Art of the Genre: Art Road Trip

Art of the Genre: Art Road Trip

John O'Neill, Jeff Easley, and me before the waitress kicked us out.
John O'Neill, Jeff Easley, and me before the waitress kicked us out.

Ok, so here’s the deal, I like art. Yeah, I know, that’s hard to believe and all, but it’s true. This passion of all things visually marketed in oil, acrylic, water-color, and the like brought me to Art Evolution, and from that platform I’ve fostered many great relationships with artists.

In November I posted the Art Evolution piece on artist Jeff Easley, and when I asked him if he enjoyed it he responded, ‘Yeah, if I ever do an art book, you can do the intro.’

Ok, I’m going to give you a second to let that sink in…

As absolutely insane as it sounds, Jeff Easley, icon of TSR and modern fantasy art has never, ever, done an art book. Well, if you know me at all you know my response, which went something like this, ‘Uh… Do the intro? Heck, I’ll do the whole book!’

Jeff agreed that something like that might be a fine idea, and from that point a rather fantastic journey began. Now of course there will be no spoilers here, but I will tell you about the rather grand trip I’ve just completed in conjunction with one of the stages in this book’s creation.

On Monday, June 6th, I took a personal leave from the Black Gate L.A. offices to head to Lake Geneva Wisconsin by way of Chicago. Now all of you who know Black Gate, know that our fearless leader, John O’Neill, houses our central offices in the BG Tower in Chicago, so it was no surprise when news of my trip was intercepted by John.

Divulging that I was meeting with Jeff at Popeyes, a fantastic little restaurant and hub of Lake Geneva culture, John said he’d be obliged to come as well… and so he did.

30 years, and I FINALLY have my MERP Map!
30 years, and I FINALLY have my MERP Map!

The dinner was a fantastic success, Jeff being reserved and polite while John was funny as always, stories going from John’s inability to follow any type of driving direction to Jeff’s days playing D&D on lunch breaks at TSR with Elmore, Caldwell, and Parkinson. Note: Don’t let Jeff play a wizard with the fireball spell.

After the sun went down on the lake, John left our company and Jeff and my chauffer, Brent, drove back to Jeff’s place to begin a massive cataloguing session.

Now I don’t know about you, but walking into the home of any artist is a grand time, but doing so in one of your idols homesteads is beyond cool, especially when he’s taken 30+ years of original art and filled the front room of his house with it.

Yeah, I had trouble sleeping with anticipation of our morning art cataloging exercises, but I wasn’t disappointed. I was there holding Kara-tur, Darkwell, Sword and Fist, Tome of Magic, and countless other classic paintings. Note: If you’re wondering about AD&D hardcover series originals, you’re out of luck as a member of the band Creed bought every one.

It was kind of religious, and I was nearly overcome with the beauty of the oil on canvas, the scans of these images holding only a fraction of the detail, color, and wonder the brush expresses.

Tom Wham, me, and Ernie Gygax at a gaming table... PEACE OUT!
Tom Wham, me, and Ernie Gygax at a gaming table... PEACE OUT!

After a half-dozen hours of working with art, we decided to pile in the car and make a thirty-minute pilgrimage to Noble Knight Games where yes, finally, after nearly three decades I was able to purchase the Middle-Earth Map created by I.C.E.! The place was incredible, and their slogan ‘Where the out of print is available again’ was no lie. They even had the original Erol Otus Deities and Demigods cover painting hanging on the wall in all its violet acrylic glory.

Once back from Noble Knight, I checked my Facebook to discover that Ernie Gygax has invited me over for a board game with Tom Wham. No kidding, life is good, and the next thing you know I’m watching Russian war films and playing Tom’s newest prototype board game, Feudality, that he recently sold to Z-Man Games in Germany [and it’s AWESOME!]. Ernie is as bright and fun a dude as you’d think, and the stories of old TSR flowed as freely as the good times [although I totally lost the game and Brent crushed us all…]

What next you ask? Well, it’s time to return to Jeff’s place and spend an evening going over interview questions for the book, then to bed, and finally up again to lay into Jeff’s 60’s horror-film inspired homage of an art studio where even more treasures are discovered! A few more edits, pictures, and what’s that… Clyde Caldwell wants to meet in Milwaukee for Thai food? Well, heck ya!

Next thing we know it’s off to the home of the Brewers, and Clyde and is lovely wife Sharon are as awesome as you’d think, more stories of TSR, the old days, and of course Larry Elmore rolling around the table to laughs all but unabated. Yep, sometimes life shines on you the right way…

Jeff Easley, me, and Clyde Caldwell... can you guess who in this picture has no artistic talent?
Jeff Easley, me, and Clyde Caldwell... can you guess who in this picture has no artistic talent?

But as with all good things, they finally come to an end, but you know what? As I drove down the 294 to Indiana and my old stomping grounds, 1st Edition AD&D character sheets with Easley pictures in the portrait box, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am and what adventure might lie in store for me and my old gaming buddies as we prepare for a Roslof tribute with a running of B2 Keep on the Borderlands before I fly back to California.

After two days and more than thirty hours of gaming, our adventuring party of six explored every room of The Caves of Chaos, as well as finding the Hermit, Lizardmen, and Bandits in the surrounding countryside. The only thing we missed, the Black Widow Spider lair, but man it was still impressive [although two characters did die along the way… I salute you Manfred of the Lake and Tiberius Bronzblade!].

So for all you gamers out there, I salute you, and I hope I’ve done you proud with my RPG road trip. Maybe next time I can take some of you with me, assuming John O’Neill pays the bill!

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John ONeill

Hey Scott,

Dinner was indeed epic. Glad we were finally able to meet in person. I envy you that visit to the Jeff Easley art lair!

I’m also completely envious of Jeff’s awesome white beard. I vow not to appear again in public until I can grow something similar. It may take years, so first I shall stock up on pop tarts and nutella.

Kerstan Szczepanski


Just think, you are doing now what 25 years ago a million of us dreamed of doing. Amazing. And keep us updated on that Easley book!

Sarah Avery

Hooray for the MERP map!


Well, SHAZAM!! I guess you didn’t need all my good juju sent your way after all. Or…wait…maybe it WAS my good juju that made your trip such a smashing success.

Yeah, that’s it. You can thank me at WFC. 🙂

Woohoo! Glad it was so great!

C.S.E. Cooney

And so do I!!! Read your blog, that is.

<.< I ought to have read this without being prodded to it: MY APOLOGIES! This sounded like a grand trip... ... But WAIT! You were in Chicago, and neither you or John INVITED ME to dinner with y'all? The wounds. The wounds.

[…] to get a chance to catch up with Jeff again after our dinner with my fellow BG blogger Scott Taylor last summer, but the constant mob of admirers at his booth kept me at bay. Ah well, I wanted to look through […]

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