Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Many Faces of Shade–Part One

Shade, our main character in the Shade Chronicles, has been through many face lifts. Dragols and Fauns might say that’s what made him so grumpy, but they wouldn’t say it to his face. We went through quite a journey of artists when selecting the final artist for Shade One. I’d be happy to spin this tale for our small and faithful band of blog readers, but first let me tell you a little bit about the man in black himself.

First off don’t call Shade a man, not unless you want to catch a knife in the back when your head is turned. He is a Dark Elf from the black forests of Jui-Sae. He was trained in the legendary ranks of the Unseen, who are the most elite assassins in all Covent. You see Unseen live up to their fearsome reputation, and they can turn invisible, which is a nasty trick making them quite difficult to see them sneaking up on you. He also collects knives, lots and lots of knives and not the dull ones either.

Shade enjoys long solitary walks on the beach, just as long as those walks end with the bagging of his latest mark. He’s a Scorpio and he like all Scoprios has a fancy for pouring mud into his adult beverages (that’s a riddle you’ll have to read the book to solve BTW). Oh, and did I mention that he’s single! For any interested ladies, he’s rich, tall, dark and handsome, once you can get past his whole coldblooded killer wrap.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the pictures above. This was the first artist we hired. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. We’ll call him Billy. We were not very impressed with Billy’s first attempt shown in picture 1. Shade seemed stiff, wooden, more man than Elf. The armor also left a lot to be desired. Hard leathers felt all wrong, the knives in his straps didn’t feel reachable. I didn’t want to see this Shade stumbling awkwardly through a fight.

The background on the other hand was awesome! I love the bearded man drinking in the back. It kind of looks like they’re arm wrestling, but that’s just as cool. The Green Barrel, which is our cozy, quaint little sewer tavern is alive with barrels, cool lanterns and moldy sewer gratings. Brilliant! The problem is that the background is more interesting than the main character. This was a definite red flag, so we asked Billy to redraw it.

Months passed until finally we received picture 2. A stroke of brilliance! We were thrilled. Shade finally lit up the room, his armor was perfect, his pose far more interesting. He oozed with confidence. Finally after waiting another month we received the final black and white. We rejoiced! We danced around a bonfire like wild tribesmen! We sent additional requests for our logo and other projects, but Billy was in too high demand for us. Reluctantly, we were forced to start over with another artist.

Through a mutual friend we found the artist above. We’ll call him Willy. Willy’s finished works on his portfolio were rather nice, though admittedly he was more into drawing superheroes. Fantasy was new to him, but we gave him a shot. His first couple pictures came at lightning fast speed. A nice change from waiting on Mr. Billy before him, but the sketches left us searching for an art style truly befitting of the world of Covent.

The first picture was a complete sketch. I thought the ponytail was very cool. Our original vision of Elves related them to the far East, so the hair style seemed fitting. The armor was suitable, but was a bit too Dracula for me. Now Willy was very good at accepting feedback, a massive credit to his character. He sent us version 1.1 in a matter of days. We liked this piece much better than the last. That hood and cloak were quite good. The scene he was painting might work as an alternative cover, but once again we weren’t sold on the art style.

Willy sent us several other concepts and then we received version 1.11teen. Now 11teen is an old joke Josh and I shared back from our high school days. Version 1.11teen was a much stronger Shade than its predecessors. Shade had a strong face, strong eyebrows oozing with confidence, that awesome ponytail and another good hood and cloak. There was just one problem. Everyone who looked at it thought he was a character out of the Legend of Zelda. Meanwhile our trademark got approved setting a deadline for publication and so we had to canvass other artists.

We talked to names as big as Kerem Beyet, but they were all booked up or way out of budget, though I might add that Mr. Kerem Beyet is one of the most polite, professional and talented artists in the world today. After months of canvassing we widdled our search down to two candidates. One had drawn for World of Warcraft, Clash of the Titans plus dozens of other major brands and the other for Fantasy Flight Games. They crossed paintbrushes and prepared to duel off. The final clash of artists had now come. Wham! Smack! Pow!!!

To be continued…

Will the caped killer ever find his true face? Will he have to spend the rest of his imaginary life wandering the lonely, white pages of an empty art canvas?

Find out next week on the exciting conclusion of the Many Faces of Shade. Same bat time! Same bat channel!

Or you can skip right ahead to the website and spoil next week’s blog if you wish by sneaking a peak at the final cover. Cheat and sneak a peek…

Cheat and sneak a peak…

P. S. from the mysterious intruder, “Hey J. L., the final cover is to the right over there  Up, up, up there!”


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Dumb grows, well, dumber…

Meet Kishrub and Zulbash, a pair of “hug at your own risk” big dumb brutes.  Well, here are the original Kishrub and Zulbash in their concept sketches. As you can see, the Gutter Dwarf that sold them their armor spared no expense. He assured them every piece of their armor sets was genuine Dwarven craftsmanship! The claim is not entirely untrue, you see, that furnace door which makes up Zulbash’s massive breastplate did in fact come off a Dwarven furnace. And that coal scoop on Kishrub’s leg was once used by Dwarves to shovel coals into that very furnace. And I think a Dwarf may have cooked some Wriggle Rat in that cauldron that rests upon Kishrub’s monstrous shoulder once or twice. But Warlord Lewd did not employ Kishrub and Zulbash for sound council. They supply the muscle behind Lewd’s syndicate just as long as the pair is directed away from any food stores or palace guests foolhardy enough to poke fun at their armor.

Now our artist, Thom Scott, did a bang up job of crafting the most ridiculous set of armor to ever grace the pages of fantasy history, but haven’t you heard scrap metal is all the rave? Kishrub and Zulbash are breaking in a new fashion craze. Just watch our two fat models as they strut the flashiest set of scrap metals to ever grace a runaway.  You catch those big yellow-toothed grins?

Kishrub sports a shield hammered flat at the ends to better tuck away that bulging beer belly. He wears metal chargers for his right bracer or a cluster of tin plates if you prefer. Zulbash shows off a set of striking window bars on his right forearm, which matches Kishrub’s left bracer or perhaps the bumbling duo got the set mixed up? Zulbash is a true trend-setter proving once and for all that tough guys can wear bows and carry dollies as they crack skulls like walnuts.

Words cannot describe how much we loved these concept pictures.  It was really nice to see the artist put so much thought and energy into their armor. However, the oafish bodies needed a bit of tweaking.  Kishrub and Zulbash belong to the race of Gorums. None of Covent’s people understood just who or where Gorums came from.  They just showed up one day and started eating. Many poor cooks, farmers and herdsmen have had kitchens, livestock and crops sacked by Gorum, but their forms are different than say your traditional fantasy Ogres.

You thinking we’re being too picky?  After all what could possibly be wrong with those awesome concept designs, so in reply let me tell you about Gorums.

Gorum walk hunched over like apes. Their arms are disproportionately long forcing them to drag their enormous hands on the ground behind them. Or they ball their fists and throw their huge bodies forward like overgrown banana-stuffed gorillas. Their huge hands are good for smashing down walls and handling other big races. Gutter Dwarves utilize Gorums to keep slaves inline. And so we relayed this information to the artist.  See images above.  Exhibit 1 shows our artist taking our Gorums away from Ogre form to Gorum form in Exhibit 2.  The result is Kishrub and Zulbash look dumber, more apish and capable of breaking down walls and bullying other brutes.

Kishrub and Zulbash stand as my three-year-old son’s favorite Covent characters.  I have not read him a word out of the book and I have shown him only the age-appropriate pictures, but these two dumb brutes seem to have stolen his heart.  There’s something about them that makes them lovable and brain-numbingly inviting. He asks to see them regularly and likes to point at them and say, “that’s Kishrub and that’s Zulbash!”

Below is the final B&W interior picture of Kishrub & Zulbash which is some of the top-tier quality artwork that is included in Waiting Game as a purchase bonus.

For other memorable characters, come browse our character informational pages.  New characters and artwork will be revealed with each new book!


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The Evolution of a Fantasy Map

The Evolution of a Fantasy Map

This first image is the original map, as penciled by my partner, J. E. Dugue. J. E. is an all around talented guy. Besides his natural born abilities in writing and music, he is also a natural born artist. He chose to pursue his first two loves, but this map will always possess a special place in my heart. This map was first drawn in the late 90’s when we were in high school.
ImageThis is the continent of Sylvane where the first stories take place. Sylvane is a crowded continent in the lower hemisphere. Its lands were originally divided by seven races. Our concept nations were Doljinaar, Kildore, Jui-Sae, Jui-Rae, Sssyrinya, the Blacklands and Myst Valley. The map really only had two major cities labeled back then: Doljinaar and Kurn. Doljinaar was always the name for both the nation and the capital of the united kingdom of men. Looking back, Capital Doljinaar took up the entire southwestern peninsula of Sylvane, which is absurd. When compared to Kurn, which was basically a dot by comparison, Capital Doljinaar was astronomically too large.

Of course, we were but a pair of dreamy-eyed high school boys back then, so every flaw is still married to the original dream. One of my favorite aspects of the original map is that it actually looked like a continent. Far too many fantasy stories have these strangely shaped landmasses that fit conveniently in portrait format on a page when most real continents are far more landscaped in shape. Just pull out a map and take a glance at the Americas, Asia and Europe for example.

That said the original Sylvane seems scrunched now. There is not enough room for sprawling fields or untamed forests. We did not understand the concept of snowcaps providing meltwater to feed rivers at that time, so Mount Haven had a ridiculously large lake atop it. LOL! There are also far too many mountains. Whenever we wanted to keep nations apart we had a habit of slapping mountain ranges in between the borders. Far be it from us to leave room for conflict in the beginning, which is at the heart of good story-telling. Nevertheless, this map laid the groundwork for all Sylvane’s future renditions.
ImageThe next map was made by J. L. in 2007 on AutoREALM, a free fantasy map making program. I called it the expanded world. For starters I used the original map as an underlay and then I stretched it to make the continent feel much wider. This was our first labeling of the cities, towns and capitals. Kingdoms began to feel more like kingdoms complete with roads, wilds, rivers and ruins. We opened up some of the mountain passes to make war torn borders. We replaced much of the northern mountains with a swirling, but passable desert called the Great Waste.

The kingdom of Doljinaar became far larger and grander. Its concept was supposed to represent the united kingdom of men at the height of their power. Their boundaries now extended to nearly one third of the western continent—an empire unequaled in our world. And then we salted it with hides and wastelands where dark and forgotten things lurked. We added the Ice Marshes, the Jaded Wood, the Ruins of Garrlohan, the Rusharken Hills, the Grublands, Mizzle Drizzle and greatly inflated the sprawling brigand-infested woods of Karus Forest.

Sylvane had now grown to house over 15 nations, 30 races and 10 unique human nationalities. The dragon-men now took their place in bleak tower cities atop the fiery black Bloodstorm Mountains. Bloodthirsty shark-men crawled out of the seas to drag land-dwellers back into the depths. A people who glowed like gods took shelter in a crystal city in dragon-infested lands.

Capital Doljinaar’s size was reduced to a more realistic grandeur, though admittedly it still remained too big. We were still in a love with its idea…a sprawling architectural wonder that could be seen from space like the Great Wall of China. Ten massive districts, each a city in itself, walled together side by side to form the largest city to ever grace the pages of fantasy literature. A spectacle of pride and glory, impregnable and a symbol of mankind’s insurmountable power, the shadow that cast across the west causing every dark thing to both cower and yearn to cast every great stone down.

Alas, this map lacked its final polish. Its lines and colors painted an unbalanced contrast. Some lines were far too light to express their full significance, others were far too dark. And then the map file was plagued with technical issues. We could scarcely move a tree without waiting five minutes for the change to take. The file became unusable and I wasn’t sure about commercial rights. I finally caved in and purchased a commercial map-making program called Campaign Cartographer 3. We worked with Photoshop and CC3. We tweaked and tweaked until the final map was born.
ImageThe expanded world did not prove vast enough for the growing population of our world. J. E. and I exploded with new ideas. Covent’s population boomed to include over 50 races, 20 unique human nationalities and over 20 nations. Races migrated from Sylvane to the far wilds of the other continents, a few even sailing by ship to even further off lands. Peoples and creatures wandered into caves and into uncharted caverns little known to the surface world.

Centuries upon centuries of history made its mark on our world leaving war-torn lands, lost ruins and artifacts, enslaved, vanquished and forgotten peoples. Wars between ancient wizards left wounds upon the world. The southern forests of Jui-Sae and Jui-Rae burned forming the warped deadwood known as the Ashwood. The Blasted Plain was forever scorched never to yield vegetation again. Dark abominations stalked magic ruins still possessed by the ancient and forbidden black arts. Magic gates and secret fortresses were erected.

The final map at last crystallized the extreme depths of our obsessions. The mountains, coasts and sea finally made a bolder statement to help the whole map fall together. J. L. finally found a map he was satisfied with and J. E. added the final touch. We set the map against a sheet of dirty, grungy parchment and at last we were finished. Feedback from readers and map-makers advised a mere glance at the map made them want to read about our world. We hope fantasy fans will find all the love and care we have poured into this world. The low resolution map above doesn’t do the final map justice. Feel free to visit the fully zoomable high resolution map available on our website if you would like to know more: