To long-time admirers of the late Dave Hargrave's Arduin books, artist Greg Espinoza needs no introduction. He contributed many iconic illustrations to those early RPG tomes, some of which proved quite popular and influential on a later generation of artists. Recently, Greg shared recollection of his days working in the gaming industry, which he has very kindly allowed me to repost here.
I’d been thinking about some of my earliest work recently, some of my gaming illustrations from the late 70s. Specifically my work for David A. Hargrave on his Arduin Grimoire books and the various game modules, and to a lesser degree, a game I did called Star Rovers for a company called Archive Miniatures. This is work I did roughly 43 years ago, but I’ve found over the years that people still remember the Arduin game books and modules fondly. I look in on the occasional gaming blog, and recently discovered a number of YouTube videos talking about the history of Hargrave’s books and his legacy. I am rather elated Arduin is still going strong.
I'm a little fuzzy on exactly when I met David A. Hargrave, who originally created the Arduin Grimoire as a self-published supplement to Dungeon & Dragons, which displeased D&D creator Gary Gygax, to no end. I think, roughly, sometime in 1978, a friend of mine had heard through channels that Dave Hargrave was looking for an artist for a project. I went to visit him at a gaming shop in Concord, CA., where he was based at that time. I found Hargrave to be interesting guy, enthusiastic and very opinionated. I showed him what could charitably be called my portfolio at the time. He liked what he saw. The first thing he’d hired me to do was draw illustrations for his third book, The Arduin Grimoire III: The Runes Of Doom. I worked directly with Hargrave. I met him in person periodically to discuss illustrations, with a lot of communication by telephone. This was pre-Internet, so I couldn’t send him a scan or take a picture on my phone to get approval. We talked it through, and he liked what I did. I only ever had to make an alteration at least once. At the time. I was still in High School and living with my parents in Napa, CA. I’d played Dungeons & Dragons with a group friends in High School when I lived in Napa (As I remember, some of us incorporated Arduin rules into some of our games).
I was a lifelong comics fan, cutting my teeth on Silver age Marvel Comics. Yeah, I was a huge Jim Steranko and Paul Gulacy (who had a strong Steranko influence) fan. I was also a big Jim Starlin fan, and obviously, Jack Kirby. I soaked up lots of influences as a kid; Harryhausen movies, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Outer Limits, Gerry Anderson shows. 1950s sci-fi movies, ect. You name it, I was probably watching it. A lot of what I absorbed up to that point can be seen in in my Arduin art. Dave wasn’t hard to work with. He had his strong ideas of what he wanted, but he gave me the latitude to come up with stuff. I was around 18 years-old, still working out my techniques. I think I was inking with Rapidograph pens, then. Still trying to get the hang of Crowquill pens, and still didn’t know how to use a brush. Didn’t know the right paper to use. Other than some fan art published by my friend Steven R. Johnson, this was my very first paying art gig. Being rather isolated locally, I never met any like-minded artists who did what I did, and didn't meet any until the mid-80s at a Creation Con in San Francisco, which would be Ken Hooper, Edward Luena, and Shepherd Hendrix. That would prove to be my gateway into the comics industry.
The Runes Of Doom experience went well, I did the covers and a dozen interior illustrations. Dave later had me do a new set of covers for his first book, The Arduin Grimoire, Volume One. My covers for this book replaced the covers done by the previous artist, Erol Otus, who would go on to greater fame creating art for TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons books. I later did the cover art for three Arduin dungeon modules: Caliban, The Howling Tower, and The Citadel Of Thunder. There were no interior illustrations by me for the books, except, I think Citadel had two interior pieces. Each module included a sheet of die-cut monster and artifact cards. Dave used two other artists who did some great work on Arduin, Brad Schenck (A.K.A. Morno) and Michio Okamura, but I did the majority of illustrations. Hargrave sold his company to publisher Jim Mathis at Grimoire Games, who later produced a box set called The Arduin Adventure. I did a couple of interior illustrations for the booklet, but I also painted the box art, which at the time, I was rather proud of. When I finally saw the published set, I was rather dismayed to find my cover art reworked, with a lot of airbrushing added by someone named Anthony Delgado. I’m being honest when I state I wasn’t happy with it, and felt blindsided. Mathis also repackaged all three original Arduin books into a box set, and repurposed a Wizard illustration from The Arduin Adventure game book for the box art. I believe that was the last thing I did for them. In 2008 I found out that a company called Emperor’s Choice had acquired the rights to all things Arduin and I contacted them about doing some new Arduin-based work. My timing was good, as they were about to repackage the original Arduin Trilogy and George De Rosa hired me to create two new sequel covers based on my original Arduin Grimoire, Vol. I covers. I also created a logo for the book that EmpCho has repurposed for their Arduin Eternal book.
I created overall, roughly 98 (give or take) pieces of art for Arduin. I got paid roughly $5 dollars per illustration by Dave for the interiors on Runes Of Doom, $100. for the cover. later on, I got a slightly better rate for larger illustrations. I seem to remember I got paid $200 for The Arduin Adventure box art.
Dave treated me pretty well, but our relationship was strictly professional. We never socialized and I never gamed with him. I was lucky I was able to get what little facetime I could with him as I didn’t have a car to get me from Napa to Concord regularly. I seem to remember I talked my Mom into driving me there a few times. David A. Hargrave passed in 1988, and was informed of this by one of his friends at a show where I was exhibiting.
Looking back on my art then, it's some of my earliest work, and to say it's unrefined is charitable. There are some things I’m still somewhat happy with, some of it I find cringe-worthy. You have to start somewhere. I have no idea who owns all the original Arduin art, or where it is (Emperor’s Choice?). I do know that probably a lot of hardcore, old-school Arduin fans might be willing to pay for a piece of that history.
Regarding my work on Star Rovers, I seem to remember meeting Archive Miniatures publisher Nevile Stocken at a gaming convention, possibly a DundraCon. I had a table and was doing character sketches, he bought some of them. Dave Hargrave had started work on a game for Archive called Star Rovers, a science fiction-based role-playing game, but left the project. I think he may have recommended me? Stocken and I met at his store in Burlingame and he cherry-picked some pre-existing art from my portfolio, which included some panels from early, and very crude ‘zine work. I created a number of new illustrations (41 total), front and back covers for the game book, and the box art. I was asked to keep the proportions of the illustrated characters close to the proportions of the miniatures, so the some of the character look like they are escapees from the movie, Time Bandits. Once I turned in the art and later received my copy of the game, I was disappointed to find some of the pencil pieces he bought from me, he used, but hired another artist to ink them…badly. He also had the box art reworked and colored. I think the nail in the coffin for me doing any further work was a discussion we had over the phone regarding me getting my art back. He flat out told me he was keeping the art. We had no discussion about that prior, and I don’t remember it being in a contract, and I sure don’t have a copy of that contract anymore. Fledgling artists take note: one of my first hard lessons learned in working freelance, state any questions or concerns upfront, otherwise it’s your own fault. It was still quite a few years away before I’d learn the term “work-for-hire.” I don’t think I talked to Stocken after that. Maybe once? I never played Star Rovers. I still have my comp copy of the game and some of the miniatures.
Finally, a little Arduin trivia: Shardra the Castrator was originally a sketchbook piece. Dave bought it, and named the character on the spot. Black Wind was inspired by an Outer Limits monster from the episode, The Man With The Power. The Brain Eater was inspired by the B-movie, The Brain From Planet Arous. I’m reading in a few place that Dave had based a character on the Arduin covers on Clint Eastwood. I seem to remember I just drew the character like Clint on the Runes of Doom cover and he liked it. He did want me to go back to that design when I drew the new covers for Arduin, Vol.1. The one time he wanted a major change was to draw a top on the bare-breasted female warrior on the back cover of Arduin Grimoire, Vol. 1. I can’t remember if there were actual complaints about the nudity, or he was trying to head them off. I have no idea where the heck Attack Of The Kill Kittens came from. I think that was all Dave. and a piece of art people still remember. And finally, one of my artist pals, Ken Hooper told me a few years ago Hargrave had talked to him about working on Arduin before me.
As I mentioned at the outset, It’s gratifying to see the various YouTubers talking about Arduin. It’s mind-boggling that the out-of-print Arduin books are going for hundreds of dollars. And also surprised to see all the piracy with my Arduin art on t-shirts, mugs, hoodies, etch. I even found some of my old monster cards badly redrawn in a knock-off Arduin monster card set
So, there you have it. Since those halcyon days of gaming art, I’ve freelanced in comics and animation for close to 40 years. I did one more game project: designing some guns (five illustrations) for a game book called Worlds Beyond for Other Worlds Games in 1989. I’ve worked for Eclipse comics, TSR (their comics line), Tundra/Kitchen Sink Press, Image Comics, did art for a Wizard Of Oz Tarot deck for Illogical Associates, Printed In Blood’s 30th Anniversary The Thing Art Book, among many other projects.
Greg Espinoza (8/14/21)