Work in Process: Exquisite Corpses (Skeleton)

When Jim Raggi from LotFP and I began discussing a revised edition of ‘Exquisite Corpses’* a number of years ago, we both agreed it needed more creatures. We collaborated on a list that included various animals and other creatures… one of the creatures added was the ‘skeleton’ which has caused me no end of trouble. I thought I would share some of my attempts in order to illustrate a response to some of the emails I have gotten and (hopefully) allow a peek into my process.

My first skeleton was done when I was working on the illustrations using acrylic paint. I have since decided a) acrylic wasn’t the right medium, and b) all three tabs need to be the same size for printing / die cut at the printers, so this version goes on the scrap heap, despite being pretty good (albeit unfinished). I like the purple robe and will probably include purple in the final color scheme.

skeleton I


I then decided to do them in pen and ink and add color later (this gives the transition from one tab to the next a more unified look). I like the way this guy is climbing out of the grave… unfortunately, I made a really stupid mistake and split the legs from the torso at the top of the pelvis rather than the bottom of the pelvis. This means that if I used this one, any creature employing the skeleton legs would have 2 pelvises…a skeletal pelvis beneath the pelvis attached to whatever torso you used. Despite being a pretty promising start, I had to ditch this one, too.

skeleton II

3rd version, pen and ink, avoids the mistakes of 2nd version… but something about the arms and legs just looks bad. I like the design of this helmet, though, and decided that ragged strips of cloth, from the skeleton’s decayed clothing, can help disguise the transition from one section to the next.

skeleton III

4th version… this is probably the final (although it is unfinished). Because the three sections all need to join together and be the same size, realistic proportions take a hit (most people’s legs are a little longer and their heads and torsos might be a little shorter, but these are the sacrifices we need to make). I’m happy with the vaguely ‘Hussar’ look of the helmet and armor and have an environment sketched out around his feet.

skeleton IV

*If you are reading this, you are probably aware that E.C. is a monster ‘flip book’ I self published a few years ago where you can flip tabs to put the head of one creature on the torso of another and add the legs of a third, etc. It’s a quick and fun way to create your own mythological beasts. See these posts for explanation:

Help Jim Ward!

Taylor Frank of Dungeon Lord ( is raffling off some drawings I did for Goodman’s reprint of Metamorphosis Alpha and a drawing for an adventure for Metamorphosis Alpha by Jobe Bittman. Proceeds will help Jim Ward with some medical expenses. Please pitch in and buy a ticket if you are interested in helping Jim!



doppleganger 72dpi

I’ve recently been reading ‘The Man in the Rockefeller Suit’ by Mark Seal after having finished “Blood will Out” by Walter Kirn. The subject of both of these books is a serial imposter, con-man and murderer who called himself, variously, Chris Chichester, Chris Crow and Clark Rockefeller. His real name is Christian Gehartsreiter and he is originally from a small town in Bavaria, Germany.

The story is fascinating, but Gehartsreiter is obviously a deeply disturbed narcissist who lies compulsively, even when everyone else knows the truth. Maybe he is the consummate real world doppelganger. Maybe he was such a convincing con-man because he actually believes the con. The most interesting part of the story is no one other than Gehartsreiter really knows what his motivations in spending his life impersonating rich people beyond the obvious (wealth and fame). His need to pretend he was someone else seems compulsive.

There’s a fantastic horror story lurking in here — perhaps a kind of diseased monster that resembles a human so closely that no one can tell the difference — not even the monster itself?

Exquisite Corpses: Not Dead Yet

Exquisite Corpses - the original edition

Exquisite Corpses – the original edition

A search of this blog will reveal that long ago I released a little book called ‘Exquisite Corpses’ which was my love note to medieval bestiaries, the AD&D Monster Manual and mythology. It will also reveal that LotFP is going to publish a revised edition at some undisclosed date in the future and that the project is YEARS behind schedule. I was talking to a number of people about it recently and wanted to say that it is neither gone nor forgotten — just delayed because I am crap at enforcing my own deadlines on myself.

The original had 26 monsters that could be combined to create something like ~17,000 unique combinations. Each ‘monster’ page had a drawing of a creature (man, woman, dragon, lizard-man, slug, robot, etc.) divided up into legs at the bottom, torso in the middle and head at the top. If the pages were slit into three parts, the user could flip the tabs to put the legs of one creature onto the torso of another and add the head of a third creature. In addition to all of that, there were tables to add additional powers or weaknesses to the creatures, like ESP, a vulnerability to silver weapons, etc.  I thought it was a good idea, but the execution was a little crude and the printing via Lulu left a little to be desired, plus people had to slit the pages themselves before they could use it.

The original edition in action

The original edition in action

Jim from LotFP expressed interest and I began to revise it. Jim has a printer in Finland who can do die-cut tabs and full color printing on better quality paper, so I began to paint the individual creatures with acrylics. We increased the number of ‘base’ creatures from 26 to 40 – a decision influenced by the use of print signatures by Jim’s better quality book maker as opposed to the ‘slap it together coil binding’ of print-on-demand like Lulu. I’m not slamming Lulu — as a creator, I don’t want to be saddled with the necessities of order fulfillment when it comes to shipping books out to all over the world and plan to release other things via Lulu in the future simply because it will allow me to get my work out there without having to make sure everyone who ordered a book gets what they ordered. Most ‘self published’ projects instituted by amateurs and artists seem to flounder on order fulfillment — having LotFP do that part while I concentrate on creating the content seems like the best idea.

The acrylic versions in process

The acrylic versions in process

In addition to delays from me being a really bad procrastinator and decision maker when it comes to my own projects (I’m capable of sometimes literally turning around assignments overnight when it is for someone else, but when it comes to my own projects, I keep changing my fucking mind), some problems arose. I had difficulty making the color versions work and fit together. I wasn’t happy with a lot of the creatures and didn’t think the acrylic paintings fit together, visually, as well as my original crude drawings had simply because the transitions from one creature to another were too abrupt. After finishing 40 paintings and experimenting with them a while by sticking the head from one creature onto the body of another via the magic of photoshop, I determined that acrylic was the wrong medium. I would need to do the creature images all over again.

A version of 'bug man'

A version of ‘bug man’

I began to do them again, this time working in pen and ink and coloring them digitally. I decided that if I wasn’t happy with the digital color, I could do it over again or always color the ink version after inking. My experiments made me happier this time — the bold, black lines united the drawings a bit more when you switched heads, legs or torsos — for a book where the interaction of the user was primarily visual, I wanted to make the visual experience as appropriate as I could for the user/reader. But there were still problems.

In order to work as a book, the tabs all had to be the same size but I had not drawn them that way. In discussions with Jim from LotFP, we had agreed to place details on the creature on the left hand page facing the illustration on the right hand page… and this information would include what the creature was, how tough it might be, how it might defend itself, etc. Because of printing restrictions, the three tabs needed to all be the same size… but I hadn’t drawn them that way. Fortunately, I figured this out BEFORE I did all 40 of the illustrations for a third time, but there are about 20+ illustrations which, in addition to the 40 acrylic paintings, that I cannot use. I’m having to figure this stuff out as I go along.

Left to right, various attempts to get the 'ape' working for E.C. v2

Left to right, various attempts to get the ‘ape’ working for E.C. v2. Click to make bigger.

Unfortunately, humans and other creatures have all sorts of unusual proportions — the legs of an ape are very different than the legs of a human or a horse. I knew I could take liberties with the more fantastical beasts, but if there was too much distortion in the bodies of the more mundane creatures, it might not fly. I had to draw several of them several times to get it right and am still struggling to get this part right — the legs of a given drawing need to look “right” in the original drawing and when added to every single other creature in the portfolio. This, and the text, are the parts I am still struggling with. I’m incorporating collars, belts, etc., to provide “breaks” where one creature type can join up to another without looking too abrupt.

Here are some samples of recent versions which (hopefully) will make it into the final version:

3 creaturesThey will eventually be colored in some fashion and details as to their habits, disposition and abilities will appear on the facing page. The list of creatures is about 90% firm – a few of them might need to be swapped out for alternates unless I can figure out a way to draw them so that they fit with the parts of all of the other creatures. This illustration should show you how I hope to create a book which will allow you to combine a woman, a tree-man and a tentacled creature into a strange mythological creature of strange habits and abilities:

eyeball woman tree formulaI really hope to have this done before 2015 is over… which is (unfortunately) what I also said last year… but in the last two months I have managed to move the baton substantially closer to the goal line so there is hope. In any case, rest assured that I wont ‘kickstart’ or ask anyone for money until my part is 100% done and I am ready to hand it off to LotFP to get ready for the presses.

Mouse (work in progress)

mouse at pondThis is a departure from my usual – an illustration (at this point close but still unfinished – needed a break from it) for a ‘chapter book’ for young readers. ‘Chapter books’ are supposed to be the gateway drug that gets kids into reading novels so of course I am into that.