words by Noor Hindi, photos by Ashley Koury
When Matt Horak walked into his first Comic-Con at the age of 12, he knew he wanted to pursue art for the rest of his life. He’d spent mostof his childhood reading The Adventures of Tintin and biking to Kenmore Komics with his friends. Although 12-year-old Matt couldn’t have known that he’d grow up and become the new illustrator for Marvel’s The Punisher, he did spend much his time at the convention sharing his sketches with artists and editors.
Matt acknowledges that his childhood sketches weren’t that great, but he says his young age never stopped him from being confident. Admittedly, he was probably a little too confident.
“I always thought I was better than half the guys who drew at Marvel,” says Matt. “Not true, obviously, but I wasn’t afraid to show my stuff, and I knew that was the only way to get feedback and learn.”
Years later, Matt’s skills would grow. His love of music and art led him to his job at EarthQuaker Devices, a guitar effects pedal manufacturing company headquartered in Akron. He’s worked there for five years and he designs the artwork for the pedals. He’s also created a comic book called Octo Skull. Matt’s studio, decorated with action figures and strange toys, is also located at EarthQuaker. He loves the location because he frequently hears musicians testing the pedals across the hall.
“EarthQuaker does me right,” says Matt. “The 9-5 office thing isn’t for me, and this is a way for me to make it work.”
Matt enjoys working on Octo Skull because it gives him the freedom to design and write for the comic as he wants.
“Octo Skull is a little bit of a dumdum,” says Matt. “He’s not the smartest guy and he’s trying to do what’s right, but he’s not a hero. He’s just trying not to make everything worse.”
Matt’s six-year-old daughter, Layali, also loves drawing. Layali frequently visits her dad in the office and uses his drawing supplies. When Matt was young, his mother encouraged him to pursue art, and he tries to do the same for Layali, who wants to be an artist when she grows up.
“My mom was creative,” says Matt. “She always did crafts with us, and she would make her own Play-Doh. We weren’t super well off when I was young so she would make stuff for us.”
Matt’s grandmother also supported his artistic endeavors. He picked up his first Tintin comic at her house and says she always had drawing pads with small doodles on them sitting next to the phone book. Although Matt isn’t sure where his love of comics came from, he says he always gravitated towards them despite the challenges of making a career out of comic book illustration.
Matt says he would have continued drawing comics whether or not Marvel gave him a gig.
“Eventually at a certain point I realized I had no other useful skills,” says Matt. “You can’t stop, you have to keep doing it. It has to be something that you want to do, that you’d probably be doing anyway and then hopefully someone takes notice.”
Matt is excited about working for Marvel. When he received the email asking if he’d illustrate The Punisher, Matt was at an anniversary dinner at Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland with his partner Saffiyah. He ordered the $50 steak to celebrate.
“I grew up loving Marvel comics,” says Matt. “I gave love to The Punisher and I read a lot of punisher stories. I really like him.”
Matt also likes Venom and Madcap, but as a kid, Matt’s biggest influences included the Tintin books, the Ed Emberley drawing books, and artists Mike Mignola, Michael Golden and Arthur Adams.
Throughout his career as an artist, Matt has had a few odd gigs. He once drew diagrams for instructions on recovery from hip surgery. One of the diagrams he drew included ways to have sex with your partner without damaging your new hip. He says that it was weird, but paid.
His only regret as an artist is not drawing naked ladies for the kids at his high school that would pick on him. He says that would have been a great way to make money.
“I didn’t like those kids anyway,” says Matt. “Maybe I would do it on my own time for my own self but I would never do it for them.”
Although working for Marvel is a big deal, Matt has no desire to leave Akron. He still enjoys visiting Kenmore Komics and he says Crest Bakery inspires him. Matt also likes Akron because it’s cheap to live here, which has given him the time and space to practice drawing.
“Comics is a job that doesn’t pay that great,” says Matt. “But it’s plenty [in Akron]. For years, I could work on drawing comics and work three hours delivering Chinese food five days a week and make enough to cover my rent and bills.”
Matt currently lives in Highland Square. Moving forward, he hopes to receive more projects from Marvel.
Check out Octo Skull at earthquakerdevices.com. The Punisher is available at any comic book store.
Noor Hindi is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at The University of Akron. She is usually very nervous. Check her out at nervouspoodlepoetry.com.