With the release of Dark Sun
, we recently published a D&D Alumni article
on the original campaign setting. One member of the Dark Sun
team we should have included at the outset: artists Brom
, whose work set the style and tone for the unique setting. So we asked Brom a few questions about his involvement with Dark Sun
, about future books, and with the distant realm of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Wizards of the Coast: When folks think of the original Dark Sun, they immediately conjure up your visual imagery—can you tell us about your becoming involved in the project; it sounds like you were at a crossroads even before starting at TSR in Lake Geneva?
Brom: I'd only been working at TSR about 6 months and was having a hard time finding a place where my style fit in. My style didn't match with the house look and it was frustrating being asked to paint in other artists’ style. I wanted to develop my own look. So I did a few painting at home and brought them in, not even knowing they were developing a new world. Apparently some of the developers for Dark Sun noticed and felt my new work was perfect and invited me to join them. Obviously I jumped at the chance.
Wizards of the Coast: Considering Lake Geneva tends to be a summer vacation retreat for Chicagoans (my entire 5th grade class once spent a weekend there), it seems a far cry from the desert wastes of Athas. Where did you find inspiration in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the visual elements of Dark Sun?
Brom: Lake Geneva was a wasteland of a different sort (grin), very isolated. But that's not where I got my inspiration. I grew up reading a lot of ER Burroughs, so it was more of harkening back to that era of other worldness, a primitive, barbaric planet such as John Carter of Mars, or Jason of Venus.
Wizards of the Coast: When it came to Dark Sun, was there much give-and-take between the art directors at TSR and what you wanted to produce, or did you have freedom to create as you wished?
Brom: TSR gave me almost complete freedom. In most cases I painted the scenes before the novel or game product was even begun. They would give me some general guidelines and set me loose. I would put their elements into the painting, then they would take elements I created and write them into the story. So it was wonderfully collaborative in that sense.
Wizards of the Coast: With Dark Sun being a metal-poor setting, did you find it oddly restrictive or a welcoming challenge to visualize a fantasy world but without the standard trappings of metal armor or weapons?
Brom: I loved that, at least at first. It was a wonderful design challenge that led to a very unique look. I enjoy organic design. But near the end of my 4-year involvement, I certainly had had enough of crustacean based armor.
Wizards of the Coast: It’s been mentioned that you created the illustration of Neeva before Dark Sun even existed. So, where did her look come from—did you have an existing story or concept behind her in your mind before she later became part of Dark Sun?
Brom: Neeva was one of the paintings I did at home before I had even heard of Dark Sun. That painting pretty much got me the gig on Dark Sun as well as got the look and feel started. Neeva is just me doing my thing. Not many artists were painting muscular woman back then, and I wanted to visualize a female fighter that looked like she could actually handle herself.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you have stories in mind for the characters you create regardless of where they ultimately appear? Is it odd to see them in games like D&D, with names and stories different than what you might have conceived for them?
Brom: Yes, telling stories is what I do, with pictures or words. But I really enjoy engaging both. I usually have some sort of tale in mind with any character I paint. As a create them, I am also creating their backstory. I think it gives them more depth and it seems people pick up on that. That's why I turned my hand to illustrated novels. I wanted to bring these characters to life, hear what they have to say and see what they would do.
Wizards of the Coast: Even with a sun-baked world, dark and macabre seems integral elements of your style! Even—or, as you point out, perhaps not surprisingly—when it comes to Peter Pan. Your most recent book, The Child Thief, re-imagines Peter Pan in a fairly darker, paganistic way. Or there other children’s stories you’d imagine retelling in such a way?
Brom: I love playing in childhood folklore, and would love to do some more interpretations, taking a classic and putting my own dark twist on it. Maybe I will get to some more, but for now I'm going to explore a few original ideas and see where they go.
Wizards of the Coast: With The Plucker, you present a grimmer version of the lives of children’s toys. Do you think that children’s stories have become unduly neutered through the years since James Barrie and the Brothers Grimm (and as a kid, would you have preferred darker versions to the lighter fare)?
Brom: Yes, the realm of children's literature had become incredibly safe. Children's tales used to be cautionary tales, warnings to children not to do this or venture here or someone might put you in an oven. It's much more fun to scare the boogers out of little kids.
Wizards of the Coast: Can we ask what the next book might be that we can look forward to?
Brom: I have a new art book in the works, and hope to have that out sometime in 2011. I also just started a new novel—can't divulge the details, only that it is dark and very nasty.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll).