It is hard to believe that three and a half decades have passed since since Jackson and Livingstone unleashed their unholy creation Fighting Fantasy upon a generation hungry for adventure and anarchy, but 2017 is indeed the 35th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy’s birth. Whilst that thought does make me feel old as shit, it seems an appropriate opportunity to reflect upon the legacy of that magical series of books. I’ve spoken with great passion about FF a few times over the years here at Corehammer. It’s an enthusiasm I often find matched by the others I encounter who share that same gateway into the realms of the fantastic and arcane.
One such mortal is Paul Hardacre, the man behind a new T-shirt company called Somewhere South Of Fang . SSOF are working collaboratively with some of the original FF artists and printing good quality shirts using classic artwork from the early years of Fighting Fantasy. Naturally my interest was piqued and after a flurry of emails back and forth I decided to shoot Paul some questions and let him tell us all about SSOF. Paul has also graciously offered Corehammer readers a discount voucher for his store that entitles you, dear reader, to a 20% discount at checkout until June 2nd. Simply type the code COREHAMMER into the appropriate box at checkout and save yourself some bunce.
1) Paul, how did you come to hook up with Malcolm Barter and Russ Nicholson and put together the idea for SSOF?
About five years ago I commissioned Russ Nicholson to re-draw one of the illustrations from The Citadel of Chaos, as a gift for my young son. It was the first of a few such commissions and naturally enough we got to talking and gradually came to know one another. About three years back I initiated some online conversation with Malcolm Barter. Although we’d never met or spoken before, it quickly became apparent that we shared the same kind of gently warped artistic madness, and so a cascade of collaborative ideas began to flow, very naturally and effortlessly. Great fellow that he is, Russ was also open to proposals for projects of various kinds and, like Malcolm, exceedingly generous with his enthusiasm and support. Somewhere South of Fang is just one of the collaborative ventures we’ve discussed.
John Blanche would have to be at the top of the list. From the howling manticore on the front cover of The Shamutanti Hills, through Kakhabad and the Old World of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! gamebook epic to the grim-dark Old World of Warhammerand the futuristic grotesqueries of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, his outlandish proto-punk-metal illuminations have been equally as definitive as Russ Nicholson and Malcolm Barter in terms of informing my fantasy aesthetic.
Gary Chalk would run a very close second to John Blanche. Soon after being exposed to Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, but prior to discovering Warhammer, I revelled in Joe Dever’s saga of Lone Wolf, sole survivor of the massacre of the Kai Lords and final hope of the Lastlands, being the Free Kingdoms of Northern Magnamund. Although artists like Brian Williams, Brian Salmon and Fred Gambino later contributed interior and cover illustrations towards the series, it was the hideous Vordak atop a swooping Kraan, the Giaks on their snarling Doomwolves, the spikily armoured Darklords and the fell Drakkar, and the axe-wielding Gourgaz depicted by Gary Chalk that will remain forever etched in my mind as the quintessential Lone Wolf artworks. His illustrations for the first edition of Talisman: The Magical Quest Game were contemporary with Lone Wolf and just as brilliant.
Collaborations with other ‘greats’ of Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer art – including Anthony Ackland, Jes Goodwin, Alan Langford, Martin McKenna, and Tony Hough – would be both marvellous and welcomed. Oh, how about Ian Miller too? He’s definitely on the Somewhere South of Fang wish list.
3) Moving forward will future designs continue to be drawn from the classic FF artwork or might we see fresh work from Malcolm & Russ?
Future t-shirt prints from Somewhere South of Fang will continue to draw upon canonical Fighting Fantasy and Warhammerartwork, but will broaden to encompass stand-alone designs drawn from Russ’ and Malcolm’s decades of masterful rendering. Ideally the range will also expand to include designs from other Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer art ‘greats’, plus ‘next-generation’ artists whose formative years, like mine, were enriched by the illustrations of Allansia, Khul and both the Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer Old Worlds. There are so many phenomenal artists inhabiting Instagram particularly – artists like @d_e_f_a_m_e, @riddickart, @artofnerdgore (Rich Sampson), @dahmerart (Karl Dahmer), @aidancookordeath (Aidan Cook), @shaw.illustrations (Daniel Shaw), @adventureskull (Michael Steinheiser), @chimpchomp (David Allison), @will_helm_arts (Will Helm), and @davidpaulseymour (David Paul Seymour) … we’d love to hear from and collaborate with all of these twisted geniuses.
4) Going back to the roots of your interest, what was your first exposure to Russ & Malcolm’s artwork and what was it about that style that struck a chord?
My best friend then and now, Michael Taylor, showed up at primary school one day with an already quite thrashed copy of Steve Jackson’s The Citadel of Chaos. From the Ape-Dog and the Dog-Ape guarding the Black Tower’s iron portcullis and the nightmarish Ganjees, to the ghostly washerwoman and the Calacorm prison guard – not to mention the dread sorcerer Balthus Dire himself – I was both exquisitely lost and hopelessly enthralled by the world of Craggen Rock as articulated in the wonderfully detailed, darkly twisted and subtly subversive line work of Russ Nicholson.
Over the course of subsequent weeks Mike came to school with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Forest of Doom and the slipcased Sorcery! two-book set containing The Spell Book and The Shamutanti Hills. This was 1984, year of the L.A. Olympics, the Ethiopian famine and the discovery of AIDS, and for me, the year I discovered the delights of fantasy art as rendered by Russ Nicholson and Malcolm Barter, John Blanche and Gary Chalk.
For the record, the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook I ever owned was Island of the Lizard King, given to me by my other great lifelong friend John King on the occasion of my tenth birthday. I spent much of the eleventh year of my life relentlessly drawing my own versions of the many dynamic panel scenes from the book, as illustrated by Alan Langford. Although I didn’t fancy his artwork as much as that of Russ and Malcolm and John Blanche, his style seemed to sync more with my hand.
5) I know people have been crying out for FF related shirts for a while now, how has the response been from the FF fan community?
Well, you know the old Thumper saying: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” The Fighting Fantasy ‘community’ seems as fractured and imperfect as any such artificial and convenient collection of folks bound by a shared interest. Don’t get me wrong, there are some spectacularly worthwhile guys and girls hidden away within the Fighting Fantasy fan communities – it’s just a matter of finding them. The folks who have put their support behind Somewhere South of Fang … put it this way, we’ll long remember those who’ve supported us from the outset. When Ian Livingstone contacted us wanting a Russ Nicholson WARLOCK tee, that made our year.