Monday 16 April 2012

N is for Nicholson... Russ Nicholson

I cannot imagine a world in which adventure gamebooks were not illustrated by Russ Nicholson. Back in the 80s, when gamebooks were at their height, his intricate pen linework was the perfect match for the likes of Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, not to mention a host of other gamebook series (including Robin of Sherwood and, later, Virtual Reality Adventures).

When I first picked up The Warlock of Firetop Mountain on that fateful day back in 1982, it was Russ's minutely-detailed illustrations that gripped me as much as the concept of a gamebook, and the adventure Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone had crafted.

1. Which is your favourite Fighting Fantasy gamebook?

Hard one. Probably The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

2. How did you find the process of illustrating FF books? Was it an enjoyable experience? How did it compare to other illustration jobs?

I had trouble with the cover as the editors kept changing every time I submitted an idea, after three and the deadline for the black and whites coming up I gave up. The last editor used his favourite SF artist. Enjoyable? Yes. I still get a buzz from doing Fantasy-related work. Compare... My more formal Illustration work was strewn with disappointments.

3. What are you doing now?

Just finished a few pieces for a couple of American clients. Have a commission to 'complete' and waiting for another project to be fired up again.... My work for Calific and the world of ''Yezmyr''.

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

No actual influence. My work just happened to 'marry' well with FF. If FF hadn't come along I would still be doing such work... I was already doing small press work for several clients prior to FF.

5. What is it that makes FF so special?

Unique and, according to teaching friends, helped a lot of lads who did not read… and according to those same friends it was my illustrations that was a key for many. I was pleased when I heard that. The reason why I did two titles then 'disappeared' for several years was Penguin's decision not mine. I was never offered book three, etc.

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

You’re asking me? Ha-ha. I've always been on the periphery of gaming. Though I've an interest I'm not consulted. At a guess, nostalgia and the 'rise' of the Internet and video games.

7. 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?

Oh dangerous ground... I've never read any so my comments are not worth a lot, but to my mind the treatment was too similar... they should have been handled as a 'new' game series under the general umbrella of FF. I'd love to have been offered a SF variant but you get pigeon-holed in the world of Publishing as I suspect you've found.

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

Totally new and more exciting visually when they came out and mirrored the death of comic reading in Great Britain, which also mirrored the boredom with the book. But Joe Dever's 'Lone Wolf' series is still alive and kicking on the continent as is a lot of Games Workshop product.

9. Where is there left for gamebooks/FF to go?

Ah! My crystal ball is clouding.

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

Yes. It has a niche, has a following, and it will always inspire gamesmanship.

Thank you to Russ for agreeing to be interviewed. You can check out more of his artwork here.4


Dave Morris said...

Russ truly is the premier visualizer of fantasy & SF worlds. He has such a broad artistic range (always amazed me how he could evoke a different feel for each region in the Fabled Lands, for example) and, coupled with that, he has the creative imagination to back it up. I feel I've spent many happy gaming hours in Russ's worlds, and gamebook readers and authors alike owe him a huge debt.

nutschell said...

He is an amazing illustrator! i love all the illustrations you shared.
Happy A-Zing!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Awesome talent. And such detail. Thanks for interviewing this very gifted illustrator. Just stopping by on the challenge.