Available Now DH:LoF – Tales of Promethea is a collection of short fiction set in the fictional country of Promethea, first laid bare in the award-winning, critically acclaimed RPG Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein.
With stories from both new and established talent from within and without the role-playing game world, Tales of Promethea gives both new readers and those already familiar with Victor Frankenstein’s country a chance to explore this terrifying, wonderful place.
In our previous Tales of Promethea update we interviewed two of the contributing authors, Kate and Stuart Boon. Today we're taking a look inside the heads of a couple of the contributing authors - Matt Gibbs and Jan Pospisil
Hi, I’m Matt Gibbs. I’m a freelance writer and editor. I've worked on games such as Sega's Binary Domain and Ubisoft's Driver San Francisco, and I’m also the editor of Improper Books, a comic imprint focusing on creator-owned stories.
You've edited all of the DH:LoF books to some extent. How did you first get involved in the project?
Sini, at the Sidelines agency, represents both Iain and I, and we simply got chatting one day. Unsurprisingly, like so many people working in video games, it turned out we’d spent a lot of our childhoods playing and dreaming up roleplaying games, and Iain mentioned he had been working on his own setting.
What is it about the whole DH:LoF 'thing' that clicks for you?
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein continues to be relevant, exploring as it does the nature of creation, scientific ethics and the human condition. Roleplaying at its best is not only entertaining escapism, but also a way to explore viewpoints and empathise with others, and what better stage to do that than a country shaped by a science unbound? A country jealous of its secrets, where life can be preserved, almost indefinitely, and the body can be improved beyond its normal limits or altered on a fashionable whim. All of which is made possible at the expense of others, at the expense of freedom. There’s a lot of scope to play out and tell interesting stories there.
What was it like both editing and contributing to the anthology?
It was interesting, to see it from both sides. I’m glad I got the first draft of my own story completed before reading everybody else’s though, as the pressure would have definitely increased otherwise. What I really enjoyed, although all of the stories have an element of the horrific or macabre, is the varied range of premises and approaches chosen by everyone.
Give us the elevator pitch for your story? No spoilers!
Difficult without spoiling it to a certain extent, so be warned…
Adjusting to life in a workhouse orphanage, ostracised by her bullying peers, Ana discovers that there are far worse things if you standout.
You were very familiar with DH:LoF before the anthology. Was the story already in your head, or did it come after the invite to contribute?
It came quite quickly after being asked. There are certain types of story I’m drawn to writing again and again, and although Scar Gang is a macabre tale, at its heart it is really a love story. For some reason that, and the defiant individual doing right, or at least what they think is right, resonates with me. I also wanted to set the story in the early years of Frankenstein’s Promethea, during the aftermath of a country reborn in fire, before the darker side of the new science had become so apparent. Around those themes, the bones and rough shape of Scar Gang quickly formed.
You write a lot of different games projects - RPGs, wargames, videogames, etc. Is writing for one type of game broadly similar to writing for any other?
There is certainly a great deal of crossover between them, more so than between other creative mediums perhaps. One key similarity is that they should always place the player or players before any other consideration. Gameplay, creating a fulfilling and fun experience, and empowering people to be part of that should always be the priority. That unfortunately is where it becomes a bit more nebulous, as that can mean different things to different people. In that context, stories and storytelling as a group can potentially span the gaps, and bring people together. Whatever, writing for different mediums, whether different forms of game, or comics, film, or prose, helps to give you a better understanding of how universal stories are to us, and the how structure, plot and character are inseparable in the best ones.
Is gaming a big thing in your life, or just a convenient outlet for your creativity?
Both really. I’ve always played games, of all sorts, starting with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy books as a kid. From there, I started buying Citadel miniatures, which led to Warhammer and roleplaying, games such AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, WHFRP, etc. These days, simply because we’re all busy, my friends and I play less than we’d like, but we still try to get together when we can.
You are currently insanely busy. What are you working on?
I can’t talk about any of my current video games writing… But that is taking the majority of my time at the moment. Around that I fit in editing for Improper Books, and work on my own projects. Currently my spare time is spent putting the finishing touches to a set of Greek myth and Arabian adventure inspired wargame rules for Crooked Dice, called 7th Voyage, which will be out in April.
As someone who freelances in games, comics and other such joys, what are the pressures and what are the rewards?
Variety and freedom are definitely the main joys, but I think, like any freelancer, it’s a balance between having that and the safety of regular paying work. You can also go crazy, working alone, and I tend to babble at my partner when she comes home from work, less so now that we have cats… I just babble at them all day, or on twitter.
Hi Jan. Many thanks for taking time out to answer these questions. What are you working on at the moment?
- Hello! Glad to be answering them. At the very moment I'm drawing the last sketch from a batch of illustrations I need to get done this year. It's for a rather exciting project, but I can't say more than that now.
Although many folks have seen your work, we should do some introductions - who are you, what do you do, and where do you do it?
- I am a full time freelance illustrator. This January It's going to be 6 months since I started doing it for a living. I mainly paint illustrations for RPG books, but I've also done a few novel covers and PC game concept art just as a hobby. I do all this in my tiny bedroom in the city of Brno, Czech Republic.
What sort of preparation did you do for the DH:LoF anthology cover? What material were you provided with?
- I was given all the material I could possibly need. The previous books in PDF, their cover illustrations, image reference for elements in the cover's description etc. I've seen some of the work Scott Purdy's done in the past, but that was the extent of my familiarity with the setting. The brief contained a narrative which I had to think quite hard about, not very simply put into an illustration. But it gave me lots of freedom in the way characters and objects were to be depicted, so I had it easy there.
When you're working on a piece, do you prefer a detailed brief, describing every little thing, or a less defined brief, leaving the majority of it up to your imagination?
- For me it's not a divide between detailed and sparse, rather a matter of "Does the client mean it?" and "Is it the kind of information I need to paint it?". If the brief is short and vague and the client knows he's asking me to do my thing, great! If the brief is simply vague, because the client can't be bothered to write it properly, or if they simply don't know what they want, that can be a real problem.
Sometimes a brief contains too much information not relevant to the illustration, or information I can't ever possibly hope to depict. On the other hand, a long and detailed brief can be really good as well, if it's not overly excessive and if I know it's safe to follow it.
One of the most fun types is a brief that's very detailed, but most of the details are not set in stone "it has to look like this" ones, but rather stylistic suggestions. Or reference of objects with a function, or an interesting look I could draw inspiration from. I'm free to invent, to do my thing, but it should stay within the style boundaries implied by the brief. And I get a ton of reference to base my "thing" on, to get me started. That's very helpful.
Talk us through the work process on creating a piece like the anthology cover?
- The process is usually pretty straightforward. I get the brief, I think it over and if I don't have any questions for the art director, I start drawing sketches. Sometimes these questions arise only when I'm in the middle of drawing though. At this stage it's good to be clear on certain issues - which characters are the most important? Is it absolutely necessary that we see all of this object, or can it be partially covered by something? Sometimes I think of a way to incorporate a theme significant for the book, which was not mentioned in the brief.
I ask about all this. Once I get the composition down, I do a slightly more detailed drawing and send that for approval.
Once in a while the client asks for changes at this stage (it could be due to the layout of the book, it may need more empty space somewhere to allow for type and so on), so I do those.
Then I get to the painting itself. I try to send work in progress images to clients, as it's easier to correct any mistakes at this point. But my process is such that these WIPs often look less than clear and certainly not at all like the finished image. I'm also aware that my art directors are busy people, so I try not to bother them with progress every day or so.
When I'm satisfied with the look of things, I send the "final" image to the client and wait. If there are any changes needed, I do those. If not, and the deadline is still a bit ahead, I let it sit for a while. That allows me to notice and fix small mistakes or details which I wouldn't have seen after staring at the image for so long during painting.
If all is approved, I upload a high resolution version of the image for the client and happily send them an invoice.
What kind of kit do you use? Are you working mainly in the digital realm?
- Yes, I'm working almost fully digital now. I used to sketch in pencil, but I abandoned that for the sheer comfort of not having to scan the drawings. I do find sketching on paper slightly easier and more productive though, so I may get back to it eventually. I use a Wacom Intuos4 tablet and a piece of software called ArtRage for painting and drawing.
You knew going into the job that Jon Hodgson, AD at Cubicle 7, had been working on it before other commitments forced him to step aside. You produced an amazing result, making the project completely your own, but was it daunting at all stepping into another artist's shoes?
- It should've been daunting, but I felt so good about being recommended by him that I somehow forgot all about having to fill his shoes. I considered doing the cover in his style, or attempting to do so at least, but abandoned the concept soon after. It all clicked and I fell into my usual process, doing what I do without thinking about the circumstances of the job.
What's on your plate work-wise over the next little while?
- I will continue to do what I've been doing for most of my first 6 months - painting colour plates for the wonderful Guide to Glorantha by Moon Design Publications. There are 16 of them in total and I'm just now pushing a half of that. A lot of work to do till April. That is a great example of the detailed, yet fun and free type of job, by the way.
Other than that I have this secret project for Cubicle 7 I mentioned, which will also be a lot of fun. That one is certainly daunting.
Many thanks for all your answers. Now we're done, what are you off to do now?
- Thank you for asking me! I'm off to have dinner and then I'll be finishing that mysterious sketch.
You can find out more about Jan and his amazing work at http://janpospisil.daportfolio.com/