To me, Billy’s artwork is a highly self-aware pop culture love letter/critique that smiles impishly every time it goes viral. And his images do go viral, and then some.
Billy has created some widely recognizable works for television shows like Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, Black Mirror, and HBO’s Watchmen. His episode artwork for Season 4 of Stranger Things includes the now famous title image for S4E9 (“The Piggyback”), which depicts Hawkins, Indiana’s resident metalhead, Eddie Munson, battling the forces of evil with the power of his electric guitar.
There’s a reason Billy is popular with fans and marketing executives alike. His art is a masterclass in microfiction storytelling. It’s sharp, eye-catching, conceptual, recognizable, and jam-freaking-packed with fun little details, Easter eggs, in-jokes, allusions—even parenthetical asides—that quickly capture the fickle attentions of Gen-X, Millennials, and their crazy little brother, Gen-Z. The stories his artworks tell are familiar enough—in-the-know enough—to make an immediate impact on an intended audience, but also unique and interesting enough to engage with an outsider…or, really, just anyone who enjoys pop art (and who doesn’t enjoy pop art at least a little bit?).
For Gen-X, Billy’s mashup of Jason Vorhees and The Cure’s Robert Smith is killer (get it?). For Millennials, the fusion of Loki and the Distracted Boyfriend meme is a thumb-breaking scroll-stopper that has the audience similarly turning away from the previous object of their affection to fall for the next hottest thing, metacommentary sold separately. And Gen-Z, well, they’ll remix every image here into an even more absurdist and surreal form of art that they casually share to TikTok for a few hundred likes, laughs, and sidelong glances—any one of the three will do. They’ll also recognize the VR headset in Eyes Closed but fail to recognize the Atari reference.
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Billy’s entire portfolio, but it was his work on Stranger Things, in particular, that prompted me to reach out to him about doing the cover art for Dark Matter INK’s forthcoming novel The Bleed by Stephen S. Schreffler. Much like Stranger Things, The Bleed is a brutal, sometimes irreverent, coming-of-age story that mixes science fiction and horror with small town secrets and monsters (both real and imagined). It’s a character and concept-heavy amalgam of past genre fictions and tropes reimagined for an audience in 2023. So, exactly what Billy excels at.
It was mind-blowing that Billy even showed interest in the project, let alone chose to take on the work (Stephen agrees), but it’s mind-altering what he eventually came up with. You won’t know it until you read the book, but the characters, landmarks, and general mood he captures in the piece are so on point that I will forever imagine these depictions whenever I read the book again, or think back fondly on my previous reading experiences, a nostalgia no doubt inspired by a future cover remix crafted by Gen-Alpha’s own version of Butcher Billy, sometime in the year 2043.
Art copyright © 2023 Butcher Billy