This is a page from a ‘rough’ proof for Exqusite Corpses v2 that just arrived from Lulu (not on sale to the general public yet). Here we see the head of an angel with the body of an armored fiend and the legs of a space man alien. If you missed it the first time around, EC is a book with pictures of monsters divided into heads, bodies and legs/feet and by flipping the 3 tabs you can mix and match to create the creatures that mythology was always coming up with that stuck the ass of one thing onto the head of another. EC v1 was a crude product, but the idea was sound… this time I’ve teamed up with LOFP publishing to make it better. You can read old posts from this website on it.
How is it going to be better? The above illustrations, even in this crude proof, are much better than the ones from ECv1 and Jim Raggi encouraged me to do the book in COLOR (don’t be fooled by the fact that this preview is in B&W — this version is just a means for me to proof other issues) so in the final product they will be even better. We went from 26 ‘base creatures’ (for 17576 possible combinations) to 40 ‘base creatures’ (for 64000 possible combinations!). The text was moved off the drawing onto the facing page… so when you look at the angel’s head, everything you need to know (how smart he is, alignment, special powers, etc.; all the ‘gamey’ stuff) will be on the tab just to the left of it, etc. Each ‘part’ (head, body, tail/legs) also has a small table with unique qualities that can be determined at random that is unique to each monster… so the fish entry will have ‘fish-like’ super powers or flaws for the head, tail and body… the ‘angel’ entry will have angel powers (or flaws) for the head, tail and body, etc. Instead of being a ‘Lulu’ product, the new book will be a professionally printed book with die-cut tabs… meaning you don’t need to slit the pages along a dotted line yourself before use. And it will be printed much more nicely (in Finland!).
The book is ‘universal’ system and uses general properties, so it can easily be converted to your game system of choice. If you are not a gamer, the book is still fun for just creating strange, funny or bizarre creatures by flipping the tabs.
I passed a personal milestone tonight — this rather strangely positioned pose of a frog is the last drawing for revised Exquisite Corpses (if the fates are willing). I now have 40+ images that need to be colored and 40+ entries that need to be edited, but this is much closer than I imagined being even a couple of weeks ago. So this is what happens when you don’t have much of a social life — you get a lot of work done!
In case you are curious, one has to do a LOT of searching through images of frogs to find one in a pose like this. The frog is sort of in ‘mid leap’ to nab that bug above him. The folds of skin at the crotch are exaggerated (just a little), but with many of the monsters, who do not normally wear pants or collars or togas, one had to take a little artistic license in order to make the ‘mix and match’ tabs work so you can put a frog’s legs on a horse’s body, a human head on a snake’s body, etc.
In what time I have, I have been working on various things that I can’t post yet… but because I want to post something, here is the current drawing of the carnivorous plant for Exquisite Corpses v2. I’m going for that 18th century Botanist’s guide look. Click to enlarge.In other news, I’m considering renting a table at UCon 2015 in Livonia, MI to sell art and meet people. Don’t know if I can swing it, but will at least look into the possibility. I will need to figure out ways of packaging art for easy sale and safe transportation and suppose I should look into getting one of those dongle things that plug into your phone or tablet so I can take credit cards. UCon is November 20-22nd this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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: https://stefanpoag.wordpress.com/category/exquisite-corpses/.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
They 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:
I 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.
OK, whenever I ask people on the Internet, “What kind of blog entries do you like?” I always get people saying, “Write more about gaming and don’t write about politics.” However, when I look at my blogs statistics and see who looked at what and how often (and count comments), gaming is always dead last and my posts about the US election or Rush Limbaugh being a douche bag or the fact that I am irritated over some computer issue are first. Maybe I just write crappy gaming posts… and when I talk about a ‘lot of page views,’ I’m talking an average of 100 views in 3-4 days or so (more views if I post during the week), so I’m not claiming to be creating ‘Grognardia’ levels of interest with my paltry 160 followers. Page views are relative to the obscurity of this tiny corner of the Internet.
I used to think that google+ made the difference, but out of deference to ‘gaming’ followers of the blog who said they didn’t want to read about my political views, I only post blog links to google+ when I am writing about games (and I limit that to my ‘gaming’ circle on google+), so at this point it seems that posting on google+ actually might get me less page views than not posting on google plus — how does that work? If blogger gives a breakdown on who views a page via google+ versus some other source, I haven’t seen it. but other than occasionally looking at the search terms people use to get here (mostly because some of them are so damn weird), I haven’t delved too deeply into blogger statistics. And I don’t know if blogger differentiates between a ‘click through’ and someone spending an hour reading blog posts — I suspect to blogger, a click may be a click.
I’ve gotten a couple of emails asking about Khunmar. I’ll probably try to finish it after I finish Exquisite Corpses v2 (which will be released by LotFP. That project is creeping along right now, due in part to me being really busy (yeah, I know I’m writing this blog, but my boss doesn’t mind if I use a little downtime here and there for writing on my blog) and also me being undermotivated and a bit of a loser when it comes to finishing things. Sorry, internet.
Current conception is that Khumar will be released by ME as either a print-on-demand piece of shit or maybe I’ll print up a ‘collector’s edition’ where everyone who orders one gets 1 piece of orginal artwork chosen at random from the many 1/2 pagers I will be doing for Khunmar. But that waits till after E.C.v2 is done.
I’ve been working on E.C. v2. and have a lot of issues/problems bubbling up. I’m not posting them here to ‘design by committee,’ I just thought it might be interesting for some people to see behind the scenes of how I do this.
If you are reading this and don’t know what Exquisite Corpses is: E.C. is a somewhat unusual monster book I published in an abbreviated form via Lulu a few years ago. In 2012 a new and improved version will be published by LotFP. The book has a lot of pictures of monsters divided into three sections (head, body and tail/legs). Each drawing is split along the seams, creating tabs you can flip back and forth to make new hybrid creatures with different heads, bodies and legs/tails. Just by flipping tabs you can create 64,000 different critters. Read more here.
Here is a picture of one of the ‘mock-ups’ (in black and white) of the old edition in use. In the pic I have put a dragon’s head on an insect’s body with a bird’s feet (the newer edition has nicer illustrations and will be in COLOR!):
I have 40 paintings of creatures that I began this year. Each is about 9×12 acrylic; some are better than others. Getting the creatures to fit the format is, at times, a bit difficult. Some animals are pictured rearing up on their hind legs so they can all fit the basic profile. So, basically, it works like this:
Here we took the head of a one legged cyclops creature (I call it a “cyclopskiapod”), the body of a dragon/wyvern creature and the legs/tail of a gargoyle and added them all together to make a new creature with a one-eyed head, dragonny wings and clawed feet and a tail. The book will tell you stuff like the Cyclops head will have poor depth perception, the dragon body can fly and the gargoyle legs can grab and claw with the feet (examples). There will also be more tables that will allow you to add more qualities. You can generate your creatures by picking the parts and powers you want or rolling dice.
Right now I’m struggling to edit the text the way I want it. Each entry has to be unique and after working for a while I get tapped out of ideas, so I keep having to work on it till I am not coming up with good ideas, putting it down, coming back to it, etc. I’m hoping to have the text more or less ‘done’ by the new year.
I’m also having second thoughts about the art and am thinking of revising the paintings in favor of a more graphic presentation like this:
Compare the above armored fiend to the original acrylic painting of the same monster:
Obviously, the old ‘armored fiend v1’ has a wonky left leg that is supposed to look like he is stepping forward (I need to repaint that) and the new version is an ink drawing colored on the computer, but right now I’m grooving a lot more on the more comic-bookish new one than the painterly old one — not just because his legs are better, either — I just like the more graphic ‘look’ of it better right now. But I have to mull it over, and, of course, talk about it with my publisher. But I thought since people have been asking they might like a behind the scenes look.
BTW, an ‘armored fiend’ is a monster of my own creation — it’s basically a fanatical warrior who has had weapons and armor permanently mounted to their flesh. They never give up or surrender and it’s hard to do things like knock their weapon out of their hand because, more often than not, their weapon IS their hand. Like Edward Scissorhands but more medievalish.
A friend sent me an email asking ‘why are you redoing Exquisite Corpses?’ and I thought I would reproduce my answer here, since if he is wondering why, others may be wondering why too (Hopefully I’m not revealing anything here that Jim LotFP does not want to be general knowledge, but as far as I know, all of this has been scattered through several posts on LotFP anyway)
(if it matters, the pic at right is not from my book — I just thought it was cool).
Anyway, message reproduced below:
…The publisher wants to print ‘Exquisite Corpses’ with perforated tabs
rather than ‘cut-em-yourself’ pages and the printer has restrictions on numbers
of pages, etc., for these special print jobs. So the base number of monsters
(40) was chosen because of the number of signatures in a print run (multiples of
32 or 8 are our options— so we added 32+8=40!)To make the book possible as a
commercial product, we have had to make certain changes… which will also
(hopefully) make it more appealing to the users. Instead of having lots of info
scattered through the text AND the illustrations so the user has to flip back
and forth, the current idea from Jim (which I think is a winner) is to have it
all in one place — on the illustration itself and the facing page. So if you
lay the book down flat and flip the tabs so you have a lizard head, woman’s body
and bird’s feet, hopefully we can cram all the info you need to know to run with
that critter with options on that two page spread. That’s the idea, anyway…
and that’s the part I am struggling with.It’s been a long series of me emailing
the guy (Jim) who is publishing it back and forth to arrive at this point. In
the process one of us might come up with an idea and email it to the other, then
I would mull it over and Jim would go to his printer and talk about it, come
back to me and say, “I don’t think that’s going to work but how about this,”
etc., rinse and repeat. So v2 of Exquisite Corpses is going to be very different
than v1 in execution, although concept is the same — hopefully v2 will be more
user friendly.It was originally hoped it would be ready for Gencon, but there
were a lot of changes and I had a ‘crisis of confidence’ in some of my artistic
decisions and needed more time on them, so finally Jim said, “Take your time;
don’t worry about deadlines, let’s just try to make it as good as possible.” In
the meanwhile I’ve had my other comissions and some ‘life stuff’ to worry about,
so E.C.v2 has moved to the back burner, although I am trying to remember to stir
the pot occassionally so it doesn’t burn or spoil. In other news, last night I
finished 4 more drawings for (blank).
Thanks for the interest — I miss playing with you guys… please have
someone write a session report!
I was hoping to go to GenCon this year in order to celebrate the release of my book (“Exquisite Corpses“) and spend some time meeting fine folks at Joseph Browning’s / Expeditious Retreat’s OSRG Booth… (I hear even Ostensible Cat was coming all of the way from Italy!) but continued cash flow problems make that impossible.
I’m just a sad-faced clown, crying on the inside while whining on the outside.