The Delightful Horrors Of Ryan Heshka’s Sci-Fi World

This young Manitoban illustrator wrote the book on vintage monsters–literally.

“Camp is esoteric,” wrote Susan Sontag in 1962, “something of a private code, a badge of identity even.” Every generation has its own style, an ineffable language that articulates itself through visual culture and film. Baby Boomers have comic books and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, while millennials have R.L Stine and Battle Royale. Illustrator Ryan Heshka loves them all: pin-ups and aliens from the ’30s, vampires from the ’20s, and villains from the ’70s.


“I think the term ‘retro’ is a bit loaded,” says the Vancouver-based artist. “The last thing I want to do is recreate the past. I want to be in the moment, or even a bit beyond the moment, and create work that speaks to people’s collective conscious.” For Heshka, that means worlds populated by femme-fatale sirens and comic book heroes, always under the specter of gargantuan monsters. “I am, and have always been, very comfortable with the look and feel of the 1930s (which made me a very odd little kid in the 1970s).” But Heshka prefers to see himself as a kind of historical free agent, moving fluidly between styles and periods according to what interests him. His work appeared in a remarkably diverse collection of publications, from The New York Times and Playboy to Welcome to Monster Town, a 32-page book of monster stories “for readers young and old who relish the uncanny and macabre.”

Heshka’s paintings are full of horrors, from giant octopi to zombies, but they tend to be fairly ambivalent monsters–more interested in the long-gammed ladies floating in their midst than on destruction of humankind. “I used to lose myself in creating my own comics, animated films (flip books or paper cutouts) and stop motion monster movies,” he remembers. His paintings are similarly immersive, labyrinths of factories, humans, and aliens. In his series Instinction, Heshka uses the human body as a kind of pattern, weaving voluptuous women and wide-shouldered comic book heroes into architectural spaces.

This year, Heshka is working on something entirely new–a short film, produced with a musician buddy who’s teaching him the ins and outs of digital production. Despite a number of professional digressions, his instincts as an artist have never steered him wrong. “My career path has been very circular: I was a chronic drawer when I was a kid, fascinated with dinosaurs, insects, super heroes, outer space, and cities,” he says. After “growing out” of it, he received a degree in interior design, imagining that the field would be a more practical use of his talent, to no avail. “I needed something more creatively fulfilling, so I turned to illustration, which in turn led me into the gallery world. So here I am again, drawing and painting dinosaurs, insects, super heroes, outer space, and cities!”

[H/t Visual News]


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.