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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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Art of the Genre: The Dreaming Work of Travis Hanson

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

poster2final2My suggestion, assuming my AotG followers ever listen to me, is to go here and do what you must.  Seriously, find some change in your pocket and put it somewhere that is worthy.  I find I can’t help but support incredible artists, especially those willing to tell a beautiful story for children and adults alike.  So hurry and add this to your ‘what I did in 2014 that was worth something’ list.

Ok, now that you’ve made the world a better place, I’ll do the same by talking a bit about the art of Travis Hanson.

Trav, as he’s known to me, decided he wanted to do a comic, but he didn’t have any place to put it.  Luckily for him, and so many creative people, the Internet gave him the opportunity to share his talent and vision, for free, with people across the globe.  Thus, a few years back, The Bean was born.  Fast forward to now and you’ve got Fifteen Chapters and 579 comic pages of incredible fantasy adventure all at your fingertips for ZERO dollars and ZERO cents!

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Art of the Genre: I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Roleplaying Part Four: The Maps

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

MIddle-EarthHave you ever designed a campaign and thought to yourself, ‘Damn, this is so good, I should build a company on it?’ Well, certainly you aren’t the only one, and dozens of game companies have been born from folk’s home brew campaigns, but it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Role-Playing was born of the same ilk.

Now before you all go running off to Twitter about Tolkien being a RPG nerd, you have to have the full understanding of what I’m talking about. First and foremost, Tolkien WAS NOT a gamer, but that didn’t mean that his world wasn’t ripe for table-top role-players to want to explore in the mid to late 1970s.

One case in particular came out of the University of Virginia in 1977, when then student Pete Fenlon decided he wanted to create a role-playing game around Tolkien’s world for some friends on campus.

My first question upon finding this out was, ‘Why didn’t you just play D&D?’ and Pete’s answer was simple: D&D simply wasn’t Tolkien. As an avid camper and backpacker, as well as a member of the SCA, Fenlon understood way too much about Tolkien to throw a campaign into a world of negative integer armor classes and D20 to-hit charts.

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Art of the Genre: David Trampier, 1954 – 2014

Friday, March 28th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

1509880_10153982624460584_2120060224_nToday is a day of mourning for those gamers who were brought into the industry during the ‘great launch’ of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. That year the AD&D Player’s Handbook hit the market, and nothing in the life of role-playing would ever be the same again. One reason, and certainly one of the most recognizable not named Gygax, was the cover art by David Trampier. On Monday, March 24th, Mr. Trampier passed away in southern Illinois at the age of 59.

That age in itself is a tragedy, but one that can only be further exacerbated by what could have been for a man many gamers considered the great white whale of RPG fantasy artwork.

More words than can easily be counted have been written about Trampier over the years, most hypothesis and some truths, but in the end all we know now is that he is gone.

As an adept in the industry of RPG artwork, I’ve made it my life’s calling to track down bygone artists. But Trampier was never one of them. Sure, I’ve spoken in depth to his relations, and even as late as last August had a lengthy conversation with a group of RPG power brokers on the best course of action to approach him, including old friends on a road trip and private detectives, but in the end Trampier was even too far removed for me, and honestly I can’t say whether that now makes me happy or sad.

What I do know it that in the late 1980s, during his run with the Wormy comic for TSR’s Dragon magazine, Trampier suddenly went off the grid.  At the time, he’d have been only 34 years of age, and smack in the middle of his prime as an artist. Now, 25 years later, he is gone, and not a single shred of artwork was produced by his hand over the course of those intervening years.

Now that brings me profound sadness.

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Art of the Genre: The Halflings of Jeff Dee

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

I was playing Keep on the Borderlands this past week, certainly one of my all-time favorite modules, and as I flipped through it I came across a Jeff Dee illustration that had a Halfling in the background.  As two weeks ago I’d done a piece here on BG called ‘The Top 40 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years’ AND had left Jeff off that list, I couldn’t help but stare at the image and wonder why I had done so.

Certainly people in the OSR had raised a big fuss about Jeff’s lack of ‘love’ on my part, and for good reason.  He could have arguably made the list, depending on how you viewed the industry as a whole.  Add such a view to the fact that Jeff has been a tireless game designer, player, and advocate for the industry of RPGs since I was in grade school, then he could almost be grandfathered in just for trying so hard.  I guess it would be like a Lifetime Achievement Oscar or something.

Whatever the case, I sat there looking at this great little Halfling and couldn’t shake the feeling that of all the artists to ever do these little guys, Jeff was hands-down the best in my opinion, and here are the reasons why.

One: Jeff is a gamer, and as such, he has an inherent connection to how gamers see themselves, and with that, how gamers see their characters.  Certainly, the thought of a Halfling is appealing because of Tolkien, but not necessarily the thought of Bilbo Baggins.  Sure, we all love Bilbo, but do we love the Rankin/Bass version as a representation of our player characters?  I doubt it.

Two: Jeff drew from a comic book style and therefore his lean lines for humans and elves spilled over directly to Halflings.  Gone were the pot-bellied and cheery pipe-smokers, who were in turn replaced by ‘little men’ with ripped chests, chiseled faces, and weapons and armor that looked incredibly formidable.

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Art of the Genre: Behind the Curtain at Black Gate L.A.

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Sue somehow still looks pale even in the SoCal sun...

Sue somehow still looks pale even in the SoCal sun…

First off, thanks to all the readers who read and posted about last week’s Art of the Genre article ‘The Top 10 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years’ and if you haven’t taken a look, I hope you do right here! Oh, and remember, it isn’t who is the ‘best,’ but who was the most impactful.

Second, and putting into practice a bit of the Wizard’s First Rule, I thought I’d dip into the email ‘bag’ and pull back the curtain on a part of my life here in L.A. You see, there are often questions sent to me concerning Black Gate L.A. offices, like possible internships with us, and many times just inquiries as to ‘who are you?’ My current favorite of these is artist Jeff Easley’s request to ‘Post pictures of Kandi!’ which I got last week. Well, since I had a moment today between a lunch at the Red Lobster with John Scalzi [hey, he’s from Ohio and I’m from Indiana, so to us that is still an awesome and upscale establishment, so sue us!] and my two hour commute into downtown for floor seats at a Lakers game with Bill Simmons, I decided I’d introduce all my readers, and those of Black Gate in general, to our working version of ‘The Office’ here in LaLa Land.

For the purposes of keeping readers’ interest, I’m starting with our resident part-timer, ‘Goth Chick’ Sue Granquist. She spends half her time here in L.A. working with the horror genre movie industry and the other half in Chicago around the Midwest convention circuit – and bringing our editor John O’Neill coffee. She and I have a strange relationship, and I swear if she wasn’t so damn Goth and I wasn’t so damn married, there would have been an illicit office affair years ago, but as it is we just have fun insulting each other as much as possible.

I took this picture about a month ago, while we were having lunch on the veranda outside the office on the ‘beach side’. Chick, as I affectionately call her, although hating the sun most days, had decided to join me for lunch and afterward sat on the railing with her back to the Pacific. I had a nice vantage point and told her, ‘Chick, I bet I could take a photo of you from here and then Photoshop the railing out of it to make you look like you were suspended in the clear blue SoCal sky.’ ‘Art,’ she said using her nickname for me, ‘I bet you a bag of black licorice jelly beans you can’t.

Well, as you can see, I got those damnable jelly beans and they sit on my desk to feed to gulls swirling in the sea breeze out my window when I’m felling particularly peevish.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Artist Cynthia Sheppard from Lamentations doesn't make the list but who does?

Artist Cynthia Sheppard from Lamentations doesn’t make the list but who does?

The office here at Black Gate L.A. has never been quiet, it just isn’t who we are. But with the addition of new blogger James Maliszewski to the mix, it is downright loud. This change was made all the more punctuated today by the fact that our southern California drought was broken with a series of showers. As I didn’t want to get damp, I was forced to close the windows to my corner office, which usually provide some calming background noise from the crashing waves and calling gulls on Redondo Beach. Now closed in, and facing a deadline, I had to fight against the sound of a debate between Maliszewski and Ryan Harvey on who would best portray adventuring party characters in a film version of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Honestly, I would have cast our resilient secretary, Kandi, for the lead as she often times dyes her hair red when the mood strikes, but these two ‘A list’ diehards had no interest in my two cents. Therefore, I read over an email once more from our intrepid editor, John O’Neill, which I’d received the Friday before.

Taylor, I’m not paying you six figures to get a tan, so write me some numbers-generating copy!

Nice… Always the charmer that one.

Nonetheless, I flipped on my computer with my sexy desktop background of our very own Sue Granquist lounging around in her ‘Goth Chick’ black, white, and buckled finery and then bumped over to Microsoft Word. What to write? Well, how about a ‘Top 10’, since those seem to always create a buzz and get people to click down after the break.

Considering the Lamentations of the Flame Princess argument, and the just-passed 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, I decided on the ‘Top 10 RPG Artists of All-Time.” Yep, I think I’m qualified to take that one on, but just to discourage my own favoritism, I decided on a way to judge the list outside my own nostalgic mind. Now sure, the below rules have some level of interpretation on my end, but I do believe they hold water for overall impact on the industry.

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Art of the Genre: Interview with Jack Crane

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

dragontreeentsYou know, sometimes your boss just refuses to let you enjoy your life… It’s no different here at Black Gate L.A. even though our intrepid editor-in-chief John O’Neill is thousands of miles away in Illinois.

I mean, take this month as a perfect example. On any given day the sun is shining, my office partner Ryan Harvey is talking non-stop about the upcoming release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Kandi, our secretary, is whispering/weeping to her agent about her lack of a callback, but all in all life is pretty good.

Then wouldn’t you know it, I get a text from the aforementioned Mr. O’Neill to gather up my winter gear and before you can utter the words ‘polar vortex’ I’m on a flight to Pennsylvania for an interview.

Now granted, it is an interview of a lifetime, breaking bread and talking shop with legendary Dragon Magazine cover artist Jack Crane, but nonetheless couldn’t Dr. Evil himself have picked early autumn to get this copy?!

Anyway, off I went to brave the cold, first to Philadelphia and then on up the Westchester Pike to the fine and frosty town of elven thousand souls, Broomall, PA. If you’ve never been to Broomall, I wouldn’t suggest going when it is -8 degrees, but still it is a fine little piece of Americana.

With my sightseeing limited, I headed to Phil A Mignon, a nice down home pizza and burger joint to meet with Jack before going to his studio. My order, well a ‘filet cheese steak’ of course, and some highly recommended raspberry peppercorn wings. It was darn fine food, and the filet was incredible compared to the standard greasy Philly steaks.

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Art of the Genre: Artistic Melancholia for the Ruins of the Cyber World

Monday, January 13th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Biking the Grasslands before the fall...

Biking the Grasslands before the fall…

Not to go all ‘Goth Chick’ on you, but have you ever walked in a graveyard? If your answer is no, I’d put money says that you have but you just didn’t realize it. You see, the internet is really a reflection of our own world, with vibrant and glowing real-estate all along the information super highway. Now if you consider each dedicated website as a ‘town’ along this course, what happens when the site goes dormant? I would like to hypothesize that it, and all the ‘people’ [information] in it dies as well. Sure, you can still visit, and perhaps even find out some cool history there, but in truth you are simply walking over the graves of the dead.

Take a site like Grognardia for example, RIP December 11th 2012, or Permission Magazine RIP February 2011, or Stephen RIP June 6th 2010. They still exist, can still be read, but have ceased functioning for all intents and purpose and are now just ghosts in the machine.

Now you might be asking, ‘so what does this morbid topic have to do with Art of the Genre?’ Well, perhaps nothing, but then again, perhaps everything. Each website, no matter how basic, had to have a design, and that design, like a testament to some ancient civilization, is left behind in a kind of ruin that can be viewed by anyone who stumbles off the beaten path into a lost world, but I think I digress, so first let me go back. Seeing these always seems to bring me back to my post here on November 15th, 2012. In it I spoke about the Art of Disappearing MMORPGs, and for some reason I feel the need to speak on the subject a bit more and I apologize if I reiterate some of the topics of that post but I’m in stream of consciousness right now so humor me.

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Art of the Genre: Looking Back at Old Readings with Neil and Fritz Leiber

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | Posted by Scott Taylor

neil_gaiman_f1Neil Gaiman and I have a strange relationship, that being that we have no relationship whatsoever. That said, I take full responsibility for our lack of communication as the first time I turned my nose up at speaking privately with Neil was back in 1993 at the Diamond Comic Distributors convention in Atlanta.

So there I was, two floors above the off-entry lounge and looking over a railing when Neil, in his usual black, walked into the empty square couches all alone, kicked up his feet, and just sat there for a full twenty minutes without a soul coming to disturb him. Sure, I could have gone to the elevator behind me, traveled down and taken a seat, asking Neil how it felt to have Tori Amos sing about hanging out with him and the Dream King on her Little Earthquakes album, but no, I just wasn’t that into doing so. [Perhaps the most intriguing part of this tale is that I timed his small respite from the convention crowds on my wristwatch, and neither he nor I had the use of a smartphone to keep our attention… ah, what a massively different world we once lived in!]

Fast forward to San Diego and the 2011 World Fantasy Convention. Again, fate would put me in Neil’s path, this time after he’d given a secondary non-sanctioned signing session when the convention had forced him to close his first one because it went too long. Between restaurants, Neil took a moment amid the palm fronds to collect himself as the convention broke down and people said goodbye around his private island unaware. Me, having said farewell to my Black Gate crew, witnessed this act of peaceful contemplation and decided yet again that Neil and I just weren’t in the right place for a confab.

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