Artist gives shape to writers' macabre ideas Jason Van Hollander has won awards for illustrations he has drawn for horror books and magazines.

Posted: April 11, 2004

MERION STATION — Jason Van Hollander specializes in "the art of darkness," as he calls it, illustrating horror books and magazines such as Weird Tales.

Imps, demons, skeletons and winged creatures, some sporting extra eyes or a spare skull, populate his colorful drawings, done in watercolor and pen and ink, sometimes with computer enhancement. His work earned him best-artist honors last year from the International Horror Guild.

"Any grotesque motif, by an artist or poet or photographer, is an embodiment of inner tension," he explained. "Grotesque works of the imagination satisfy an imperfectly understood human need."

Belying his macabre art, the artist himself is a modest, soft-spoken man who lives with his wife and his stepdaughter in a tidy Merion Station house. As his "day job," he works full time as a graphic designer for an Ardmore printing company. So for his freelance career in illustration, "I have the luxury to be dilatory and to avoid projects without charm."

He said he usually manages to hear about forthcoming projects because the world of horror books is a small circle.

"I'm small-time, but I have a speck of visibility," he said. "When I hear about a project that has charm, I'll find a way to throw my hat in the ring."

In his home, five cats wander around, although he is slightly allergic to them and they make him sniffle. His artwork hangs on the staircase wall, and the mantelpiece is crowded with models of toy robots and a plastic Godzilla monster. Bookcases are laden with science fiction, novels, and books on art, religious subjects and history.

"My wife and I are compulsive readers," he said. On a rotating basis, they visit several Main Line libraries, including those in Penn Wynne, Bala Cynwyd and Narberth.

Van Hollander said he sees his drawings mostly as an integral part of the books they illustrate, although friends have urged him to mount a gallery show.

Among his other creations is a series of "philatelic rarities," as he describes them, called "Hell" stamps. The stamps, in odd denominations such as 68 cents, feature the Seven Deadly Sins and the "Imp of Indecision" and the "Demon of Vainglory."

One year, he sent out as his Christmas card an image he created of an ivory altarpiece showing a skeletal monk hunched over a thick book.

"Not a happy picture," the artist said.

Van Hollander illustrated and did the cover for his neighbor Gregory Frost's book Attack of the Jazz Giants, scheduled for publication next year. He also created a business card for Frost, a horror writer, that shows letters dripping out of an open, inverted skull.

"I like that he combines traditional approaches in pen and ink with the image-manipulative techniques of Photoshop, allowing him to be both traditionalist and experimenter, sometimes in the same piece of art," said Frost, who called Van Hollander "the most self-effacing person I know."

In 1999, Van Hollander and Darrell Schweitzer of Northeast Philadelphia collaborated on Necromancies and Netherworlds, a collection of stories written by both and illustrated by Van Hollander. It was nominated in 2000 for the World Fantasy Award for best story collection.

"His fiction is even weirder than mine, which is why we work so well together," Schweitzer wrote of Van Hollander in that book.

"He can bring out things even I never suspected I had in me."

On his Web site (, Van Hollander cites as inspiration two books he received for his 10th birthday: The Macabre Reader, an anthology of stories, and a book of artwork by the 16th century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel.

"We went within ourselves as children, and as children we were cleansed by this process," he said. "Most adults grow out of it, but, for some of us, the need for imaginative release still has intensity."

Contact Wendy Walker at 610-701-7651 or


Jason Van Hollander

Age: 54

Residence: A native of Overbrook Park, he has lived in Merion Station for the last 15 years.

Family: His wife of 25 years, Terry, a teacher in the Lower Merion School District and an artist, specializing in religious paintings; his stepdaughter, Selina, 26, an accountant; five cats.

Education: B.A. in graphic design from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1971.

Art on his business card: An illustration of a bat, with wings outstretched, on a fountain pen.

Among the books for which he has drawn covers: Dragonfly by Frederic S. Durbin, Red World of Polaris by Clark Ashton Smith, Divinations of the Deep by Matt Cardin.

His Web site:

Awards: Best artist, International Horror Guild, 2003; best artist, World Fantasy Award, 2000.

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