, but a total tear-jerker at times. 

«Icharus» by Amy Brereton (@amybrereton).

Other than manga, I’m also really interested in early PS2 character designs. Specifically, I love a Capcom fighting game called “Darkstalkers,” where all the characters are zombies, vampires … “Volfosd” is another game with insane character design. 

I want to know more about your creative process!

I read comics all the time. To get inspired, I need to spend as much time consuming art as I do creating art.

When I was in art school, I didn’t have time to explore enough art —you’re always busy with assignments, part-time jobs … When you’re just working on art, for assignments that you’re not super passionate about,  it’s easy to burnout.

In my opinion, a part of any artistic process is based on growing admiration for other artists, having them within you as inspiration. My goal is to be as good of an illustrator as those I admire. This seemingly unattainable goal keeps me constantly motivated. 

«Pearly-Whitey the Clown» by Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton). This character appears at the cover of Zero Lee’s short-story anthology «Give Birth to a Bastard.»

You have your own Horrorscopes”, tell me about this project. Are you an esoteric or spiritual person?

Ironically, I don’t really believe in astrology. When I lived in Vancouver, many of the people around me were very into it, to the point that phrases like “Oh, you are such a Capricorn …!” came out in everyday conversations.

In a way, “Horrorscopes” pokes fun with our generation’s obsession with astrology. In my case, it was interesting to explore the different personality traits that astrology associates with each sign, and to try to create personalities and an imagery that was like a kawaii noir version of the horoscope.

«Horrorscopes» fanzine cover by Amy Brereton (@amybrereton). Graphic design by Tanner (@psi.tallstar).

So it’s clear that you don’t believe in astrology. Even so, the universe of horror is often associated with this idea of ​​things that surround us but that we cannot see, or that they belong to a different and darker world. Have you ever seen a ghost?

I’ve never seen a ghost! I’ve never had that kind of experience, although some people around me claim they have.

For me, it’s very interesting that each culture has its own way of defining darkness. Overall though, I suppose it’s a way in which we humans try to explain the inexplicable. Here in Japan, I feel that the interest in dark culture is very strong. 

Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) «Hypochondria.»

How has life in Japan influenced your art?

The cultural importance of illustration in Japan is truly inspiring. Here you can see comics everywhere, everyone reads them, from kids to salary men.

I was used to people not taking Illustration or art as serious work, but here it’s completely different. In Japan, everything has a mascot, illustrations and visual icons are used for posters or to give information … This is really useful when you don’t speak the language, and it has made me realise how visual information can be important and universal. 

It’s very encouraging to be part of a society in which illustration and comics play such an important role.

Horror-style Kuromi fan art. She’s Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) favorite Sanrio character.

Where do you go in Tokyo when you need inspiration?

I’m addicted to Book Off! Book Off is a second-hand Japanese chain that sells books, movies, hobby items and collectibles… I like to collect figures and memorabilia. In Book Off they usually have very interesting art books. Also, there are many things in Japan that never became popular in Canada, so it’s always inspiring to explore.

My room is now filled with inspiring books and objects. It’s also my studio, so it’s very important for me to have a pleasant environment that helps me draw. In Japan I can always find these kinds of books that I can have as a reference when I’m creating.

Evil Leo mirror from Amy Brereton’s (@amybrereton) «Horrorscopes». Graphic design by Tanner (@psi.tallstar).

You are working on your first full-lenght comic project right now. Tell me how it is!

I’ve actually worked on many different comics before, but mostly for zines and anthologies. You can find these comics floating around on my social media! I’ve was quite active in the comic community up until COVID happened. I used to table at comic events frequently, it was one of my favorite ways to connect with comic enthusiasts and creators. 

I’m currently writing my first full-length comic collection that will be published under the title “Atrocity Carnival.” This anthology will include surrealist comics which I have written about the theme of circus, including its complexities and nuances. When completed I expect “Atrocity Carnival” to be about 80 pages. I’m very passionate about this project and am excited to share more about it as it becomes more developed.

«Merry-Goes-Round» illustration for the comic «Atrocity Carnival» that Amy Brereton (@amybrereton) is currently working on. 

What other projects would you like to do in the future?

I’m excited to continue developing my own personal projects as well as collaborating with other artists. Specifically I could see myself working more closely with other comic authors and musicians to develop visuals and album artwork. Currently, I’ve been working closely with a small publishing house called Bitterspoonful, which publishes lowbrow non fiction. 

Me sigue ilusionando trabajar en mis proyectos personales y colaborar con otros artistas. Concretamente, podría verme trabajando con otros autores de cómics y también desarrollando imágenes y portadas de álbumes para músicos. Actualmente, he estado colaborando con una pequeña editorial llamada Bitterspoonful, que publica no-ficción lowbrow.

Portrait of Amy Brereton (@amybrereton) at Book-Off, the place where she goes for inspiration.

Buy Amy Brereton’s products on Big Cartel.

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