Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie and the Eld of the Cantons

In my first year of high school, I gradually dropped away from the gaming which had pretty much shaped my identity and interests up to that point. I started spending most days escaping the post-war tract-housing boredom with that aimless kind of driving that happens with teens with no outlet (if you've watched King of the Hill, you've seen where I grew up).

Cassette-driven soundtracks hung all around us and was shared in equal portions by my friends. Black Flag and Minor Threat mixed incoherently--but somehow happily--with the 1970s glam of my tall, openly gay, friend Scott (not a small act of courage in mid-80s Texas). Mott the Hoople, T Rex and most of all early Bowie spun tales in my imagination of a place glittering and remote. Scott, tall, pale and a bit cruel, coolly dragging his menthols and trying to be for all the world the Thin White Duke was a mental impression that stuck with me for years afterward.

Hit the tape-drive warbly forward to five years ago and I have gone full circle and back into this hobby as an older man. The Eld, those strange space elves and substitute Melniboneans of James M's Dwimmermount, are carving out space in the Hill Cantons.

But invasive species mutate here in the Weird. Darkness is consuming my old friend back in the real world and find myself spinning Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust more and more. And with each listen more of that mental space and enduring image creep into how I see the big bad Eld in the campaign. They are cruel-lipped, thin almost fragile with a highly refined aesthetic.

So when it starts coming time to write and publish Misty Isles of the Eld and illustrator, Luka Rejec, starts asking his probing questions about what they look like among the long asides about brutalist architecture and fluted armor, my brain suddenly blurted out "think Bowie in his cocaine fascist Thin White Duke/Man Who Fell to Earth period and bulb-headed Melniboneans in Giger-like stormtrooper armor.” That it made sense to Luka was just affirmation that he was the right guy to run with the concept.

And he did. 
Front "Bowified Eld, the bucolic illusion"
Back. "The Cold Hell reality"
In fact when I told him to surprise me with a Misty Isles cover (front and back above) that wasn't like what we have come to think of as rpg cover art, he sent me this and asked outright “too much Bowie?”

I replied “can you ever have too much?” I mean you could in his Let's Dance phase but whatever I am doubly happy we made this choice, a small, modest and off-kilter homage to the man.

RIP Thin White Duke and thanks for the inspiration along the way.

As my other best friend of that time, Mark wrote so well this morning: “He releases an album with death and immortality themes on his 69th birthday. And then dies. Badass right to the end.”


  1. Thanks for writing this. It strikes a chord on many levels.

  2. "Intergalactic singing chameleon..."

    I have had my life, far beyond creative work, shaped and molded by Bowie, especially the Thin White Duke. No wonder (you little wonder, you little wonder you) I love your work for bringing these influences to the table.

  3. Sounds great...I mean your Eld design...we all know Bowie sounds great.

  4. The art also reminds me a lot of Moebius; I could have seen him illustrate a Misty Isles comic.