Car Wars game art, 1992
Here’s another job that came out of the blue one day. I don’t remember how I got it; maybe I contacted Steve Jackson Games, maybe they contacted me. It was near the beginning of my game illustration career, so it’s likely that I sent them samples of my first Star Wars illos from West End Games and they hired me based on that. Either way, I got a chance to contribute to one of the most long-lived and enduring role-playing games ever made.
Steve Jackson Games was founded in 1980, and Car Wars was one of their first products. It was offered in a unique “micro-game” package, a quick-and-dirty mini-game that you could crack open and dive into. Realistically speaking, all such games are simply clever applications of math and probability, and it’s the “skin” that activates your imagination. The “skin” for this one was a post-war setting in which auto-dueling is an extreme sport and players throw themselves at each other in imaginary vehicles to see who lives longest. It’s tempting to think it was inspired by the Mad Max movies, but it actually predated them by a year. It was, in fact, a 1971 short story by Alan Dean Foster titled Why Johnny Can’t Speed that got these wheels turning.
I remember being aware of Car Wars in the early 80s and its packaging intrigued me, but never quite enough to buy in. I’ve run hot and cold with games my whole life (mostly cold), but where there’s a healthy franchise there’s a need for artists to keep it going. So about a decade after noticing the Car Wars universe, I briefly contributed my services to it.
As the game evolved through its various editions and permutations over the years, it spawned a magazine called Autoduel Quarterly that contained news, game developments, mini-modules, in-universe advertising, short stories, and more. It ran for ten years, spring 1983 to winter 1992. I came along right at the end of that run, drawing illustrations for two issues in the final year. I even did the cover for one of them.
For reasons that slipped out of my head, most of my interior work was in pencil, finished by an inker named Gary Washington. They were drawn in a lighter, more cartoony style and Gary did a passable job, but I would have preferred a tighter hand and a bit more variation in the line work. Anyway, that helps explain the art you’ll see below.
Steve Jackson games is still at it today, and Car Wars is still around, along with about a zillion other titles. Plenty more info can be found at these links:
SJ Games official site • SJ Games Wikipedia page • Car Wars official site • Car Wars Wikipedia page
Art from Autoduel Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1
Art from Autoduel Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3
BONUS: Challenge Magazine #68
Also from the forgot-how-it-happened file: at some point in 1992, I was hired to do a single full-page illustration for an article in this hard-core military SF gaming magazine published by an Illinois-based company named GDW.
The description was pretty generic, soldiers charging across a battlefield or whatever. From that came one of my all-time favorite single pieces. I still love everything about this drawing; the composition, momentum, camera angle, inking style, all of it. It represented the peak of my abilities at that time and I don’t think I could improve it much today.