I'm an artist, art director, and writer, known for my glitch art. You can see some of my work at http://rob-sheridan.com
The last time I did an AMA was over a decade ago, during my 15-year tenure as art director for Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor (although I was most recently Reddit-famous for watching CATS on mushrooms). In recent years I've gone independent to pursue my own writing/directing/art projects. The first of those is a sci-fi graphic novel called "High Level," in book stores today on DC/Vertigo Comics. We're also launching a very cool original score for the comic, created by Steven Alexander Ryan and Justin McGrath (of The Black Queen), which is streaming free at http://highlevelcomic.com
Ask me anything!
EDIT: I have to move on with my release day schedule now, but thank you so much to everyone who showed up and asked great questions, I wish I could answer them all but I'd be here all week. I really appreciate all the fan support in recent years -- I couldn't do any of this without you, and it means the world to me that my work resonates with so many. THANK YOU!
Do you think there's a future for multimedia storytelling such as the Year Zero ARG? When that was going on, I thought many stories would be told after it in a similar way, but it didn't happen. And why do you think that is?
It's a really good question, and I genuinely don't know. I think one of the things that made Year Zero special in the context of multimedia storytelling was that we didn't approach it as marketing. We purely wanted to create an art experience, and took advantage of an album marketing budget to make it happen. Because there was no company making sure we were pushing a product enough, or marketing research people making sure we covered specific demographics or did certain things in certain ways, we were free to create the experience we wanted, and that made it more pure and authentic to the fans who followed along. That's rare, because building a campaign on that scale is VERY expensive, and you certainly don't see record labels (or movie studios, etc) handing out that kind of money and asking for no control anymore. I think people are yearning for real-world experiences that extend out across media and outside of the internet the way ARGs did, but it's really difficult to make them happen in today's climate, especially without just coming across as crass marketing.
Hey Rob! Love everything you’ve done, from your work with NIN and HTDA to High Level to Population Paste.
1) You’re a phenomenal writer and I miss your blogs. Any chance of Demon Baby ever making a comeback, even as just occasional one-offs?
2) What led to you leaving NIN and LA? It all seemed abrupt from the fan side but obviously we know nothing.
Looking forward to checking High Level out now that the whole first volume is in one compendium!
Rob, how do you deal with constant NIN/HTDA related questions? You seem to be taking it in stride for sure and I know you’re still cool with everyone but does it get tiring?
I was with NIN/TR/HTDA for 15 years, almost half of my adult life and my entire professional career at the time we parted ways. I didn't go to college (I left art school after one year to work with NIN), I didn't have a normal journey through the professional world, and being on tour with a rock band wasn't a very normal way to spend my 20s & 30s. I 100% grew up with NIN (even before my career, as a fan in high school), and learned everything from the experience, and became who I am as an artist. So it's always going to be in the fabric of who I am. So, you know, I guess to me it's just like a filmmaker getting questions about their early work. I do tire of people asking me current questions about Trent that I have nothing to do with, but it's not too often anymore.
What would you say is the best way to support artists for people who don't have a lot of money to spend?
Share their work! The hardest thing amidst the speed and noise of the internet is getting noticed. If there's an artist you love, spread the word where you can. If you love artists who make products, like video game developers or authors, give their stuff good reviews/ratings in the places they're sold. Little things like that help boost their work in a world of algorithms.
Oh, also - TELL THEM how much you love their work! I forget to do this sometimes, I appreciate things people create and just take for granted - especially if they're successful - that they hear enough how awesome they are. But artists who aren't as well known don't hear it nearly enough, and that bit of encouragement can mean a lot.
Hi Rob. Let me say that I loooove your work. Especially the nin design and the video for the black queen.
Two questions: One for you and one that'll piss you off I guess because it's the typical nin fan question stuff.
Q1: As an artist you had the tools (ideas and abilities) for High Level but I'd be interested how you approached the project itself. I mean, creating glitch art and telling a story in a comic are pretty different. Did you study comic books from a different POV or did you have someone who helped you on your first steps?
Q2: regarding nin/trent - I'd just be interested how trent (and you when it was your work) felt about fans using nin stuff and trent pics for photoshops, shitposts etc. Trent approved remixes of his songs on nin.com a while ago before it went away but how did he feel about the same thing with pictures?
Hope you're doing great and have an awesome week.
Who inspired you to get into visual arts, specifically the "glitch art" style? Who do you follow on social media for inspiration or because you enjoy their work (if anyone)? I love your work and you are a source of inspiration for me. Thank you!
I grew up drawing - I wanted to draw comics when I was a kid, actually - and experimenting with computer art as soon as I could, so visual art has always been a huge part of my life. I really didn't get into glitch art until I started working with Trent and NIN. I learned a lot from watching him in the studio recording The Fragile, how he would use things the "wrong" way to get new sounds. The beauty in noise and chaos. So when tasked with making art to accompany his sounds, I started thinking about ways to use visual tools the "wrong" way, and my first glitch art aesthetic - for the "With Teeth" album - was born.
Are you on good terms with Trent/NIN/HTDA, and is there a possibility you might work together in the future?
Yeah, I am. Not sure what the future holds, but I definitely would work with Trent again. Haven't seen him in quite some time, so I'm looking forward to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in May!
Hi, Rob! Congrats on High Level! I'm sorry my questions are kinda random;
1) The colors you tend to work with are always really visually interesting to me, and from all the pics you tweet, your entire house seems to be decked out in the stuff. How did you do that? What inspired it and what got you started? Has changing your lighting improved your quality of life in some way? 1.5) If someone wanted to set up something similar, how should they start?
2) A ton of people do webcomics and enjoy how they can be in control of everything and work at their own pace as their ideas develop. How long did it take you to get started on High Level? What was it like working with a team? Did working with others improve the experience?
3) [Bonus] Have you played Hyper Light Drifter? It's an indie game that came out in 2016 and aesthetically seems like it might be up your alley. It's also entirely dependant on the visuals and sound design to tell the story. (On mobile rn. Here's the opening https://youtu.be/9rVdUufUBss)
Have you ever thought about documenting your process? Something like this coming together with so many moving parts: comics, then graphic novel, soundtrack or in previous projects — the Year Zero ARG and then the Lights In The Sky tour and artwork. I would think people would love to see the behind the scenes of what it takes to make these things happen. Or do you prefer not to lift the veil on the effort behind the magic and just like the result be received without sharing the journey to it?
I wish we'd had the foresight to film more of those big projects with a lot of moving parts, like the Year Zero ARG. You get so involved and things move so fast that the last thing you're thinking about is documenting the (often chaotic) process. Those type of things truly need an outside director/crew to be there from the beginning to capture and make sense of it all. We had a camera crew from Vevo filming the very hectic Tension 2013 tour production, and most of the time it was so annoying having cameras around and we wanted to tell them to get the fuck out of our faces. But we were glad we didn't, as it turned out to be really interesting having a document of the process (look up NIN Vevo Tension tour on YouTube, there are two making-of specials). Next time I'm involved with something like that, I'll push to get it documented if it's feasible.
Rob, my favorite Twitter personality! What were the band's parting thoughts on HTDA when it had run it's course? I loved the music, art, videos. I took a vacation just to see you guys in Vegas and Garbage the night before. I recall the theater being rather empty though, and couldn't believe people wouldn't turn out for Trent and Co. Maybe it was just a Vegas thing though?
High Level is my jam. First comic I've bought in years. Now it's led me to Saga.
In light of the Oscars, it's a good time to relisten to Parasite!
I don't know that there were "parting thoughts," because NIN was starting up right at the time of the HTDA tour, and one kind of blended into another, and then HTDA sadly just didn't continue. I really wish we'd had a chance to play more shows on that tour, it's one of the coolest things I've ever worked on and it's a damn shame only 13 cities got to see it!
Hello Rob! Glad to see You outside of Patreon.Is there anything from everyday life that inspired You and eventually developed into visuals of Your NIN/ High Level work? Like Gary Talpas with Pretty Hate Machine cover.Thank You for giving us a dancing baby gif.
The first album art I was ever tasked with making was for NIN's "Things Falling Apart." It was a companion album to "The Fragile," which David Carson did the art for. Carson was a design hero of mine, so of course playing in his style was exhilarating but also very intimidating for a very young, very new designer. A lot of Carson's imagery was accidental snapshots of every day things that he'd capture with disposable cameras and polaroids, and the out-of-focus nature of them turned simple things into abstract art (the red texture on the cover of The Fragile is an out-of-focus snapshot of the inside of a shell, for example). To start capturing some of my own for TFA, I experimented with a macro lens for the first time, and later bought one to make imagery with. It sounds like basic art school shit now because you can get a macro lens for your phone for like $30, but it was very expensive niche equipment back then. Through that lens, and taking what I'd learned from Carson, I started to see art and texture in everything I looked at. Needing new imagery for a project and just looking around wherever I am and finding tiny details in it has never steered me wrong ever since.
Hey Rob! Do you think there a was a drug you could have taken to make Cats actually enjoyable? Does enough cocaine and ecstasy exist in the world?
I don't know much about Valium, but I think something in that realm with a very numbing quality might be the only way to go. CATS on cocaine seems like a NIGHTMARE.
Will you ever consider, before your retire or something, making a new, modern dancing baby website in order to bring your career full circle?
Only if I can break some sort of record for how many html tables and hideous animated GIFs can be put into one web page.
What is your favorite piece of art you’ve created? What are you most proud of and why?
I can never decide, really. There's stuff that's really personal and important to me in different ways, but I tend to always go back to the Year Zero ARG and the Lights In The Sky tour production. Aside from how fun and collaborative they were to make, I think a big part of it is how unique it was to be so directly engaged with an audience and seeing its impact in real-time. You don't always get that sense when you put a piece of art or a piece of writing out into the world - people are experiencing it far away, and you rarely get to see them enjoying it and get that visceral feedback. But with the ARG and the tour, there's a rush of instant gratification in the whole experience, and really feeling the impact it had on the audience stuck with me.
How long have you had the story for High Level in mind? Was this a years in the making idea or something over a couple months?
I've been sketching some of the characters for many years, but they didn't have a story behind them yet, they just had spaces and aesthetics. I had just really refined the character of Thirteen and started thinking about stories I could put her in when my editor at Vertigo reached out asking if I had any pitch ideas. It happened at a time when I was traveling offline and aimless with my wife in an RV, living in the forest, and the world was heading in a dark direction at the time. It got me thinking a lot about a lot of themes that became the world of High Level, and over the next few months an entire world came together, mostly written in the forest. One of those rare creative situations where all of the stars seemed to align.
do you find that imposter syndrome never goes away, even when you’re Rob Sheridan?
It never, ever goes away, and don't let anyone tell you it does. I think it's just a part of having a creative personality and having to put that part of yourself out into the world to be consumed and judged.
I love the idea of a companion album. Who came up with the idea and how did you decide that Justin and Asian Steve would be a good fit?
Steve and Justin and I have been friends for a long time through NIN, and one of my favorite things about them (and the whole Black Queen gang) is that, like me, they love making cool shit just for the sake of making cool shit. Profit isn't their concern (which, as artists, is always one of our great strengths and worst faults), they'll go out of the way to make stuff cool or make unique experiences, and that's something that's always been important to me and was really important when I was with NIN. So it started with me wanting to put a trailer together for High Level ahead of the first issue coming out last year. I asked Steve if I could use some instrumental Black Queen music since they own it and it wouldn't get flagged for copyright or whatever. Steve said "let me make something new for this, it would be cool." What he made is the track "Ascension," and it sounded so perfect for the vibe that it spurred a conversation about how cool it would be to have an ambient soundtrack designed to be listened to while you read a comic. And then, as the comic rolled on and we kept talking about it, him and Justin just started... making it! Now they have almost 40 tracks done, and they're just doing it for the sake of making something cool. Now it's turned into a triple vinyl release on the horizon! It's so much fun working with people who think of art first and practicality later. It's not always a good approach in today's climate, but it's awfully refreshing.
You are a man that likes to create puzzles and secrets with in your art and design. Through out your career and the history of NIN there has been lots of secretes and hiding puzzles created. Has the public completely missed any, and if so can you give us a hint on where to look?
I am a huge fan of your work. Your design work inspired me to become a designer my self!
It is near impossible to get anything past the scrutiny of NIN fans. I can't think of anything that was missed. In fact, the fans were SO good at seeking out hidden things that we sometimes had to throw them off the trail. Ahead of releases they started looking for open directories on the NIN website to see if there were any files up that weren't meant to be public. So one time we left a HUGE zip file sitting in a folder called like /newalbum or something like that. The zip was filled with huge WAV files of long static noise. So of course the web snoopers found them and thought they'd outsmarted us, only to end up pulling their hair out trying to piece together a puzzle that didn't exist.
Do you have any tips, advice, or suggestions for someone who’d like to get into creating their own glitch art?
Are old analog TVs and monitors a must-have? Can a lot be done in programs like photoshop? What are some key pieces of information or tips you’d be willing to share regarding the use of old tech like that?
For me, using the old hardware was important as an artist, because it takes me out of the perfection and control of Photoshop, and the chaos of the flawed hardware gives back to the creation process as much as I put in. It's sort of collaborative, in that way. Of course you can fake a lot of it in Photoshop if you're skilled enough, but sometimes limitations are the best forms of creative freedom. I have yet to put together a proper tutorial on my specific glitch methods, but I did put an equipment list together to help people get started with experimentation (which is the biggest part of it): https://www.patreon.com/posts/getting-started-17726795
Did your year long away from the internet time affect your approach to any and all future art you’ve done/will do?
Yes, absolutely. I recommend it for anyone feeling stale in their ideas. Marketing yourself on the internet is an exhausting but very necessary part of being an independent creator, and I still often hate doing it. But it's really, really healthy to take breaks and just spend some time in raw inspiration, away from the constant distractions and feedback loops, from negativity and toxic influences, and the feeling that nothing you're ever doing is enough.
Aside from high level, do have anything else coming soon ?
Loved the work you did with NIN, be it the Bleed through / With Teeth, Year Zero and The Slip art or all the photographs you did for Ghosts. I also truly believe your artwork starting with How to destroy angels and leading to your glitch series is terrific.
What's your academic background and what led you to work with NIN and such huge productions ? Your work encompasses so many different mediums such as photography, digital and analog manipulations, drawing, painting...
Life's a bit strange for me right now and I'm trying to reevaluate it. I studied business and graduated with a bachelor degree, went on to do a masters, worked for a year in retail and quit my job. Truth is, I've never liked my studies not my job. In my spare time I like to shot photographs and work mainly with film (35mm, instant film, maybe medium format some day...) and people seem to like my output and tell me that I'm talented by I tried so many times to have my work published without much success... Only got 4 pictures featured in a fanzine once and a shirt interview on Lomography's website but that's about it.
I'd like to share my work, have it printed or exhibited, I'd like to study silkscreen printing, cyanotypes and risography but I'm not sure how that would pan out and I'm afraid I'd be back to square one and without a job just like I am right now...
Anyway, love your work and I might grab a copy of High Level even though I'm not usually into comics ! But cyberpunk and Rob Sheridan ? It's gotta be good !
Yes, lots more on the way - I'm busier than ever working on pitches for comics, TV, film, games, and some other unusual and very cool things I can't talk about yet!
I'm definitely the wrong person to ask about academics. I'm not formally trained in anything that I do professionally, I'm pretty much entirely self-taught. So I'm a big advocate for developing fundamental aesthetic skills, whether that's design or competition, or storytelling or communication. I was often thrust into a lot of new situations early in my career with NIN because Trent liked to do things in-house and trusted my artistic sensibilities and my understanding of what he was trying to say creatively. So there was a lot of "Let's just have Rob do it. Rob, you can do [thing I'd never done before], right?" and I said sure, I'll figure it out, and I learned new technical skills as I went along. I'm always hesitant to pretend I can offer any useful career advice, because my career trajectory has been so unusual. It's really hard to find a business in art, these days more than ever, and I got very lucky to have the opportunity I did to develop a career under the umbrella of NIN. Don't stop making art though, no matter what.
Hey Rob! Has there been any proyect you thought about but never really got the chance to execute?
The Year Zero HBO series never being completed haunts me to this day.
Love you Rob♡ I don't know what to ask but... How's going your day?
It just started, still waiting for the caffeine to kick in while I attempt to make my words sound smart here.
Okay, this might seem like a silly question, but do you know of the dancing baby meme? Because it was popularized by a guy named Rob Sheridan, and it seems at least slightly plausible it could be you and I haven't found any evidence that it isn't you. So I know it probably isn't you who made the dancing baby webpage, but.... is it?
I have confessed to my crimes in full: https://www.patreon.com/posts/i-have-to-make-16584611
I'm sorry I don't actually have a question about High Level as I haven't read it yet (I do plan to order it soon, though!)
First, I'd like to see I absolutely love the art you did for the recent The New Regime record!
I have a question about one of the artworks you did for NIN's The Slip, specifically Demon Seed. What does it represent exactly? I like the way it stands out from the other artworks.
Demon Seed was the end of the journey of the red line that moved through the artwork of that record, trying to make sense of the rigid forms, sometimes fighting them, before finally overtaking them. It was Trent's idea to have the line take over Demon Seed so completely/aggressively. It tied in to the meaning behind the music, which isn't my place to discuss as TR tends to keep that stuff close to his chest.
Rob, firstly, after following you for pretty much all your career, I want to congratulate you on everything you have worked hard for!
Few questions. 1) Is graphic novel available in UK stores? 2) You said its going to be two volumes. Whats next once you complete them. Do you have any other ideas for future stories outside this world or would you like to explore other mediums. The idea of you doing another ARG would be wonderful? 3) The shots of your place and collection on twitter makes me envious. Your house is on fire. Your wife and pets are safe....whats the one prized possession you grab?
Thanks for being one of the few artists I follow engaging with his followers on twitter!
Rob, I was a member of your Patreon (I went by Dr. Dipterroria) for a while and I loved the interaction and tutorials. Any chance you might consider doing something like a master's class on analogue glitch?
The analog glitch tutorial is the one I get asked about the most, and I've thought a lot about the best way to do it. So much of the methodology relies on experimentation and stumbling upon the right (or, in this case, maybe *wrong*) hardware. Something on the scale of a master class might be appropriate, that's a good idea!
Hi Rob - what did you learn while living in the forest? And how long were you there?
Thank you. Your artwork is amazing.
Steph and I were both increasingly feeling buried by our lives in every way when she came into my life at the beginning of 2016. I don't even know how it happened, but there was this mutual desire to burn it all down and just leave - sell our houses, sell our stuff, leave our cities and our careers, buy an RV, and just... GO. So we did, and it was very out of character for me (my friends/family thought I'd lost it), but somehow it turned out to be exactly what I needed. We stayed in the forest as long as we could - most of 2016 and part of 2017 - before the money started running out and a lot of realities of life started to creep back in. I came to really embrace minimalism, I started to view all the "stuff" I used to so preciously collect as just heavy emptiness weighing me down. I realized how little I actually needed to be happy, and how few of the things I thought were making me happy actually were. It was a very revelatory experience, and I'm really hoping we can do it again - perhaps in a less life-destroying way next time, but the fire and urgency of that experience were really necessary.
Other than Dancing Baby, are there any other atrocities you've secretly bestowed upon us?
What do you believe are the pros and cons of working at NIN?
Demand for perfection and demand for perfection.
Hey Rob, greetings from México.
Recently you shot a video for L7 with an iPhone, giving you the files and quality needed for it.
Have you ever considered to record only using this device or do you prefer still using the "traditional" ones? (DSLR cameras, a proper recording cam, etc)
I'm a big fan of using whatever hardware is available and gets the job done. I'm not a purist at all when it comes to that sort of thing. If you can express what you want to express with a phone, then I say do it. People don't realize how lo-fi and DIY most of my processes are. I've become very good at working very scrappy, and I think it's a valuable skill for every artist to have. Relying too much on your equipment can become very restricting.
Was there anything from the Year Zero ARG that didn't go as you all expected? Maybe something that the fans/players didn't catch on to that you had to provide a nudge in the right direction? Or an element that the fans figured out before they were supposed to?
Thanks again for the AMA and good luck with the new project.
The ARG experts at 42 Entertainment are masters at keeping the game structure just fluid enough that course corrections can be made in real-time to adapt to how the audience is playing the game. It's a fascinating art to observe and be a part of. One of the funnier unexpected things that happened was after we did the secret show as the culmination of the ARG, where a fake SWAT team burst into the warehouse and the players in attendance had to be rushed out in a frenzy as the SWAT team supposedly took NIN away. Some of the players who had that experience went back to the online community and exaggerated it, adding their own fiction to the experience. Some were saying they actually did get taken away by cops and held for interrogation all night long. We found out about this early the next morning when Trent's manager called him in a frenzy saying "I've got the lawyers on the line saying people are saying you kidnapped them last night and interrogated them?? What the hell is going on with this ARG??"
I LOVED High Level! Will it continue even though DC shuttered Vertigo?
Also, what is one of your best memories working with NIN over the years?
Thanks! The short answer is yes, High Level will continue one way or another, although I don't know where. I need to finish the story though, the whole thing has been planned out for several years, so I'll make it happen somehow. I answered this a bit more here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/f28eyi/i_am_rob_sheridan_authorcreator_of_the_comic_high/fhb50n2/
Best memories working with NIN? Definitely the various tour productions. Creating art that thousands of people experience in real time, and adapting it and changing it and feeling the visceral energy of the crowd as they go on a journey you've helped create... there's nothing like it.
What is something currently on your mind, maybe non-relevant, yet you could share?
Also, favourite city when you toured?
Thanks! Honestly I just woke up to get this going so the main thing on my mind currently is coffee.
I think my favorite city would have to be Tokyo. Every time I go there I discover weird and incredible new things, and the people are always so wonderful.
Hey Rob, your personal photos on your site inspired me to start photography several years ago. I had the chance to tell you that when I met you on the street in Asheville! What are the odds we see more personal photo journeys from you?
My most recent, and most personal photo series I've ever taken, is this series I call "wander," taken 2016-2017 while traveling offline and aimless with my now-wife Steph: https://www.rob-sheridan.com/photography/wander/1/thumbs - it re-inspired my love of landscape photography, and I found something new to say in that space when I didn't think I had anything left. But it really requires escaping into world, and I haven't had much time for that type of art-centric travel in the past couple years. So I really hope to get out and do some photo trips this year or next, I already miss it.
What is the absolute worst thing about the music industry and comic industry respectively and what is the best way to move past it?
The worst things have always been corporate bullshit. AT&T bought Time Warner which owns DC right as I was launching High Level, and sure enough, Vertigo was first on the chopping block. Back in the mid-2000s the music industry collapsed because it couldn't adapt to digital, and that was because all of the labels had been bought up by giant uncaring corporations. Now, more than ever, indie is where it's at. Work with small labels who have tight teams of people who are in this because they care and they love what they're doing. Don't let your passion end up getting steered by the decisions of invisible corporate accountants or lawyers who don't even know who you are or what you make.
hi Rob - you featured some of my collage work on your social media a few years back (for which i’m eternally grateful) — i had a question about making prints.
what set up do you use to make prints? i’d previously used a local fine art printer but i’ve been researching equipment and paper to use at home. i’m curious what you would recommend.
I've been using an Epson Pro 4880 for years now, and the print quality is incredible. Pro printers are pricey (and huge), but it's great having the control of being able to make my own gallery-quality prints. A big part of it was finding the right paper though. After a lot of trial and error I settled on Hahnemuehle photo rag matte fine art paper. Absolutely beautiful quality, texture, and color reproduction.
Why do all the exciting forward-thinking contextual storytelling projects happen as a marketing exercise for something else?
Because they're very, very expensive to execute well, and that's usually the only way they'll get funded. Sadly, it's very hard to just make something like that as pure art. We got very lucky with the Year Zero ARG in that we were able to get a marketing budget from Interscope and then use it to make something cool, without their involvement. I don't know that it could happen like that anymore.
Whatever happened to the Closure DVD release?
Interscope at the time decided they didn't want to release it, so we leaked what we'd made so far onto Pirate Bay.
Rob, many artists in the past and present seem to promote their source of inspiration through usage of drugs and alcohol. What are safer alternatives you have taken or would consider young artists to practice to reach striking creativity in artwork?
Taking breaks from the internet and getting out in the world, spending time in nature, isolating yourself or putting yourself in situations that are new or uncomfortable, traveling, etc. It's all about breaking out of your patterns and comfort zones and experiencing the world in new ways, and I think a lot of that can be had by pushing yourself into new experiences, no drugs required.
Did McDonald's really copy the fragile art work or was that just good Photoshop?
To this day I don't know if that photo is real or not.
Rob, what is your favourite music/bands or ambient musicians to create to lately, or do you work in complete silence?
I try to seed Spotify playlist radio with stuff like Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and various soundtracks to see what new stuff it pulls up in that vein. I should probably put an updated playlist together of my work music, since I get asked that a lot. If I'm just editing photos or doing design, I can listen to pretty much anything, but if I'm writing it has to be instrumental ambient.
Dancing baby AMA next week?
Hey, we're here now, and it does say "Anything."
How was working with Neil Kellerhouse? He’s one of my favorite designers who aren’t you
(Also did you ever get to directly work with David Fincher, or was it more remote?)
Neil's fantastic, he's a true designer's designer, he really thinks about process in a dense and intellectual way that I was really in awe of. I'd love to work with him again. And yes, I did work directly with Fincher, I actually went to Sweden to film supplemental material on the set of Dragon Tattoo, stuff that we used for the Mouth Taped Shut viral campaign. David is incredibly intense, he's everything you'd think he would be. Brilliant, focused, and an aggressive perfectionist.
What webcomics do you enjoy?
Do you have a favorite XKCD?
I need to discover more webcomics - recommendations appreciated!
As it happens, I do have a favorite XKCD. This one: https://www.xkcd.com/150/ hangs in our living room. My wife Steph had ordered a print of it years back before we got together, as it just so happened to be her favorite one as well. It's kind of our life mantra.
Alright, there is something hidden in the static-stuff at the end of the Ascension EP.
I know you are a "hide things in the static or the margins" kind of guy.... so... wat is it?
Not only am I that kind of guy, but so are Steve and Justin, which is why they're so fun to work with. My lips are sealed! Secret messages are fun.
If you were to develop a video game (in whatever role, creative dir., writer, artist, etc.) what kind of game would it be?
Love your work, and I'm picking up High Level this morning at my coffee/comic shop. Thanks for giving me an excuse to treat myself (and for making a dope looking thing).
Thanks! I actually have one eye on video games for future projects. I love video games so much, it feels like a natural step. There are a lot of types of games I'd be interested in making, but I specifically have some ideas for 2D platform/Metroidvania games that I'd really love to explore. Partially because I'm an old school gamer, but also because it feels like an approachable scale to get started with.
Are you interested at all in immersive theater? They're similar to ARGs, and it seems companies are pumping out money to produce activations for different IP. Do you see High Level possibly including an ARG component?
I would have loved to do a High Level ARG, but there was no marketing budget whatsoever (stuff like the soundtrack is just us doing stuff in our spare time because we want to). In the future I hope to work on films or video games where we have the budget to create new immersive experiences. I'm definitely interested in immersive theater and have been talking with some interesting people about projects in that world...
I’ve been following your work forever and watched from the screen as you worked your way through different projects with NIN, saw your personal life in LA blossom and then shatter, followed you into the woods and out again, and now get to take in the current happy and married Rob with his comic and his life in Seattle.
A couple of questions from my observations, and forgive me if they’re prodding and overly-personal -
How did you know it was time to walk away from the LA life? You responded earlier that you felt it was time, but what really signals that? It seems being comfortable as part of a rock n roll institution would really make the decision difficult, despite the personal issues surrounding you. My goal is stability in life at all times, so hats off to you for taking a chance on yourself and coming out better.
How difficult was it to settle the dust of divorce and to collaborate with Tamar on the Puscifer tour and any other projects you’ve crossed over on? Any divorced couple I know can’t stand the sight of one another, let alone the notion of collaborating and making creative decisions together.
And here’s the most personal - as I mentioned having followed both you and Tamar through your relationship and marriage and divorce, it seemed to build slow and burn quick. Was it one of those things where you just didn’t really investigate your own feelings for one another and just took the standard course of a typical relationship? Did the marriage itself force you to recognize things you didn’t pay attention to before? It’s nosey of me to ask, but relationships are fascinating. When we’re only let in on a sliver of them, the behind the curtain things we imagine are endless and reckless and toxic. The reality, should you care to share, is probably much less exciting that what anyone would imagine.
Thank you for all of your work through the years. You’ve really set a indelible mark on the NIN legacy that’s been such a part of my life, and now part of my family’s life as well. We continue to enjoy your output and look forward to every new project.
As far as leaving LA, and changing my life in every conceivable way, I'm not sure there was any decision or particular point where I knew it - I didn't know it until afterwards, looking back. It's hard to explain, but sometimes you have to tear some things down before you find out why.
As for Tam, our long friendship was strong enough to allow us to work together, and I don't really want to get into the specifics of all that any further, out of respect to her privacy, as she remains a friend who I care about.
Hi Rob, love your work! Do you have any desire, thoughts, or plans to collaborate with Trent Reznor and NIN again? Maybe new HTDA?
I know his schedule is packed and you’ve moved on, but now that you’ve had a break and had the opportunity to create more personal works, is that something you would consider?
I'm sure it will happen in the future
Hey Rob! Absolutely love your work. Just curious how you got started with Trent?
I made a NIN fan site when I was in high school, and NIN was looking for a fan to work on their first official website, back in '99. They found my site, reached out to me, and I got the job. It was a true dream situation for me.
I can honestly say that you are my main inspiration for doing photography, ever since I've watched every flickr album for each show during NIN tours, your traveling pictures and every single picture off of the Ghosts project for example.
What has been your all-time favourite gear to use (cameras, lenses) for concert, traveling, etc. ?
I tend to be pretty simple and minimal when it comes to gear. I've been using the same camera (Canon 5D Mark III) and lenses (EF 24-70mm F2.8, 50mm F1.4, and 70-200 F2.8) for years, as they can accomplish pretty much anything I need, unless I'm doing high-end film work where I need to rent some pro cinema cameras. A bit more on my camera/lens approach here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/16185299
Good morning, Rob! Super excited for High Level and a fan of your work.
Do you get "stuck" when trying to think of new ideas to create and how do you overcome this block? What gets you inspired? Any tips for other artists on how to put your work out there and get noticed for a decent portfolio?
Thanks! Btw, love the color palette of High Level
I absolutely get stuck. More often than not the "coming up with an idea" part is the worst part. I love when I just get an idea for a new thing, and I just go and make it. That always feels so inspiring. The worst is when I have a specific assignment - a project I took on that I felt like I would have ideas for - and then I feel like I have no ideas for it at all. I've racked my brain to the point of madness more than a few times, desperately feeling like I had no ideas at all and wanting to give up entirely. Usually it's in that madness and desperation, with the deadline looming, where the idea finally comes. That's one of the most relieving feelings.
As for artists getting noticed, it's harder than ever these days with so much out there and things moving so fast. The biggest hurdle I found is not being afraid to market yourself. Tell people about your work every chance you get, and be proud of it! A lot of people won't notice, but that's just the nature of content now. But eventually you'll get some people who do notice, and that can't happen if you're not reminding people loudly and proudly that you exist. It's a hard instinct to have as an artist, I loathe self-promotion. But you'll disappear without it.
Next time I visit WA, can I come stay in your storage unit? ;) or at least pay you to look through your NIN stuff?
I think eBay has pretty much drained the NIN stuff at this point, although somehow I keep finding more. I really hoarded a lot!
How would you recommend displaying the photo proofs you recently put up for auction? I love the multi-sided, multi-directionality of the one my husband and I got, but I have no idea how to display it properly.
When I was signing those, I realized I didn't know which way to sign them because there's no proper "top" or "bottom." I actually had the thought "I'm glad I'm not the one who has to figure out how to display this!" I don't think there's any right or wrong way, they're so unique in that regard and that's what makes them cool. Go with your gut! (and thanks for bidding on those for the charity auction!)
Did you happen to cross paths with Marilyn Manson while he was working with Trent? Got any stories?
Yes, when we were doing the Starfuckers video, and then when Manson joined NIN on stage at Madison Square Garden. Manson is a hell of a character, and a funny dude. I have some stories, buuuut I don't think they're for public release.
What's your process like for creating the VHS glitch art? I absolutely adore that stuff!
It involves a lot of hunting for old TVs and VCRs at thrift shops, breaking them until they start behaving weirdly but still function, and a LOT of experimentation! I'll do a proper tutorial on it at some point (I get that request a lot), but for now this post might give you some insight: https://www.patreon.com/posts/getting-started-17726795
Hello, Rob! I love your work! Two years ago I purchased a set of Xmas cards and sent them out to friends and I still see them sitting out or tagged to fridges when I visit their homes. Will you ever do another series of those? Everyone thinks that they are the best cards they have ever received.
That's awesome to hear! Yes, the Xmas cards will be returning later this year, and I'm hoping to expand them with some new cards!
Why didn't you include that you're (in)famous for Dancing Baby? 😝
Never gonna live that one down, am I?
Do you have any advice or tips on how to achieve the effect you used in this portrait of Trent in the With Teeth album?
I actually made a very detailed tutorial - which includes Photoshop masks to use - on that method of glitching, over on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/in-depth-nin-16104149
What does an art director do for a band?
Album covers, marketing design, live stage production design, music videos, website, commercials, merchandise... pretty much everything that has a visual component, and making sure it all ties together.
Is that an Apple II composite monitor in your proof photo?
Yes it is! A recent acquisition I'm excited to make some video art with. I love that it has a standard RCA video in so I can run anything I want into it without a bunch of conversions.
Hey Rob! Congrats on High Level, thanks for taking the time, and thank you for all the years you put in with NIN. As a fan, I always felt fulfilled going to see the live performances and know you were a big part of that team, the LITS tour still gives me goosebumps from time to time thinking about it.
Question: I remember reading years ago the Year Zero project and its storyline had captivated multiple crowds of people and a script was taken to HBO. Any truth in that? Was there ever the effort to make a YZ Miniseries? I would’ve LOVED that content!
We worked very hard developing a YZ miniseries for HBO, but it kept hitting hurdles and eventually fell into development hell.
Hi Rob! Do you have any dream projects, like some medium or format you've always wanted to try, or a big idea that would take a ton of time & resources? Also, what was art school like for you?
I think my next dream projects are in video games and film/TV. I have some ideas and am currently developing some pitches in those directions!
I really enjoyed art school. Growing up in the middle class suburbs, my high school was very focused on sports and barely had any funding/support for the arts. I was "the art kid," that's how few we had. So going to New York for art school and suddenly finding myself in a huge cultured melting pot of a city with thousands of other kids who were "the art kid" from their schools was an incredible, mind-opening experience for me.
Okay so you post all this information for an AmA and conveniently leave out that you're responsible for what is arguably one of the first "memes" that ever existed?
Long live dancing baby.
I guess I can't escape it, can I?
Also - how involved were you in the art of High Level. Obviously all credit to Barnaby and co who did amazing work, but as a visual artist, was there much back and forth/micromanaging, or were you able to give up some control?
Or in other words, did you feel more like a director, or a writer?
Because I'm a very visual person, writing High Level was a lot more like directing for me. I wrote out a TON of visual details, which Barnaby and Rom translated in their own creative ways. There was a lot of back-and-forth early on, but as the series got going Barnaby really had the vibe down perfectly, and was always excellent at taking my descriptions and improving on them - a very rare creative collaboration! If you want to get a sense of how much was in the script and how it was adapted by the artists, I put some script-to-page features together here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/33801506 and I posted the full High Level chapter 1 script here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/33238967
Hi Rob. Always been a fan of your work. Do you have any stories about specific technology that's left a mark with you, taught you new ways of thinking? For me I've explored and learned so much from understanding the functionality of CRT displays. From Vector and Raster based art, how the shadow mask works, the fact that I'm manipulating a particle accelerator with magnets.. I attribute my current career as a lighting designer, moving light/media server programmer, and general work/artistic endeavors with my years of tinkering and learning from these devices. Just wondering if there might be a specific tool or piece of technology that was influential to you?
There have been a lot of new technologies that have opened up creative possibilities for me - and, in turn, career possibilities. For example, prosumer DV cameras and Final Cut Pro made it possible for me to edit my first commercial concert film, NIN's "And All That Could Have Been" in 2001, entirely in-house on a Mac at Nothing Studios without any fancy/expensive Avid rigs that were the standard at the time. That gave us a degree of control, and a freedom from budget, that allowed me to learn the craft and develop skills as I went along. Was I the most experienced editor? Not even close. But did I know the material and aesthetic the best (I filmed most of it)? Absolutely. So thanks to that new technology, the person closest to the work had the flexibility to become the one to assemble it, and from then on, I was a video editor.
In terms of perhaps a bit more what you're talking about - CRTs in particular - in recent years I've found it's the *removal* of technology that's opened me up most artistically. I've been a digital guy my whole career, it played very well with my desire for solo creative control. But when you can do anything with digital, it can become a creative hinderance. Working with CRTs and VCRs and other analog hardware has made me more creative through the limitations and chaos of the medium.
A little late to the game.
1) thank you for amazing work that has helped me get through some difficult times.
2) Do you feel that PNW is home; what is it like moving back to “home” after being away for so long?
3) You’ve worked with Ilan on his newest EP releases and The Black Queen on Fever Daydream- do you have any other projects in the works? Anyone you’d want to work with that you haven’t?
I see the HighLevel sound track will be on vinyl but will you also do a CD? Also, when the next/ final six issues get going (I have faith it will be completed) will you do a glitch art cover for one of the issues please. Maybe as a variant?
No plans for a CD release, it's a pretty small DIY endeavor so a limited vinyl run is our main priority. But it will be released in lossless digital as well!
As for the next/final volume of High Level, I'm hoping to get that figured out sooner than later now that the paperback is out. And a glitch art variant cover? Absolutely! That would be awesome.
I actually did the glitching effects in the final scene of High Level chapter six!
Will you be my friend? I have cats and markers.
Yes, I like cats and markers.
Just wanted to let you know how amazing and inspirational your work is. I’ve been a huge NIN fanatic most my life and it wasn’t just the music that inspired me. It was also the art that accompanied with music that brought it into an almost tangible experience. My computer is full of screen savers of your work and I never get sick of looking at it. Thank you for all you have (and will) do. Question: is there any way your work might be ever be released in an art book form that’s not a limited edition NIN promotion?
Thanks! I don't own the work I did for NIN, so it's up to them how they might want to release it in the future. A NIN art book (or series of books) would be awesome, though. I am working on a book of my analog glitch art!
Hey there! First time I learned about you. Your art immediately intrigued me, so I ordered high level right away :) My question: What do you think makes good sci-fi?
Thank you! I think the ingredients of good sci-fi are the same ingredients of good horror: They extrapolate our current societal anxieties and express them in fantastical ways, to help us better deal with them. Some of the greatest science fiction work of all time has been rooted in contemporary social commentary, but masked in a futuristic setting. Sci-fi, horror, and fantasy allow people to escape the structures and biases of their real-life experiences and process raw emotions in a displaced setting. Sci-fi is a tremendously powerful and important medium, and I think it's foolish to dismiss it as pure escapism.
No, that was before my work with NIN, but it absolutely warped my brain in the best way when I was 14 and primed me for my future career!
What does it take to write a comic?
A knack for visual storytelling, and a really good editor! Comic scripting is a lot more like directing a film than writing a novel, I've found. There are tons of tips and tricks that are specific to comic scripting. Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" is a great place to start.
How do you organize the many projects you have going? Like, do you have a giant mind map, do you use a large calendar...?
I've always wondered how creative people track and follow up on the many things going on at once.
This struggle is extremely real! When I was working for NIN as a full-time, my flaky creative brain was steered by specific projects, deadlines, and the band's manager keeping me on course. I didn't have to manage myself or figure out how to prioritize creative projects. Going out on my own was terrifying because I suddenly had to manage myself. And honestly, I got lucky by marrying a woman with a business background, who now manages and produces all my projects, negotiates and deals with money, schedules, priorities, answers emails, everything. It's a life saver that keeps me focused on my work, because I absolutely suck at administrative shit. Artists need managers, it's really true.
Did you work with my cousin Phillip Graybill? He did the photography for Ghosts. He just just about my favorite human being.
Yes, I did - I love Phillip, he's fantastic!
Do you want to see me stick Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids?
I know you have one stop to do signings for the comic book but will there be any more stops in the near future?
If I can find the time and resources to take a road trip this year or next and hit some other cities, I'd really really love to. I've been so busy that it just hasn't been possible yet.
I've been wanting to create a comic/graphic novel of my own recently. Trying to prepare, I didn't find a lot of good resources on storytelling for comics/graphic novels. Or resources on anything but the graphical art component. Now that you've gone through the process, what were your biggest learnings with highlevel and what would you recommend an amateur/noob like me? Thanks for the ama.
Definitely check out Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics," if you haven't. Then I would look at resources for learning about script writing and film directing in equal measures - not the specific mechanics of them, but the conceptual approach of how to tell a story visually. Comics writing is like a combination of those two things, and a lot of the lessons you can learn from directors and screenwriters can be applied to comics. I was fortunate enough to have a great editor, Andy Khouri, guiding me through the process and teaching me all the comics-specific storytelling tricks. I started out by writing spec scripts for existing characters. Pick a comic character whose world/characters your'e familiar with, and write an issue with a simple story structure. That takes away all the creative agony of developing your own characters, and gives you a space to just practice the storytelling parts of it. When you're comfortable doing that, it'll make writing your own story/characters so much easier.
Hi Rob! I'm an absolutely massive fan of your work! I'm pretty much a lifelong fan of NIN, so really, your work is some of the earliest exposure I had to visual art.
I grew up doing a multitude of artistic ventures when I was young (was in a band for ages, did some visual art, lots of short stories and blogging, dabbled in photography in my early twenties), but now at 36 with several years of just working in an absolutely non-creative field I feel like I've got a bit of a block. The only creative outlet I've had over the last few years is cooking (which I love and am now good at), but cooking only lasts until it's feces. I've got lots of different ideas, lots of things I want to try, but I can't settle down and start a project. So my question is, when you need an outlet and can't settle on one thing, what do you do to get the ball rolling?
I answered a somewhat similar question here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/f28eyi/i_am_rob_sheridan_authorcreator_of_the_comic_high/fhb55k6/ - Basically, I find that setting aside time to force yourself out of comfort zones, habits, and familiar experiences, getting a bit uncomfortable, seeing new things or simply seeing old things in a new way - is absolutely key.
Rob, your work with digital and analog manipulation of images is consistently outstanding, and has inspired me tremendously. What processes beyond glitch manipulation have you explored? Have you worked with any alternative development processes for film? And would you ever want to work with film photography again? Thanks so much!
I think spending so much time in all-digital work is what pushed me towards analog methods of experimentation. Everything can get be controlled and perfected with digital, which I found myself taking advantage of to a fault years ago when I started to get really good at digital work. There was something liberating about starting to work with physical hardware, damaged scanners, macro photography, old VCRs and CRT TVs. They introduce an element of chaos and remove some of the control, which I feel has made me a better artist. I don't know much about alternative film development processes, but it's definitely something in the same vein as my analog manipulation that I'd be interested in exploring.
I bought all the floppies for High Level, it was a fun book.
Do you have any regrets about High Level? Anything you would change if you had another chance at a final edit? Anything you would have omitted or added?
Have you listened to any criticism of your book? Is the criticism side of comic book culture on your radar at all?
Thanks! My only regret is that Vertigo was shuttered, and we couldn't continue past issue 6. The whole thing was planned out as a complete 12-issue story, so a lot is left hanging at the end of issue 6. Now that the graphic novel is out, I'm going to figure out the best way to complete the story with a second volume!
I don't really pay much attention to criticism at large with anything I put out. I find the most useful critiques come from creative peers, colleagues, editors, etc, during the creative process, or when starting on a new project and re-evaluating lessons learned.
Just picked up the first 3 issues of High-Level this weekend — for some reason it reminds me of some of the sci-fi coming out of China that Ken Liu has translated — have you read any?
What was your favorite opening act during your tenure with NIN?
I haven't read any, but I'll have to check it out! When we were looking for artists for High Level, one of the things I wanted to capture was a distinctly non-American, vintage sci-fi style (Moebius was a main reference). So as soon as I saw the work of Barnaby Bagenda (from Indonesia) and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (from the Philippines) I loved the look they were bringing that reminded me of 70s Heavy Metal, 2000AD, etc. A core element of the story was that although it was a distinctly North American adventure, I wanted it to live in a future space where North America felt completely alien. Keeping the art stylistically away from what you'd see in contemporary American comics helped with that feeling tremendously.
For your second question... I don't know if I could name a favorite opening act (QOTSA were always a blast to tour with on a personal level), but I do have a distinct memory of a favorite opening act *performance*. It was Atari Teenage Riot opening for NIN at Brixton Academy in 1999. One of the band members wasn't feeling well so they decided to just do a 30-minute set of pure noise. It pissed off everyone in the crowd who was waiting for NIN, they booed and jeered - but ATR didn't care, they just kept going. It was punk as fuck. They actually released it as an album later: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_Brixton_Academy_(Atari_Teenage_Riot_album))
Rob, you (along with Trent) have really shaped the way I approach creative work. I can never thank you enough for that. I try to misuse my gear every chance I get.
One thing I've wondered about your glitch workflow is if you're using any keyed mixer feedback? I do a lot of live glitch stuff and that is the secret sauce.
I've played with it a bit, but I find it's much more useful for live glitch stuff, which I don't do. I think I'll open that door a lot more if I ever do live glitching.
Did you have a part in the music video for head like a hole? That clip where the head is rotating and they’re showing a different background every frame blew mine and my friend’s minds back in the 90’s! It actually inspired my friend to get into music video production and he created several videos for use as backdrops for DJs, many of which got a lot of local use at our city nightclubs and parties. NiN has so many revolutionary artistic creations. What was it like working with such a creative group of people?
That was well before my time! I didn't join up with NIN until 1999, right before The Fragile. Before that I was just a huge fan.
Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
100 duck-sized horses, because if I lost it would be a hilarious and adorable way to die.
Hey, thanks for this AMA really love your collaborations with Trent. how about translating High Level in other languages for Europe ?
I would love for that to happen, but it's entirely in DC's hands at the moment.
Do you have any interest in venturing into narrative film?
Yes. My next round of pitches will also include film and TV!
There was a post on your blog "Demon Baby" that had gained some attention and actually got me to follow. It's been so long though, any idea what it might have been?
I wrote about music piracy culture, the death of Oink, and how the music industry failed to adapt to it, and that became a very popular post on Reddit at the time. It was probably that one!