Interview: Chet Zar Talks ‘DY5TOPIA’

Andrew Hawkins

Chet Zar’s DY5TOPIA is almost here. We recently spoke with writer, and I Like to Paint Monsters director Mike Correll, and we couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming event and book titled DY5TOPIA: Field Guide to the Dark Universe of Chet Zar, Volume 1. On October 15, CoproGallery in L.A. will be transformed into Chet Zar’s vision of DY5TOPIA. Here is an interview we did about the project.

Fandom: Who do you want to be the most excited about DY5TOPIA?

Chet Zar: My philosophy with the artwork and everything that I’ve done regarding my artwork has always been, “It’s for the fans.” That’s always my primary concern, to satisfy myself and satisfy the fans. If anybody else comes along, that’s great. That’s the only way I know how to do it. I wouldn’t know how to cater to anybody other than the fans; you know what I mean?

It’s for the people that have the same feeling about these things as I do. I would love for everybody to be into it (laughs) but, y’know it’s the same way with the documentary. We’re always talking about that, so we always put the fans first. I think it’s gonna be appealing to fans of my work, but anyone into dark fantasy, or dark art, or science fiction and horror; those are all elements the artwork has.

Fandom: Talking about some of the elements that are in the artwork, Mike has been working with you on writing and discovering this mythology of your paintings. Talk about your process with him while he’s interviewing you and your perspective on how you’ve been creating this world that’s going to be part of the field guide.

Chet Zar: Well, it’s really been a trip. It’s really unusual in the way it’s worked out because the artwork always, for me, comes from this completely intuitive place. I just don’t ever think about it. That’s just the way my brain works, I guess.

I just start kind of doodling and sketching, and these things will sort of come out of that I can recognize as, “Oh, that looks kind of cool. I’m gonna go with that.” and I just develop it. Eventually, I kind of shift the pieces around, compose it well and figure out the colors; and it ends up being kind of a cool painting.

Almost never is there a point where I’m intellectualizing and going, “Ok, well this guy’s doing this to this guy.” It’s more like after the fact I can look at it and go, “Oh, this is sort of about this.” It’s almost like this weird kind of cosmic, spiritual sort of thing in a way because it just doesn’t feel like I’m thinking up these ideas. It really does feel like they’re just happening. It’s really weird; I don’t even know how to describe it. (laughs)

So, that’s all we have to go off of for the information for DY5TOPIA are the paintings. It’s the way we decided to approach it. He would just interview me about the paintings; he’d look at it and, of course, he’s got a different point of view because I painted them. Some things I might not notice that he notices and some things he might not notice that I notice, we both have different relationships with the artwork.

He basically just kind of points things out and is like, “What’s this part of the painting about?” The answer from me would either be, “I have no idea,” or it would usually be, “Oh, that’s this.” I never verbalized it, but I just know; you know what I mean? It’s like I’d never said it out loud, but I’ve always kind of just known it in the back of my head for some weird reason.

The interviews were just that process over and over again through pretty much every painting I’ve done. From that you could kind of clearly see there’s sort of a storyline that develops and a world that started to develop. It’s really strange.

chet-zar-dy5topia landscape
A look at the world of DY5TOPIA.

There was a point with the field guide that I started coming up with ideas and intellectualizing ideas. As it went along, I just got the feeling that anything that came after the painting for ideas had to be cut out and set aside. We’re using the paintings as the litmus test and the proof. Those are real; they exist. I know they came from this kind of pure place because I painted them. They’re not contrived; they just came out of me so let’s just stick to what we have evidence for which is the artwork and work from that.

It was tough. You want to connect all the dots sometimes when doing a project like this, but you have to be careful to control it too much and try and make it make sense and intellectualize it.

Fandom: It sounds like even in what you’ve talked about for Ego Death and what you talked about in I Like to Paint Monsters, you’re coming at it from that organic place putting the art together. If you try to put the cart before the horse and think, “OK, well I want to have this guy doing this in that scenario,” it’s not gonna work for the field guide that you’re doing with Mike. So, it totally makes sense.

Chet Zar: Yeah, yeah.

Fandom: You have done so much in your career and you’ve been on so many different levels from your work with Alterian Studios, Guillermo del Toro and even going back to your practical and make-up effects as a kid turning your friends into creatures. What influences do you ever think about that kind of led you up to this project?

Chet Zar: Do you know Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials?

Fandom: I know Barlowe’s Inferno, but I haven’t seen Extraterrestrials.

Chet Zar: I think this is his first book because I got it when I was like 12 or 13 and he’s not that much older than me. I’ve met him, and he’s a cool dude. I think he put this book out when he was like 18 or something.

Basically, he took science fiction characters, and he presented them in a way that’s like a field guide with information on how these aliens work. He did it from like different science fiction stories, famous stories like The Thing and Alien and he made up some of his own stuff as well. So, it’s like a field guide to aliens.


I remember that book was like a life-changing moment for me. It always stuck with me. That was kind of the inspiration for my field guide. So, I actually talked to him and told him about it, and he’s gonna write the intro to the book or the foreword or the afterword or something. He’s so cool about it. That book was really the main inspiration for the DY5TOPIA field guide.

You know, it’s everything that’s influenced my art I suppose. I was really into Heavy Metal magazine in the 70s and 80s. Heavy Metal comics magazine; have you ever read that?

Fandom: Yeah and I know the movie and Moebius.

Chet Zar: Yeah, yeah. Moebius is amazing. That stuff got me really thinking about doing comics and stuff, but what DY5TOPIA is eventually going to turn into once this field guide is done; the sky’s the limit. Comics, graphic novels, stuff I’ve never done but I’ve always wanted to. Or movies; wherever it will take me, I will follow it.

That was a big one. I mean, I remember making comics. I probably did it a couple of times where I just tried to make a comic so inspired by Heavy Metal and never finished them. (laughs) I think that’s the idea for DY5TOPIA is that it’s not a single project that I’m just gonna do it, finish it and move on to the next. I’m gonna keep developing I think, I hope. That’s the idea anyways.

Fandom: Well if it works out that way, it would be amazing because when I think of what you’re planning for CoproGallery, I start thinking about some of these other phantasmagorical realms. Ones that seem almost Lovecraftian if you’re thinking about Arkham, or Gigeresque if you look at some his landscapes and other works.

What do you kind of stack DY5TOPIA up as against some of these? Is DY5TOPIA just this kind of enclosed realm that you’re going to try to bring to life for the Copro event when you have people walking into the street scene? What are you thinking about there?

Chet Zar: Yeah. The idea is that we’re going to take Copro in the room where I’m showing the artwork and outside of the building, and turn it into a building in DY5TOPIA that exists in that dimension. So, the idea is that when you go into Copro for the show you’ll be transported to DY5TOPIA and see things that you would only see in that reality.

I’m sure Mike told you about how we’ve got this friend of mine Lee Shamel along with James and Taylor Brown working on this crazy façade for outside of the building. It’s just unbelievable that they can pull it off. It’s so huge; it’s so much bigger than I had ever planned and way bigger than anything Copro’s ever done, that’s for sure. It’s gonna be a full on Universal Studios backlot type deal y’know. (laughs)

Fandom: That’s so cool.

Chet Zar: Yeah! It’s gonna be soooo cool, and even inside the building we’re going to have some really amazing stuff. It’s really cool, almost like set pieces with characters and everything. We’re going to do the Black Magic character and the Interloper.


We’re gonna definitely do those, but if I have time I’m gonna sculpt a couple. I talked to Lee about it; he’s a mold maker also. I talked to him about trying to crank out a couple masks to have a couple people walking around, so there are more characters. Plus we’re asking everybody if they want to dress up as a character that would exist in that world, so hopefully it’ll be a whole bunch of people dressed up like that, so you really get the feeling like you’re there in that dimension.

Fandom: It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing experience and we’re psyched for it. To kind of wrap up, what are you a fan of right now that you’d like to share?

Chet Zar: That’s so hard because I’m a fan of so many things. Let me take a second. (laughs)

Fandom: Sure.

Chet Zar: Well y’know, I’ve always been a fan of zombies. I know it’s kind of cliché now to say that because The Walking Dead is so popular, but I was a fan of zombies like hardcore in 1978 when the original Dawn of the Dead came out. I used to think about how it would be so cool if there was a TV show just like The Walking Dead.

I swear to God, I was thinking of this in the ’70s. Thinking if they had this on TV or ‘Select TV’ which was the two cable stations you could get back then. I remember thinking you could have this show on cable, and you could have it be super violent like the movie was.

So, I just recently got the Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray again, and I’ve been going through that. I’m just getting back into zombies again with the Romero zombies. I watched Zombie again, I mean I watch that movie all the time; the Italian one directed by Lucio Fulci. I’ve been into a lot of documentaries too. I’m into so much stuff, but we’ll just say zombies for now. (laughs)

Andrew Hawkins
Andrew Hawkins is a fan contributor at Fandom. He has been on the fan media scene since 2011. Arriving at Fandom by way of CHUD, and Trouble.City; Andrew loves Sci-Fi Horror movies and supervillains. His dislikes include weak plotlines and sky lasers.
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