Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bill Willingham

You have no idea how much the back cover of X1 deeply impacted my 14-yo mind.

I mean... what's to be said about Bill Willingham? He's a god damn legend. And he's a legend in two distinct domains. He's legendary as one of the artists of TSR's golden age, lending his talents to such immeasurably influential works as the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic and Expert D&D sets and seminal adventure modules such as X1: Isle of Dread. He's also more legendary (to the wider public) as the creator of many comic books ranging from the early 80s' Elementals to the 2000s massively popular Fables (and including the 90s' deliciously pornographic Ironwood, for which there was in fact an RPG based on the Theatrix system).

It would be easy to say Willingham is high on my list of favorites merely because of nostalgia. And it is absolutely true that this has something to do with it. If he hadn't been present in the books I was looking at as my own artistic voice developed then I would certainly not have him on my list. But there's more to it than that. Like Frank Frazetta or Vaughn Bode, Willingham's style, line work, and overall approach to the subject matter resonates with me. I love how he draws forms and shadows. And people in capes.

This front piece from X1 perfectly illustrates Willingham's wonderful use of shadows, I think.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Girl and Her Bot

Michael Golden

Michael Golden! I first ran across his work probably via Micronauts, though in those days as a wee lad I didn't pay much attention to who was doing what. The first time I recognized his work (as in, knowing his name) was his Savage Sword of Conan covers, which I loved. Soon after, there was the absolutely badass reboot of Savage Tales featuring his work. Boom!

I always put Golden in a category with Richard Corben. They had some similarities in how they drew figures that resonated with me. There's something about the way Golden creates shapes that I am drawn to. His work is detailed and crunchy but also has an element of cartooning and exaggeration that isn't quite as excessive as what would come later with Image Comics.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

But Robots Are Not Human

Robots are people. Robots are not human. These are the first premises of My Metal Skull, an RPG about robots.

Robots are people because that's the only way you can have character. And character is essential to an RPG. I can't imagine an RPG in which I slip into the role of an object that has no character. But all of that is kind of moot because we're all people and no matter how hard we try, we cannot possibly "play a role" that isn't a character. So robots are people.

Robots are not human because duh. They're machines originally designed and built by humans. They're not human, but their fundamental purpose, architecture, and design are based on the needs and desires of human beings. Robots are not human but they speak to the conceits of humanity.

But robots are not human. So it's OK if they act kinda funny. Kinda weird. Kinda odd. They are not human. They're gonna have quirks that we humans don't get. Especially after we humans go extinct and the robots continue on, evolving in their own ways over long stretches of time. This game takes place in an uncanny valley epoch where robots are becoming their own species, for lack of a better word, but are still fundamentally the playthings of humanity. Their behavior is going to be all over the map.

And it's those two ideas that I find most interesting about this project. Both in the process of drawing robots and in designing a game about them, I find it fascinating that robots are people and are not human. I hope the game speaks to that concept in an adequate way.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Masked Crusader

So. I have a desk. And on that desk are some stress marks because the desk top is cheap. Probably ripped some tape off. Anyway, I kept seeing a face in this image (on the right... I know there's a face on the left). So I sketched out a face (on the left, see?) based on what I saw in the stress mark. While playing Call of Cthulhu, actually.

Mitch Byrd

I don't remember Mitch Byrd's work at all prior to the mid-2000s when I picked up Mitch Byrd's Notes to Draw From. I instantly fell in love with his clean linework, soft pencil drawings, and round, sexy women. Plus his advice is pretty solid, over all. He does a great job of explaining simple things, such as vanishing point perspective or the way gravity affects bodies. All of his books are solid if you're looking for tutorials and primers on basic art shit.

Plus you get these delicious chicks to boot. And who doesn't need this in their life?

And dinosaurs, oh my!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Robots Are People

As is my wont, I suddenly had a fixation on a thing in recent days and that fixation is only growing. You may have noted my many posts in the pinup art vein, a fixation I've had since I was 20 years old. That's not new or sudden, that's just me.

But now robots. Why robots? You know, I didn't even like the animated movie Robots. I can't remember why, exactly, but it felt disjointed and ungrounded to me. Or it was just too generic. I don't know. I didn't even love all the robot stuff in it.

But I love me some god damned robots. And I've been drawing a lot of them lately. I think the impetus was that I can just start drawing a robot straight to inks without a sketch. I mean... who's going to call me out on bad anatomy? It's a damn robot. Show me the correct anatomy.

Drawing robots is like drawing monsters. You can invent as you go and it's a brilliant, freeing experience. So I'm continuing to draw them daily. And of course, naturally, I'm noodling an RPG out of it.

I haven't made much progress on the RPG. I don't have a plan. I just have some notions.

Working title of the game: My Metal Skull

I flirted with My Metal Head, but the ubiquitous nature of "metalhead" signifying heavy metal music didn't mesh with my concept. I mean, I am a metalhead... but the game isn't going to be metal in that sense. It needs to be more fluid than that, not quite so locked-in to such a specific cultural aesthetic.

Some early game design beats*:

1. Like, this is a game about being given an identity (you were built, after all) and then having the autonomy to change and grow into your own robot. So it should have elements of random character creation along with choices (point buys, maybe). But the real meat of it is the way you evolve through play. No levels or anything like that. You just change organically. You find modules you can add to your body, or you lose them. And the catch is that adding a module alters you fundamentally. So you have to constantly make decisions about what kind of robot you are and what kind of robot you want to be.

2, It is RPG adventure. So there's a focus on danger, exploration, etc. But also it's got to have a strong social component. These are robots without living human masters. They are trying to figure themselves out. You need social mechanics.

3. Weights. I don't usually give a damn about encumbrance. But here I'm leaning into it. Your body will be composed of various elements (chassis, CPU, modules) and each will have a weight given in kilograms. You'll have to keep up with that stuff a little bit because you're a robot and knowing your physical parameters is important.

4. Lots of cool modules. Like skills, spells, magic items, etc. The modules you can acquire or build speak to who you are and certainly what you can do. So these are important and I want to have a ton of them pre-written with nice clean rules for making your own.

5. Setting. All I know right now is that humans are gone. So it's "post-apoc" in that sense. But I don't want to call this a post-apoc game or make too much of the fact that people are gone. People had their time and that time is over. Now it's robots' time. I'll lean into the fact that robots can trace their origin to people and thus "humanity" is something perhaps many robots seek to emulate. Also, I'll lean into the far-future nature of the setting and have some funky cool evolutionary stuff with wildlife and with wild tech. I have not decided if this will be space-faring yet. It kinda makes sense to make it space-faring. But it's "hard" sci-fi at least in the sense that there's no FTL drives. So the robots may tool around the solar system, making the setting the solar system and not just Earth.

6. Some have asked if this will be a Troika!-based follow-up to Supercalla. I certainly have had that Troika! that make it less ideal for this project, as much as I love that game. So no, this will not be a Supercalla expansion**.

*I was noticing recently that "beats" is a term used by various people when talking about their RPG projects. I found that interesting because it's a thing I've used in my private journals for decades. When would noodle a comic idea I'd write down "five beats" about the comic and then riff from there.

**I say that, but I'm in the earliest possible stage of development. Everything could change tomorrow.

Duane Bryers

I think it was the early 2000s when I laid eyes on Hilda, the pinup creation of the late Duane Bryers. Hilda was a pinup girl in the 50s. But unlike most other pinup girls, Hilda had some junk in the trunk. She was chubby, and lovely, and fun.

Bryers' style is akin to a lot of painters at the time and, to my eyes, reminds me very much of Norman Rockwell. Because everyone who painted in that style at that time reminded everyone of Normal Rockwell. Rockwell was the Frazetta of American culture painting.

But I think it's more fair to say Bryers was akin to Gil Elvgreen, a contemporary whose style is more similar to Bryers than someone like Alberto Vargas... all of whom are best known for painting pinup ladies. God bless 'em.

I don't know much about Bryers outside of his Hilda work. I wish I owned some of those old Hilda calendars. I wonder how much they go for on eBay? Anyway, I know he painted other stuff, such as western scenes, and perhaps Hilda wasn't what he wanted to be locked into. I don't know. But he did a lot of paintings of this one character and she seemed to be very popular.

It it interesting to me that though Hilda was often painted in comical situations, such as farting next to the stove, wearing a flour sack for a bikini, and falling off of logs, she is quite often painted in quiet, peaceful moments of bliss or even in overtly sexy poses. There's a shitty trend in media to present the fat girl as comic relief or a figure to be aided by the protagonist to make them look better. How often is the fat chick on TV allowed to just be hot? Or to just be, for that matter?

Hilda is great. I'm happy Duane Bryers created her and dedicated so many paintings to her adventures.

What Would I Steal?

Willingness to be goofy, charm, and those lovely paint strokes.