Talisman, Lone Wolf, Cry Havoc, and White Dwarf, British illustrator and games designer Gary Chalk has had a hand in them all. His artwork is suffused with a great feel for nature and buildings, and a real love for the medieval world. He took time to talk to me about his work in the worlds of gamebooks, wargaming, and fiction, as well as a tale of self-publishing disaster!
Alastair Savage for Amazing Stories: Gary, you’re most famous for your work on the Lone Wolf Fantasy gamebooks from the 1980s, which you illustrated and developed with Joe Dever. Are you still involved with the gamebooks? Are there any plans to upgrade them for the digital age?
Gary Chalk: I believe Joe Dever is doing a digital version of a Lone Wolf story that combines a text adventure with video game style combat. I don’t know if this has appeared yet. I have no plans to upgrade the books for the digital age as the agreement drawn up with him on breaking up our partnership makes this a difficult undertaking.
ASM: You’ve also been working on a Lone Wolf board game with Greywood Publishing. Some sample artwork was put online a few years back but the game hasn’t appeared yet. Does it have a release date?
GC: I’m afraid that we don’t have a release date yet. The artwork for the boards and the first sets of characters are finished. The rules are complete and have been extensively playtested. In fact the rules were originally playtested by Games Workshop as they were originally intended for a GW fantasy skirmish game they provisionally called “Marauder”. The game was axed when the existing management took over, although I retained the rights and re-worked them to fit the Lone Wolf universe.
The only problem is getting enough free time from regular work to put the final mock up game together. I’m currently waiting for Greywood Publishing to put together the final rulebook with all the illustrations and play diagrams in place, so that it can be shown to a German company that is already interested in publishing it.
ASM: How does the game work?
GC: Quickly and easily! We have designed the game so that an exciting clash between the forces of good and evil should take no longer than a couple of hours to play to a conclusion. The set comes with individual stand up playing pieces that represent the warriors of Magnamund. The first set features the defenders of Sommerlund, hordes of Giaks and huge Gourgaz lizards. There will be about fifty of these full colour playing pieces in the first set. I say “about” because we may be able to squeeze a couple more in when we make up the final sheet. We intend to make further sheets of playing pieces and boards to expand the system.
Although the game is designed as a fantasy wargame, individual personalities such as Lone Wolf can have special abilities. We have a complete expansion set already developed that adds good and evil magic-users to the mix, along with loads of special spells to spice things up!
ASM: You’re a big name in the world of board games as the original illustrator of the Games Workshop classic Talisman. The gameboard showed a gorgeous fantasy world, clearly based on Britain, with some wonderfully quirky cards and characters. How did you set about creating the look of the game?
GC: No I’m not. I’m a medium name, if anything at all. … As for Talisman, well it’s a bit of a long story. When I joined GW, the game was already under development and the board used for playtesting had rough doodles of the Talisman landscape seen from the air. It looked like something that had been drawn up by a town planner and lacked any fantasy feeling whatsoever. I simply had the idea of turning the landscape into a side view to make this more visually interesting and bending this view to turn the corners of the board.
I think it took about two and a half weeks to do the board artwork, during which time [Ian] Livingstone and [Steve] Jackson [owners of Games Workshop] constantly moaned that it was taking me too long! Much the same thing happened with the cards. When I suggested producing the cards in colour, I was told that this would “cost an arm and a leg” and “did I think they were made of money?” This is why the cards originally appeared in sparkling black and white. As for the images, I stuck pretty much to the northern European medieval style that was then in vogue to illustrate things like Dungeons and Dragons. It seemed to fit with the Talisman board which was like a miniature fantasy world in its own right. I think my overall aim was to inject a bit of “charm” into the whole thing.
ASM: ‘Charm’ is the word. It’s amazing. Are you aware of all the fan sites dedicated to Talisman online? How do you feel to see fans imitating your artwork style in making their own components to the game?
GC: I’ve seen some of the sites and I can only say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If fans of the game are still enjoying it and want to copy my style, then good luck to them. It’s a game, it’s meant to be fun and to make you happy. If people enjoy dreaming up a new character or a magic item, that’s just great by me. I play loads of different rules for my miniatures games. I can’t think of one that hasn’t got a few pencilled notes somewhere, that are used when I play with my mates. Hey guys – it’s Fantasy! That means you can make it up.
ASM: On your Twitter feed @garychalkpics, you describe yourself as ‘a wargamer’. What games do you play? What games got you hooked when you were a child?
GC: As 50’s children out in the Hertfordshire countryside we enjoyed climbing trees, lighting fires and hitting each other with sticks. Although we seldom did all three at the same time as this would have led to us falling out of the trees with our sticks on fire. Never a good idea. On wet days we read books or played snakes and ladders. There wasn’t much else around – it was “the olden days”.
Wargames started with the availability of Airfix figures and appearance of Donald Featherstone’s War Games at the public library. My friends and I played American Civil War and World War Two as we had rules for these and could get hold of tiny plastic men wearing the right hats. When Dungeons and Dragons came along, I started playing that. I have no idea to this day why I am hooked on figure gaming. Genetic innit?
I am currently playing Dark Age wargames with armies of Normans and Vikings. I have large numbers of pirates, but I’m having trouble finding decent rules that allow ships to manouver at sea while buccaneers pillage on land. Anybody out there know of any? I’ve got a fleet of two sloops, two brigantines and a huge two decker all with relevant crews plus an entire port with the inhabitants you could wish for. I’ve even got a miniature inn called “The Saucy Lobster”!
ASM: You also developed your own medieval war game Cry Havoc and fantasy board game Fantasy Warlord. In other interviews online, you mention that you got your fingers burnt both times. The games ended up making a loss for you. How do you feel about the experience of working on those games now?
GC: Cry Havoc didn’t make a loss for me, but it didn’t make me a profit either. It couldn’t. The printers with whom I produced it had no interest in games and simply viewed it as a way of making themselves a bit of tax-free pocket money. There was no way I could develop it on my own, sell it, answer every phone call, etc., etc. By inventing a game though, I had become a game designer. So in the end I left and went work for Games Workshop.
Fantasy Warlord was a disaster, made me a huge loss and literally turned my hair white. It was the wrong product at the wrong time. We brought it out just as [British Finance Minister Nigel] Lawson’s “little blip” turned into the biggest economic crash anyone could remember. In retrospect, it was doomed to fail. It involved type setters who couldn’t set type, figure manufacturers who suddenly didn’t have any sculptors and packagers who were went into liquidation without actually telling me. The most important mistake was that I thought fantasy gamers wanted a change from Warhammer, but they didn’t. They just wanted to moan about it, but they didn’t really want to change. I screwed up big time.
ASM: Are there any plans to rerelease either of those games in the future?
GC: Curiously enough I have been contacted by a French computer wiz who wants to do a version of Cry Havoc for the iPhone. I’ve done a couple of test illustrations for new playing pieces, but I’ve not heard any more. I suspect the economic climate and the difficulty in finding financial support may be making things difficult.
As for Fantasy Warlord, it might work as a Kickstarter project. I also think that many of the adult Warhammer players have reached the end of their patience with ever rising prices and the ever decreasing levels of pleasure they get from their gaming. The big problem is that I only own half the rights in Warlord and I haven’t heard from Ian Bailey, who owns the other half, for years. I have no idea where he is and if he would even countenance restarting this particular project.
ASM: Last year, you released Gary Chalk’s Gun Dogs, a gamebook app for Android. Did you have to change your artwork style for the new medium?
GC: Yes I did change my artwork style a bit. I moved it to a slightly more painterly style to take advantage of the new medium. That said, I have just done some Lone Wolf stuff for a Swedish company that looks distinctly like euro-style comic book illustration and I think I may be going with this in the future. Evidently, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Wuff!
ASM: How does Gun Dogs work? Who is for?
GC: Gun Dogs is produced by Tin Man Games and works pretty much like an ordinary gamebook except that you play it on your phone or on a tablet. You read paragraphs that offer you choices and, as you progress, those choices will affect the outcome of your adventure. It’s an exciting wilderness adventure with a unique background and the very latest in renaissance technology! That said, the format has several great advantages over the old paper gamebooks. Firstly, it is visually way, way prettier. Full colour illustrations throughout and parchment pages with a beautiful layout of text and vignettes. This isn’t just purely decorative. It helps the reader to feel that he is actually delving into an ancient book and gives the whole experience a new level of pleasure and involvement.
Secondly you don’t need a die to work out combat. You get an electronic die roll that gives you a little frisson of fear that makes a combat exciting, but you don’t need to carry a die round with you. Then there’s no book keeping either. The program keeps track of everything for you without a pencil and a lot of frantic rubbing out.
Anybody who is a fan of regular gamebooks should like this. It’s all the old fun made bright and shiny for the digital age and Jamie Wallis has done a great job on the text. By the way, he also did all the lay-out and graphics, which are frankly brilliant!
ASM: Finally, you live in Normandy and It looks like a lot of your fantasy artwork is now for French publishers. Where else can English speaking fans find your work these days? Some of the drawings on your website are fantastic!
GC: Although I live in France, I remain an old English gentleman! That means I only do it for money… Seriously though, I work for people all over the world. I’m currently working for clients in Britain, Germany, France and Sweden. With the Interweb, it doesn’t make a lot of difference where you live now.
I’m currently producing illustrations for a collector’s edition of the first Lone Wolf book for lovely Swedish people called Tove and Anders. A set of illustrations for the Orbis Terrarum RPG in Britain and sketches for a French client who is building a new medieval village and castle midway between Lyon and Geneva. Yes, that’s right, a new medieval village. It’s going to be a tourist attraction called Montcornelles and I’m drawing artist’s impressions of 14th century buildings that don’t exist yet. Funny old world, ain’t it gov?
Thanks for talking to Amazing Stories!