Russ Nicholson’s artwork. I’ve wanted his illustrations in my books since way back in 1984, when I had to track him down to Papua New Guinea to get him to supply the drawings for Eye of the Dragon.
And everybody knows that as far as the Fabled Lands series is concerned, Russ is “the third author” (it’s like being the Fifth Beatle, only with less hair). His imagination made it real, gave it substance, and that’s not just my and Jamie’s opinion – just look at how the apps drew on his original art.
Likewise Leo Hartas, not just an artist who is brilliant at conveying charm in his quirkily imaginative scenes, but one of my closest friends and, of course, my creative partner on projects like Mirabilis.
As I was lucky enough to get these guys as the illustrators of my Virtual Reality books in the mid-90s, you can bet that I wanted to retain their illustrations in the new incarnation of those books under the Critical IF imprint. And yet, Once Upon A Time In Arabia (the book formerly known as Twist of Fate) does not feature Russ’s great pictures, instead relying for visual embellishment on the more obscure (these days) William Harvey. No, not the blood guy.
I am very conscious that gamebooks are all about the nostalgia. Switching things around is as welcome to most gamebook aficionados as a bacon sarnie to a Salafi. So why the change?
To explain that, first I must ask you to cast your mind back – or, indeed, just click the link – to the announcement that Fabled Lands LLP would be partnering with Osprey Books to bring back Virtual Reality in digital format. Because the original plan to do them in HTML5 was deemed too expensive, we decided to go with EPUB3 format, which we thought would be cheaper. (It wasn’t, but that’s a detail.)
It soon turned out that we wouldn’t be able to have much interior artwork in any EPUB3 versions. As in, no art at all once you were past the prologue. So each book was to have two or three black and white illustrations. These were not by Russ or Leo and I wasn’t involved in commissioning them. No big deal, I thought, as I could still use the original artwork in the print editions. Then it turned out there were to be no print editions after all, only the ebooks.
Dry your tears. For various reasons, the planned partnership was abandoned and the ebooks canned. Still, we had the books all edited and ready to go – and Createspace makes it very easy to publish paperbacks and distribute them via Amazon. So, after quickly striking agreements with Russ and Leo, we were back in business.
Except… These are pictures you don’t want to mess up. Only sharp high-resolution images would do. I finally got the best quality my scanner is capable of by razor-blading copies of the VR books to pieces and scanning at 600 dpi. It worked out fine for Heart of Ice, Necklace of Skulls and Down Among the Dead Men. The snag is that I had no spare copy of Twist of Fate (I hope you’ll forgive me not wanting to mutilate the only one I had left) and it would cost $150 to buy a spare on Amazon. Hence the decision was taken to resort to the illustrations of Mr Harvey, which had the benefit of being (a) specifically drawn for the Arabian Nights and (b) out of copyright for seventy-seven years. Oh, and pretty good. Not Russ or Leo quality, but evocative enough.
As Scheherazade’s beleaguered heroes are fond of saying, God alone is all-powerful. OK then. But I managed three out of four, and I can live with that.