Friday, 28 October 2011

Gary Chalk Interview

After much hunting on the internet I have managed to collate some artwork by one of the many fantasy artists that have inspired me a great deal over the years. There are of course many, many magnificent artists out there, too many to name or put in some kind of favourite order, many of whom have also inspired me in one way or another. But this particular artist's work was some of the first fantasy art I saw that immediately captured my imagination, the man I am talking about is Gary Chalk.

Gary is well known for his work on the Talisman board game produced by Games Workshop in 1983 and the extremely popular Lonewolf series of fantasy gamebooks written by Joe Dever. After his time at Games Workshop Gary and a colleague moved on to produce their own miniatures wargame to rival GW's Warhammer called Fantasy Warlord which ran for two years. Gary has recently been doing work for French miniature company Rackham and producing illustrations and concept art for their mini's and if you read the interview following the illustrations you will see what he's up to currently!

Some of Garys work....

Talisman First Edition box art.....

Fantasy Flight Games produce the newest version of Talisman - Revised 4th edition which is available from many game stockists. There are also a good deal of expansions available now as well including new ones not released for the old game. The Dungeon, The Highlands, The Sacred Pool, The Reaper,  The Frost March, The Dragon. Its an excellent boardgame and a classic to boot. If you played it as a kid, you won't be disappointed with these new versions!...

The book series Gary is most famous for illustrating is Lone Wolf series. Lone Wolf introduced a progressive skill set throughout the adventure which was great and something not found in Fighting Fantasy at the time.

You can read more about Fantasy Warlord here.

Some work for Rackham.....

And the rest of the artwork I have found. Of course this is only a small sampling, but enough to give you a good taste nonetheless. Enjoy.

It was a bit of a struggle to find high quality images created by Gary on the internet, but a big thanks to those who posted them up and especially big thanks to the Project Aon team and its volunteers who do so much to keep Lonewolf alive and available on the net. Most and nearly all of the original books are available to play freely online due to the genorisity of Gary and Joe Dever so head on over to Project Aon here.

Gary Chalk Mini Interview - The Unvarnished Truth

Gary, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, and before we start I have been asked to pass on the thanks and gushing admiration towards yourself from many fellow gamers on the forums!

I have already expressed the fact that your art made the fantasy games I played come to life and fired up my imagination, creating a great love for fantasy art. But who and what were your inspirations when you began your artistic life and how did you begin your artistic career, was it in the field of fantasy art?

I actually started my working life in a graphic design studio, where I learnt all the things they had neglected to teach me at art school. This was practically everything. We produced all sorts of stuff, from leaflets to pizza boxes, but precious few orcs. While I was working there, I started looking for freelance illustration and eventually found enough to earn a precarious living.

How did you come to be involved with the Lonewolf gamebook series and the Talisman boardgame?

I was working for Games Workshop with the important title of Games Developement Manager. I had a drawing board and a staff of one - me. I had joined the company while they were developing Talisman and they had a rough board for play testing which was rather like a an aerial view of a landscape. It wasn’t very exciting, so I came up with the idea of turning the landscapes on their side, running them together and drawing them in detail. People liked it.

Lonewolf came about because Livingstone and Jackson were looking for people to ghostwrite their fighting Fantasy books for a pitiful royalty. They approached myself and Joe Dever, who was working away in the bowels of their warehouse. I thought,that if we were good enough to write their books, we were good enough to write our own. That’s how we came up with the idea of Lone Wolf which was loosely based on the world that Joe had used for his D&D games.

What were the reasons for you leaving Games Workshop and what do you think of the modern face of the company?

I left Workshop to work the Lone Wolf books, which was extremely easy as GW had never actually given me a contract! I must admit, the world was perhaps more interesting in the days when there was more gaming diversity about. I find the modern Warhammer worlds mind-numbing dull, but since they have been specifically designed to appeal to twelve year old boys, rather than sad old gits like me, that’s not really very suprising. As for White Dwarf, it isn’t really a magazine, it’s a monthly product catalogue and a very well designed one at that.

I don’t think that Workshop products have been made to appeal to adult gamers for years. Adults are no longer their target market. If adults want to buy their products, no doubt they are pleased, but their buyers are adolescent boys who buy boxes of orcs for about two years until they discover girls.

My only problem with this is that the omnipresent GW shops have helped kill off a lot of small games and model shops. However, you can find anything on the internet these days, from independent figure makers to saucy young women who have forgotten to put any clothes on. If you want a different fantasy game, invent a world, draw a quick map and download a free set of rules. That should take about two evenings. You can find figures in any scale or material and you can paint them any colour you like. That’s why it’s called « fantasy » gaming. By the way, nowhere is it written that orcs are green…

When you left Games Workshop you created your own wargame "Fantasy Warlord", do you have any regrets about this game not continuing, is there anything you would have done differently with hindsight?

Fantasy Warlord was a ghastly mistake. It cost me a lot of money and the stress turned my hair white. That, by the way, is absolutely true. I had utterly misjudged the market. The gamers actually wanted what Workshop was producing for them and not a game that used pseudo-military tactics to determine the outcome of fantasy battles. The gamers really wanted an infinite number of badges and lots of spikey bits. The world had changed, but I hadn’t changed with it.

In addition to all this,the launch coincided with that of Grenadier’s Warlord game and a major economic crisis that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer told us was going to a little « blip ». Never trust a man in a suit.

With hindsight, I would have left the gamers to play Warhammer and run screaming over the horizon.

Given the nature of fantasy art and the clients imagination versus your own some frustration must occur on occassion with differing visions. So, when you are working, do you find the ideas for a piece come easily to you? Or do the confines of a brief often limit your imagination or what you'd do given total freedom?

The ideas come easily, but trying to work out what an editor wants is more difficult. Fantasy clients are relatively easy to please. They know what they want,and they let you fill in the details. Brilliant!

The children’s book market is a different kettle of fish, however. The editors are largely middle class young women with no training in design and even less idea of what children actually enjoy, especially boys. They think that twelve year old boys are still playing with wooden trains, rather than enjoying the dubious delights of Grand Theft Auto. In order to work out what they actually want you to draw, you may have to employ a ouija board. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoy fitting drawings into odd shapes etc.

Do you have a favourite piece of art created by yourself?

No, not really…

Are there any projects you would have liked to have done but never got the opportunity to be involved with?

Only about five and a half million. Classic stories like Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans appeal greatly to me and I seem to be getting very interested in the Steampunk genre. I’ll draw whatever anyone asks for, though, that’s part of the fun of the job.

Do you play any games yourself or have time to paint miniatures (photos!!?) ?

I play historical wargames with miniatures. The English Civil War, Darkest Africa and I have two new armies, Bolshevik and Chinese for the 1920s along with a complete Wild West town with and all its inhabitants. I also play games with a huge Norman army and a pirate fleet - « Aha Jim Lad« . Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there for a moment…

My main problem is a lack of opponents. I live in rural Normandy and there’s not much in the neighbourhood except cows. The nearest three live an hour away in deepest Brittany and the designated driver has been suffering from a bad knee. I’ll have to wait a bit before he can press the pedal to the metal and speed up the autoroute from Rennes, with a boot full of little men.

What have you been doing over the last year and can you tell us about any new up and coming projects you have been working on?

In addition to a couple of drawings for the french version of the Lone Wolf RPG,
I am currently working on the Lone Wolf boardgame with Jamie Wallis of Greywood Publishing. At the time of writing, we are about 90% of the way through the artwork and graphics.

We are hoping to produce it book form, yes, book form, and as a number of downloads. If we produce it as a book, it will make it easily available online and it should be a bit cheaper for the gamer as there is no VAT involved. Take out the staples, cut out the playing pieces and it’s ready to go. We want to make all the components available as downloads, so that players can expand the game at will with extra boards and playing pieces in whatever way they like. So, if you want to fight with the armies of the Dark Lords in the Streets of Holmgard, you can add two village maps together to make part of a city. If you want to double up the size of your giak army, you can simply download a second set of playing pieces at a reasonable price.

People who enjoyed Cry Havoc, should enjoy this game too. Although the rule mechanisms are different, it has the same feel with highly detailed individual warriors and attractive, colourful maps.

I’m also working on the background for a series of online gamesbooks, but I can’t tell you to much about these as I am waiting for the contract to arrive for signature. There will be three to start with and they will be in a totally new setting. Swords and sorcery with just a whiff of gunpowder.

And finally, errrrr.....can you sign my complete collection of Lonewolf gamebooks?

I’ll sign anything except a cheque….

Gary, I just want to thank you for taking time to answer these questions, you have made a fan very happy indeed and I am sure fellow gamers will be very interested to see what new work you have in the pipeline.Thank you!

You can visit Gary's website here and follow him on twitter "@garychalkpics".

Until next time!

Footnote: Gary offered to supply some pictures of the Lonewolf game pieces and I also asked if he had any of his gaming table/painted miniatures. At time of posting I am awaiting a response but will post it up when I get them!



  1. A great read, thank you! And Gary's paintings are worth every minute you spend with them. So much to explore in corners and background...

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. My involvement with fantasy gaming began with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and shortly after whilst looking for others the Lone Wolf series and the Way of the Tiger gamebooks. I think without the art created by the likes of Gary, Russ Nicholson and all the other artists involved in these books the worlds created by the authors would be a much duller place! They certainly enthused my own imagination and I continue to enjoy looking at the art even today.

  3. I remember vividly the moment I was first introduced to Gary's art. One fateful night, my good friend and gaming mentor Richard Tatge brought up a board game called Talisman. The printing was first edition and featured Gary's illustration on the box cover. The art shows a lone adventurer standing behind a tree in the foreground while a dragon in the background looks over in his direction, as if the dragon is aware of the adventurer's hiding place. If you look closely, one of the dragon's claws clutches a fine chain with a golden triangle attached to the bottom. Fans of the game will recognize this treasure as one of the fabled Talismans: a powerful artifact that is required to safely cross the Valley of Fire and ultimately win the game.

    I was immediately captivated by the intricate detail and unique style of the art. I opened the box and started looking through the giant stack of cards that formed the adventure deck. Gary's art has a timeless quality and distinctive charm, much like the actual play experience of the game. The images on the cards were so inspiring that my head filled with stories of adventure even before we started playing the game. Richard said that it was better to discover the game by actually playing it, rather than scanning through the decks. We quickly set up the board, shuffled the decks, and dove into a fantasy world filled with mythical creatures, friendly followers, magical artifacts, and of course slimy little toads!

    I instantly fell in love with the game but it was Gary's artwork that really sparked my imagination. Each time we played Talisman someone would find a new detail on an illustration that we never noticed before, like peeling away layers of an onion. The sense of discovery in the art further enhanced the feeling of adventure in the game. I wanted to further explore the world of Talisman and started creating my own character and adventure cards. Over a decade later, I now design and develop the Talisman Revised 4th Edition product line for Fantasy Flight Games. It has been nearly 30 years since Talisman was first published and Gary's vision is still incredibly influential on my work and continues to resonate with people from around the world.

  4. Thanks for your comment John - as designer of the current revised edition your thoughts are a welcome addition to the page. The timing of you posting this is quite spooky actually - I was just hunting the web for a talisman expansion for my brothers birthday as I have just introduced my nephews to it and re-introduced his wife who played it many moons ago and loved it. I check my email and see a notification with your name on it and it made me chuckle.

    Spookiness aside, my own memories of discovering Talisman begin with 2nd Edition purchased by my brother from GW at around the princely sum of £9.99. As this was before video games were detailed enough to provide a satisfying gaming experience, RPGs and the like were popular and I was instantly hooked. Garys art played a big part in capturing my imagination to and his work is deeply and fondly embedded into my imagination along with Russ Nicholson and Larry Elmore.

  5. Gary is one of my all time favourites, along with that other great of British fantasy black and white comics, Mike McMahon. Thanks for a great interview!