Friday, August 28, 2020

Interview: Steve Crompton

For long-time fans of Flying Buffalo gaming products, such as Tunnels & Trolls and Grimtooth's Traps, Steve Crompton needs no introduction. For the benefit of them and others not yet familiar with his decades of work in the RPG world, I present the following interview, to which Mr Crompton very kindly agreed. 

Steve Crompton at the GAMA Expo, March 2020

1. How did you first become involved in the hobby of roleplaying?

I ran into Rick [Loomis] though church while I was still a teenager and he gave me and my sister a couple of solo adventures to play. So I learned to RPG via the solo adventures back in 1979. Before that, I’m not sure I’d really even heard of D&D, let alone T&T.

2. After being given those solo adventures, did you then start to participate in a group? What games did you play?

I think the very first time I ever played an RPG, it was with Rick Loomis and he ran Buffalo Castle as a solo. I don’t think I had gotten though Buffalo Castle without dying, so it was fun to have it run by its creator. It was probably in 1979 or '80. Once I was I working in the store, I would often join in a game if things were slow. The first time I played with Ken St. Andre, it was in Gristlegrim Dungeon and I died in about 15 minutes. I also played in adventures run by Bear Peters, Mike Stackpole and Larry DiTillio, so I’ve been very lucky to have been able to be in adventures run by some of the greats of T&T history! I think most of them killed me at some point! I did have a regular RPG group when we were running our Lejentia Campaign back in the late 80’s and early 90’s

3. How did you come to be employed by Flying Buffalo?

Rick knew I wanted to be a graphic artist and was taking commercial art courses via a high school “working trades” program. (So I think that was a factor for him picking me)  He needed someone to work the Flying Buffalo store and I was polite and a good talker, so he offered me the job as a store clerk which I accepted. Back then, eventually best selling author Michael Stackpole was my store manager!

4. While at Flying Buffalo, you worked on a wide variety of projects, but I suspect you're best known for the illustrations in Grimtooth's Traps, which have a very distinctive style. Did you receive a lot of direction on how to illustrate these books or were they largely of your own invention? What about Grimtooth himself: did you create his appearance or were you given instructions beforehand?

I was working in the store in late 1980 when Liz Danforth (who was Flying Buffalo’s art director at the time) came to me and said that they were developing this book of traps they were going to publish. She knew I had taken drafting classes, so she thought I would be a good match for drawing out the traps they came up with. 

At the time, Grimtooth wasn’t really in the picture, but at some point, either Liz, or perhaps it was Paul O’Connor (Grimtooth's Traps editor) came up with the idea to use Grimtooth as the narrator. Grimtooth was a character that Liz created as a sort of sardonic “mascot” for our Sorcerer’s Apprentice magazine. So, she had already drawn him, and that was my guide for any Grimtooth illustrations I did going forward. My take was more influenced by the thousands of comic books I had read. In the original first edition of Grimtooth’s Traps, I think there are maybe two or three illustrations of him in the whole book, but he was its voice. In later re-printings (once we realized how popular he was with the fans), I added him in to more illustrations and elsewhere in the book. 

For the trap illustrations, I wasn’t really given any specific instructions other than to make the trap match is description. As we went along, though, the text was sometimes changed to match what I had drawn, as I would sometimes add a “twist” to the trap or its location. 

5. Are there any illustrations you did for Flying Buffalo that you're particularly proud of, even after all these years?  

My personal favorite is of Grimtooth’s Airship flying through a storm – that’s a great one. I have a cute illo of Grimtina on a BMX bicycle, but she also has a big gun and an attitude. I also had a lot of fun drawing the Grimtooth comic pages in the Traps Too reprint and Traps Lite

6. Aside from Flying Buffalo, you also did work for GDW and FGU, in each case for science fiction roleplaying games. Do you enjoy sci-fi illustration as much as fantasy?

Certainly I liked the variety of doing different things and trying to take on different styles and approaches to my work to match the genre and tone of a given project. I tended to make those illustrations far less cartoony and more technical in their look. I used a lot of Zipatone screens in the sci-fi art that I rarely used in the fantasy pieces, for example. I tried to give the sci-fi art a sort of futuristic “noir” look.

7. You've produced a lot of artwork outside the RPG industry, primarily in the field of comics. How did you become involved in comics illustration/writing?

Really I was a comic book fan long before role-playing games even existed, so doing comics was in my blood from about the age of 5. I think a lot of my art for Nuclear War and Grimtooth’s Traps really reflect my comic book upbringing. I regularly went to San Diego Comic Con starting in 1988, and it was there I met the publisher of Revolutionary Comics, Todd Loren. He gave me my first break into the comics field and I ended up doing numerous comics for him, Rip Off Press, Kitchen Sink, Mu Press, and many others. My main claim to comic fame is Demi the Demoness. She’s appeared in over 40 comics and I wrote her into my City of the Gods novel and some game books I’ve done.  Ken St. Andre is actually working on a City of the Gods T&T solo adventure and I’m sure Demi will have an appearance there as well. 

8. Do you still have the chance to play RPGs?

Not as often as I like. Sometimes Bear Peters or Ken St. Andre will run something and I’ll join in.  Mostly I play the T&T Phone app, which has 30 solos in it on my phone. I read a lot of gaming books all the time as I am usually editing or even writing parts of them.  So my main RPG exposure nowadays is “on-the-job” so to speak. 

9. You're now the managing director of Flying Buffalo. What does that job entail?

When I first took on that role, we had to do a complete inventory of all our products that we had in stock. This was not something that has been done in many years so it was a big task. My next big task was completing several Kickstarters that had been started while Rick Loomis was alive. That included part of the Nuclear War Kickstarter, the Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes Kickstarter and the Elven Lords Kickstarter. We’ve completed two of those and will soon be mailing out the full-color version of Elven Lords to the backer and that will end that one as well.  

My ongoing mission is to promote Flying Buffalo however I can and help let the world and our fans know that the Buffalo is still flying and will continue to do so. In fact, since December we have either printed or released on DriveThruRPG 14 new or reprinted RPG solos, GM adventures, and other books. Seven of them are brand new, and seven of them are enhanced reprints of items that were previously out of print and unavailable on DriveThru. I also do customer service to take care of problems that distributors or customers have with orders or with trying to order things from us. I also have duties related to helping with Rick’s estate settlement and dealing with the Loomis family, various rights holders and other RPG industry friends of Rick who are helping and advising us in various ways. And I work with freelancing and licensees who want to  print T&T books in Spanish, Japanese or German for example. So that’s my job in a nutshell. Its challenging and I love every minute of it. I consider it to be a great honor to be able to help keep Rick’s dream alive and continue to help bring in orders and new products to keep Flying Buffalo a going concern!

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