Friday 13 April 2012

L is for Leo Hartas

Today's special guest on my blog is Leo Hartas, illustrator, writer and for those of a certain age, Fighting Fantasy cartographer.

I actually interviewed Leo for a piece I wrote for SFX Magazine about the history of Fighting Fantasy and his involvement in the world's premier gamebook series. So today, for the first time ever, I present said interview with Mr Leo Hartas...

Which was the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook you read?

Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Did you read FF before illustrating FF?

I did.

Which is your favourite FF gamebook?

City of Thieves, I think. To be honest it's been a very time since I read an FF.

How did you find the process of drawing maps for the FF books?

I loved the process of drawing the maps because the editor always gave me a completely free hand. He would initially send me a poor photocopy of a scribble by the author with the very basic information of locations, etc, and I could go off and embellish to my heart's content. Of course I had to submit a rough for checking, but apart from a handful of minor changes, I remember everything going very smoothly.

Would you have liked to illustrate a whole book?

Yes I would, but at the same time I was at uni or working on other projects such as the Golden Dragon gamebooks by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson. You may be interested to know that Dave is writing gamebooks again, currently working on an epic gamebook version of Mary Shelley's classic, Frankenstein. Should be great!

What are you doing now?

I still work full time as a freelance illustrator. Recently I have been illustrating a series of books called Adventure Island for 8-12 year-olds, along with a series for younger children of pirate adventure called Sam Silver. Both series are for Orion Books. When I have time I also work on my graphic novel, Mirabilis - Year of Wonders, written by Dave Morris. Book One is out and Book Two should be out in a month or two. I'm half way through Book Three of the epic eight book series. You can find out more at the Mirabilis website.

How much did FF influence your career and what you are doing today?

Difficult to say. I'm known for working on the maps, and I've had a few jobs since because of them. On the whole my main career has been in slightly younger children's books. However, I loved drawing and painting the maps, and that experience definitely feeds into my other work.

What is it that makes FF so special?

I think it was because they were the first gamebooks to break open the market in the 80s coming on the heels of the D&D revolution a decade before.

How do you explain the gamebook resurgence of the last couple of years?

I don't know really, so I'll guess. Gamebooks were destroyed by the emergence of computer RPGs. I suspect it could be that some people are looking for a deeper imaginative experience that writing can provide, from the rather vacuous and repetitive experience of the computer RPG genre. It's also true that there is a hardcore fan base that read the original series, and has grown up to revive the gamebook with the help of social media. All good stuff!

There are notable exceptions (such as House of Hell and Appointment with F.E.A.R.) but in general why do you think the non-Titan adventures were less well-received than those set within FF’s own fantasy world?

I would think that readers like to feel the stories they are engaged in link into a bigger world which over time they can "discover" and become familiar with. I think it's also true that the fantasy genre seems to work exceptionally well with the gamebook genre. I can't remember seeing too many crime fiction gamebook titles.

What do you feel was the impact of video games on FF (both negative and positive)?

On the whole I think it's been totally negative, in that video RPGs have sucked away most potential gamebook readers. I haven't read any recent "post video game" gamebooks, so I can't comment on any influence they may have had on gamebooks themselves.

Where is there left for gamebooks to go?

Perhaps the most exciting area for gamebook expansion is in the new mobile devices, which strike me as perfect to handle the simple mechanics of rolling dice and linking paragraphs. As a genre I fear they will always occupy a niche, but can never tell. The mainstream may suddenly pick them up again and we'll see them flying off the shelves like they did in the 80s.

Do you think people will still be talking about FF in another 30 years?

Turn to paragraph... I hope so. :)

Thanks to Leo for letting me post his answers online. You can find out more about what Leo's working on at the moment at his website here, and you can find out more about Mirabilis - Year of Wonders, here.

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