Interview: Jason Banditt Adams – the Rogue Artist

Back in 2007 I was working on the Moebius Adventures Core Rules book, a labor of love that had started more than a decade earlier, and I needed some artwork. Sure, I could have just used a few pieces of clipart from my Clipart.com subscription, but I wanted something a bit more custom for my project. After pinging a few folks, I ran across a website called the Rogue Artist and started chatting with the artist rogue himself – Jason Banditt Adams.

Before long, we had agreed to a price and he started working on a very cool full color cover for the book as well as some black and white interior pieces. He did a great job for a reasonable price and was a joy to work with. End of story, right? Not so fast…

Back in 2009, I reconnected with him on a project that never quite came to fruition. But more recently he did the logo and some banner art for this very site. And as he was finishing that up, I asked him to work on – The Gassy Gnoll. Sometime in the next week or two I hope to be able to show you the whole picture he’s working on – it sums up an opinion piece beautifully with humor.

Ultimately, what more could a person in need of art want? Jason has reasonable prices, amazing work, and will work with you until you’re both satisfied with the piece. And no, I’m not on commission. :)

Jason was kind enough to answer a few questions for us recently…

Q: Over the last few years that I’ve known you Jason, you’ve managed to do some awesome art for a few of my RPG-related writing projects. How did you get your start doing art for roleplaying games?

I actually started as a comic book artist in the late nineties and early turn of the century. I did a few small-press and indie-publisher’s titles before landing a contract with Marvel comics. However the contract was rather… how do I say this nicely? Lopsided and unethical. And of course with the fall of the industry during this time due to more unethical practices by such larger comic book companies, that forced thousands of small comic book shops across the country to close, I decided to ply my art in another industry.

I knew a couple of very prominent comic book artists who related that I should try doing concept design for video games. So I switched to the gaming industry. However, video game companies exist in a very cut-throat little pond where smaller companies are either consumed by bigger companies or forced out of business. In two years of working for that industry, I would work for a company or two for about 6 months before they were bought up or forced out.

Luckily Im freelance, so my job is not dependent upon the success of an “employer.” I’m a free agent. I only have to worry about getting seen by new clients (companies), getting them
to contract me for a piece (or series of pieces) of art and make sure they pay me. In hindsight, I’m not sure which is better!

The jump from Video Games to pen and paper Role Playing Games was gradual. I’m not even sure how I got here! lol More contracts came in for pen and paper and less for video games and next thing I knew I was exclusively pen and paper type games. Unfortunately, I learned too late that pen and paper Role Playing Games, while easy to find work, is one of the lowest paying art jobs around. Per piece I was making only a fourth of what I made working per piece on video game stuff.

>Q: Of all the skills you’ve learned, what’s your favorite skill or technique you like to use? Why? Any examples you can share?

As a commercial illustrator you are rarely given the time to actually do your best on artwork. The low pay and harsh deadline time-restraints demand you to put out “acceptable” art. For example last year I did a job where I alone did almost an entire book by myself: I did almost 200 black and white illustrations in less than 3 weeks. 5 or 6 were lumped together to create 1/3rd page spreads (see equipment illustrations in any RPG for an example). I was paid per spread, NOT by each individual illustration that went into the spread. So obviously I busted my rump and the pay was crap.

However there is the rare occasion where you fall in with someone who likes to hire you for the art and not your ability to steam-roll a project out as fast as you can. And I’m happy to say that I now only work with those types of clients. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m too jaded to keep up with ridiculous demands. ;) LOL

Q: What’s your favorite project that you’ve done so far?

Two years ago, I started out the year working on CONAN. Im a huge Robert E. Howard fan. I love almost all of his stories. Conan and Solomon Kane are my favorites. So working on the Conan RPG was a true highlight. However, in the past few months I’ve been working on some full-color illustrations for a certain Mr.Fitzpatrick. ;) He is one of those rare art directors who hires a person for the art. So Ive been putting all of my skill into these pieces and they have jumped to the top of my list of “projects that makes me smile.”

[Fitz: Awwww, you're making me blush!]

Q: If you had infinite time and materials, what would be your dream project to work on? Why?

Honestly, I still am enamored by comic books. Sequential art is far more difficult to do correctly than people realize. You are trying to look at each scene as a photography director in a film would. Camera angles and such. Then tie them together in a sequence that not only flows well, makes sense but is also visually appealing. I have several ideas for comic books that I would absolutely LOVE to put out.

However, the time demands of working in the gaming industry don’t give me a lot of time to work on projects of my own.

Q: What games have you been playing lately, if any? Of the gaming projects you’ve worked on, what would you like to play if you had a chance to do so?

This is a question I get a lot and the answer usually takes people by surprise. While I’m definitely a gamer and I have a book case full of gaming books, I rarely game. My time is so completely quashed by running my art studio that trying to set aside regular, consistent nights for gaming is nearly impossible. Most of the books on my shelves Ive never even opened! I usually receive a complimentary copy or three of books my work appears in, but I just dont have time to try them out. lol

I’m the type of gamer that would try them all out too. I love variety. Consequently I have also been developing my own game system for something like… oh I guess nearly ten years now. I’ve created an entire world with its own mythos, cultures, etc. I’ve been fleshing it out for nearly a decade. Every so often I have trusted friends and colleagues sit down for nights of “play testing,” which is where we do a limited one-night scenario to see if the rules work well and if anything is out of balance and adjust accordingly. Its what I truly like to do when I have time to game.

Q: Obviously you have a lot of interests beyond art between your blacksmithing and focus on Steampunk… What do you like to do if you have time outside of your freelancing?

I’m an artist and a Gemini so I’m constantly switching interests. For a month I’ll be completely consumed in my blacksmithing then the next month be obsessed with making steampunk stuff. lol I also make costumes and costume armour for theater and cosplay folks.

I like variety and I do get completely obsessed with one or two things for a short while. I’ve got nearly two dozen novels I’ve started, some are *nearly* finished. Some have actually been sent to publishers to see if they will get picked up. But rarely do I actually finish things that are for me. lol

Q: I love the Rogue’s Galley webcomic… What was the inspiration behind it? Can we expect that to continue?

Ah Rogue’s Galley! Its my latest obsession! LOL Ive started two other web comics before it, but never stuck with them because I just couldnt keep the ideas coming. But I like to sit around with friends and joke about old 80s stuff. I’m a child of the 80s and to this day completely enamored with what I played with as a child. Much like Seth Green and Matt Senreich of Robot Chicken. In fact they are a big inspiration for Rogues Galley.

My wife convinced me to just roll with it and one day I sat down and started writing out the scripts for these gags. I wasnt even sure what to do with them. I like webcomics and frequent a select few and have always appreciated the freedom webcomics offer. So I just went with it. I turned the gags into newspaper strip type sequences.

I actually fell behind the last couple of weeks because I’ve been so smashed with getting my affairs cleared up. Ive enlisted in the Army and I’m trying to get all my professional work finished up before I leave for boot camp in a few months. So Rogues Galley was forced to the backseat. But I at least got a new one up this week.

I’ve probably got another 30 strips written. I just need to draw them up. While I’m in boot camp, I wont be able to put out new ones. So that’s two and a half months of Rogues Galley that wont come out. But after that I do plan on keeping at them!

While in the Army I still plan on doing the odd piece of artwork and continuing my passion for illustration. Rogues Galley is definitely a driving force for me. I will do everything I can to get the new ones drawn up and out there. At least until Hasbro or Lucasfilm sends me nasty letters telling me to stop ;) LOL

Q: Do you have any advice for artists trying to break into freelancing or just starting out?

I try not to cringe and say “don’t”. LOL Its not that you can’t be freelance, its just far more difficult than people ever realize. Honestly, getting employed by a normal company is a far better solution. Doing art for an employer for at least a few years will give you a taste of the importance of deadlines and what it’s like to force yourself to draw what other people envision (and not what YOU want to draw). After you have worked for a company for a couple of years and think you can handle it, THEN make the jump to working for yourself!

Freelance has its own headaches and ulcers, but there is more freedom than working for a normal employer. Just make sure you aren’t lazy! Most freelancers sink because while working from home, they aren’t structured enough to separate “work time” from “goofing off” time. Without an employer breathing down your neck every day, it’s easy to say “eh, I’ll get to it tomorrow.” That’s bad. Very bad.

When you are ready to go freelance I have two words: “portfolio”
and “conventions”. While 90% of contracts are e-commerce, you don’t exist if you are unknown. Work on a portfolio that will make people notice you, then get out and show it to art directors. Conventions are the ONLY way to get seen, no matter what you want to get into. Games, Comics, Novel covers, whatever. Hit up cons! And whatever you do, don’t tell them I sent you! ;) They will probably just kick you out! LOL

And if you want to be and remain successful, never stop drawing. Draw what YOU want to draw. Sure, art directors want what they want, but between their work, do your own stuff. Doing unfamiliar stuff with help you grow, but drawing stuff you like to draw and are familiar with will help tighten up existing talent. Find balance. That’s why I (and several other artists) study Zen. I mean, artists are strange eccentrics in general. The difference between the spastic artist and the calm artist is honestly usually Zen of some type. ;) lol

I want to thank Jason for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him well in the Army and in all his future endeavors!

To view a gallery of his work and contact information, be sure to check out his website at Rogue-Artist.com! Rogue’s Gallery can be found here. And some of his cool Steampunk work can be found here.

Would YOU like to be interviewed for GKR? Drop me a note on the Contact Us! page!

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