An Interview With Stefan Poag
Our partner Akileos Publishing is responsible for the upcoming French edition of Dungeon Crawl Classics. We recently ran an interview they did with our own Dark Master, Joseph Goodman, as well as another interview conducted with Harley Stroh and one with Peter Mullen—but that’s not the end of it.
Akileos sat down and interviewed another iconic DCC creator: Stefan Poag. This interview was already run on their site in French but the whole thing was conducted in English, and we thought you might want to read it for yourself.
Here is the English version of the interview. We hope you enjoy seeing exactly what lies inside Stefan’s mind…and we hope you remain sane after the experience.
Hello Stefan! Thanks for answering a few questions for us.
First of all, sit down on the couch right here and tell us about your childhood….
What’s the origin of your artist vocation?
I have always drawn as a creative outlet. As a kid I was always in trouble at school because whenever the teacher gave me pencil and paper I would draw instead of doing the math or writing assignment that I was supposed to be doing. I drew mostly as an exercise in getting what was in my brain onto paper – I didn’t usually draw from observation – I just drew whatever popped into my head which was usually monsters and heroes locked in bloody combat with the monsters almost always winning.
How were you introduced to RPGs? Do you still play?
I think I was in middle school? A friend of mine kept describing this “game” to me where there was no board other than a sheet of graph paper and it used funny shaped dice. When we finally played it I realized that this was the type of game I wanted to play my entire life. What appealed to me most is that you could, in theory, do anything and there didn’t seem to be a final victor at the end of the game – the goal was really to just have a good time.
Since the pandemic, all my play is online but I don’t get to play as often as I like. Time is always the major constraint.
I also contribute to Kovac’s Hobonomicon publication (www.hobonomicon.com) and sometimes draw comics.
Joseph Goodman says (and I agree) that your art feels like “actual D&D play”. Is that conscious or do we have to start longer sessions of therapy?
As a kid, I was obsessed with The AD&D Monster Manual. I always felt like there was a story going on in my favorite pictures. I also grew up in a house where my parents kept a lot of books about medieval/Renaissance art and history – and many of the illustrations, particularly the Bosch, Breugel, and Durer illustrations, really appealed to me because there were often lots of little vignettes tucked away in the corners – in addition to whatever was going on in the picture in the foreground, there were things happening in the background as well. I was very taken with Lochner’s famous “Last Judgement” painting in which there are people rising naked from their graves — angels on one side of the painting grabbing the people destined for heaven and demons on the other side dragging sinners to hell. I think all of those things appealed to me and were whispering in the back of my brain when I first started to draw RPG illustrations.
Could you tell us more of your black and white art technique?
Most of my techniques are fairly standard. I use traditional ink and pencil, sometimes thinning the ink for shades of grey or using graphite for tone. I often scan my rough sketch for a piece and then print it out on a sheet of art paper using a very pale shade of blue ink, then inking over the pale blue print-out for the final art. I still prefer drawing the original with pencil but my print-and-then-ink technique allows for a cleaner final art work – plus if I mess it up I can print out another and start over with the inking. So I use some digital tools to produce conventional art but I always like to have an original artwork drawn by hand on paper at the end – unless I use actual ink on paper for the final, it just doesn’t look right to me.
You also produce color pieces. Do you have a preferred way?
I’m really trying to up my game with painting but everything takes time. In the past few years I’ve been working hard on my acrylic painting technique, but progress is slower than with the ink illustrations. In the time that I need to make a painting, I can make several ink drawings of the same size and complexity. If I had a few more hours every day I would devote more time to painting but finding time to do everything, including the stuff I have to do (like cleaning, walking my dogs, paying the bills, etc.), is impossible – even in a pandemic.
Currently my goal is to increase the expressive, interesting characters in my illustrations and to add interesting details that will be in the illustration for the careful observer to find. In a lot of my earlier work, I feel like some of the characters are fairly generic, so these days I’m trying to add more unique touches to the people and creatures who appear in my work.
What are your influences? Art, movies, music and cooking references are welcome.
Well, I grew up with “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” both as books and animated films and I was really into those – I loved the frog-like goblins in the animated 1977 “Hobbit” movie. I also love monster and horror and adventure movies — John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” all blew my mind when I watched them as a youngster. Growing up in the Midwest in the 80s wasn’t particularly inspiring in terms of music. Most of my friends listened to classic rock and went to shows in gigantic arenas, neither of which particularly interested me, until I discovered punk rock, new wave and underground music as well as a network of smaller venues where you could see live performances by less well known artists who didn’t get played on the commercial radio stations – a lot of which I still listen to. I’m married to a writer who likes science fiction and drama – I think she has been a good influence on my taste in fiction and films. I think we live in a time when a lot of really good fiction is being produced for television. “Lovecraft Country” is a current favorite.
As I mentioned before, I love a lot of European art from the Renaissance and earlier, especially art with religious or mystical content. And I try to keep up with artists who are working today. Ian Miller, John Blanche, Moebius, Phillipe Drulliet, Chris Mars, as well as the artwork of my fellow DCC artists all have had a positive influence on me. It’s a really good time to be an artist since we can get exposed to a plethora of interesting images every time we open up our computers.
What’s on your drawing board right now?
I’m working on some illustrations for a book unrelated to RPG work as well as some stuff for soon to be published works for RPGs from Goodman and others.
Thanks for your time, Stefan.
You are welcome.