Friday, June 12, 2009

A sneak preview into the mind behind the secret society of GoK

Cathie T has broken through the veil of secrecy to uncover some tantalising titbits about the upcoming release of the Game Of Kings collaboration by scoring an interview with head conspirator Simon Sherry.

As you may have noticed, there’s a new collaboration happening on Redbubble.

Having been on the ‘bubble for a couple of years now, I sometimes feel I have become somewhat used to extraordinary art and design, but having now had a sneak peek at this collab, I have been absolutely blown away!

It’s called Game of Kings, and I asked its creator, Simon Sherry (winner of the London Calling/Demo challenge) a few questions about how it came about and what we can expect to see in the upcoming months.

Where did the idea come from?

Now there’s a good question. The whole idea stemmed from another series that I’ve been developing called ‘Full Deck’, which revolves around a standard 4-suit deck of playing cards and plays on themes linked to each particular suit (spades as death, diamonds as decadence, hearts as a twisted play on Alice in Wonderland, and Clubs as a riff on an apocalyptic suburban battleground). After finally making my way through the royalty for each suit, I thought to myself that it would be fun to try my hand at a different game. While the idea of a cosmos-spanning-surreal-science-fantasy play on Connect 4 sounded like fun, I though that the best battleground was the classic Game of Kings itself, chess.

After having some grand dreams about doing the whole thing myself, I quickly decided that it’d be more fun (and a lot less work!) to see if anybody else would like to play. A few bubblemails later I managed to not only get my wish list of dream collaborators, but eight of the most distinctive illustrators and designers that you’ll find around these parts.

Why did you pick the people involved?

For several reasons, not the least of which being how much I wanted to work with them on some sort of project down the line. To say that I’ve been spoilt here would be an understatement, as I’ve pretty much conned the people I’ve most wanted to work with on the Bubble.

If there’s one common quality that I think they all share, it would be the unique style and flair that each brings to their work. It’s not a stretch to say that guys like Scott Robinson, No Frills Art, and TBO, for instance, all have a style that is readily recognisable as their own, and I loved the idea of seeing what would happen if we could get them to work as a team on a particular project.

One thing that really excites me about the result so far is that while each person’s contribution is readily recognizable, the combined result is really unified in its presentation and approach. That and the fervour with which these guys have attacked the project have pushed everyone to produce some top-shelf work.

Was it hard to recruit people?

You know, it was actually one of the easiest parts of the whole project. I was probably lucky in that I approached some of these guys not long after the London Calling tee challenge, so I’d already established a bit of a relationship with them, particularly Scott, Rubyred and Sjem, who’d all been an incredible source of encouragement throughout the whole competition.

The only person to come in later was Danny, seemingly keen to get his teeth stuck into some narrative and character development work with us. He’s gone on to be a lynchpin, providing another layer of inspiration to all involved, with his contribution to the story behind the cast of characters we’ve built.

Are there any standout characters we should be looking out for?

Well, two of my personal faves are the White Bishops – there’s a lot of back-story within the White army that has sprung from these two designs in particular, and it’s a credit to Rubyred and Quigonjim that they came up with such a perfectly matched pair.

One of the ‘rules’ established early on by the group was that the pawns are reflective of the ‘royalty’ piece they stand in front of at the beginning of the game. The White King’s Pawn is a particularly cool character, and a nice nod to a few things, particularly Frankenstein’s monster and famous American comic book icon Jack Kirby. Scott Robinson is behind both him and the King himself, and they look awesome indeed.

Outside of that, you can expect to see creatures ranging from the resurrected spirits of long-dead heroes, titans of rock and brick, mallet-wielding hybrids of prehistoric pachyderms and eldritch gods, golems of metal and muck, and warrior queens of terrible grace and beauty. And that’s not covering half the board (or those that lie beyond it, as Danny’s prequel episode illustrates beautifully).

How did it grow?

The whole project started with my desire to collaborate with at least one of the guys I’ve managed to wrangle into the project. I knew early on in the piece that the best way to get people interested is to come to them with a plan (even if it’s a sketchy one) – a concept that would hopefully get them excited enough in the project to hop on board.

What became apparent when I started ‘recruiting’ was that while people were interested, they weren’t quite as nuts as I was, and I wasn’t sure that they’d have the energy to pump out an entire set of 16 designs for the project. This, in my mind, has actually played to one of the strengths of the project, as the main ‘theme’ I had in mind was using the chess theme as a means of setting up a collaborative conflict, where the ‘game’ would stem from the participants desire to see how far they could push everyone else involved.

Another thing that I really wanted to riff on was the various juxtapositions that would stem both thematically (the form and nature of the armies and the ‘cast’ of pieces and technically (the stylistic clash/synergy of having several artists trying to produce a unified project while coming from a variety of different personal angles).

Throwing the juxtaposition of an ‘army of one’ in the form of my half of the board versus the co-operative making up the other side also adds a

nice layer to the project. Out of this has come a lot of character and narrative work driven by Danny that adds an extra layer of internal tension to the ‘White army’ – as opposed to the more uniform and unified approach of my own ‘black army’.

What is the overall goal of the group and what can we expect?
Initially, the plan was to develop a series of t-shirt designs around the theme of a chessboard as a kind of ‘cosmic’ battleground.

To put it another way, I’ve always imagined this as a prog-metal concept album sans music (although…). It was No Frills who suggested bringing Danny on board. Since then the plan has expanded to include some collaborative artworks along with a written narrative and character descriptions, hopefully culminating in a book chronicling not just the ‘world’ and the characters, but the process and history of the project itself.

There’s a lot of different dynamics at play, not just between the participants, but also the work that we’re producing – you could say that there’s a level of game play in the process itself, where each of us has been doing our best to push our collaborators that much harder, occasionally pulling something out of the bag to make the rest of us rethink and redirect our own work.

Outside of that, we have an abundance of ideas, as to which of those make it beyond the planning stage, will depend in part on the project’s reception and our own desire to keep playing in this particular sandbox. One thing I’m certain of is that this won’t be the last project you’ll see from this particular collective…

Thanks Simon, this whole thing sounds gargantuan both in concept and execution and I’m waiting with bated breath for the opening gambit!

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