Walter Booth: Pioneer of British Science Fiction Film

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

Last week, I talked about the Spanish master of silent film, Segundo de Chomón. This week, I’d like to talk about another early genre filmmaker who has also been all but forgotten.

Walter R. Booth was an English stage magician who teamed up with film pioneer Robert W. Paul, who was making and screening films as early as 1896 at London’s Egyptian Hall, where Booth did his magic act. In 1899, Booth and Paul co-founded Paul’s Animatograph Works, a production house that specialized in trick films using Paul’s technical know-how and Booth’s skill at magic and illusion. These short films wowed audiences with special effects such as animation, split screen, jump cuts, superimposition, multiple exposures, and stop motion animation.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Sorry Wayne, you aren't making this list

Sorry Wayne, you aren’t making this list

I’ve spent 30+ years looking at RPG artwork and I’ve yet to get tired of doing so. Sure, there are days when I wonder how the fantasy art world went to hell, but those are few and far between, as there are enough great new artists that still manage to inspire me in the mix of things [yeah Cynthia Sheppard I’m talking to you].

Nonetheless, I did begin thinking about well-aged TSR art this past month when James and I started digging in the nostalgia mines of old boxed sets. It prompted me to consider just what a ‘Top 10 list of TSR cover artwork’ would look like.

And to be clear, I wasn’t thinking about D&D in particular, but simply TSR catalogue stuff, which of course puts any artwork post WotC acquisition out of the picture. It does, however, allow for the additional inclusion of other games, although as I comprised this list I found it nearly impossible to include them. D&D, as it should be, dominated the RPG landscape from the mid-1970s, and thus is the bag of holding that any role-player will go back to again and again.

There are so many ‘things’ that could go into the making of this list, but for today I’m going to go with my gut. If I had feelings for it, it gets considered. If I know a lot of people owned it, it gets considered. Other than that, I don’t really have much to lean on other than the fact that this is what I do. I deal in old art. I buy it, I sell it, I broker it, I contract for it, I agent for its creators, and as you can see here, I blog about it. My only regret is that I wish it paid more, but since when does living your dream always to come with luxury?

That said, one name found on most RPG art lists these days won’t appear here because he came too late, and frankly, his greatest recognizable cover was done not for TSR, or WotC, but for Paizo. Yes, this means no Wayne Reynolds, but that is how this list is going to roll, so without further introduction, I give you my personal list of ‘Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings.’

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Art of the Genre: Art of the Iconic Female #5: Princess Leia

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

fa832e1c671c8fb5638dadc8425630da-d5lc2cf-industry-reacts-to-star-wars-episode-vii-s-lack-of-womenToday continues the Art of the Genre series on the Iconic Female.  If you’ve missed any of the others, click on the hotlinks to find #1, #2, #3, and #4, and now on to the good stuff!

I was six when Star Wars was initially released.  I did get to see it in the theater, but I more remember the feel of the venue and the oddity of the aliens rather than if I had an emotional attachment to Princess Leia.  I know I must have enjoyed the film because my house quickly filled up with Star Wars figures, posters, and memorabilia, but none of this led to a particular ‘love’ of Leia.  Honestly, the only true memory of Leia I had in those early days was that her very thin and small laser pistol was lost when I tried to put her in Luke’s landspeeder.  To this day, I swear it is still ingeniously stuck inside that toy even though the odds are that it was devoured by my mother’s two inch shag carpeting where the incident occurred.

Nonetheless, Leia didn’t ‘blossom’ for me until the release of Empire Strikes Back, where, like Han Solo himself, I became smitten with her.  By this point, in 1980, I was a precocious nine year-old who was just beginning to truly understand that girls had more to offer than all my friends had previously surmised.  I well remember my Cloud City play-set, and the outstanding Han Solo figure with blue jacket that could stand proudly beside the intricately woven hair of Cloud City Leia.  I’m also pretty sure this was the first time I ever saw a kiss onscreen that didn’t make me look away, so certainly some things were readily changing in my view of this iconic character.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of Selling your Past

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

photoConsidering the fact that James ‘Grognardia’ Maliszewski is one of my office mates here in Black Gate L.A., I’m often inspired by what he has to say on the subject of gaming.  Now sure, James comes at the hobby from a more mechanics angle, while I take on the artistic side, but nonetheless, we are still cut from the same cloth and overlap on many details [he’s two years older than me, so MUCH wiser].

After reading his The Golden Age article this week, I couldn’t help but find an odd pleasure in the fact that I too was revisiting my gaming past, only once again from a different angle.

So, when he posted his image of the ‘treasure’ found at his ancestral home, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d just taken a picture similar to it myself the day before.  You see, James, according to the article, was enjoying the nostalgia of his TSR collection in his visual framing, but for me, I was working toward the reality of parting ways with mine.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been selling off parts of my RPG collection.  It began as a quest to raise capital for other projects, but as it continued, it turned into a kind of cathartic shedding of unneeded pounds.  Last year, I wrote an article for Black Gate entitled The Weight of Print, and over the past weeks I’ve toted at least a hundred pounds of books to the USPS from my RPG shelves.

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Art of the Genre: Reki Kawahara, Depression, and Sword Art Online

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Vol1_Special_Poster compI read an article a while back that very eloquently debated the theory that online games, specifically Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games [MMORPGS], were the root cause of depression. There were arguments on both sides, of course, but after I was done, I couldn’t help but side against them actually causing the mental disorder.

You see, I live in a world of artists and writers, and that means depression is probably the most prevalent topic [both overtly and covertly] among my fellows every day of the year.  Some cope better than others, some take drugs, and in the extreme, some take their own lives. It is a hard truth, but as I sit and think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter who you are, you carry depression with you.

Depression is a constant but varied affliction of the human condition, and to those suffering the least, perhaps a nightly sitcom and a bowl of popcorn stave off the stresses of a cubical lived workday. As above, for the worst cases, like Robin Williams last week, the only true escape seems to call for the end of it all on a permanent basis.

As with any Bell Curve, I think the bulk of Americans and their First World Problems (I know Ethiopia, you are currently crying us a river) are in some comfortable (yet stoically miserable) place right in the middle.  This is where online gaming might come into play.

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Art of the Genre: When an Old School Mind Learns How to Play D&D 5th Edition

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

5E Players Handbook CI remember when I first played Basic D&D, then the first time I played AD&D, then 2nd Edition AD&D, and finally 3rd Edition D&D right around the turn of the millennia.  By the time 4th Edition came around, I no longer had a regular gaming group and didn’t care to reinvest my time, money, and shelf space in yet another iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.

Still, that didn’t stop me from continuing on with the hobby, from 3.5 to Pathfinder, and finally all the way back to my renewed love of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons some time around 2010.  When I heard that Wizards of the Coast would be rolling out another edition of D&D in 2014, this one initially referred to as ‘Next’ and now 5th Edition, I wasn’t much into the idea of vesting time in it, but after having skipped over 4th EditionI did feel a need to at least see what the new concepts were about.

Thankfully, I’ve had a chance to first preview the content of the 5th Edition Starter Set box and finally the initial release of both the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook and the first campaign adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

In today’s Art of the Genre, I’ll be looking over the Player’s Handbook as my well-aged brain tries to grasp what WotC and 175,000 test gamers thought D&D should look like circa 2014.

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Art of the Genre: Gandalf, Conan, and Gray Mouser review Tales from the Emerald Serpent Volume II: A Knight in the Silk Purse; moderated by Cthulhu

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Another Word for Rain art by Jeff Laubenstein and writing by Dave Gross

Another Word for Rain art by Jeff Laubenstein and writing by Dave Gross

Somewhere, in the labyrinthine halls of time and space, three figures sit in what would be considered a green room by the standards of the world we know today.  Each, in their time, was brought forth by the hand and mind of a great writer, but upon their passing, most of their tales came to an end, so what else is there to do but sit in the purgatory of licensing and read about other adventures that they can no longer partake.  So it is that these three immortal characters have come to discuss a new work of fiction, one that has a seed of commonality with the genre they so thoroughly understand.  And to keep them on track, the Great Cthulhu has been summoned from R’lyeh to moderate the affair.

Cthulhu: zzzzzzzz

Gandalf: Introductions you say, why yes, I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!

Gray Mouser: Seriously, if I have to hear him say that one more time, Cat’s Claw is coming out…

Conan: Nay, friend Mouser, stay thy hand that it can be put to better use on dark sorcerers like those of ancient Stygia and not this kindly grey-cloaked priest.

Gandalf: Priest! I dare say you misjudge, my heavily girded friend, but you do bring up a point of interest, that being the mage-craft and wizardry, something that appears in the tale Water Listens.  Now Cenote is indeed one of my kindred and has the grace of the Secret Fire and the flame of Anor certainly burns within her.

Gray Mouser: Flame?  Did you read as I did, Stormcrow? That woman is more reminiscent of Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, and there was no fire in her at all, but instead she seems filled with water as deep as the soul of Sea-King.

Conan: Tis true, Gandalf, yet she has friends of the flame, her slave Hunhau and the stout black, Tohil.

Cthulhu: zzzzzzzzzz

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Art of the Genre: The Art of D&D is Not Right for Lankhmar [and Most Other Fiction Settings]

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Lankhmar Cover CompressI, like many folk of my age, category, and interest set, have many fond memories of Waldenbooks. I mean, as a kid there were basically two things you could be guaranteed were fun at any U.S. mall: Kay-Bee Toys and Waldenbooks. They were two oases in a desert of clothes outlets and anchor stores that your mother dragged you to on far too many occasions. Still, being able to go to those two stores somehow made it all worthwhile and I weep for the youth of today (and myself for that matter) that malls have now become all clothing & eateries, as both those wonderful chains are gone forever.

Yet I digress, as I’m writing today to speak a bit about a book I well remember purchasing at Waldenbooks back in probably 1987 (although the book’s production date is 1985). This gaming campaign setting, Lankhmar: City of Adventure, was produced by TSR after it acquired the license to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser universe and it does an admirable job detailing the base game mechanics for driving a square peg (Swords & Sorcery) into a round hole (Dungeons & Dragons).

I was too young at the time to properly see this problem and simply enjoyed the game for what it was, another cool setting to have my characters visit (and more importantly steal Nehwon Throwing Daggers, which did 1D6 damage instead of the 1D4 of normal D&D daggers). This was also one of the more interesting cities designed by TSR, in that it is not only huge, but it has a series of square ‘blocks’ that are empty in the map and can be filled in by the DM to customize the city to your personal campaign.

Still, as I look at this large 95-page supplement today, I’m saddened by the thought of what could have been if this kind of development and money had been focused in the right direction. To me, Lankhmar falls well short of the mark because the world of Leiber is inherently NOT D&D, and therefore trying to statistically recreate Fafhrd & Mouser, or anyone or anything else in that universe, is going to fall dramatically short. It is for the same reason that Pete Fenlon developed Rolemaster, and thereafter Middle-Earth Role-playing, because he couldn’t play the world of Tolkien using the table-top mechanics of Gygax’s gaming opus, D&D.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of ‘Making Your Own Way’

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

elmore cleric basic red box d and dToday I’d like to talk about something I call, ‘Making your own way.’  Honestly, I just made that up, in case you were wondering, right here in my bed as I write this at 5:53 AM on a Sunday morning.  Couldn’t sleep, you see, and sometimes you’ve just got to get stuff out of your head.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, which in essence is creationism in pre-established role-playing canon.  You see, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on the art of the 1983 Mentzer Basic D&D Red Box [Part One and Part Two] over on my Art of the Genre site and as I dipped into that nostalgia pool I couldn’t help but be motivated to dig a bit deeper.

I’d recently started gaming with my eight-year-old son, an experience that has been both a joy and, oddly enough, more difficult than I’d imagined it would be.  First, he’s still pretty young for an RPG, probably two or three years too young, but more importantly, as I played out each scenario, I started to wonder if I was too old!  It certainly seemed harder and harder to tell the story I wanted, to get motivated to be a dungeon master, and when I really thought about it, I realized it wasn’t really about either of our ages, but instead about the place in life I was in.  The everyday stress had gotten me down, but after looking at it that way, I was able to knock off the rust, do what gaming does best, and let myself forget the troubles of existence and then concentrate on the adventure!

So I started out just as I had with my ‘Gaming Week’ friends back in 2011, in a little province of my Nameless Realms I call Oakshire.  Oakshire was inspired by the Basic D&D module Keep on the Borderlands and I used it as the basis for an ongoing campaign that still persists today, but in the case of my son’s mini-campaign, it was more simply a backdrop for the Mentzer intro adventure and first solo adventure from the previously mentioned Red Box.

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Art of the Genre: An Interview with David Martin

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

tumblr_mwxucxtvi61ro2bqto1_500So it’s April, which is a lovely time of year here in L.A., with moderate temperatures in the mid-60s and 70s most days as the city gets ready for June Gloom to set in and cast a shadowy marine layer over everything for a month.

I was hoping to relax in the splendor of Ryan Harvey’s satisfied silence at the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as well as Kandi’s casting as innocent bystander #3 for the next Michael Bay film (you know, the beautiful young woman who gets filmed in slow motion from a gratuitous boob angle as some huge vehicle flies over her head), when my phone decided to ring.

Now there is only one person that calls me when I really, really don’t want to get a call, and that is always our editor John O’Neill.  To make things worse, this time not only was he intent on sending me out for an interview to the New Mexico desert (temps already climbing in to the 90s), but I was to take Goth Chick with me.

Why?  I have no idea, as her mission was coded ‘top secret’, although my money is on a clandestine meeting with UFO witnesses around Roswell.  Whatever the case, I soon found myself boarding a plane (yes, out of Long Beach again) with Chick.  I was pleased, however, that she was searched by the TSA four times before she made it through security, but that joy quickly evaporated when I had to sustain the brunt of her dark mood for the two-hour flight into Albuquerque.

Still, Chick is always fun to have around, and after a few miniature bottles of vodka, followed by a solicitation to join her in the ‘Mile High Club’, she was back to her caustically lovely self.  Now I know what you’re thinking, but a gentleman never kisses and tells, and besides, what happens above Vegas, stays above Vegas.
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