I love doing illustrations, taking a scene described in prose and creating a visual for it. If my client has a scene in mind I’m usually happy to go with what they ask me to portray. I will admit that I have even more fun when I get a manuscript and I’m told to come up with the illustrations myself.
If I’m illustrating a comic choosing what to draw is fairly easy. Comics are stories told with words and pictures but primarily pictures. You can have a wordless comic but not a comic without pictures. So I’d draw the quiet moments, the big climaxes and everything in between.
Illustrating a prose story is trickier. Most prose stories are intended to exist without illustrations. Even most childrens’ picture books have stories that would make sense if just read aloud. Those stories usually aren’t as much fun without the illustrations but they’ll work. When a story is intended to be read I try to be careful what I chose to illustrate. Some scenes work better in the readers’ imagination. It’s downright rude to show the hero defeating the monster or unmasking the villain. I expect that the reader is going to look at the pictures first and then read the prose. Human attention is drawn to images. I don’t want to spoil an author’s hard work by giving away the surprises so, when illustrating prose, I’m usually drawing the beginnings of scenes and actions and rarely the climaxes.
Providing illustrations for an RPG is different challenge. RPGs are kind of like those choose-your-own adventure books but the way the adventures unfold in a RPG can vary even more than with a choose-own-adventure. They’re interactive stories where the characters (the players) can take the plot in directions the original author never would have expected. The game master presents a scenario to the players, the players invent characters (or bring previous established ones) to experience the scenario and the story is created during the play. When illustrating an RPG I can depict the non-player characters that the players might meet and I can depict the inciting incidents that get the game/story started and after that the game/story can head off into unknown territory. As such I’m often creating “flavor” illustrations – pictures of the environments that the characters will pass through. For Detour and the Dark Conspiracy game in general that pretty easy. The above illustration is of one of the sights the characters could have seen on their journey. It’s not actually anything that’s described in the game manuscript. I could have invented a dozen other images to illustrate this section and all of them would have been appropriate. I love that kind of freedom.