Saturday, May 24, 2014

3PP Interview: Marc Radle, Kobold Press

This time I'm interviewing Marc Radle, Art Director at Kobold Press. Most of the people I interview in my blog have a writer/designer background, so I'm very delighted to get to interview him and hear about the RPG business from a different perspective. Not to mention, now that Kobold Press is designing the first two adventures for the new edition of D&D, Marc is no doubt in a uniquely interesting role in the partnership between Kobold Press and Wizards of the Coast. Read on to learn more about Kobold Press and Marc's work! 

Marc has also written a number of blog posts about monster art for Have a look at them as well. Here's one about a very classic D&D monster, the roper. 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a professional digital artist / graphic designer by trade. I also do freelance writing and game design, graphic design and illustration for various excellent RPG game companies like Super Genius Games, Raging Swan Press, Frog God Games, Last Unicorn Games (back in the day), Purple Duck Games, Jon Brazer Enterprises, 4 Winds Fantasy, Tricky Owlbear Publishing, Black Blade Publishing, of course, Kobold Press.

I am currently the Art Director for Kobold Press as well as a big fan (and supporter) of Pathfinder and Paizo.

I started playing D&D as a kid in the mid to late 70’s – good ol’ First Edition AD&D! We also played many other RPGs back then … Marvel Superheroes, Champions, Elfquest, FASA's Star Trek, Star Frontiers, the list goes on … but it always came back to AD&D for us! I kind of faded out of gaming around the time 2nd Edition came out - mainly because most of my gaming friends turned into grown-ups when I wasn't looking and moved away but also because 2nd Edition just didn't quite do it for me (although I did play it a little and there were aspects that I did like).

Third edition really pulled me back in though and the Pathfinder RPG has only made things better! I’m thrilled with what Paizo has done for the gaming industry and I’m even more thrilled that I can still enjoy playing (and even contributing to) the game I love.

How did you get into RPG design and what kind of projects have you been working on? What have been your best experiences?

My first experience dipping my toe in the professional RPG industry pool was when I worked with Last Unicorn Games in the mid to late 90’s. LUG’s first big thing was the Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth RPG, which was nominated for Best New RPG that year at Origins. I did illustrations for the Aria game books, created Last Unicorn’s first logo, created and maintained their first web site - I even did an edit pass on the Aria books. Last Unicorn went on to do collectible card games like Dune and Heresy: Kingdom Come. They also produced role-playing games for Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager, before eventually being acquired by Wizards of the Coast.

It was an interesting, exciting and eye-opening time!

I’ve had many, many great experiences working in the RPG field, but two recent products stand out for me.

The first was working on Deep Magic, published by Kobold Press. I got to work closely with a host of talented artists to create the huge amount of amazing art within this massive tome. I also did the layout and graphic design on the book itself and I am extremely pleased with how Deep Magic looks.

The other, also from Kobold Press, is the New Paths Compendium. Although I did the layout and graphic design for that book as well, I’m most proud of the game content itself. I wrote the majority of the material in the NPC (although some excellent additional material was contributed by other talented designers as well) and I’m really, really proud of that book.

In your opinion, what makes a good Pathfinder RPG compatible product?

I’ll answer primarily from a visual standpoint and let others, far more qualified than I, handle the other stuff!

A good Pathfinder RPG compatible product (although this would apply to any RPG product, really) needs to be visually appealing. In my opinion, it’s got to have good art; clean, well-designed page treatments; great trade dress and a dynamic graphic presentation. The reality is, no matter how amazing the content is … if the product isn’t visually appealing, most people will pass it over for something else. More importantly, once folks actually dig into your product, well-designed, interesting looking pages with great art help keep the reader interested, excited and engaged in the content and help the reader to navigate smoothly through the product.

When and how did Kobold Press get started?

That’s really a question for Wolfgang – and I’m sure it’s an interesting story!

[Editor's note: Let's hope I'll get to interview Wolfgang in the near future! Looking forward to it. :-) ]

How did you join Kobold Press and what is your role or position?

I officially became the Art Director for Kobold Press around August 2012. I hand out art assignments; work with artists to make sure the resulting art is as awesome as possible and fits the Kobold Press look which we’ve worked to establish. I also do the vast majority of the graphic design and page layout for all Kobold Press products. Oh, and I also still get to write stuff as well :)

Prior to joining the Kobold Press team officially, I did lots of freelance work for them, including illustration, graphic design and writing. My first published credit was the Spell-less Ranger in Kobold Quarterly Magazine #11, which came out in 2009

What can you tell about the products of Kobold Press?

Kobold Press is a top Third Party Publisher founded and run by gaming legend Wolfgang Baur. Kobold Press publishes high-quality adventures, sourcebooks and other types of RPG supplements for Pathfinder RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, 13th Age etc.

Can you give us an exclusive teaser about a future product?

There are LOTS of cool things on the horizon, including a few things that are extra super awesome!!! Unfortunately, I can’t talk about any of them just yet …

One thing I can mention now, though … Kobold Press is working with Wizards of the Coast to design the Tyranny of Dragons adventures for the new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG! We’re extremely excited and honored to be working on these and it’s great to finally be able to talk about them!

[Editor's note: Here's the official announcement:]
What are the best things about the products of Kobold Press and what type of players or GMs would you recommend them for?

First and foremost, Kobold Press produces quality RPG material. The Kobolds work extremely hard to ensure everything is top-notch – from the writing and design to the editing and development, to the graphic design and production.

Also, while many companies mainly produce PDFs, Kobold Press is very committed to producing quality print products in addition to great PDF releases – Deep Magic and the New Paths Compendium are just two recent examples of releases that are available in print and PDF

Honestly, I’d recommend Kobold Press products to any gamer (player or GM) who wants awesome, top-quality RPG material!

What are the current goals for Kobold Press? What are the biggest challenges?

I’m really focused on the visual aspect of Kobold Press. As the company continues to grow and expand, it’s very important to me (and Wolfgang as well) that Kobold Press products have the best art and the best overall look possible. My personal goal is to have folks open up every Kobold Press book (or view every Kobold Press PDF) and their first thought is “WOW!”

Is there anything else people should know about Kobold Press or its products?

I suspect Wolfgang could fill a couple paragraphs here! I’ll just say this: the people that produce Kobold Press products as every bit as serious and passionate about RPGs as the folks reading this are and I think that passion shows in the final products.

How do you generally find new artists to work for you? What is the application process like?

Artists and cartographers typically contact me directly (submission guidelines on the Kobold Press website: Ideally, this initial contact is a short introduction and a link to an online portfolio I can look at. If I like what I see, and I feel it fits with the Kobold Press “look”, I contact the artist and we discuss things like schedule, pay scales etc. If this all goes well and I feel the artist might be someone we’d like to work with, I try to give them an assignment, typically something smaller which kind of serves as a test to see if they can actually deliver what we are looking for.

What are the main requirements for a freelancer to work for you? What other skills and/or experience are useful?

The three MOST important things I look for in an artist are:
  • Talent – this is probably obvious but it’s critical. By now, it should be pretty clear how important the visual quality of everything Kobold Press produces is to me. I put a lot of time and energy into the artists we work with and I really want the art they produce for us to be awesome!
  • Professionalism – as an artist myself, I understand the creative process and the need to keep working at a piece until you are 100% happy with it (or, as close to that ideal as humanly possible). However, publishing is a business, and I need to work with artists who can consistently meet deadlines and take direction and/or constructive criticism.
  • Communication – this is a big one for me. I am a stickler for communication. If I e-mail an artist or cartographer, I expect to receive a reply within a day or two, even if it’s just to say “Got the brief, thanks! Preliminary sketches in a few days”. Nothing drives me more bat-crap crazy than sending an e-mail into the void and then having to follow up a week or two later, only to get an “Oops, sorry! I meant to rely back but I got busy” back!
Can you describe a typical assignment you give to new artists? What steps does the process typically include from the artist’s point of view?

Once details like schedules, fees and amounts are established, a contract goes out. Once the artist returns the signed contract, I produce and then send out an art brief detailing what exactly we need illustrated. Some briefs are quite detailed; others are pretty loose, depending on the project. The artist then goes over the briefs, runs questions and ideas past me and then begins sketching.

Once the sketch or sketches are approved, the artist starts on the final piece. Typically I like to see an occasional WIP (work in progress) just to make sure the illustration is going in the direction I’m looking for. Eventually, the final art is awesome and I approve it, the artist gets paid, I put the art into my layout and All is Right With the World!

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

Keep my big three in mind (Talent, Professionalism and Communication) and make sure you are as good as you can possibly be in all three of those areas.

Don’t be afraid to contact art directors or companies and see if they’d like to give you a shot. When one does, do everything you can to deliver in all three of the above areas. That’s really the way to establish a great working relationship. I have a stable of artists (and cartographers) that I know I can trust to deliver great work, on time and in a professional manner and, believe me, those are the folks I value most!

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