Category: Illo-a-Week

Illo-a-Week: Desert Story

Here’s a real oddball for you:

This is almost too embarrassing to post. Almost.

When I was a teenager, I harbored an ambition to draw graphic novels. Not comic books, because back then comic books were almost exclusively superhero stuff, and I never got into superheroes. I was more interested in what you’d find between the covers of Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated. I was never too serious about this ambition, because I think even as a teenager I sensed that the odds of making a decent living at it were very, very slim. But my sketchbooks from the era are filled with semi-finished graphic novel pages (or in some cases semi-finished chapters) and concepty stuff.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise then that what might be my first-ever published piece was a graphic-novel-style strip for my college newspaper (Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times). This was the first episode; I think my whole run was maybe six or eight strips (which barely got the story going). This predated any of my “real” published illustration by maybe five years.

This was a tough one to scan, because the original was pasted up, and it’s really crumbled in the (holy crap!) 25 years since I put it together. When properly reproduced, when all this stuff was clean and the glue hadn’t browned and things weren’t peeling away, you wouldn’t see the gridlines and blotches and lines around the individual elements.

You might wonder where this story was going. I haven’t a clue. I’m not sure I knew at the time either.

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

Illo-a-Week: Stuka!

Here’s a little piece for this week’s Illo-a-Week:

You're responsible for your own dive-bomber-siren sound effects.

This was a hand-drawn element created for the logo for the card game The Last Crusade (the other elements were generated in Photoshop). For those who care about such things, this was piece was done in a combination of felt-tip marker and color pencil which, as far as I can recall, is the only time I’ve ever done that (other than using a black marker to get a really deep, consistent black in some pencil pieces).

I call it a “little” piece above because, though the original is not small, its use in the logo is at a pretty small scale:

The back of a US The Last Crusade card. Stuka at left of logo.

(In a way, this is two illos for the price of one; I did all the graphic design for this game including the logo, all elements, and layout of the card you’re looking at.)

Interesting fact (YMMV): Because most of my illo work has been for RPGs, I have mostly drawn people, rather than things. Which is ironic, because I find things much easier to draw.

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

Illo-a-Week: Power Armor Chick

My word. Has it really been three months since I posted something in this weekly category?

Yes, all that white space is there for a reason. It's called "composition."

In our recent unpacking of our stuff from England, I came across this piece. In some ways, this doesn’t really qualify for Illo-a-Week, cause my rule so far has been to show published pieces. But I’m bending the rule by declaring this a concept piece from my early Chameleon Eclectic days, when Millennium’s End was in the pipeline but lots of other ideas were being explored.

Except that doesn’t really fit the date (the little ’89 down by the sig). Nor does the apparent Appleseed influence—I’m pretty sure this would be about a year before I got into that. Frankly, this pic would make a lot more sense if it was dated a year or two after it is.

Oh, well, it is what it is. I think I’ve mentioned before that my style tightened over the years in which I was doing a lot of pencil illustration, and to be honest I like this one stylistically a bit more than some of my later work.

Have I mentioned that it, and every other piece I’ve posted in Illo-a-Week, could be part of your personal fine art collection? Drop me a comment if you’re interested!

Comment below; you know you wanna! And receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right). Converse with me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, or follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan.

Illo-a-Week: Man Down!

Why yes, Millennium’s End was published in 1991. Are you suggesting that the cars/guns/clothes/hair look a little dated?

From Millennium's End.

This is a piece that reflects my belief that the moment just before or after the violence always makes a more compelling illo than the depiction of violence itself.

By the way, have I mentioned lately that most of the originals for the items appearing in Illo-a-Week are available for purchase? Drop me a line or a comment if you’re interested in anything you see!

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Illo-a-Week: 747 map

For a change of pace, how about a little cartography?

A map of a 747

From the GMs Companion

Simple and clean. Unsophisticated by the standards of today’s gaming cartography, but (if I do say so myself) it was pretty high-end back in 1994. And, you know, simple and clean has its place even today.

(If you’d like a look at the sort of thing I might do with more modern tools, check out this post.)

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Illo-a-Week: A Color Operative

The last handful of Illos-a-Week have launched with apologies, but no longer: I’m posting, and I’m posting on time. The technical issues that have made Illo-a-Week a hassle for me (and hence activated my laziness/procrastination function) have been overcome.


Cover image for the Operatives Kit

Nowadays, images of black-clad SpecOps and SWAT guys with laser sights and night-vision gear are all over pop culture, but back in the day this was pretty cutting-edge shit. This is from the BlackEagle Operatives Kit for Millennium’s End; it was reused on the cover of the Operatives Kit v2.0.

You might notice this is my first color piece on Illo-a-Week. Back in the early days of my game industry career, when I was running Chameleon Eclectic, I had more time, energy, and micromanagerial inclination than cash. So I did everything: all the design, writing, editing, layout, and art (along with the marketing, sales, accounting, and business management). That included cover art. I was never a decent painter, so I did a handful of cover pieces for the early works in color pencil. At its best, like this, I could give it a pretty paintlike style. This was the last of those pieces; cover art was the first thing I farmed out when my business had grown enough to permit employing freelancers.

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Illo-a-Week: Character Stuff

Here’s a tall, thin one for you.


From Millennium's End v2.0; I've dropped the size in this one smaller than I like just to make it fit on a screen. Click through to enlarge.


Actually, the original appeared in the first edition of Millennium’s End as a full-page illo; it was then cropped to this narrow format as a chapter-heading illo in Millennium’s End v2.0. It’s possible this might be the only real still life I’ve ever done outside of a class exercise. Too bad the scanner washed out some of the lighter tones, but hey, that was the technology of the times.

And that’s all I have to say about that one. . . .

Most of the images I’ve posted to Illo-a-Week so far have been pencil drawings. No doubt, that’s my favorite traditional medium to work in, and the one I feel (or felt, back when I was doing this sort of stuff) most comfortable with. It was also a style that suited the Millennium’s End game environment well, conveying the sense of realism the genre demanded. But sometimes a project required something different.


From the BlackEagle Operatives Kit


This is a piece from the BlackEagle Operatives Kit; specifically, from the main component of that kit, the Tactics and Investigations Handbook for Operatives. (It was later reprinted in the Operatives Kit v2.0, and expanded version of that item.) This book was laid out as though it were the real thing: Nothing but in-game content, written as though for the characters, not the players. (Only the front matter broke this conceit; it was printed in a light blue color on the inside front cover to minimize the breaking of the fourth wall.) Although this made the product very crunch-lite, players seemed to really like it, and it keeps the book mostly relevant for nearly any modern-genre RPG, to this day.

Its tone was very much that of a training manual (though hopefully written in a manner still enjoyable to players; its sales bore that out), and that’s what was required of the illustrations. They mimicked the look of what you might see in an 80s-era Army training manual. Most were simple line-art diagrams demonstrating tactics or investigative/fieldcraft techniques explained in the text. Many were quite bare-bones, by design; this was one of the most “colorful,” if you will. As you might gather, it illustrates technique for a small group maneuvering though an urban combat zone–moving along a wall, maintaining fields of observation, avoiding danger points, and so on.

Compared to their pencil equivalents in other works, these illos were easy to put together, and I think the served their purpose well. But the pencil work, to my mind, simply looks better.

Illo-a-Week: Buzz

Now that I’m back online, more or less, it’s time to resurrect some of this web site’s signature features. So here we are!

OK, here’s the thing: I figured since I hadn’t posted an illo in, ooohh, more than two months, I thought it might be nice to restart this feature with something a little unique. So I picked out one of my rare color images. But it turns out the image I have on file is CMYK, and the web site needs RGB (this all makes sense if you’re into this stuff; if not, just skim through), and I’m sort of between copies of Photoshop. So instead, it’s a return to the Miami Sourcebook, and you get Buzz.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Buzz. I kind of like him. I’ve never been particularly good with drawing people, but I think this piece, which illustrates an NPC description, does a nice job conveying the character. And that’s about all I have to say about it. Like the last Illo-a-Week illo, the style is at a nice place, with pencilwork that is just sketchy enough to give it a good, loose feel, but with enough precision to convey details nicely. Which makes me a liar: it turns out I did have a bit more to say about it.

I hope to be enPhotoshoped in the next few days, so maybe we’ll get the color image in the next Illo-a-Week. Or the one after that. Or some other time. Soon. I think.

Illo-a-Week: Biscayne Bay

Holy crap! It’s been a whole week since I posted something for Illo-a-Week! What the heck have I been doing!!? Well, here you go:

From the Miami Sourcebook for Millennium's End

This is from the Miami Sourcebook for Millennium’s End. The Miami Sourcebook, you might be tempted to believe, is a sourcebook about Miami. You’d be right. Miami was a sort of default campaign setting for Millennium’s End, and the game portrayed it as a crossroads between the US and Latin America (which it is) with a sort of apocalyptic Miami Vice cool (which isn’t so far from the truth).

This image shows Biscayne Bay at dawn, with the Venetian Islands in the foreground and Miami Beach in the background. The viewer is hovering above downtown. Biscayne Bay is a shallow body of water dotted with man-made, or at least man-shaped, islands and crossed by a couple of causeways. This might not be  the most dynamic composition for an action-packed RPG, but I really like the way this pic turned out. Captures the scene nicely (though completely cribbed from a photo in a book on Miami), and the style is at a nice place–not too sketchy, not too tight. (You can zoom way in on this piece.)

Interestingly, I drew this piece in BDUs, under a canvas tent swatting at mosquitoes. It was on one of my annual trainings when I was in the army. I think I was bitten by a brown recluse spider on that very same AT. But that’s a story for another post. Maybe.

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