Shawn Coss is a professional artist and entertainer based out of Akron, Ohio. Shawn is best known for his mental illness series called Inktober Illness, which he has used to help raise awareness about mental health stigmas. Shawn is also the co-owner and artist for the lifestyle brand Any Means Necessary clothing. Additionally, Shawn is an artist for the popular webcomic, Cyanide and Happiness. Shawn’s style of humor and unconventional way of connecting with his fans on a personal level sets him apart from most other social media influencers. You can learn more about Shawn and view his work at shawncossart.com or follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Twitch.
Editor’s Note: This interview video and accompanying transcript is unedited and contains profanity.
So where do you get your ideas from? Just kidding, I read the FAQs on your site, which people should check out! You have been a professional artist for a decade – when did you become interested in art and when did you decide that you wanted it to be your career?
Okay, I’ve been art my whole life. My mom says since I could draw on the fucking wall I was doing artwork and never really pursued it because my dad was like “hey there’s no career in artwork. No career in being a creative – just go get a real job”. So went to nursing school and about the same time I graduated nursing school I met Kris Wilson of Cyanide and Happiness and he goes “hey you should join this company and be an artist for a living” so I was like “yeah I’ll give that a shot.
I’ll draw stick figures for a living” and at the same time it kind of gave me the creative push to start my clothing line with my buddy. My business partner, Michael Nemitz, and from there we kind of just took off. And I was like holy shit I can actually make money with my artwork. Which living in Ohio that’s not really something that’s normal. Here you work your nine to five, twelve hour shifts, you know, you go home, drink a beer, watch the football game rise repeat die.
When did you determine that influencer marketing was a viable revenue stream, and what were some of the first steps you took as an influencer?
So I didn’t really think too much about it because I wasn’t too familiar with it. I grew up in the era where you were just content creators and streamers and then the influencer term has kind of taken hold now for the masses. But I’ve always been aware, you know, I’ve had buddies who used to work at YouTube, work at Twitch who managed Cyanide and Happiness a he always had his finger on the pulse with influencing. And when my whole mental health series kick ed off in 2016 I was exposed to a much wider audience of people who use my work as a type of therapy and helps them kind of express themselves.
I love being in front of the camera, I love being in front of crowds, I travel across the United States at Comic-Con conventions, I do live panels and live sketching, and I feed off of it, you know, I’ve been feeding off of it since I was in drama back in high school. I just love being in front of cameras and that – I have a somewhat decent personality, somewhat less decent looks so I thought hey I’ll try to be an influencer and give those less decent people maybe hope that hey they can do it too.
Mental illness is a topic that is prevalent these days and we’re interested in the work you’ve done. You mention the amazing feelings that come from connecting with people who feel like they don’t have a voice. Can you share some of what’s come from the Inktober Illness series you started back in 2016 in terms of feedback you’ve received from people who feel like they don’t have a voice, like you state on your website?
Yeah! So when I initially did it I had kind of this surplus of new people who are like oh dude I love this work, I love this and then I had a whole bunch of people hating me, wishing death on me, wishing my kids get a mental, really dark stuff. And my buddy was like “hey you made it. You got people who hate you and love you” but before all the mental illness stuff I used to just do artwork that was super detailed and kind of creepy looking but had no real weight to it. And creating this stuff that allows people like “hey I took this to my therapist and I’ve been going to therapy for years and I could never really explain how I felt but this image did it and this helped me through it”.
That first year I probably got six, seven hundred different messages and this is some dark stuff too, like these people are literally just baring their soul to me and at first I didn’t know how to handle it. I’m just like “okay, cool”, you know, like they’re telling me how they went through drug addictions, abuse as children, literally just telling me all the darkest something possibly happened in their life to some stranger who did some artwork they related to.
So it’s a whole new world to me and it really affect me. I was like okay my artwork is actually helping people which is a feeling I never had before and kind of like completely change my outlook on my art and self. Like when I create artwork I try to think more of the human condition, mental illness because it’s helping so many more people I guess.
You have worked with a lot of prominent people and organizations, what have been a few of your favorite collaborations to-date?
Some of my favorite collaborations – one that came out of nowhere was Seether, the band. Shaun Morgan who is the lead singer apparently has been a fan of my work for years and I never knew. And I guess got an email one day I thought he was some local band with just the same name and he was like “hey we want to use your cult creatures artwork” and I kind of blew him off a couple times.
And then I finally asked whose band I’m working with and they go like “oh it’s Seether” I’m like “oh no shit”. And now me and Shaun have become friends, we actually connected last November and like hung out backstage and he’s like “here here’s my cellphone number call me anytime” I’m like “this is so weird”. That’s one awesome collaboration. Another one was I worked on the art product for the movie Cell which was a Stephen King adaptation. I grew up with reading Stephen King, my mom was a Stephen King fan, she read me Stephen king books for bedtime as a child, we used to watch the movies, hence why my art is the way it is thanks mom, but we lived in Maine and we always used to drive past his house up there.
It was big brick house with cast iron gates and bats and she goes that’s Stephen King’s house right there I’m like “mom you’re a stalker, awesome. But getting top work with – I didn’t get to work directly with Stephen King but I worked on a movie of Stephen King. And also my wife is a huge John Cusack fan who starred in the movie as well and of course Samuel L. Jackson so my artwork is all in an apartment that John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson’s in and my artwork is John Cusack’s character’s artwork which that was a pretty big deal to me. And then obviously doing a whole lot of stuff with Cyanide and Happiness, you know, we have a fuck ton of followers so that’s always cool. I was a huge fan of the comic before I started working with them so I guess that’s a very like ten year collaboration, I don’t know.
In a recent post you state that 2019 isn’t ready for what your clothing brand, Any Means Necessary, is bringing. Can you give us some hints as to what lies ahead for your lifestyle brand?
Oh yeah we’re going to fucking destroy the world with it that’s the plan. So for the last eight years ten years we’ve done the clothing line. We never really took it serious until about 2016 when we started incorporating mental health awareness with it. Both my business partner and myself have opened up more about our own struggles to the public like “hey we aren’t trying to exploit you” We’ve been able to donate a substantial amount of money to mental health research which I’ve never been able to do and it’s probably one of the coolest things on earth. It’s like one of the greatest feelings.
We never like took it serious, the clothing line, and somehow we were successful somehow we always made money and we sold clothing, we had a fan base, but we never knew how to make business plans, budget, anything, and we hired a consultant last year who has had a successful brand and he’s kind of molding us. Like we’re heading to Agenda in February in Vegas and we’re already working on a couple pop-up shops.
We’re working with a couple celebrities, like Michael Coulter is a huge fan of our work. If you guys remember, I don’t know how old you are but, Holly Marie Combs from Charmed she’s a friend of mine now through traveling convention so we’re starting to connect with people who I guess are influencers, celebrity influencers that actually like our stuff and that’s going to – we’re going to get our clothing into a lot more eyes hopefully this year. But we’re ruthless that’s the name Any Means Necessary that’s how we lived our whole life.
My buddy he grew up homeless living in meth labs and now he runs a company [and] has two awesome kids. I grew up tiny Tim poor, living off food stamps, my dad stealing MRE’s from the military to feed us and now I own a clothing company, I do art for a living, I have two awesome kids, I just bought qa brand new house just from hard work, and like we literally breathe and live the lifestyle of any means necessary.
You’re also an ER nurse, how do you balance your different responsibilities?
I don’t. So I never left the nursing because having two kids I need health insurance if I didn’t have kids I would of told my wife you’re on your fucking own, don’t get sick, I’m leaving nursing but I always have this fear the moment I quit nursing and I don’t have health insurance my kids are going to get sick and need like a sixty thousand surgery.
I like the medical field part there’s some thing’s I definitely don’t like about it but when I was real young I always wanted to be a surgeon, I wanted to be like a doctor like I said “screw that. Eight years of school no not going to do that” so yeah I do two days a week in the ER, I still see a lot of stuff, it’s nice to be able to help people, and I like to have I guess my eggs in a whole bunch of different baskets I guess.
Where do you see influencer marketing headed in the next five years or so?
Honestly, I think that’s where marketing is going to happen. Like brands are not going to be reaching out to the celebrities, they are not going to be reaching out to the athletes [but] they are going to be looking at people who have a more personal connection to their fans. Like micro influencers and people who have like five thousand fans but those five thousand fans listen to every word that person says like I think that’s going to be the next big change.
I don’t know how that is going to help me with having a hundred thousand fan so maybe the brands will just overlook me like “oh fuck that guy and he swears too much. We’re going to go with the guy with two hundred followers” So this time I’ve been trying to build my audience it’s working against me I screwed myself, I’m fucked. But I think the micro influencers is probably where it’s going to be they are going to get more bang for their buck. It’s almost like the whole podcasts, you know, radio was like the way to go and advertising on radio was the way to go and then podcasts are like we can pay less money, which is still a lot of money for a podcast, and get more listeners.
People like Joe Rogan’s podcasts, Sort and Scale and True Crime Garage like they have a bunch of sponsors and if they are paying them like two, three grand as opposed to twenty grand to a radio station like that’s awesome for the podcast and that’s awesome for the brand. So I think definitely the micro influencer you are going to see a bigger trend towards, I think, I hope. Except not for me they’ll fuck me but I hope for my friends.
As a Nurse, what’s your opinion of [fill in the name of any medical drama here]?
Yeah. I honestly hate every fucking hospital show out there. Honestly the most realistic one was probably ER back when George Clooney did it but even that was still borderline. A little clarification for people, doctors don’t start IVs they never start IVs, [and] they don’t wear stethoscopes everywhere. I don’t get offended if they wear a stethoscope like I’m that type of nurse I’m not like nurses week and all that stuff but when I see them starting IVs I’m like no they don’t do that shit.
And they don’t walk them to the bathroom they’ll go in do their talk and then go “hey that guy needs to shit” I’m like “alright you were just in there” and they’re like “yeah but I’m a doctor” I’m like “oh okay, yeah. But they do a lot of important stuff but a lot of like the minor stuff or spending all that time with the patient, no. What is it – Scrubs had a great example with Dr. Cox was the whole thing was about so you want to spend thirty seconds or less in the room and it’s literally what doctors do and it’s not because they don’t want to be around the person, it might be.
But usually a doctor in the ER is seeing all of the patients so they don’t have time to be spending twenty minutes hearing their life story and then going to the next patient. So most of the time about ninety-eight percent of the time those doctor shows are all bullshit. Even the nurses one, Grey anatomy too. A bunch of people are not banging in the back room, we don’t have a break area that has bed.
I liked House for the first season but then every season after it’s the same goddamn thing. It’s “hey this person has some weird-ass fucking disease” house comes in, oh no sorry not House, the team tries all these test, House goes you guys are all fucking idiots, and then House is doing something like masturbating and they go oh right an epiphany and then he fixes it. One time I want him to go epiphany fix it and kills them on accident and goes shit, loses his license, goes down a fucking rabbit hill of fucking pills, hooker, and then go okay that’s reality there we go.