Artist’s Spotlight on Rob Carver

Carver Header Art

Interview with Rob Carver  By Steve Crompton

One of Rob Carver's illos from the 1979 T&T Calendar

One of Rob Carver’s illos from the 1979 T&T Calendar

Before Liz Danforth, Rob Carver was the artist that did most of the art for Tunnels & Trolls.  His illustrations appeared in the 1st through 5th editions of the rules, in several of the early solos & GM adventures, the T&T Calendar and in first the few issues of Sorcerer’s Apprentice (along with several other places as well).

Rob’s art (which was often mixed with a touch of sardonic humor) left an indelible mark on style and tone of Tunnels & Trolls. To help keep that same classic feel to the new book, the Fellowship plan to use virtually all his illustrations from the 5th edition.  While searching the Flying Buffalo archives, we recently discovered some Rob Carver art that has not been seen in over 30 years.  Our plan is to incorporate some of this “rediscovered” art as well.  In getting permission to use this additional art, we contacted Rob and he agreed to an interview with Steve Crompton about those early days of being T&T’s first artist.     

1) How did you get involved in drawing T&T in the first place?  (i.e. how did you meet Ken St Andre?)

I met Ken through the local sci-fi group we belonged to, well before T&T. I used to help collate the fanzine we put out, and I also used to illustrate them sometimes, along with some other local artists, among ’em Skip Olson, the best damned artist I knew back then – he was awesome, and funny, too bad he left us way too early. I wish I’d been that good. That was where I met Liz Danforth. as well. Ken wrote for the fanzine, funny stuff. We would meet at various houses and talk SF, and we also war-gamed, the board game way. Bear Peters and I had long sessions of the old Avalon Hill games like Jutland, Battle of the Bulge, Panzerblitz, even LeMans with elaborations of our own, and one day Ken brought Dungeons and Dragons to our attention, and the rest is as you know. I threw out the name for T&T as a suggestion, and Ken ran with it. I really liked the fact that it was a somewhat irreverent game, much like the people i knew there at that time. I did some early LepreCon illos, as well.

2) Did you get Ugly John Carver (the author of Uncle Ugly’s Underground) into T&T or did he get you into it?

Dan (Ugly John) and I were there the same night T&T germinated, and we play tested it often before it was refined, if that word can be used in connection with T&T. I was good with name-slinging, I gave Ugly John that moniker, too.

3) What memories do you have of working for Flying Buffalo back in the late 70s & early 80s?

By the late ’70s I was in California, and almost all the work I did then was by mail, and on the odd occasions I stopped by  FB when I was visiting in town. I remember doing some illos for a Japanese version back then, I liked them a lot. It was always a fan’s type of biz, I got that feeling whenever I ran into FB folks.

One of the recently "rediscovered" Carver pieces from Sorcerer's Apprentice.

One of the recently “rediscovered” Carver pieces from Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

4) What was your approach to drawing?  Where did you hone your skills and were you self-taught or did you take various art classes?

I took art classes in HS and college, but I was mostly self-taught, I’m an autodidact to a great degree. I made it a rule not to swipe, and I hope i never did unconsciously. I preferred the original Blackwing pencils, but depending on my budget, I used other kinds. For inking, and sometimes drawing straight onto paper without penciling, I generally used Koh-I-Noor’ Rapidograph pens, and sometimes certain ball-points and other types of ink pens. I liked Frazetta and the classic fairy-tale authors a lot, Wally Wood, Alex Raymond, Burne Hogarth, the old EC MAD magazine crew, Corben and the Eerie/Creepy works, and Will Eisner was a god, the Undergrounds  – Trashman was my absolute fave of those, along with S. Clay Wilson. I took a lot of art history courses, and had a long interest in Military History.

5) What are your recollections about working on the wraparound cover of City of Terrors with Liz Danforth?  How did the two of you work on the same illo and whose idea was that?  (It works very well by the way.)

City of Terrors cover art by Liz Danforth and Rob Carver.  A rare joint effort by both artists

City of Terrors cover art by Liz Danforth and Rob Carver. A rare joint effort by both artists

City of Terrors was a fun assignment; Liz and I were almost seamless on that one. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with her on that cover, it was one of our best works. The only thing I wish was I’d had more time to mess with the pencils I did. One error I noticed right away after it was inked, (I’m such a detail nerd) was that the masts of two different ships were combined on one vessel! Um? Oh well, it made it look strange and exotic, and wot the hell, it worked. The three of us on the cover – Liz, Mike Stackpole, and me – were actually representing the characters we were playing in a live action Amber game at the time; we would pass on our ‘moves’ to Ken and the game would move along from each input. Ken put out a ‘zine that I did the banner for, with game info. At one point, I had taken a replica Broom-handle Mauser (non-shooting, of course) to an SF meeting to ‘kill off’ a rival character. Took that game serious, we did. Such are our vanities, those three are now enshrined there on the cover.

6) At some point, you stopped doing any more illustrations. . What is the reason you ceased drawing after 1982?

Life happens, and I had to make a choice about time-sharing with reality, so I put some things away. I was doing other things when the whole direction of gaming changed, and that was that. I was going to ComicCon in San Diego every year, right up until recently, so I looked in on things. As you know, Steve, I went every Saturday dressed as No. 6 from The Prisoner TV show, (and a pretty damned good costume, too, if I do say so myself)  – I had a lot of pictures taken of me over the years. I met a lot of the artists still alive that influenced or interested me, that was amazing to me. I was glad to see SF and fantasy had grown exponentially.

7) Do you still do any other art?

Not recently.

8) Did you ever think that your art would still be in use over 35 years after you created it?  What are your thoughts about that?

I had a vague idea that someone might remember me later, and every so often I would run across T&T stuff I’d done. The ogre with the arrow thru his head is probably my most enduring image. As for 35 years on, as soon as I had my first WWW visit, long ago, I realized nothing would ever die, and I kept my fingers crossed.

9) Any last memories or comments about T&T or Ken  or your art?

I liked working with Ken a lot, I picked up his sly humor quite quickly, and the sci-fi scene back then was very influential. I was glad I had the chance to draw for that time and place.

The Classic Nyaah Image by Rob Carver.  This illo has appeared on t-shirts, bumper stickers, magnets and in the T&T rules.

The Classic Nyaah Image by Rob Carver. This illo has appeared on t-shirts, bumper stickers, magnets and in the T&T rules.

Thank you Rob!  It’s really great to get some insights on the early days of T&T from an entirely new source.

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Categories: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls News, fantasy role-playing games | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Artist’s Spotlight on Rob Carver

  1. SSCrompton

    Rob added this additional comment once he saw some of the art I posted with his interview…
    “The rediscovered piece of the two men you have up is part of a series I did of T&T players who wanted their characters immortalized in a picture. They sent me the attributes and a few descriptions and weapons preferences, and I made ’em a personal character drawing. I seem to remember one of those is a dwarf, and the other an elvish mage, but i may be wrong. My fave was of a blonde warrior girl who was throwing a chakram, (very pre-Xena!) and her dwarf companion.”

  2. stefanorenco

    Funny, I always thought of the “missed my vital spots” guy as a caveman!

    Having started off with T&T 2nd edition, and having a pile of old solo adventures, I certainly remember Rob’s art!

    I like what might be called “evocative backgrounds.” The illo from the T&T calendar up there for example. What is up with that highly ornate back corridor? The GM in me is wondering what those angled, lettering-bestooned slabs are. Whether those are cabinets below there, and whether the fronts are wood panels or cloth hangings.

  3. I am so glad to see Rob getting a chance to reconnect, to be heard from and for more of his art to be seen. His work always had a vigor that my more stately pieces lacked, and I thought it a shame the world did not have a whole lot more Rob Carver artwork in it. Doing the CoT cover together, especially, was really a special time for us all, and I am proud and honored to have been able to work with him.

    • Rob Carver

      Thanks, Liz, you’ll always be a special artist for me. Keep up the great work!

  4. Rob’s piece in 5.0 with the flaming skulls remains one of my touchstone images for fantasy gaming. Thanks for this interview, Steve!

  5. SSCrompton

    Encouraging creativity and showing people, places and creatures are really one of the great things that art should do, especially in a RPG rulebook. If a picture can evoke ideas for a character or a scenario for a GM adventure, then the piece has been a total success and that is definitely one of the strengths of Rob’s art. His characters always looked like tough rouges who had just crawled out of a dangerous situation or lived in the back alleys of some distant city. Great stuff!

  6. Thanks to all concerned with the interview and to Rob for his early and enduring contribution to the game. I wonder if we might hear from Uncle Ugly next?

  7. anen kram

    Danforth, Crompton & Carver’s art is T&T. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Carver’s artwork in dT&T

  8. I can guarantee that. Including a few things by Carver you may have never seen before…

  9. A couple of my favorite drawings are Carver drawings, so it’s great to hear that his stuff will still be used.

  10. Kimberly Martin

    Love to read the history, and Skip was one of my best friends when I was a kid Rob. Glad to see him remembered also 🙂 Thank you!

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