Meet the Reeking Metropolitans!

A new update for my Kickstarter Campaign of Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has gone live.  It’s brief, but includes some tasty images of the sort of people you might mingle with in the muddy streets of London…  Ohh, let me take you by the hand, and lead you through the streets of London…  I’ll show you something…  Ahem.  Excuse me.

And here is Russ’s rendition of that wonder of nineteenth-century prefabrication, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, which housed the Great Exhibition.  Not bad for a gardener from Derbyshire, eh?  Paxton, not Russ.  Russ is Scottish.  And not a gardener.  Not primarily, anyway.

A Local Good Pub Guide

Something I’ve always wanted to do is to explicitly celebrate the pubs of Steam Highwayman. Every one featured in the series is based on – and usually, named directly after – a real, visitable pub in our very own timeline. And now that the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has raised an incredible £10,000 in pledges, I’ll be producing a trio of special maps and a printed guide to the regions, which will feature reviews of every single pub.

The page above is my first attempt at a mockup, and it has its own story to tell. The image is my own pen and ink, but heavily inspired by a certain poster I once saw in an Oxford bookshop…

When I was still in the process of writing Steam Highwayman I: Smog and Ambuscade, before had any experience of publishing or working with an illustrator, I was looking for someone to draw my world and the pictures for my gamebook. I knew a few illustrators and I had received some help refining exactly what I was looking for and writing a brief, but I had no strong leads. The people I knew weren’t about to jump into a new project, or to draw what I was looking for: monochrome, classic, pen and ink, with an exciting sense of movement and a realistic take on steampunk. Where to find such an illustrator.

One evening as I was praying on the balcony of our flat, I distinctly heard the word ‘Oxford’ in my mind’s ear. It popped into my head accompanied by a sudden sense of peace and a release from the worry I’d been accumulating about how I would ever find myself a collaborator. So the very next day, I drove to Oxford.

I didn’t have a particular plan or destination, but reached Oxford around lunchtime. I walked around for a short time and entered Blackwell’s art shop. There, just inside the door, was a fine poster of the pubs of Oxford, drawn in pen and ink, in a fine, confident style.

http://www.benmayart.com/

It took me a little while to work out what I should do, but I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to the person behind the desk and to ask if the illustrator of the poster was local, and if they knew how I could contact them.

“This poster?” asked the young man behind the counter.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m the artist,” he said.

And that’s how I met Ben May, who designed the Ferguson velosteam and illustrated the first two volumes of my adventure: the power of prayer and a good pub drawing.

Inspiring Illustration

It’s only four days until the Steam Highwayman III Kickstarter Campaign launches and I’ve a question for you: what does Steampunk London look like?

It’s not a simple question: there are as many different definitions of steampunk is as there are steampunks – plus a few more. Then, the way this idea translates to the hypothetical, allohistorical building of a city as iconic as London could be interpreted in as many ways. For Steam Highwayman, set in something like our 1860s but following countless minor (and a few major) divergences, that means I fancy a heavily realist steampunk – Marco Omnigamer called it a ‘light fantasy’ and wished for a few more aliens and mad scientists. This is largely because of my original inspiration born from Keith Roberts’ Pavane, but also due to some of the tools I’ve used since then to help build my world, chief among them the historical OS maps available through the National Library of Scotland.

With this in mind, I’ve been keen to push some of the more fantastic elements of my world, so working and talking with Russ has been a great shove. I have to make real effort to prevent my adventures becoming too mundane and realistic – a recent criticism I’m mulling over – so I don’t want the illustrations for Steam Highwayman III to have the same problem.

So what do you think the Steam Highwayman’s London looks like? One faithful backer recently sent me a collection of images and suggestions, expressing exactly this. We discussed the problem of the cliche of steampunk London, which uses buildings like ‘Big Ben’ (the Victoria Tower) and Tower Bridge as international shorthand for London, irrespective of the sense of them appearing in an alternate timeline. Neither have been – or will be – built in the Steam Highwayman’s world, but St Paul’s cathedral has been, so that can stay on the skyline. Maybe a world with less dominant railways might not build the Midland Hotel… but perhaps a similar building was built for other purposes? Are there other architectural landmarks that you think should feature in the illustrations? Let me know and some of them may well end up, thanks to Russ, in the book.

Oh, and steampunk buildings definitely doesn’t mean taking existing buildings and sticking cogs on the roof.

Bare-knuckle brilliance!

Russ has sent me the first draft image for The Reeking Metropolis – and I’m sure you’ll join me in agreeing it’s a corker. Wow! I love the depth and the movement in this, as well as the character of all these figures, each one of whom could have a fascinating backstory. I asked Russ to produce something to illustrate a bare-knuckle boxing fight, but I’ve certainly got more than I asked for: I’ve got another piece of the Steam Highwayman world, inspiring me to write more stories and characters. Now that’s good value.

It’s massively exciting to see this here, as it feels like the beginning of the existence of the third volume of Steam Highwayman adventures as an entire book. I’ve had passages, and a cover, and now have the first internal illustration. I’ll be revealing some more of Russ’ work during the upcoming Kickstarter – don’t miss it! – but there’ll be plenty held back to surprise you once you hold the book itself, hopefully later this year. If you haven’t yet found the pre-launch page, why not head over and follow along?

To work with a legendary illustrator like Russ is a real privilege. He recently featured on the Vintage RPG Podcast talking about his work, on what he says is his first ever podcast. Fair enough considering he has a career spanning more than half a century of drawing!

Two Weeks to Launch

It’s only two weeks until the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis goes live! In 14 day’s I’ll be sitting here at my laptop, excitedly watching as old friends reappear and new backers (I hope!) discover the joy of adventure as a free-spirited Steampunk hero.

Kickstarter is always changing, and one new feature is the ability to watch upcoming projects! With this in mind, I’m very happy to share the link for the campaign. If you choose, you can be notified the moment the project goes live (currently scheduled for 7pm GMT, 23rd January), and you’ll have the best chance of bagging one of the strictly limited reward levels… I’ve had to limit the number of draw-ins (when a backer can be drawn into the illustration) after talking with Russ.

Russ and I have been enjoying our recent preparing for the interior illustration. If you’re interested to see some of the references we’ve been discussing, you could do far worse than to take a look at his Gallery Website – particularly this post which features lots of gamebook art from the 90s and the images I’m reposting below.

These have a real moody Victorian flavour – just what I’m looking for, for The Reeking Metropolis. This won’t be an exact example of what will be inside Steam Highwayman III, but they were some of the images Russ shared with me when expressing interest in the job. Do explore his site some more and enjoy his fabulous world-building which so complements the series he has illustrated.

Next week I’ll be providing some sneak previews of the rewards and backer levels I’ll be offering – so don’t go far! Remember – YOU are the Steam Highwayman!

Russ. Nicholson.

Who draws the Steam Highwayman? Well, for The Reeking Metropolis, I’m incredibly pleased to announce that Russ Nicholson will be illustrating our hero astride the Ferguson riding through the fog and murk of Steampunk London.

If you’ve been a member of the gamebook community for any length of time, you’ll know Russ. Not only did he draw Fabled Lands, my own inspiration for Steam Highwayman, but he drew the very first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. In recent years he’s collaborated with gamebook author Jonathan Green, to complete the excellent Beowulf Beastslayer – which I whole-heartedly recommend, both here and in my Amazon review – and drawn the seventh Fabled Lands book, The Serpent King’s domain.

Russ reached out to me after seeing my online posts about seeking a new illustrator and expressed real excitement and interest in the Steam Highwayman project. The prospect of including his artwork within the my third book, as well as in the upcoming Kickstarter campaign, excites me enormously – as I hope it does you too.

This all adds considerably to the excitement of being able to offer original art and draw-in features as rewards for the SH3 Kickstarter. If you haven’t added your ideas to the reward survey, please let me know what you’d like to receive. So far there have been a few stand-out choices: lots of people are excited by the idea of large, printed maps and customised dice. More of this soon, but for now I’ll be continuing to refine and plan the Kickstarter campaign, as well as to write the second half of Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis. The campaign is currently scheduled for 23rd January – 22nd February and you’ll be able to pledge your support and choose a reward very soon.

But back to the illustration. What I’ve always loved about Russ’s work is his atmosphere: whether illustrating monsters in dripping caverns or smugglers beneath a glowing moon, he has a way of creating a scene that you can return to again and again, to breathe in the salt spray or the reek or the smoke. Here’s one of my favourites from Cities of Gold and Glory (Fabled Lands II).

What I love about this is the depth of space, the scale of the natural world – something I think Russ really excels in – and the little figures so carefully poised – all in quick, ready penstrokes. You can ready secrecy, movement, danger – and perhaps someone looking on. There are caves up in those cliffs – cave which Dave and Jamie never wrote into the book and which you can’t explore, but which have always intrigued me. The sequence with these smugglers is brief but memorable, and all the more so for Russ’s contribution.

Here’s another – this time from Beowulf Beastslayer. It displays Russ’ famous filigree style, his skill with detail and also his skill with likeness. There are at least two members of the online gamebook community drawn into this, as part of their reward for Jon Green’s Kickstarter, and Russ has told me that he’s keen to do some draw-ins for my project too. So if you’d like to see your face featured as the Lady of the Burnt Rose or Lord Hadrian Beaufort, Chief Constable, you’d better be quick with your pledge!

What’s possible with a few strokes of the pen…

If you’re interested in seeing more of Russ’ art, why not take a look at the Facebook group celebrating his illustrations? And if you’re interested in seeing what he’ll do for Steam Highwayman, well, simply watch this space! I’ll be posting a few more updates about plans for rewards and the kick-off for the Kickstarter Campaign for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis is 23rd January, 7pm.

The Gamebook Ecosystem is Growing…

I’ve been spending time finding an illustrator to work on the internal art for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis, writing briefs and reference documents and leafing (digitally) through portfolios. It’s a tough job, as I’m having to build new working relationships and plan for a wide range of outcomes to a new Kickstarter. The affordability, quality and deliverability of the illustration is the primary concern of my campaigns, since I do my best to have the book written before hand.

One thing is clear – there are some great illustrators out there, ready and keen to work in gamebooks. Which is great, because the more gamebooks that are being published, of all kinds, then the more exposure the medium will have, and the greater chance of new readers discovering my own project.

And less selfishly, it’s plain to me that a high proportion of readers of choice-based fiction have dabbled in writing it too. Even if it wasn’t at school, like through my Write Your Own Adventure programme (which I used in class last week and will take to a neighbouring yeargroup on Thursday), there’s a good chance of your average reader of gamebooks being a hobbyist writer too.

Over the last few years I’ve met many of the people engaged in independent gamebook writing and publishing, largely based around the Fighting Fantasy fan community. Among them, Steam Highwayman Backer #5, Mark Lain, has today launched his own Kickstarter Campaign to raise £3000 to produce his gamebook, Mistress of Sorrows. Last year I enjoyed the first volume in what he’s called the Destiny’s Role series, and if you’re interested in reading more or in supporting the independent publication of gamebooks, why not head over to the campaign page to take a look? He’s working with some talented artists and seems set to fund in a very short time.

A Cover for The Reeking Metropolis

I’m very pleased to share the cover for Steam Highwayman: The Reeking Metropolis. This gorgeous digital painting by Piotr Jamroz takes Ben May’s concept of the Ferguson velosteam and the mysterious, tricorne-wearing hero, and develops it in a darker, more smoky direction, perfectly suiting the atmosphere of the third volume of the adventure.

I discovered Piotr’s online portfolio a short while ago and he expressed a real interest in creating this cover. We spent some time refining the brief and agreeing terms and he set to work with a will. In another post, I’ll write in more detail about the process of editing and refining the cover, but let me say that from Piotr’s very first sketch, I was sure that I had the right artist for the job.

There is a back portion to this cover too, but you’ll have to wait a while before I release the full image…

You’ll probably ask why I have a new artist working on the cover. Sadly, Ben hasn’t had the availability to feel that he could do justice to Steam Highwayman III this year, simply due to his other commitments. Instead of trying to find an artist who might create a perfect style match, I decided that a new look would complement the first two volumes. Piotr’s done that really well.

Three books – one adventure!

I’ll announce dates for the next Kickstarter Campaign soon, when you will be pledge to fund your copy of The Reeking Metropolis, as well as for some other goodies I’ve been preparing. If you’re worried about missing the boat, simply subscribe to my blog here or like the Steam Highwayman page on facebook. So, until then, YOU are the Steam Highwayman!

A Twitter Playthrough

Steam Highwayman by Sam Iacob

A little while before Christmas, my fellow Gamebook author Sam Iacob began chronicling his adventure as the Steam Highwayman on Twitter. If you’ve read any of his work, then his sarcastic pleasure in mad adventure will come as no surprise – but you may not know what a talented cartoonist Sam is as well. These are his images (shared with permission) which have the honour of bring amongst the very first fan art for Steam Highwayman. I love his interpretation of the velosteam above, as well as the desperate expressiveness of the Highwayman’s face. There’s a Beano-sort of quality to it, don’t you think? And that’s from a chap who says;

My favourite artists are Otto Dix, John Blanche, Ralph Steadman, Raymond Briggs and Caravaggio.

Well, I haven’t found anyone quite get into the spirit of Steam Highwayman like Sam has. Always on the lookout for cash and advancement, utterly ruthless and driven to pick at any loose narrative threads… And he looks after grandma too.

Steam Highwayman performing an act of charity

Sam and I crossed paths at that Thing at Tring, and he showed a gratifying interest in the project. Slightly inspired by that playthrough, I’ve started a fresh playthrough in Highways and Holloways, partly with the intention of taking a player’s mindset into the writing of The Reeking Metropolis, which has had its first clean passages written, amongst many placeholders and structural drafts.

Illustration Poll 1 Complete

I’m really pleased that so many backers have made time to share their preferences regarding the art of Steam Highwayman: Highways and Holloways.  I’ve just finished a phone conversation with Ben, in which we discussed the results of this poll:

You know by now that I love a graph.  Well, out of the eight options I gave backers (and you can see featurettes of the passages below…) there was a clear winner: everyone wants to see a velosteam chase, with constables astride their Imperial road engines.  Ben and I are both really happy about this: it’ll give him the chance to work with some of the other designs for the velosteam that he created last year.  Will an Imperial velosteam include some of those features?  I’m as excited to find out as you are.

We’re also going ahead on a feature of Captain Coke as our second full-page illustration.  He’s been an intriguing character throughout the writing of the book and I’ve enjoyed inventing him.  To see him take on flesh will be even more interesting…

The other options won’t disappear.  They’ll be developed as other options for illustrating the book, but may turn out as quarter or half-pages, depending on how successful the images seem once Ben’s had a go with them.  As soon as I mentioned punt jousting Ben grabbed a pencil and began to laugh, so I’ve certainly got hopes for that one…