This artist’s illustrations are chock-full of nightmares with haunting stories to match

Published October 30, 2021, 11:05 AM

by John Legaspi

Halloween becomes more dark and creepy with this artist-science teacher’s #Spooktober series

Back in the days, tales of terror were told by our elders during the night of a full moon. There’s the manananggal with a tongue so thin that it could consume a baby inside a womb. Then there are kapre and tikbalang that are so territorial, one would never wish to cross their line. In the backyard are tiny duwende, who don’t just want to play games, they want to make a game out of people.

Artworks by Johan Daryll Castro

As time passed, horrifying stories were delivered through films and books. “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” film series became the beacon of the Filipino horror movie genre and “True Philippine Ghost Stories” books introduced us to the supernatural. With the rise of technology, horror stories adapted to must-share group messages in mobile phones, and if the recipient failed to disseminate, he or she will be cursed.

At some point in our lives, no matter how afraid we are, we can escape the haunting of horror stories. We are always ready to read, see, and listen, even if they cost us a night of not being able to go to the bathroom to pee. The great thing about it is that its medium continues to evolve, all thanks to today’s horror visionaries. We may no longer get shocked by Undin or troubled by folklore, but we sure get terrified by anecdotes we see online.

And among those who bring the eerie stuff to the digital world is 26-year-old Johan Daryll L. Castro, the artist behind the “MilkyClear” page on social media. A science teacher by day and comic illustrator by night, he definitely has a knack for chronicling scary stories and giving great visuals to those nightmares.

“I started out casually posting funny comics on my page, and then I just started to lean more into the horror theme, and it was a great hit. I still post some more silly content now and then, but it’s all about the horror aspect every October,” Johan says. “I really like my double persona, and I like that I can do both things that I love at the same time.”

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Johan shares more about his passion for all things supernatural, how he depicts horror through words and illustrations, and what makes them great means to bring the fright.

First off, what is the idea behind ‘Milky Clear’?

I came up with the name “Milky Clear” way back when I was in high school. It is an oxymoron as something clear cannot be milky, and something milky cannot be clear. It just seemed like a cool username when I was 14, and it stuck with me to this day.

How do you get the stories you post online? When did you start doing this?

My first horror-themed comic was entitled “32.” It was a modest hit, but it was the second comic, “Silip,” which I posted on March 2, 2020, that really got my name on the map.

At first, I started with stories that I wrote myself but eventually, in the first #Spooktober of 2020, I started to accept and adapt stories submitted by my followers. I still post some stories that I wrote myself, but I’ve recently enjoyed taking story submissions and posting them on my page.

Were you always a fan of supernatural tales? Do you have a personal experience or encounter with supernatural beings?

As a child, I definitely had an affinity for horror stories and movies. I liked how the feeling of fear that they gave was so exhilarating even though they were just words. As a teenager, I started to delve more into the horror genre. I would watch horror marathons with my brothers and read horror stories in my spare time. Eventually, I got a sense of the themes and techniques involved in successful horror story writing. As an adult, I’m happy to have been able to express my love of the genre through the medium of comics and short story writing.

Yes, I’ve had a few encounters of my own. They are, however, more on the tame side as compared to the stories of my followers that I featured on my page.

Let’s talk about your artwork. How would you describe your aesthetic?

I’ve taken inspiration from many different artists and have put in my own personal touch to make it unique. Fans have been quick to point out that my art style is similar to that of Junji Ito and of Tomoki Izumi. I take those comparisons as great compliments because they really are my biggest inspirations, and I still often follow their work. I’d also describe my aesthetic as a “Strange amalgam of cute and horrifying while still being palatable.”

When did you start doing art? Who are your influences or the artists you look up to?

I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. It was my most cherished skill growing up. I used to daydream and fantasize a lot, and drawing just seemed to be the most rewarding medium to take my visions into reality. My art is heavily influenced by artists: Trevor Henderson, Junji Ito, and Tomoki Izumi; YouTubers Domics and Jadenanimations; directors Guillermo del Toro, Hayao Miyazaki, and Ari Aster. While I would accredit my writing style to Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, Cecil Baldwin, and others who worked on the podcast “Welcome to Nightvale.” But, on top of everyone I mentioned, I think that the artist I most look up to is my big brother Paul Gilbert Castro whom I still ask for advice and comments on my art before I post them online.

Apart from drafting haunting illustrations and stories, what else do you do?

In terms of art, I also dabble in animation, watercolor, and acrylic painting, as well as casual video editing.

For you, what makes artworks the perfect tool to share horror stories?

Thank you so much for asking this question. Horror is a tricky genre to be successful in. The easiest way to make horror is through cheap jump scares and sudden spikes in volume that we often see in movies today. It is easy, often expected, and honestly sometimes lame. But with comics and with writing, one cannot rely on these cheap tricks to convey a sense of fear and dread. This is why I love it so much. There is a particular skill and pleasure in drawing/writing something that puts the viewer in a state of fear and unease, and I relish the times when I get it right. The medium of comics and story writing is the perfect vessel for horror stories because it does not only show you something horrifying, but it allows you to experience it slowly through the perspective of the one being haunted.

See more of Johan’s chilling works on Milky Clear’s Facebook and Instagram.