Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Favorite Artists - Jeff Dee


Today I have a very special guest for our favorite artist post.  None other than the great Jeff Dee!  Many of you will know Jeff from his early work with TSR, some of his work includes the Norse and Egyptian gods in the Deities and Demigods handbook as well as the cover of the Isle of Dread (one of my favorites)!  Jeff is a busy many with many ongoing projects but he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.  Take it away Jeff!

  • First of all, thanks for taking some time out of your day to speak with us here at The Drunk Umber Hulk, please introduce yourself and give us a brief bio: 

I'm Jeff Dee; I was an artist at TSR Hobbies in the early AD&D days. Since then, I've done art for several different game publishers, a little comic book work, and artwork on a number of computer games - most notably Richard Garriot's Ultima series from Origin Systems. I'm also a game designer; I co-created the Villains and Vigilantes tabletop superhero RPG with Jack Herman in 1979, and I've published several other games through my own small company 'UNIgames' (http://www.prismnet.com/unigames/) since then. I've also done computer game design work; I was the lead designer of The Sims Castaway Stories in 2009.


  • When did you first discover your creative talents? 

I think the formative event was actually an incident where I broke my left wrist during a family vacation. My mom, realizing that little Jeff was going to be left out of some of the fun planned for the trip (swimming, for example), took me to a corner drugstore where she allowed me to pick two things to read for fun. They turned out to be the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel "Carson of Venus", and a Denny O'Neil / Neal Adams issue of Batman, where he fought the evil Ras al Ghul in the desert. Both of these things affected me very deeply, and I suddenly started drawing all sorts of superhero, fantasy, and science fiction stuff.

  • Could you tell us about some of your own favorite work? 

Um... usually I'm happiest with whatever I've drawn most recently. Though lately I've been doing these TSR art re-creation projects, so that line is a little blurry at the moment. Apart from those, I'm very happy with my art on the latest version of Villains & Vigilantes.

  • How would you describe your style and where do you draw your inspiration from? 

My style has kind of wandered around over the years. The only influence I was ever consciously aware of was the John Byrne/Terry Austin run on X-Men, though I wouldn't exactly say my stuff resembles it.

  • Do you have a favorite artist? What draws you towards his or her artwork? 

Nowadays I'm a big fan of Mike Mignola, and the guys who do Invincible.

  • Is art a full time occupation for you and if not, what do you do to pay the bills? 

Currently, I'm *almost* a full-time artist. The rest of my time is spent doing game design.

  • You've created art for a number of gaming products, how did you become involved with TSR and doing illustrations for them? 

I had the good fortune of growing up only a 1/2 hour drive south of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where TSR was headquartered. Through my eldest brother David I was introduced to D&D back when it was still in its original brown box. We'd drive up to the Dungeon Hobby Shop pretty often, when the TSR offices occupied the 2nd floor, and I brought some drawings to show them. I got published in Dragon magazine while I was still in high school. I actually got a job offer from them before I'd finished art school, and quit art school to take it.

  • You're also a game creator, Villains and Vigilantes was the first superhero roleplaying game! Tell us about the game and the new updated version. 

V&V is a very D&D-inspired superhero game, though not a d20 game exactly. I guess the main thing that sets it apart is the random character creation; you roll for a few more powers than you're actually going to keep, and you form a coherent concept by tossing out the power(s) that don't fit. Combat is handled with a matrix of different offensive and defensive abilities. There are experience levels, but no 'classes'.

The new version is "V&V 2.1" - a very minor update of the Revised V&V rules that were published in 1982. Our first order of business was to get the game back in circulation. We're working on V&V 3.0, which will be a serious attempt to update and improve things, but we haven't announced a release date yet.

  • TWERPS (another one of your games) holds a special place in my heart, how did TWERPS come into existence and did you do all of the art for it? 

TWERPS (The World's Easiest Role-Playing System) was inspired by "Dinky Dungeons", a great little 'micro RPG'. I thought, "hey, I really want to do another game, and this ultra-tiny format would allow me to do that, so let's do it!'. I didn't actually wind up doing all of the artwork; a good portion was done by my partner Manda (aka Talzhemir).

  • You currently have a Kickstarter project to reproduce much of the art you first created for TSR back in the day which was destroyed. Give the readers a bit of information on the project and a link so they can check it out. 

Right, so, it turns out that at some point during the last days of TSR some numbskull threw out almost every single bit of original artwork I ever did for them, just to make room in their files. I think some other artists may have been affected as well, but I don't know exactly. Over the years many fans and collectors have asked me if I had any of those originals for sale, and I kept having to tell them "no, and not only that, they got dumpstered". With the advent of Kickstarter, it ocurred to me that if there's really that much interest out there, maybe folks would be willing to help fund the re-creation of that artwork in exchange for collectible prints. I floated the idea on Facebook, and folks said, "yeah go for it", so I did. I'm now on the fourth installment; I've already re-done my Egyptian and Norse gods from Deities & Demigods, and my art from modules Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits and S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Prints (though not *autographed* prints) of that re-created artwork are available through my DeviantArt page, http://jeffdee.deviantart.com/.

The current project is the Melnibonean chapter of Deities & Demigods, which had to wait until I got permission from Michael Moorcock. The funding deadline to get autographed prints from that one is midnight Central time on Sunday April 15th, and the link is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeffdee/re-creating-my-melnibonean-art-from-deities-and-de. Please pitch in if you like what I'm doing, folks! ;-)

In addition to the TSR art re-creation Kickstarters, I've also done an RPG called Cavemaster. It's a caveman role-playing game designed to be the kind of RPG that cavemen could have actually played. The game mechanics use handfulls of small rocks instead of dice. The backers have already received pre-release PDFs of the rulebook; it will be available for download by the geneal public soon, and hopefully it'll be in stores in just a few months. There's already a Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/330246380365995/ We're also trying to raise funding for a Pathfinder worldbook based on my old Quicksilver fantasy RPG setting. Backers can get copies of the book and all kinds of other fun stuff: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1001873952/quicksilver-worldbook-for-pathfinder.

  • Who is your favorite musical artist and why? 

David Byrne, maybe? I like a lot of new-wavey stuff from the late 70's and early 80's. Elvis Costello, DEVO, stuff like that. I quite like the Aquabats as well.

  • What was the last book you read? 

I'm *almost* through with Aztec by Gary Jennings. Before that may have been a re-read of one of Professor MAR Barker's Tekumel novels, or one of Burroughs' Barsoom novels, I can't quite remember.

  • Where can the readers go to see your art? 

My DeviantArt page, again, is: http://jeffdee.deviantart.com/

  • Lastly, any words of advice for aspiring artists? 

Yeah. Draw the way you feel.


Thanks so much for talking with us Jeff.  Please check out Jeff's many projects and his art page over on www.deviantart.com.  Thanks again and best of luck with your art, keep on inspiring us!

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