I've been down
And I've been higher than Sears Tower
I've asked the higher powers
If they would just spare a drink
So, yeah, I suck at keeping up with this mailing list.
My name is Eric Trautmann.
I live in the Pacific Northwest. Since the last update here, this state has been on fire, then underwater. I expect the locust swarm any minute now.
I am a graphic designer.
I design logos and trade dress for business and entertainment publishing (notably comics). Ongoing projects include book design and various and sundry tasks for the Image Comics series LAZARUS and BLACK MAGICK. This past year, I also handled similar chores for THE OLD GUARD, and have become a free-range art and design guy for ADAMANT ENTERTAINMENT, making roleplaying game stuff.
I can do stuff for you, too, for reasonable rates.
I write comic books.
I have written comic books for DC Comics (including Action Comics and Checkmate) and Dynamite Entertainment (including long runs on Red Sonja, Vampirella and Flash Gordon). For a complete list of My Mighty Works™, you could visit my website. This year, I co-wrote four of the six issues in the LAZARUS spin-off miniseries, LAZARUS: X +66.
And if you enjoy this newsletter, please share the info around, so I'm not just screaming into a void. Currently, this list is very tiny (though, oddly, after not posting anything for, like, a year, the list size has doubled, so maybe you're signing up in hopes I just shut up) but hopefully it entertains you.
WHERE I'M AT TODAY
It's New Year's Eve as I write this. It has been a couple of lllllllong years. My Twitter feed has been so full of preening alt-right jerks, a few friends of mine and I have set up a private Discord server just to be able to socialize without attracting a lot of, well, garbage.
I recommend it.
Lke a lot of fellow creative types, output has been generally sluggish this year.
Turns out, as a friend put it, living in a constant fight-or-flight condition is actively detrimental to health and productivity. Who knew?
I'll be endeavoring to be more proactive here—Mailchimp has made a number of changes since I set this up, and frankly, it's been a pain in the ass to keep up with—and I appreciate you sticking around, and understand fully if you want to just, you know, go.
I'll miss you, though. ::sniff::
In any case, from my vantage point here at the ass end of 2017 and peering uneasily over the cliff edge of 2018, let me just say this:
Take good care of yourself. Hold on tight to those you love. Be safe. Be kind.
PROGRESS REPORTS AND NEW STUFF UPDATES AND LIKE THAT
TESLADYNE: In a prior mail, I talked about working on Atomic Robo, one of my favorite comic series. I'd put together bonus material and did some layout for their crowdfunded hardcover editions of their Atomic Robo collections. A couple weeks ago, the Real Science Adventures TPB (featuring The Flying She-Devils and another tale of The Sparrow) was published by IDW, marking the first time my work on the book was released via a regular publisher. So, yay Team Robo! More to come!
LAZARUS: Lazarus: X +66, a six-issue miniseries featuring loosely linked one-shot stories of many of the established side characters, is almost complete. It sits right between the end of the last story arc, “Cull,” and sets the stage for the next arc, coming soon, “Fracture.”
I’m co-writer (with Greg) on four of the six (and designer on all six): Issue 1, about Casey Solomon (drawn by Steve Freakin' Lieber!); Issue 4, a team-up of Lazari Xolani and Alimah (with art by Alitha Martinez); Issue 5, with the lens pointed at CEEtv journo Seré Cooper (exquisitely drawn by Bilquis Evely); and finally, Issue 6, revealing secrets of the Vassalovka Family Lazarus, the Zmey (currently being drawn by Tristan Jones).
The first five issues are available now, with the final issue coming soon. Here's a peek at the cover.
MORE LAZARUS: While I’m not doing a ton of work on this, I did help make introductions and get the ball rolling on the upcoming Lazarus roleplaying game book to be published by Green Ronin. Here’s some additional info.
THE LAZARUS SOURCEBOOK, VOLUME 3: VASSALOVKA will be completed in the next 6-8 days, and should be out in February.
ADAMANT ENTERTAINMENT: We released a bunch of cool stuff this year—including a print-on-demand edition collecting a bunch of the Thrilling Tales "Pulp Villains" NPC supplements, titled Axis of Evil, Volume One. Work has begun outlining the first of a series of pulp novels, featuring a pretty fun weird-science anti-hero (I guess I'll codename this one, I dunno, TOTENKOPF). A new science fiction supplement is about 80% completed, and I'll be announcing that in the not-too-distant future (let's codename that one TWIN SUN); an a 1980s teen horror movie one-off game supplement is about 60% done (CODENAME DART).
Here's a peek at Axis of Evil:
It's kinda fun to look at all of the Thrilling Tales stuff I've worked on—I feel like the branding works, but the covers don't feel locked in and stale.
ASK ME QUESTIONS I haven’t had much time to seek out interviews of late, so I thought I’d switch it up a little. My friend and partner-in-crime at Adamant Entertainment, Gareth-Michael Skarka, decided to interview me. I’ll return the favor in an upcoming edition.
Gareth-Michael Skarka is a writer/editor/game designer of my acquaintance—we met (and I doubt he even remembers) at my very first professional attendance of GenCon in Milwaukee in the (mumble mumble ancient past mumble) early 1990s. He impressed me then as someone with a passion for his work normally reserved for missionaries converting people via the sword and torch.
We get on very well.
Anyway—his official bio:
Gareth-Michael Skarka is a writer, game designer, consultant, and veteran of over twenty years in the entertainment business, having worked on properties ranging from Star Trek to Doctor Who and more.
He is the creator of Far West, a transmedia setting that mixes elements of Chinese Wuxia, Spaghetti Westerns and Steampunk, and is the founder and director of Adamant Entertainment, which began as a game design studio before expanding into publishing and transmedia development. His game design credits include work on DOCTOR WHO: ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE, HONG KONG ACTION THEATRE!, STAR TREK, licensed SAVAGE WORLDS work (the pulp setting of THRILLING TALES and the sword-and-planet setting of MARS) and more. A full list of his published credits can be found at http://gmskarka.com/credits/
The married father of three lives in the old frontier (in Lawrence, Kansas), but works in the new one.
So, Gareth, take it away:
Gareth-Michael Skarka: Woo-hoo! I get to take over the newsletter! MOO-HOO-HA-HA-HA, etc. Since I’ve got Eric chained up in the basement—I mean, er, doing production design for Adamant Entertainment, he has no time to set up an interview, so I get to interrogate HIM!
First question: What does your tabletop roleplaying history look like? What was the entry vector (both hobby-wise, and then professionally)?
Eric Trautmann: The first RPG I ever played was the first edition of Gamma World, when I was about seven years old. I grew up in an awful industrial town on the border between New York State and Cornwall, Ontario, and there wasn't a lot in the way of bookstores—I didn't get into the normal pathway, Dungeons & Dragons, until a hobby store (mostly plastic models) in a town 35 miles away added a couple shelves of RPGs.
I played a lizard man. I distinctly remember the character finding a pre-apocalypse flashlight, and the small group of adventurers worshipping it as a god. Until I broke it.
D&D, then Boot Hill, then Star Frontiers followed. In high school, I was all about the superhero stuff—Champions, Villains & Vigilantes, the DC and Marvel games. Oh, and Pacesetter's Star Wars knockoff, Star Ace. Top Secret and Top Secret / S.I. were also perennial favorites.
And then, finally, WEG's Star Wars.
Professionally, my entry vector was a guy I went to high school with, Bill Smith. We met in a summer art class, and he liked that I was the only kid drawing the Batmobile and spaceships, and we tried several times to collaborate on various comic projects. He was a few years ahead of me in school, so he graduated, and then a few years later, I ended up at the same college.
He was editing a janitorial trade magazine, IIRC, and hated it; he was also running West End Games Star Wars rpg sessions for a bunch of us, and it was a hoot. I think it was just a lark that he submitted his resumé, and he quickly landed a gig at West End.
I dropped out of college after my junior year, and was freelancing for local magazines and newspapers and so forth (as well as running a tiny local comic shop in Malone, NY, and then working as assistant manager for a regional camera and electronic store—basically, I was in hell, earning about $7K a year and struggling to keep my lights on and food in the fridge), and he invited me to contribute to a few Star Wars projects--I assume out of pity--and I turned the projects around quickly, and to spec. (This was a huge deal at the time; one of my first big projects was essentially re-writing Simon Smith's Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments From The Rim, because Simon had littered it with references to other science fiction properties, from BattleTech to Doctor Who. He'd been told not to, did it anyway, and when questioned about it, he apparently said, "Fixing that is the editor's job." Lovely.)
After Fragments, I was tapped to write the final sourcebook covering the original Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. The former line editor, Bill Slavicsek, had been hired to write it, then got hired on by TSR and never finished it. Bill Smith asked me if I could jump on it, after the book was months (or maybe even years, I can't really recall) late. And of course, he made a point of throwing a dig at Slavicsek in the cover copy—which is probably part of why that guy was never particularly fond of me.
After that, I applied for positions at WEG a couple times—first, for the editorship of the then-forthcoming Star Wars Adventure Journal (which went to Peter Schweighofer) and then for a general editorial dogsbody (which I got). I was, in fact, headcount assigned half-time to editorial, the other half to sales.
And that was my entry.
GMS: You’ve responded with a great degree of enthusiasm to doing work on Adamant’s Thrilling Tales line of pulp-era product for Savage Worlds — How did you first get into pulp, and what are some of your faves?
ET: Heh. I got into pulp because I lied my ass off to get my job at Microsoft.
WEG had folded, two weeks after I'd gotten married to my first wife, who also worked at West End. I was dead broke, and on the verge of moving in with either my parents or in-laws, when I got a call from FASA-honcho Jordan Weisman. We'd had some interactions in my post-WEG period where FASA was attempting to get the Star Wars RPG license, and I was doing my best to help make that happen, in hopes of engineering ongoing employment and avoid starving to death in a rural Pennsylvania gutter.
(The GenCon right after WEG folded, my friend and former WEG guy, Tim O'Brien and I were wallpapering every publisher with our resumés, and one of the Steve Jackson Games guys tore mine up in my face. Since Star Wars was in the midst of it's pre-prequel resurgence, it was considered a can't-lose proposition, and if I "was in charge of WEG's Star Wars line when it went bust, then you're clearly the problem." Which was arrant bullshit and also made me want to strangle him with his own graying ponytail, but…
Yeah. it wasn't a good time for me.)
ANYWAY. FASA didn't get the Star Wars license, largely because Wizards of the Coast outbid them, and I was back to working horrible temp jobs and watching what little money I had in savings dwindle to, at one point, under a dollar.
Then FASA Interactive was purchased by Microsoft, and Jordan came with the deal, and he seemed to remember me fondly, and asked me if I knew anything about pulps, and would I like to come work at Microsoft on Crimson Skies, a 1930s pulp-adventure property.
I knew nothing about pulps other than the bare bones of The Shadow, The Rocketeer and Indiana Jones, but I managed to spin enough of a believable yarn that I was hired pretty quickly. And then I grabbed every book I could find on the subject, and downloaded everything I could from the Gutenberg project, and discovered I L-O-V-E-D the hero pulp genre.
“Operator No. 5” (specifically the “Purple Invasion Saga,” which is like crossing Jack Bauer / 24-style paranoia thriller with an Irwin Allen disaster movie and setting it all to a soundtrack of big band music) was a favorite, as was “The Spider.” The Shadow and Doc Savage are obvious choices, and I love them, but The Spider in particular is probably my hands down favorite of the hero pulps. He's nuts. Those books are just raw id and bloodshed and just operatic levels of carnage, and yet remain somehow deeply naive and charming.
GMS: From a production design standpoint, what interests you the most doing Thrilling Tales work, and what is your process like?
EST: I love the aesthetic and the lack of certain boundaries. You can get away with deliriously purple prose, and you get to mate it to the clean geometry of Art Deco.
In terms of production design, you'll recall the first part of my process is just organizing everything. I'm super-militant about making sure everything is clearly labelled; my layer organization in InDesign and Photoshop files is probably borderline OCD.
When you hand me a manuscript, I read it over, figure out the stuff that is most visually interesting, and get a sense of tone. Then I build a title/logo treatment. I find that sets the hooks for me pretty deep. Then I usually do one of those fake movie ad/title card things, just to make sure the logo works.
The cover is next, trying to make something look sufficiently vintage, but also working well with our more modern trade dress and logo.
Then it's just the layout of the book—flowing the text into the layout template and getting to work. At that point, I determine how to approach player handouts. The zeppelin schematic in the Von Keiner book was a no-brainer, and the “Iron Hussars” robot army was also an obvious choice. Something crunchy and visually interesting and fun for players and GMs to derive some inspiration from—that’s what I’m looking for. A lot of it is just going with my gut.
Then, I finish up with the silly little fake ads in the back, which involves research period advertising, period typography, that sort of thing, and making that stuff work to service the kinda sorta worldbuilding that goes into those things. I have stories and supplements in mind for damn near everything referenced in those.
GMS: OK, assuming that budget, available time and actual commercial viability is no object: What would be your dream roleplaying project?
ET: Forbidden Planet. Expanding that setting. Atomic Age exploration of dead alien civilizations. Asteroid pirates. 1950s sci-fi fun.
I'd also love a crack at doing something with Crimson Skies again. I wasn't done with that world yet.
Part of me harbors a secret dream of doing a D6 system reboot of Ghostbusters, too.
Thank you to Gareth for pitching in here. Hopefully soon, I ask him all the questions.
WHAT I’M WATCHING:
I'm late to the party on Black Mirror and I love it's poisoned, embittered, paranoid heart.
The Last Jedi was amazing. I understand the misplaced hatred aimed at it, but I honestly don't care. The Star Wars films were always Boomer power fantasy, and TLJ addressing the Boomers'…suboptimal legacy and its pointed rebuke of toxic masculinity and the alt-right were pitch perfect, and something healthy for the franchise. And I was surprised by a Star Wars movie for the first time since Empire. Plus: Mark Hamill. Goddamn. Terrific performance. So, despite all its flaws, I love it unreservedly.
WHAT I’M READING:
Not much, alas. It's been a busy time. I did just order a bunch of Star Wars titles—Phasma, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, and a few others. I'm most excited for the From a Certain Point of View anthology, though. That sounds terrific.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO: FM-84 - Atlas — I'm awash in ridiculously good "retrowave" 1980s New Wave-style music lately—from Space Knife to Com Truise to The Midnight to Timecop 1983—but Atlas just nails it. [Full album link on YouTube.]
Imelda May / Life Love Flesh Blood — Terrific album from rockabilly songstress May. Much less “artificial” than prior efforts. Tons of fun. [Link]
Childish Gambino / Awaken My Love — Also a terrific album. Highly recommended. [Link]
Jain / Zanaka — very dance-y/popp-y album, with an adorably French singer. Not my normal fare, but feels very “Summer is coming” to me. [Link]
Vector Art: Some crass self-promotion. I create the occasional vector art set for sale (generally about $5 per set). The sets are themed, and are royalty free for commercial and personal use. You can find that stuff here. Some of it has appeared on actual big-kid-grown-up packaging (the clockwork-looking glowy reticle things on the S1 Legends of Tomorrow key art, for one).
A new set is in progress, and awaiting only my finding a day of free time to finish it.
Be safe, be kind, and have the happiest of New Years!