Interview: Ian Maclean Talks Broodmother Skyfortress, TE(A)CH Nunavut, and More!

It finally happened! I have collected interviews from all of the Broodmother Skyfortress contributors like Pokemon (okay, I actually need James Raggi and Craig Judd, to be honest, but James is a busy man and I think Craig is a ghost because I can’t find him on social media anywhere) and I gotta say, it’s been a blast. I was super excited to talk to Ian because of our shared Canadian origin; it gives me a bit of a charge when I see Canadians making it in the industry, and I loved his work on Broodmother so much. That book is just so absolutely unique out there in the OSR space, thanks in large part to the artwork so perfectly complimenting Jeff’s gonzo vision for giants, and I think Ian had a huge part in that. I’m greatly thankful he could sit down with me to chat about the book and his career, especially because he’s actually working on much more important stuff as a day job!
Here’s Ian’s responses to my Q&A, which should make this blog a little bit better:
1. Beginning with an easy one. A chicken/egg question for Broodmother Skyfortress’ comic book Kirby artwork: what came first: your influence, Alex’s, or James’s?
James actually pinged me out of the blue a few months after I had wrapped up work on No Salvation for Witches. He basically asked me if I would be able to do a Silver Age/Jack Kirby-esque style for an upcoming book. I’ve done comic stuff off and on over the years and I dig Kirby, so I was totally in. After that, it was just a matter of gathering enough reference and practicing in my downtime.

2. There’s a number of humorous drawings of Jeff included in the pages of Broodmother Skyfortress; was it difficult to remain professional when faced with the raw eroticism of the speedo picture? I mean, that’s some intense animal magnetism there. 
We had planned early on to do a whole series of ‘Jeff as a wizard’ pieces, parodying various magical-themed images with Jeff in place of the protagonist. James was very keen that we lead off with the infamous cover from “Exalted.” I struggled with that one, initially, as I wasn’t sure how gross I could make Jeff look. Both Jeff and James assured me that gross was good and they wouldn’t be offended. I approached it as trying to portray Mr. Rients in hardcore Exalted cosplay and it was actually really fun. I think adding touches like the guards being visibly disturbed and the doves dying helped sell the image.

3. I know a 2016 publication is a long time and probably a lot of gigs ago, but if you can recall, what was the biggest challenge with the art on Broodmother? I understand you came in to save the day on this project due to some prior issues with an artist and the schedule; did that impact your approach at all?
2015/2016 was a rough time for me. At the time James contacted me about getting started, I had just begun working on a full-time video game contract, so I had to juggle the two. I was not well off financially, having had some medical issues with my back that led to an extended hospital stay and lengthy rehabilitation process (if you’re self-employed and you can’t work, you just don’t get paid). On top of that, my brother was re-institutionalised for some ongoing mental health issues, and I was having relationship problems at home. It was a perfect storm for some deep depression, which killed my ability to produce, which fed back into the depression, which led to a (thankfully unsuccessful) suicide attempt. Around that point James was tired of waiting for things to be finished, and rightly so, since it had already had significant delays, and he threatened to drop me from the project. The two events kind of snapped me back to reality and I buckled down to try and get the book finished. I took a couple of weeks where I just focused on drawing, binge-watching TNG in the background. If I was working full-time on it, and producing appropriately, the job should have taken a couple of months, but I took over a year and a half to get it out the door.

4. What goes in to the process of working with a graphic designer/layout specialist, such as Alex on this particular project, that might impact your illustrations? 
With books I’ve done for James, he usually has the text already laid out in advance, and I get a preliminary layout in a PDF, with blocks and spaces allocated for illustrations. This helps a lot, as I can print out the pages at size and do my rough linework and composition in the allocated space. Once I’ve got a final, I touch it up, save it in a .TIF file, and pass them back to James, who will approve them and send them on to Alex or whomever is running layout and design.

5. The comic book style of Broodmother Skyfortress is very unique amongst the OSR and most of the LotFP line especially. Why did you choose that look?
That was a decision that James and Jeff made, and I tried to run with it. I think it suits the content quite well, so I just tried to vary or tweak the style where it was appropriate or where it was referencing other artistic cues.

6. What drew you to the RPG side of the illustration industry? What made you think, “That’s the place for me?” 
I love playing and running RPGs, narrative play of any stripe is my bag. I don’t get to play as often as I’d like these days, primarily at conventions or online, but illustrating lets me keep my toes in there. I’m primarily a 2D artist/animator, and I work mostly freelance in the video game industry, with a heavy specialization in pixel art. RPG work keeps my traditional skills honed, and working with James pushes me to improve, since I’m in the company of guys like Yannick Bouchard and Jason Rainville. I often feel unworthy of being under the same umbrella, so it drives me a little harder.

7. You’ve worked on a number of projects for Sine Nomine Publishing now besides your works for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Scarlet Heroes has received quite a bit of attention and comes up often in conversations these days about one-on-one gaming. Do you find time to play many RPGs yourself these days, and does the one-on-one style hold a specific attraction for you?
I’d love to do more one-on-one gaming, I just need to find the time. I’ve used it previously when I had a regular group and all but one player would cancel out at the last minute. I was running a Call of Cthulhu campaign once and adapted one of the scenarios from the Monophobia monograph to fill in and it was a fantastic experience. I need to look at more one-on-one systems, since I’d be more likely to get gaming in on a regular basis.

8. Across your projects in the industry, do any stand out to you as particularly exciting or satisfying? Has any book been especially difficult or a breeze – a sort of noteworthy example that you can point to as memorable? 
I worked on a revision and update of Kevin Ross’ classic Call of Cthulhu scenario The Dare, with Bret Kramer. That project had a lot of ingrained nostalgia and coolness that made it very easy to derive ideas and visuals. I was finished the core work for that book in just over two weeks, but being a Kickstarted project there were bits and pieces that kept coming. I’ve also worked with Bret on some issues of The Arkham Gazette, and I’d like to do more work with him soon.

9. What’s next for your artwork? Where can we expect to see your name pop up in the near future?
If I can get my ass in gear I have another much overdue book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It’s a really cool project that, again, started at a time when I was stupid busy. I tried to get it wrapped up before out latest (fourth) child was born in May. I finished the linework, but the whole book is going to be in full-colour watercolours, and that is yet to be completed. Hopefully soon…before James really loses patience with me!

10. Any special projects to plug, closing thoughts, or works from the past that you want to draw attention to?
Currently I’m working in-house for a not-for-profit developer called Pinnguaq (Inuktitut for “Play”). We’re working on a project called TE(A)CH, which is focused on delivering a curriculum of computer science, programming, and digital art for indigenous youth in Canada. Because the Inuit/First Nations/Metis communities are often underserved and lack resources, we’re hoping to provide an additional set of resources so youth can move from being digital content consumers to content producers. It’s a program that involves a lot of travel into some very remote communities, but the response has been excellent thus far. We’re also training older students in these communities to continue training others, and we are setting up a system of ongoing support and feedback, so these workshops aren’t just one-off events. It’s incredibly fulfilling, and especially so when you see the one or two kids in each class who are really inspired why what we’re teaching.
I can’t express how thankful I am to get to post this interview. After Ian revealed some personal details that really hit home for me, I double-checked to be sure he was comfortable with that stuff going public, and he was incredibly gracious in his response. I really want to thank Ian for taking the time to talk with me, but also for two much more important things. First, for being willing to share his experience and help contribute to the discussion about destigmatizing mental illness; it’s something so many creatives deal with on a daily basis and it is incredibly key, I think, to have brave people who are willing to talk about their own struggles. So, thank you sincerely for that, Ian. Second, as a Canadian who, for a few years, grew up in an impoverished rural community nestled between three different First Nations reservations, I got to see firsthand the difficulties of being in remote communities in Canada and also especially the difficulties faced by a largely disenfranchised portion of our country. The work Ian is pursuing with Pinnguaq and TE(A)CH is extremely important to Canada’s future and the individual futures of so many Canadians. It’s not easy work to do, so it is all the more wonderful to see organizations and professionals like Ian take on that load for the betterment of our entire country. I’d like to take a moment to thank Ian publicly for this contribution as well. And Ian, if you’re reading this, I can’t wait to quiz you again when that LotFP project drops!
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