Behold the thrilling liner notes for the sketches inside Bill's recently-published sketchbook
When I decided to finally get off my figurative asp and publish a sketchbook, I went back and forth on whether to provide explanatory notes for each sketch, or to let the art stand on its own. Both had worthy arguments in its favor. Reaching the kind of firm indecision for which I’m renowned, I decided to do both. The art pieces in the book mostly appear unexplained. But, for those of you diehard fans of liner notes, who’d like to know more about what’s going on, and what went on, behind the curtains (so to speak) in creating these bits of illustration, here you go.
Morrigan (the half-fallen goddess) and her ravens. This will be the cover illustration for the forthcoming prose novel Superteam (or perhaps Super Team — I go back and forth on the title). It takes place in the same fictional universe as Hammer of the Gods, and The Remarkable Mr. Finn. Also shown is a sketch of Jack in Irons, a folklore monster character, designed to scare kiddies in their beds at night.
This is a sketch in progress of Sheriff Stone, who’s the super-powered guardian of a fictional place called Feral City (it’s actually Ferrell City, but jaded citizens will be playful with their local vernacular). He gets his powers from his badge, which can be passed on to another, as soon as he finds the right candidate and trains him. The identity of the superhero candidate, and the trainee’s process of learning the business, becomes the story worth telling, if I ever get around to telling this story.
This was a commission. I regret that I forgot the customer’s name, but he had a particular enthusiasm he wanted included with every art commission: the character has to be wearing/listening to an iPod. From time to time, at conventions, I’d see other sketches of more well-known comic characters wearing an iPod, and I’d know that fellow struck again. In this case, the knife-wielding lass who’s busy repelling boarders from her ship is Pandora, one of the characters from my ribald comic series Ironwood (from far too many years ago).
An Elric commission, in progress. The title of this piece is, or will be, Elric versus Zombie Conan, Zombie Red Sonja, and Zombie Fafhrd (one presumes the Zombie Grey Mouser is also lurking about somewhere in these dark and dusty catacombs). I always like to have a story behind even a single illustration. In this case the obvious story is: If you’re foolish enough to try to steal the magically-cursed gem from the face of the idol (not yet pictured, but he will be), then you will be cursed to become an undying zombie thrall, whose job now is to protect the gem from the next poor fool who comes along to steal it.
This is not a commission, but just an image (in progress) I wanted to draw. I felt like drawing big dogs on the hunt, and seeing if I could do it without looking at dog pictures for reference. I think I did a reasonable job of it — at least to my satisfaction. The fellow they’re hunting is another character from my old Ironwood series. He’s called Dave Dragavon. How did he get in this fix? Well, readers of the Ironwood series will tell you Dave was always a bit of a screw-up, and has a habit of landing himself in dire fixes. The title of this piece is Down Among the Hellhounds. Someday it will illustrate something.
This is the line art for a trading card, to be included in the massive (and still growing) array of trading cards featuring Cyberfrog, from Ethan Van Sciver’s All Caps Comics. In this case Cyberfrog has clearly just defeated a pile of enemy alien super-hornets (or are they wasps?) called the Vyzpzz (say that three times and you summon a Jersey doo-wop band) and decided to take a celebratory picture, to mark the occasion. The title of this piece is Cyberfrog Invents the Selfie. Note that I originally drew Cyberfrog holding an iPhone, but Ethan reminded me, in this alternate history, the alien hornets (or are they wasps?) invaded, and pretty much destroyed civilization, before the iPhone was invented — but not before personal video cameras were available, so the theme was saved.
This is my line art for the cover to my prose novel Hammer of the Gods (which is available here in my store, even as we speak). The man holding the hammer is Tom O’ Harrow, a halfbreed fairy war criminal permanently exiled to The Bright World (which is one of the ways denizens of the Twilight realms refer to our world). In drawing Tom, the writer part of me instructed the artist part of me with the following: “He’s an ordinary looking fellow, constructed of ordinary parts, and looks as if he’s perpetually got the weight of the world on his shoulders.” Writer Me then went on to say, “Think Steven Rae at about the time he starred in the (excellent) HBO movie Citizen X.” While not specifically using Steven Rae’s likeness, which wouldn’t have been couth without the fellow’s permission, Artist Me tried to capture that type. The woman standing behind him is the half-fallen goddess Morrigan. I’d tell you more about her, but it would spoil many delightful revelations to be found within the book.
Remember Sheriff Stone from the title page? Here he is again, at another point in his long career (it spans decades), locked in deadly battle with a villain called Big Dog (for pretty obvious reasons). As you can see, this is also a work-in-progress.
This is my line art for the cover to my prose novel The Remarkable Mr. Finn. It’s temporarily unavailable in my store, because we’ve just sent the book back to the technical guys to clean up some of the too-many typos and formatting errors in its first version. It will be ready again soon. It has to be ready again soon, since its sequel novel is nearly done.
This is an unfinished first start at producing a cover for The Remarkable Mr. Finn. It’s not too bad, but just didn’t sing to me enough to make it as the cover. As you can probably guess, this novel concerns the chimpanzee detective pictured up front, and also has something to do with werewolves. To tell you more would be cheating.
This is an illustration in progress for either a long short story, or a short novella, called Green Grow the Dragons, Oh. It’s still being written, so I have a little time to finish the illustration, right?
This is the line art for the cover to my prose novel Just Another Ranker. The novel is currently available here in my store. One of the vexing secrets of producing just the right cover image for a novel is balancing how much information needs to be in that image to properly entice the reader into picking it up (under the radical notion that one should be able to judge a book by its cover). A publisher’s marketing people will often insist that everything in the story has to somehow appear on the cover, which pretty much guarantees a too-busy, too-muddy, entirely uninteresting cover. The actual trick is to select just the one key image that will convey enough information about the story, without overdoing it. While I would never suggest I’m an expert at choosing just the right image (in any context), I am fairly satisfied with this cover. The man shown (Johnny Under, our protagonist) looks a bit medieval in his dress, and in the blade he’s holding, but he’s also got that modern assault rifle. And that’s the crux of the story: He’s a member of a modern mercenary rifle company in a medieval fantasy setting. That’s the elevator pitch, pared down to its barest minimum.
This is an illustration in progress for — well, I’m not entirely sure what for. It depicts a fairly typical street scene in my fictional town called Baron’s Deep (where the shadows creep), aka: The Big Shady. It’s a place tucked away in a lost corner of the universe, where all sorts of ne’er-do-wells and people on the run end up. A popular saying is, “No one comes to Baron’s Deep with clean hands.” And that’s probably true. So far Baron’s Deep has been referenced in many of my stories-in-progress, and a few rules have been crafted for how to role play in this setting (I ran a play test of the game one year at Gary Con), but no particular story has yet been told. Someday, perhaps.
This is the line art for the cover to my prose novel The Extraordinary Mr. Finn. It’s the sequel to The Remarkable Mr. Finn, spoiling the news that Mr. Finn survives the events of his first novel (just as the title The Return of Tarzan once did for that other character). The story is still being written, but it’s close. So very close.
This is one of only three pages completed for a superhero comic book I abandoned, because I tend to start and abandon many things. There are thousands of stories aching to get out of my crowded skull, and I know I won’t live long enough to tell them all. Maybe there’s a plan behind my story-abandoning-behavior. Maybe I’m intentionally starting so many comics I’ll never finish specifically so that I’ll leave enough fragments behind for other storytellers to salvage and use.
You’ve already seen this same pose on the title page illustration, but I wanted to take a second run at it, and so I did. This guy has no name yet. So far he’s a generic pulp hero. I like the way the suit came out though, so I guess I had to return to it.
Here, and on the facing page, you can see two takes on the exact same composition. In this case it’s a medieval fantasy scene, and on the next page over it’s a superhero scene. This one shows my female dark elf rogue character named Waterhearth (a lucky name in Drow culture, where underground water sources are valuable) infiltrating a posh estate.
And so then here, as on the facing page, you can see my second take on the same composition. This is a superhero scene (probably contemporary) in which the trickster hero Tatterjack (you’ll see him again later in this book) has infiltrated the island lair of a villain group, whose powers seem to be based on the four traditional elements. Elemental-based super beings? Where have we seen that idea before?
I used to write a series for DC Comics called Shadowpact. While I didn’t create the individual characters that made up the magic-based superhero team, I did create the team itself. If that seems paradoxical, it mostly is, but it’s also possible. Choosing just the right line-up, the membership of the team, out of DC’s plethora of supernatural characters, took some creativity. In my personal philosophy about such things, the perfect superhero team should be thematically coherent, but also have something odd about it — a weird element that doesn’t immediately make sense. In the case of Shadowpact it occurred when Dan Didio, who was (at the time) top boss of the DCU, asked me, “Is there any way you could fit Detective Chimp into this team? We really want someone to make use of him.” That was exactly the right element to give the team just the right touch of weirdness. This scene shows the team leader Night’s Master, along with three odd characters I made up since leaving DC and Shadowpact.
Ragman and Blue Devil, also from Shadowpact. In my short run drawing the series, I decided I wouldn’t take shortcuts drawing Ragman (which was standard practice with this character). Instead I’d always draw each and every rag that made up his costume. One might think that it would be tedious (just as drawing every single link of the chains that made up every other Image character’s costume had to be), but it turned out to be soothing, like raking a zen garden. I like this piece enough that I immediately regretted it as soon as I sold the original. I trust it ended up in a good home though.
Another abandoned comics page. In this case it shows three medieval fantasy adventurers about to embark on an old fashioned dungeon crawl. In fact, Crawl was going to be the name of the book. After the current owners of D&D turned down my idea to continue the stories depicted in the semi-famous D&D comic book adds, back in the early 80’s (actually they liked the idea, as long as they’d own the story, the original art, and, “Why should we have to pay you?”), I thought about just doing a similar comic story on my own, unaffiliated with D&D. This is the result. Remember Waterhearth, from earlier in this book? I promised you’d see her again. I like the sorcerer’s spell for lighting their way. At first it was just going to be a circular glow, but then (who knows why?) I decided to add the face to the glow and that made all the difference. Suddenly the spell was interesting. Now it was part of a more all-encompassing spell called The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. The sun illuminates. The moon reflects. The stars dazzle. What does that mean? Had I continued with the story we would’ve found out.
This is one of my first illustrations when constructing the Fables comic book series. It was also the first of my very few Fables illustrations published. It appeared in company with a short prose story called A Wolf in the Fold, which was part of the first Fables collection called Legends in Exile.
Another comic book page in progress. Or perhaps it’s destined to be an illustration for a prose story? Are we allowed to use word balloons in prose story illustrations? If not, why not? This scene shows the timely arrival of Jack in Tatters, aka Tatterjack, a trickster character from folklore. Unlike Jack in Irons, he’s not actually from folklore — I made him up — but he figures prominently in the legends and folklore of this fictional world.
This is my line art for the cover to Shadowpact # 1, which I wrote, drew, and inked.
Here we have the line art for my cover to Lark’s Killer # 6, published by 1First Comics. I think you can still find copies of Lark’s Killer for sale from the 1First Comics website (but don’t hold me to that, as who knows when you might see this note?).
Three assassins. This is meant to be an illustration for an upcoming prose story, but for some reason I can’t resist adding word balloons to prose story illustrations. Is that allowed?
Another illustration for the forthcoming prose novella Green Grow the Dragons, Oh. Yeah I’ll probably slip in a word balloon or two before this is done.
This was an art commission. I’m pleased with how Snow White’s suit came out.
A page of character designs. Like most comic artists (one supposes), sometimes I’d just draw new characters with no destination in mind, and only later give thought to where they might best be used. Most characters eventually get used somewhere, in something. In this case the frogbat shows up in a story or two (and often in role playing games I run), and the slim fellow with the slim sword showed up in my Shadowpact series as a villain by the name of The White Rabbit.
More generic character designs. So far these two have only shown up as random villain encounters in the medieval fantasy role playing game I sometimes run. I’d call the game D&D, but very few of the D&D rules survive. It’s mostly my rules now, which are better.
More Drow, in progress.
This was an illustration for my prose short story called Mythology, which was written and published back in the Clockwork Storybook days, which was oh so long ago.
The Enchantress (in her original costume before I committed the unpardonable faux pas of redesigning it), a character in my Shadowpact series. This is another in-progress illustration that may never be finished, since I can’t find where I left it. I’ve searched my various flat file art drawers, and scattered portfolios, but she eludes me. Yeah, I’ve also looked behind the couch, and in the sock drawer.
I wrote a children’s book called Down the Mysterly River. You can buy a copy in my store, here. It features (among others) a talking badger named Banderbrock, whom you can see pictured. I stopped working on this proposed cover painting to the novel when the publisher, TOR Books politely informed me, “Our writers don’t do their own book covers.” I may finish this someday. The moss on the fallen log was just beginning to come together when I stopped working on it.
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Should any of the above prattling and over-explaining inspire you to purchase the Story Fragments sketchbook, this is a link to Bill’s online store. You can find it there.