It’s not every day that we get to catch up with illustrator John Bingham, so let’s do this, with relish.
Q: How did you get involved with the old school gaming scene?
JB: I had been an avid gamer through the 1980’s but left it in the AD&D 2nd edition era. When 3rd edition was announced, I was intrigued and decided to see what was going on in the gaming world. 3E brought me back, but I really missed the flavor of 1e AD&D. I came across the Dragonsfoot site and eventually Knights and Knaves Alehouse forums. It was exciting to see that there were not only old schoolers still around, but old schoolers that wanted to keep the game active and alive. When Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall announced their ideas for OSRIC as a vehicle to publish 1e compatible material, I was all in and very much wanted to contribute. Several of the guys at the Knights and Knaves forums volunteered for various aspects of writing rules and monsters and the like. I felt the best way to contribute was to do art. It was a heck of a lot of fun and I’m tremendously proud of OSRIC v2. Since then I’ve worked on several old school gaming projects. It has been a lot of fun to participate. I gotta admit, it is also really nice to see your work in print too.
Q: What is it about OSRIC v2, as a game system, that really revs your engine?
JB: I think that it is because it is essentially interchangeable with 1e AD&D. That was my first game system and set the bar in my mind for what RPGs were all about. I like that OSRIC is an open source version of such a classic game. Being open source, you can get under the hood, tinker, and put out your own stuff. That is what I’d always dreamed of as a kid. Being able to see my stuff out there with the pros, well, that was just too much to imagine. Now, it’s possible for anyone to self-publish and put their stuff out there. That is really awesome.
Q: What is the old school gaming scene like in New Zealand, where you live?
JB: I live in Wellington which tends to be rainy much of the year (it reminds me of a small Seattle which is where I last lived in the States). Anyway, due to the rainy weather, the Wellingtonians tend to spend much of their time indoors. Boardgaming is a BIG thing here. RPG players are a smaller demographic but they do exist. I work in the IT sector which has a lot of RPG fans. Most of the players that I’ve encountered here play AD&D 2e with heavily modified house rules or Pathfinder. Being in IT a lot of those folk grew up playing D&D/AD&D but aren’t active at the moment. I have told several about the OSR and what is going on, and there has been some interest with that. Really, I think there is a good gaming scene here and I’ve had offers from folks to participate but my day job and being a husband and father keep me quite busy (not to mention doing my art!) so I don’t get to participate as much as I’d like. I do play board games time permitting and I’ve got an open ended 1e Swords and Wizardry/OSRIC game going with the kids. I think if I had more energy/motivation it’d be easy to make Wellington into an RPG hotbed.
Q: Being the American institution that D&D/AD&D is, it’s really is easy to forget sometimes, about the impact that it had in other English-speaking parts of the world. We’re curious to know, which other tabletop rpg systems enjoyed popularity in New Zealand during the 1970s and 1980s, if any?
JB: Heh, I am an American too and wasn’t here back then. However, speaking to my Kiwi gamer friends, there was a lot of influence from the UK at the time so Warhammer seems to have been particularly favored here along with Runequest. A bit later I think that Shadowrun was popular. Overall, it doesn’t seem to have been too different from the UK gaming scene except for availability maybe. I find it rather striking though that most of the gamers that I do encounter here are still playing with rulesets and house rules that they have been using for 20+ years.
Q: Which illustrators would you say had the biggest influence on you, and why?
JB: Oh, the whole batch of 1e Artists like David Sutherland III, Dave Trampier, Jeff Dee, Jim Holloway, etc were big influences for sure. Growing up I was (and still am) a big comic book fan so guys like George Perez, John Byrne, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, Neil Adams, etc were also huge influences. I think nowadays though, as I mature in my style, the artists that I think have most influenced me are the guys that have a most definite style. So probably Dave Trampier, David Sutherland III, P. Craig Russel, John Buscema, Mike Mignola and Jack Kirby are my biggest influencers right now.
Q: Do you have a favorite Trampier illustration? If so, which one?
JB: Oh man, that’s a tough one. Really tough. I’m going to have to say that the adventurers facing the magic mouth that was at the back of the Players Handbook was always incredibly evocative for me. It really kind of captured that sense of adventure and mystery for me. Too many good ones though, you just can’t go wrong with Tramp.
Q: It’s refreshing to see such a wide spectrum of artists being named as influences (especially the early TSR artists.) When did your artistry journey first begin?
JB: As almost any other artist is going to say, I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. However, I can pinpoint what set me on my current path. When I was eight, we lived across the street from the university. My mom was a student and found the Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons coloring book at the university book store. I had never seen anything like it and was instantly enthralled. I needed to find out more about this Dungeons and Dragons thing. I colored every square inch of that book. It had an adventure but I didn’t have any of the rules so I made up my own to try and figure it out. I made up and drew my own monsters. There were kids in my school that played D&D but they didn’t live near enough for me to come over for a game and they didn’t play at school (that I was aware of anyway). So I and a couple of others had this sort of early LARP where we’d play through the scenarios I’d made up on the schoolyard obstacle course. I’d illustrate a bunch of critters to show them what they were fighting. It was a heck of a lot of fun. A few years later my mom bought me the AD&D Monster Manual for Christmas. Kind of similar story in that I didn’t have the Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide. I didn’t know where to get them and probably couldn’t have afforded to buy them if I did. I colored it in, and pored over all of the drawings inside. Created a bunch of my own. Made up my own rules, to try and figure it out. I was hooked and there was no going back at that point.
Q: What are you illustrating now?
JB: I’m working on art for the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea hard back edition. I’m doing a lot of new art for that and it is in a more painterly style than the usual line art stuff I tend to do. So more ink wash with line for definition. Think Savage Sword of Conan type feel – that is what I hope to get across at any rate.
Q: We’re looking forward to seeing that. Have you had the chance to play AS&SH yourself?
JB: Yes, a few times. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play very often. However, it has a great feel to it that I really enjoy. The whole R.E. Howard/H.P. Lovecraft/C.A. Smith pulpy swords and sorcery/supernatural horror has this kooky vibe to it. It seems to be a big thing these days, (for creators) to try to emulate that feel in gaming (and comics). I think AS&SH gets the feel perfectly for my tastes. Particularly the human-centric nature of the game that pits the very human players against this weird unknown. Plus, there are dinosaurs, and advanced technology from lost civilizations. I think it does an excellent job of capturing the feel of those pulpy tales. It also does a good job of doing Lost Worlds stuff too, so if you’re in the mood for let’s say something like Mike Grell’s Warlord comics from DC, you could do it here. Or maybe Thundarr the Barbarian. Point being is that while it defaults to a Howard/Lovecraft feel, it is flexible enough to capture other play styles along that spectrum, without feeling like it is grafted on.
Q: What will you be illustrating later this year?
JB: Hard to say but probably some more work for AS&SH and maybe some of my own stuff. I’d like to do an adult coloring album and get back to my self-published Delve! Zine.
Q: Tell us more about this adult coloring album idea of yours?
JB: Well, it is something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I know coloring albums are the thing these days. I really wanted to do something in the vein of the AD&D coloring book that started me on this crazy road so many years ago. Man, that Greg Irons work in that, right up there with Tramp. So probably something with a goofball adventure using the OSRIC rules. That would be cool. I’ve got an adventure that I’ve been putting my kids through, the Temple of the Brass Boar. That would be good for something like a coloring book adventure I think. We’ll see. My ambition outstrips my time an energy on most things. Maybe I need a project manager to spur me along like my day job…
Q: Tell us a bit more about the Delve! Zine? And, is there a place where our readers can find it online?
JB: Delve! Zine is essentially my love letter to old school gaming. Three issues can be found at DrivethruRPG. I’ve always liked the idea of zines and comix that were done as a labor of love. Being involved in the punk/alternative scene in the 1980’s/1990’s this was just something that carried over. I wanted to capture a cross over feel of the punk/indie gaming spirit (or at least my view of things.) The first issue is an adventure involving plague magic, the second is a guide to this wacky town named Dustchapel Downs that has sort of a goofy darkness about it (think R.E. Howard/H.P. Lovecraft meets Plan 9 from Outer Space – darkness but kind of in a self-depreciating and somewhat humorous way) and the “Special Edition” is an adventure that was done specially for my son’s ninth birthday. I tend to work glacially slow, so, yes, I do have plans for more issues but I am working on my commission work first. Hey, Cometbus punk zine had years between issues right?
Q: Dustchapel Downs sounds like it belongs in 1e OSRIC sandboxes everywhere. What more can you tell us about that zany town, without giving too much away?
JB: Dustchapel Downs. Yeah, I originally started it when I first got back into gaming after a long hiatus (pretty much the entirety of the 1990’s). It predates OSRIC by a couple of years. I was thinking of using it in a 3e campaign and giving it an old school feel (I hadn’t yet encountered Necromancer Games or Castles and Crusades so I didn’t know folks were still into old school gaming). When I first found out that folks were doing something with old school gaming, I really wanted to work Dustchapel up into a viable thing. The original idea was for an adventure, but I started working on Delve! Zine and felt that I really wanted to give more of a primer on the town that could be used as a tool box. Something like a mini version of the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Except a bit more goofy. But not so goofy that it was over the top. You can use Dustchapel in whole or in part and play it seriously or more lighthearted. I wanted it to have somewhat of a Lankhmar meets Dark Shadows feel. I’m thinking about doing a comic based in Dustchapel Downs. I’ve got some ideas written down and some sketches in a sketchbook. Again, ambition tends to outstrip the reality, but one can dream.
Q: Which tabletop rpgs have you been enjoying?
JB: OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry are my go-to games. I also like the old Marvel FASERIP and the public domain version 4C.
Q: Tell us your “secret” plans for world domination?
JB: I’ve got several adventures that I’ve written that are in various states of completion. I’d like to work on those and see about getting them published. I’d like to do a bit more on the writing side. I have less experience in that space but I feel that I’m a creator. To me that entails more than being an illustrator. I have all kinds of various interests but suffer from creative ADD so while I play around with various things a lot, it tends to be difficult for me to see projects through to creation. Many of the adventures that I’ve written were things I started and meant to get published when OSRIC was first announced ten years ago. So world domination is a long and slow process in my case, hehe.
Q: Five dinner guests. Which five living illustrators would you invite to a dinner party?
JB: Oh, Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russel for sure. I’d also like to meet up with fellow old school RPG artists like Stefan Poag and Peter Mullen. To be a bit different, I’d also invite Shepard Fairy and Banksy (OK, that’s six), but I think that would be an interesting dinner party. It’d be fun to do an art jam with all of them.
Q: That sure sounds like a party! What’s an art jam?
JB: Art jams are a party. Pretty much just a group of artists that get together and work collectively and independently on projects in a sort of party type setting. We did this a bit when I was younger. We’d mostly do paintings, make zines and comics and kind of riff off eachothers’ ideas. It was a lot of fun and very much inspired the participants to experiment in mediums and styles. I miss working that way.
Q: When creating art, what is your preferred medium, and why?
JB: I originally went to university with an art scholarship as a painter. So working with a brush in my hand is something I really love. India ink washes on paper are what I prefer to work with for illustration. There is just something very sensuous about working that way. I feel like I get more expressive lines that way.
Q: What is your prediction for the next big trend in the old school gaming scene?
JB: Next big trend? Not sure, but I’d love to do something with 4C. I LOVED the Marvel FASERIP game. I know that it isn’t exactly “old school” to a lot of the grognards out there, but as a teen growing up in the 1980’s
we tended to play about as much of that as we did AD&D. It lent itself well to quick pickup games too. So yeah, I’d like to see that as a trend. I’ve got plans to do some stuff with 4C.
Q: What are you enjoying most about 4C? And, how would you describe the system to new players?
JB: 4C (short for Four Color) is fast and fun. It utilizes a universal table that you roll percentages to determine success or failure. It really emulated the feel of Marvel comics from the 1970’s through the 1980’s. It is very light weight and there are basic and advanced features to the system. The advanced settings let you get a bit more granular with your game in terms of attributes and actions. We never played with the Rules as Written, but they are so light that it didn’t really change things I don’t think. The game is freely available and being that it is public domain, you can tinker with it and publish your own stuff. Very much in the OSR vein. If you are looking for a very crunchy game, this isn’t the system you are looking for. If you are looking for one with great social dynamics and something that encourages role playing, there are probably better options. If you want a slug fest in the fashion of the bronze age of comics, then this is the game for you.
I think back in the day using the TSR FASERIP system, we used to pretty much just create our own characters and either have them square off against each other, or against established Marvel characters. There was this very raucous, rock ’em sock ’em feel to it. It was fun to see if the Hulk could take out Thor. I had Trapper Keeper folders dedicated to superhero and super villain teams I’d made. I spent tons of time drawing my characters, their gear, their headquarters and making comics about them. I loved it. I still do.
Q: Where can tabletop RPGers expect to be seeing more of your art next?
JB: A good place to find the bulk of my work is via Expeditious Retreat Press and their line of Advanced Adventures modules. They are OSRIC/1e AD&D compatible adventures that are a lot of fun (Oh, and my wife Daisey does the awesome coloring for the covers!). The big project I am working on is the hard back release of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I am doing a lot of ink wash stuff for that and am quite excited about it. There will be a kickstarter for it but keep your eyes on the Northwind Adventures page for more. Or you can just head over to my gallery site to see my stuff and what I’m up to. Cheers!