MEL GRANT INTERVIEWS FOR ADVANCED FIGHTING FANTASY GAMEBOOKS.
AFF: Below is the transcript from the recent interviews with Mel Grant, who has recently brought us some wonderful new covers for the new series of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. I would like to personally thank him for taking the time out with us.
Mel Grant has recently been commissioned to illustrated new covers for Wizards Books FF series and his artwork is already proved immensely popular. Advanced Fighting Fantasy.com is delighted to present this exclusive interview regarding his recent contributions to the FF phenomenon! AFF.com investigates...
AFF: Thank you for taking the time out with us Mel. Can AFF ask you what you are currently working on at the moment? Is it the Crown of Kings?
It’s a pleasure to talk with you and all the fighters out there and long may you rule the hordes. Currently I’m working on several projects of which the Crown of Kings is one.
AFF: What can you tell us about it?
Well, in short, the painting depicts the Archmage of Mampang going nova, because the Player has intruded in his space with the intent of stealing the crown. He is screaming furious and is tearing everything and the world apart… just as you’d expect a seriously piqued Archmage would, sizzle and fireballs and all. Annihilation is the order for the Reader.
AFF: What are you looking to be working on in the near future?
I do all kinds of artwork from sweet children’s through to very nasty adult horror. I like being versatile. But I like Fantasy very much and working with FF I can let strong passions out in paint and that’s fine. So maybe some more of these would be good.
AFF: How were you approached to illustrate for the new series of FF Gamebooks?
The approach came through my London agent, Artist Partners.
AFF: Have you been surprised by their recent success?
To tell the truth I have only just heard of their success from you and it is a very pleasant surprise. But this is not just down to me; the books were put together really well.
AFF: Were you aware of the older Puffin series?
Yes, but I wasn’t paying too much attention. I was more aware of the general book scene.
AFF: Mel you have now so far illustrated several FF Gamebooks including, FF 3: Deathtrap Dungeon, FF9: Shamutanti Hills, FF 11: Khare Cityport of Traps, FF13: The Seven Serpents. Of these book covers which are you most proud and least proud of?
I wouldn’t exactly say proud, as at the end of a painting I’m saturated with it and I always aimed to do better. Maybe some time later, when I’ve become ‘Outside’ and detached, I might look at the artwork and feel a warm seed of pride sprout a leaf or two. But I was pleased with Deathtrap Dungeon and I do enjoy painting. I also had a lot of fun with the Slime Eater character, the more disgusting… the better. I drew some inspiration from a time back in my youth, when I inadvertently came across something revolting in a field that a calving cow had left behind. I remembered the awful feeling of nausea that it gave me at the time and the image plagued me for years. I tried to bring that experience to bear in the artwork.
AFF: What made you start Illustrating?
I have been an artist for as far back as I can remember and there was just no question here. That’s what I would always be. I first started attending Art School at the age of twelve. In my mind, being an artist also included music, writing and anything else creative. Illustration, just, sort of wandered into my life as a way of making a living from what I knew best and as these things happen, it sort of hooked me in.
AFF: What influence’s have you had as an illustrator?
Well… I did get a letter from a woman once, who liked my paintings very much and she wanted to know if I was her boyfriend. Apparently, he was an artist and in chatting her up, had convinced her that I was his pseudonym, which was one of the reasons she’d dated him. As time passed and she was thinking of moving in with him, she had become somewhat suspicious, as his paintings did not seem to look much like mine. So she wrote to my agent to find out the truth. Sadly, I did not get to meet her.
A bright student also got his BA degree using my artwork as his ‘project’. He sent me a copy. And that was nice.
But in the overall scheme of things I’d be surprised to find that I’ve had any influence at all really. But, it is nice to think that maybe my paintings have added a little inspiration or pleasure to someone’s life.
AFF: Do you yourself ever play the books or role-playing games?
I don’t seem to have a lot of time for game playing at the moment. I seem to spend all my time and energies playing the big game… the one of life, in which I always appear to be somewhere teetering on the edge trying to avoid something I can’t quite see.
AFF: What is your connection with Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone now?
I’ve had no connection with Steve or Ian except in these books.
AFF: If you hadn't been an artist, what do you think you would have been?
If I hadn’t been an artist maybe I’d have been famous… or possible infamous. I like to think I’d have been someone very wealthy… obscenely wealthy even. But to tell the truth, I really don’t know what I’d have done, maybe something in the music or film industry… that’s a glamorous thing. Who knows, maybe I’d be a happy little gnome in a box putting the little lion on eggshells with a big rubber stamp… or maybe… I’d have even been a FF gamebook writer.
AFF: What other books have you worked on?
That’s a memory question. Where do I start? I must have done hundreds over the years, mostly Fantasy, science fiction and horror, both here and in the US, and for most of the major publishers and for a lot of well-known authors. I’ve also done children’s books and licensing, romance: good old ‘Bodice Rippers’ in the US and some detectives. I think I might have done a western or two. Not much on gamebooks though, although I did do the covers and one interiors set for the ‘Freeway Warrior’ series by Joe Dever some time back.
AFF: Do you enjoy reading? If you do and you get the time, what books are your favourites?
Yes, I do enjoy reading very much and I like all sorts of stuff. When time allows, I periodically find appealing technical subjects and study like mad. I just like to know about everything and how it works. And, of course, I do read a lot of fiction, again mostly fantasy and science fiction. At this time I’m best way through Pratchett’s Discworld series.
AFF: Whereabouts were you born, what year?
I was born somewhere in London and to take a leaf from Pratchett, sometime in the year of the Fruitbat… I think…
we can meet at some point at Wizard now that I have designed and am editor of their new si
AFF: Where did the design briefs come from for all the books? Can I ask what each of them was?
The design briefs for the latest four came from Wizard Books, from Simon Flynn and Steve Jackson. Deathtrap Dungeon came from Jeremy Cox at Icon and Ian Livingstone. Below are snippets from the briefing emails from Simon and Steve. As you can see, with such great descriptions, you can’t help but get ‘Fired Up’ and whack it from a great height. After the initial sketches there would sometime be some minor changes, but the gist of it is here.
The Shamutanti Hills
Standing before you on four legs is a huge MANTICORE - a hybrid creature with a lion's body and a scorpion's tail. Its face is that of an old man (which was later changed to the head of a lion) and as it sees you it rears back, flapping two great wings.
Some gory remains of the creature's last meal (a human, of course) can be clearly seen. Or maybe you've just interrupted his meal - even better!
Khare City of Trap
This is a huge blubbery slime-festering creature like a swamp demon, which feeds on sewage, excrement and general filth. It stinks. It is covered in festering sores, pus-filled boils and general grot. It's foul to look at. A hideous and fearsome creature. Perhaps it is rising up from its normal pose resting hippo-like just on the surface of the filthy liquid it lives in. Your arrival has disturbed it and it intends to attack by smothering you in its blubbery body.
The Seven Serpents
I suggest this is a picture showing a 'swirl' containing the Seven Serpents all rearing up to attack. In the book they never actually appear together, so this is a bit of a cheat. The Seven Serpents are:
And here there were individual descriptions of the serpents
The Crown of Kings
For this I suggest a picture showing the Archmage of Mampang in the middle of casting a spell out at the reader. And a picture of the Crown of Kings, perhaps semi-transparent, hanging in the background.
Imagine the reader has intruded on the Archmage's home, intent on stealing the Crown. The Archmage is LIVID! He rises to his feet, his eyes ABLAZE with HATRED! He summons up a powerful fireball spell (or some other kind of powerful magical attack spell) and at the time the 'photo' on the cover is taken, his expression is one of pure screaming evil as he sends his deadly blast out of the cover aimed straight at the reader's heart. As he casts it his body is wracked with a jolt of energy. The Archmage is going nuclear here!
This is how the final art turned out (click image to enlarge)
AFF: Can I ask how long does it take for you to come up with a final design after being given the initial brief. How many sketches do you usually try before you are roughly happy with it?
Well this varies; nothing I do ever seems to go in a straight line. It has been sometimes thought by the ‘Powers’ who commission that a quick scratchy, sketch can be turned around on a sixpence. ‘Just a quick idea,’ they say, ‘It doesn’t have to be too good. Just so we get an idea.’ What they really mean is, ‘I want a really good sketch… with all the mustard and pickles, but still turned around on a sixpence.’
But the sketch, to me, is the most important part of the process. This is where the heart of the work comes from and sometimes it takes longer than the final painting. But there are other times when it just goes ‘Wham’ like that. Done with a manic grin, and the fist is raised with a triumphant ‘YESSSS!’
Sometimes though, there are many terrible sketches with much tearing of hair and foul language. Those are my dark shades when any sensible creatures in the immediate vicinity will go quietly somewhere else and leave me friendless. But mostly, there are happy times, like when it goes backwards and the final painting is done before the sketch (you can do that with computers). In that case I have to go back and prepare a sketch, for the presenting, because there is a procedure here.
Some paintings can be done in a day or two and some in a week or two. Backward painting in a day or so, even hours, but I do like to linger a bit. It also depends on what else I have on at the time.
AFF: When you paint the cover from initial outline to sketch and then the completion what material do you use?
Up until about seven years ago all my work was painted in oils, but now, for commercial work, I mostly use digital paint and the art is given out on a CD. At times I wish I’d stayed with canvases and oils, as with computers and me there is occasionally a conflict of wills. But I don’t have to wait for the paint to dry now.
Sometimes I’ll do an initial pencil or coloured sketch and scan this in and go from there, or maybe I’ll sketch straight into the computer. Sometimes I’ll use reference and sometimes it’s straight through a hole in the back of my head.
But one thing, I do not do ‘Computer Generated’. I do not use programs to do the art for me. I do the work by hand and you can’t do it well if you can’t draw. I use Photoshop and sometimes Painter, mostly Photoshop ‘cause it’s simple to use and standard. But I have managed to ‘Tweak’ it so it responds in a very similar way to oil paints and it knows who is master now. I did most of this ‘Tweaking’ with a gentle touch… some obscene threats and a large virtual hammer.
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