Subliminal masterpieces

Lansing artist creates scary, movie-themed posters with hidden meanings


It starts with a Sharpie, a movie and little pieces.

“It’s all Sharpie marker drawings, and then I piece them together,” Matt Peppler said. “Most illustrators will design everything at once, whereas I improvise a lot.

If a shape needs to go here or there, I’m conscious of eye movement and focal points. You kind of want someone’s eye to move around the piece easily.”

Unorthodox and detail-driven are two terms that could sum up Matt Peppler’s design. The 37-year-old, Lansing-based graphic designer and illustrator’s methodical means of inserting storytelling into his work are almost obsessive, but they produce stunning work. And often, stunning work is the goal — some of Peppler’s most famous designs are reimagined horror movie posters. His work spans TV shows like “Stranger Things,” classic horror like “The Thing” and cult classics like “V for Vendetta.” Peppler said he was first inspired to do these pieces at Comic-Con.

“I had been going to Comic-Con most of my life. The first Comic-Con that I went to was in ’96 at Motor City Comic- Con. Then, it was just comic books here and there, but as pop culture progressed, and around the same time the first X-Men movie came out, there was a radical shift in what Comic-Con was and I started seeing artists — not necessarily with movie posters, but starting to put their own spin on the characters,” Peppler said.

He said that seeing other artists put a unique twist on an existing creative work gave him the spark he needed to get thinking about doing that with his own interest: movies.

“Then, about five years ago, I went back to Motor City Comic-Con. There were a lot of people doing alternative movie posters, and I thought that was really interesting, but I felt what I was creating on my own was as good or better than what people were making,” Peppler said. “Then, I thought, ‘Well, I can fit into this crowd.’” Fit in he did. At the time, he had only 13 or 14 posters, but today, Peppler has dozens of pieces. The Kendall College of Art and Design grad’s work certainly underlines his background in graphic design. He describes himself as a specialist in the retro and minimalist styles. He says everything with next to nothing.

“Usually, when I make a poster with a title, the title is usually the same color as another point of reference I want people to look at,” Peppler said. “For example, in the ‘Stranger Things’ poster, Eleven [the main character], who is floating in the light bulb, is the same color as everything else.”

He said his drive for the visually straightforward developed as a kind of rebellion against the busy.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. So, for me, it’s natural to do it. As far as simplifying things, that came later,” Peppler said. “While I was in college, I always felt people were trying to put way too much information into everything. The thing that drove me absolutely nuts was that my peers would create these extravagant, highly detailed pieces of artwork, but you had no idea what you were looking at because it was so busy. It was more of an assault or someone shouting, rather than a message.”

Visual assault just isn’t his style. “If you see the same thing, over and over again, it almost becomes nauseating,” Peppler said. “I didn’t want to be clustered in a group of people who all did the same stuff.”

If there was a slogan to define Peppler’s work, it would be: “all about the message.”


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