The Bill Show: Episode Ten
Hi, I'm Bill. This is my show. Let's begin.
The Big Story
Truth is, there’s no big story this time, but how about a couple of smaller, more humble stories (more like anecdotes, really) and maybe their cumulative weight will add up to the worth of a big story? Let’s see. First up, we’ll call this one…
Cleaning the house in Lake Geneva
It’s a simple tale, and not a very unique one. In my youth, when I got mad enough that I wanted to hit something, or someone, I redirected that angry energy into cleaning. See? I told you it wasn’t an original tale.
In my short time as an employee of TSR (the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, but you already knew that) in their art department, I shared a rental house with Jeff Dee and Diesel, two of the other artists. Mostly this arrangement went well. The house was close enough to the TSR downtown offices so that we could walk to work, making the enterprise feel like idyllic small-town life. Diesel’s old black dog named Bailey was a good boy, we stayed out of each-other’s rooms, and seldom fought over what to watch on the TV, as our tastes at the time were mostly in alignment.
But here’s what you never knew about them. Jeff and Diesel were mean.
On those few occasions when arguments broke out (often about some esoteric ephemera of geek culture), in the face of their often astonishing intractability when confronted by my always reasonable and logical arguments,1 I often had to burn off my frustration by cleaning the house. It always started with the dishes (there was always a sink-full of dirty dishes), but moved on to dusting, vacuuming, and straightening, depending on how much mess had accumulated since our last argument and how much exasperation had to be burned away.
Eventually, as our year of shared residence wore on, I began to suspect Jeff Dee and Dave LaForce (Diesel) were purposely picking fights whenever the house was messy enough to need a cleaning. Of course that would mean they were diabolical, rather than the paragons of goodness and light they pretended to be. When confronted with this theory, they didn’t answer. All they did was give each other knowing glances, and smile their wicked smiles, which you can see pictured here:
Jeff and Diesel and I don’t see each other that often these days, which makes me presume they’re living in decades’ accumulation of their own filth, unless they’ve finally learned to pick up after themselves, or (more likely) found other housemates with whom to pick fights.
Now, perhaps we should move along to anecdote number two…
The First Love Blues
Much of the activity on my Twitter feed (or timeline, or whatever we’re supposed to call it) is taken up by a cadre of old gamers, role playing fans, which include fans of my old TSR work. I’m not ashamed of my illustrations from back then (a bit embarrassed, but not ashamed), because it was the best I could do at the time. Gaming art has grown up considerably since then, in craft and sophistication, leaving my poor efforts far behind. And that’s a good thing. Every art form, even one permanently linked to a commercial publishing enterprise, should grow up from its primitive roots.
But these fans post examples of my old work on my timeline, usually praising it (there are some critiques), which puzzles me, because my drawing ability has improved since then, and yet they seldom seem interested in discussing the newer stuff and posting samples of it. Makes me wonder why.
Of course the answer is the obvious one.
Dungeons & Dragons from back then, and the art which supported it, crude and rudimentary as it often was, were a first love. It was the amazing new thing in the lives of many. And no one ever fully gets over their first love.
While the art I’m capable of doing today is technically better in almost every particular, it can never do what my art back then did. It can never invoke those very first stirrings of awe and excitement about these brand new worlds of wonder. It can never trigger the emotions and (dare I say it?) love that the old stuff ignited, back when it was still the new stuff.
I’m okay with that.
In the meantime, because I remain fond of the TSR era of my life, and the thrill of a good dungeon crawl, I’ll find excuses to illustrate a D&D-esque fantasy scene from time to time. Usually they’ll be illustrations to accompany prose stories I write. Some upcoming stories, which will appear in various venues are:
The Pig Toilet Murder (an Officer Jelly mystery).
This one won’t be illustrated, but it will be published in the prose anthology called The Dragon Wore a Badge, about odd peace officers in fantasy settings. This will be published soon(ish) by a group called Pro Se Productions. Look for it.
The Thing from the Black Tower (an Officer Jelly mystery).
This one will be illustrated, possibly self-published, possibly crowd funded. By the time it is published, the title may have been changed to The Fiend from the Black Tower. I keep changing my mind on alternate Sundays.
Green Grow the Dragons, Oh (an Officer Jelly mystery).
This one will be illustrated by me in the interior of the book, but its cover will be painted by none other than the late great Walter Velez. Those of you steeped in old guard gaming will recognize the name.
Ratcatcher (an Officer Jelly mystery).
This is the origin story of Officer Jelly, and how he came to be the top cop in his town of (mostly) humans. It won’t be the first of his stories to come out, because (so far) it’s the longest.
Who is This Officer Jelly and Why is Bill Writing About Him So Much?
He’s a monster. He’s an ooze of deadly ability, a creeper in the darkness, that once inhabited a medieval fantasy dungeon, until the noble knight that came to kill him instead saw something in him that seemed capable of reform, and perhaps, possibly, maybe, worth saving. Now he’s a peace officer in the knight’s own fief, keeping order in the town below his castle. Here’s what Bill had to say about the character:
“So far I’m having fun writing the adventures of Officer Jelly, a monster to be sure, but one with a sense of justice and fair play. He uses intelligence and deduction more often that brute force to impose his sense of law and order on the medieval trading town called Kerendal. Like Zelazny with his Dilvish character, these are fun short stories that crop up in my mind from time to time, demanding to be written. And so I do.”
What is Bill Going to Try to Sell You This Week?
Nothing from me, but, considering we’re telling Jeff Dee and Diesel stories this time, why not point your way to some of the admirable work Diesel is doing? Therefore we encourage you to consider throwing a bit of money his way.
In addition to continuing in his role of illustrator (he has prints for sale) and the best of the first D&D cartographers, Diesel has taken up sculpture, and he does it oh so well. Take a look at his website, which you can find here.
He calls his sculpting business Shadowcasting, and you can pick up some nice pieces for prices that are much too low.2
I know he sets up at conventions to sell his wares, Gen Con being his big show of the year, every year, but I do believe he sells his stuff through the mail too. Go to his site to ask him, and have a good look around.
This can’t be stressed often enough. Be sure when drawing a comics page to leave enough room for the lettering. It’s easier to do when drawing to a writer’s full script, but even then (depending on the writer and the script), not always easy. Look at this gem from comics’ so called Golden Age for example:
The other day we were rewatching an old Book TV (host David Lamb — the best TV interviewer of his day) interview with the novelist and historian Shelby Foote.
At some point, while discussing the craft of writing, and how one learns it, Foote paraphrased something Aristotle had to say on the subject, and we thought it warranted repeating. So then, this is Bill paraphrasing Shelby Foote, paraphrasing Aristotle.
“When learning to write well, you first learn how to describe. Any high school sophomore can be taught how to adequately describe a sunset. Then, eventually, you learn how to draw characters that can stand up and cast a shadow.3 Finally, the last thing you learn to do is plot. Skilled plotting comes last, if it comes at all. Perhaps someday you’ll realize your plot is a history that’s already there, and you have to discover it.”
Our Moment of Jocularity
A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week,
But I’m still not quite sure how the hell ‘e can.
Our Parting Benediction
Klaatu barada nikto. And we really mean it.
Thanks for reading These Foolish Games! If you were to subscribe (for free) to receive new posts and support Bill’s work, we’d think awfully highly of you and consider you a pal.
Actually we once even fought over the definition of ‘logic’ and the relationship of logic to truth (it started as a conversation about Star Trek). My point was, logic was a useful method of argumentation and deduction, but need not have any relationship to truth, depending on one’s starting premises. Jeff took the position that logic and truth were synonymous, and he was ready to die on that hill.
Seriously, he should raise his prices a bit, to make a better living and to more accurately reflect the worth of his art.
Isn’t that a perfect phrase? Yes, we do believe it is.