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For people who write medieval fantasy, play medieval rpgs, and the people who read or play those worlds. For me, the medieval world is 1066 to 1509, b...

When I Burned Out

Burnout is insidious. I’m on the mend, and doing well now that I successfully have diagnosed the problem and begun to address it in earnest. I’ll explain.

For 19 years I did freelance illustration work. I did all sorts of nifty art for lots of nifty products, but I was really focused on being a comic book artist. At the time that seemed important to me, although now I can’t really see why. I admired my comic artist heroes so much, greats like John Buscema, Gil Kane, John Byrne, and John Romita Jr. What I didn’t see was the excessive hours of work, no days off, no vacations, no health care, poor page rates, etc. I always got the prices I charged, and customers kept coming back for more, but it was a punishing career choice. I never broke in with Marvel or DC, but the situation there would have probably been similar.

Around 2004, I got fed up with drawing other people’s properties, so I dreamed up Johnny Saturn. For the most part, an exciting decade followed, I garnered a lot of attention in the comic world, made a lot of fans, did a lot of conventions, and really opened up to my inner salesman and promoter. It was a heady time, and I don’t regret it, but It didn’t end all that well.

By 2012, I was producing the Johnny Saturn webcomic twice weekly, and penciling, inking, and coloring two pages a week for a vampire comic for another publisher. The vampire job paid decent, the owner was easy to work with, and it kept us afloat financially. But, burnout was building.

First, I blew out my wrist and needed carpal tunnel surgery. Then, my thumb wore out, and my right shoulder. Spending hours and hours on a computer every day was taking its toll, and it became excruciating at points. Probably because of the pain I was developing a serious hate for making digital art, and that’s not a good thing for an illustrator, I can assure you. I’m sure that my avoidance issues was due to pain and long-term, serious exhaustion.

To alleviate the issue, I began hiring different digital colorists to lesson my burden. I had talented people from all over the world working for me, even some Marvel comics colorists, and at one point I had seven different creators working for me. I probably could have leveraged this into an illustration agency of some sort, but managing that group of willful creatives was a full-time job in its own right.

I limped through 2012, trying my best to work through the pain, but by 2014 I was done. I ended Johnny Saturn, ended working for other publishers, and ended my punishing schedule of doing anything and everything I could dream up to promote my work. Promotion had become frantic and exhausting in its own right, and I easily could have kept a full-time promoter busy. Like I said, in 2014 I was done. I still did book covers for publisher/writer friends, but I already hated digital art, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Be sure to come back for the next post, the Aftermath. Happily, the story does turn around for the better.

Live Steam

When I was little, I was very intrigued by steam locomotives. I still am, I guess, even if I’m not so little anymore. A real highlight of my childhood was when I could ride steam trains. It wasn’t often, but I remember the train at Stone Mountain, and those at some amusement park like Six Flags. I fondly remember every visit to the old Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, too, when I would get to climb onto the old steam train they had there. (Well, it’s still there, in the new Children’s museum.)

My grandfather, Stewart Rafert, also was interested in live steam, but he was more focused on steam tractors. These giant, huffing behemoths had their own rustic charm, I must admit. I remember going to at least two live steam shows with him, and they were pretty awe-inspiring to a young tyke like myself. I particularly remember the salesman’s models tractors, all scaled down–these were fully functional stream tractors that collectors would steam around the event grounds. So fascinating.

Nearby to were I grew up in New Palestine, Indiana, my family had a friend named Otto Hefflemire. Otto was an interesting fellow who was into a lot of things, such as building homes, owning antique stores, and doing fine wrought-iron work. Anyway, next to his house he had an older house that he used for storage space for his collections of odds and ends. On the front porch he had pulled up and parked an old steam tractor. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe to partially protect it under the porch roof. As a little boy, I loved climbing all over this ancient, long-silenced giant. Let the adults visit for as long they wanted, I wanted to go hang out with the steam engine.

I’m not sure how old I was, but my grandpa got me a miniature, fully functional steam tractor. I remember lighting it up and chugging around the house with it. I still have it, and I haven’t lighted it up in over 30 years, but it’s one of my most cherished toys from my childhood. The maker, Mammod, still produces and sells them.

Now, since this is me, I’ll add a note of weirdness.

I have rather profound childhood memory of a steam tractor graveyard. Grandpa took me to see it, and it was near Anderson, Indiana. Inside a large enclosure that was fenced in with a gnarly steel fence, and there were hundreds of steam tractors, rusting away, neatly parked around a rutted, dirt track. There were birds making nests in these tractors, weeds growing up through them, and this place had a sad, ominous feel. Honestly, it was awe-inspiring, these mighty machine of industry abandoned in careful order, but lonely as well.

I’m well aware that no such tractor graveyard exists nearby, that grandpa didn’t take me there, yet the memory persists and feels real. Why? It’s a random bit of weirdness that means nothing, except to me, but there it is. Memory and emotion are strange things. It feels true to me, and I cherish this memory.


More Mayhem in May

Hello! I know this new iteration of my blog boils down to me writing to myself, but that’s okay for now. It’s been a while, but I’ll learn how to promote this and make it easy to find soon.

After some technical issues, I have begun my Artstation page. I once had a Deviant Art site, but there were issues with updating it, so I decided it was time to migrate my work to a more modern platform. This will be the home for all my paintings, illustrations, cartography, icons, templates, and textures. If you go there now, then you’ll see only the bare beginning of my efforts, but as the week ticks by I plan to flesh it out.

My WorldAnvil site, aka, continues to grow. At last check, I had over 167K words written there, and so much more to add. That’s what happens when you take a beloved world that you’ve worked on for 40 years and try to condense it down to a manageable form. An unexpected benefit is that I have been posting some solid historical guides, under Background Material. If you are a fan of history, or medieval gaming, or writing fiction for medieval settings, there are articles there that may grab your attention. For example, a lengthy Arcane Glossary for in-period magic terminology, Medieval Technology and Advancement by century, and much more.

Indeed, I currently updating my old article on medieval horses with lots of new information, and I’ll be posting it there. My writings on maille armor and its uses and history probably will follow soon.



A lot has been happening, so here are short takes:

I’ve found a great site to sell textures, icons, and assorted graphics. I’ve made a lot of these objects over the years, so I’m pretty chuffed.

With AI, they have finally found a way to accurately simulate detail lost from low resolution or blurry pictures. This seems one use of the new technology I can support.

I recently passed 167,000 typed into I’m far enough along that I’m going to have to consider what form the finished product will manifest.

Design Blog Part Deux

I’m working on something new for Aorlis. The citizens of each of the 18 countries in Aorlis have their own distinct outlooks, I’m heading up each country with a “worldview listing.” Here’s an example:

Blackvale’s Worldview

We are the trees, stoic, patient, and we only say those things that need to be said. We are vigilant, for the forest is our heart. Our eyes are the owls, wise beyond words, forever observing, the guardians of ancient magic. Our will is the hawk, the perfect predator, with fleet wings and keen vision that misses nothing. We are the bow, resilient and deadly. We are the arrows that fight our battles and feed our families. We remember the Others from the Bright World, and their blood still pumps in the veins of our oldest families. We bless each other in the fae’s names, and we honor the spirits of oak, and recall the wild dance of remembrance.

Here’s another:

Orlois’ Worldview

Historians claim the Jotuns of old were destroyers, a ravening scourge to the civilized world. The historians sadly are misinformed. It was Jotuns who tore down the old world and built the modern age with all its wonders. Our detractors write about ocean-born reavers, of berserkers who feel no pain, of the Hidden God of our grandfathers and the mysterious power of runes. Those things are outliers, and historians are grasping at history’s low-hanging fruit.Jotun ships were technological wonders that could sail the Known World via ocean, sea, river, and creek. With these vessels, we established the trade routes that crisscross the planet and interconnect Kainded’s vast expanses.Most Aorlisians treat their women as property. Not us. In Orlois, we have shield maidens, fighting women who can vote alongside the men in the Allthing. We have the Volva who command magic (seidr) and advise our leaders. Our women are not servants, but warrior, witches, and healers than can hold their own with any men.Now, living in the little tract of Aorlis that we have claimed as ours, we Orloisians still burn with the energy to bring a new, more connected future to Aarthus.

They are a bit easier to read on the site because I’ve broken them into bullet points and nestled them into quote boxes. So far I have about 12 of 18 of these posted, and I think these vignettes will help both game masters and players access the mindset of the people in question.

One reason I did this was because in popular role-playing games there are humans and then assorted non-human lineages (elf, dward, etc.) Those are handy because each species comes with a given set of expectations for players to latch onto. Aorlis, however, is a primarily human world, and it focuses on cultures, not species.


Design Blog

I’m leaning into the system agnostic/neutral approach with fiction setting and game world, Aorlis. Dice have become involved in the campaign side of the equation, because not everyone is equally qualified to decide everything by fiat. Random encounter charts, for example, were important to set up.

For example, I need a weather system. I begin to look into a simple approach to weather, and I wandered into a wide field of variables (season, climate, geographic location, etc.) that I had to stop. I still am unsure how I’m going to proceed.

Is it important for a medieval fantasy world to have ocean current maps, wind current maps, and/or plate tectonic maps? At some level, maybe. When it comes to plate tectonics, I realize I’ve once again stumbled into a field about which I know little, trying to reverse engineer something that probably doesn’t subscribe to any known logic or science. It’s interesting, because as a storyteller you can simply state what a thing is, and it’s so. As a campaign resource, the underlying logic means a lot to some people.

More as the project develops.

Special Collaborations

Just to remind everyone of my love for medieval imagery, here are some of my favorite collaborations with “my” art and Benita Story, all for sale in a variety of formats on Spoonflower.

I put parenthesis around “my” art, because these are loving recreations of medieval art. I inked, cleaned up, and colored these drawing. So, I guess you could say that I was also collaborating with the nameless artists of bygone centuries. I’ve learned a lot as an artist by working with these long-ago masters.

Here’s the Plan

This site has been dormant. That’s mostly because of social media, which has filled a space that many of us once used for blogging. Times change, and there is no guarantee that anyone will come here to keep up with me. I’m not concerned because the role of this site is a bit different–all my social posts will debut here and then migrate to my other outlets.

This is not an all-purpose site. I may show off new artwork here, but most of that is heading for ArtStation. ArtStation is a modern day, cleaner version of Deviant Art. It’s purpose designed.

Furthermore, I need someplace to collect and organize all my links, products, and announcements. Thus, I now return to blogging.


Yeah, Yeah, Updates

Hello, Internet Hive MInd.

Yeah, I mentioned Nanowrimo. Here’s my profile, so far.

Here’s my project. It was going to be a superhero story, but now it’s medieval fantasy. A dark, grim, medieval, low fantasy, if you must know.

I haven’t made any writing buddies yet, but if you want to buddy up (and who wouldn’t?) then you can find me.

OK, News Item no. 1–I’ve ordered the author’s proof for Name of the Shadow. This is always exciting! I am so ready for this novel to be in readers’ hands.

OK, News Item no. 2–I watched season 2 of “The Boys,” and it was glorious and insane. I still like it more than I did the comic upon which it was based. Yes, I read all the comics, and enjoyed them too, but the show is even better, in my opinion,.

What medieval podcasts am I watching? I know you’ve asked yourself this question again and again, and it’s not fair to keep it to myself. So:

  • Tod’s Workshop
  • Skallagrim
  • Shadiversity
  • Modern History TV
  • Metatron
  • Scholagladitoria
  • Lindybeige

I don’t like all these guys equally, and over time some have risen to the surface, and others not so much.

It’s also fair to say that lately I’ve been obsessed with the History Channel’s “Knight Fight,” and “Forged in Fire.” I had written off the History Channel some years ago as history made for video game crazed teenagers, but I have since revised that opinion a bit. It’s still got a male demographic in mind, but I really like these shows.

I have not kept up with sparring with HEMA (“Historical European Martials Arts”) since the pandemic took hold of the planet. I hope to return to it when the world gets better.

I have been listening to a string of great audiobooks and courses, with subjects including Medieval Europe, Medieval Britain, Arthurian Britain, Vikings, Craft, Tudor Life, and Byzantium. If I got college credits for these, I’d probably have another bachelors degree by now.

I Took the Plunge!

Yes, I am doing Nanowrimo 2020. It’s my declaration to make writing regularly and often a major component of the rest of my life.

I’ll be returning to superheroes and science fiction for this project, creating a prose version of my story “The Black Dirigible.”

Medieval Styled Cloth!

Lots of neat stuff is going, but first up I want t show you the new varieties of cloth available from our Spoonflower store:

Are they not cool? And we’re just getting going.

Go here

There be dragons here, and here, and here . . .

Hi, All!

For the past thirteen months I’ve been hard at work world-building for the next series of novels I’m putting out. Part of said world-building has been establishing heraldry for all the various places and families in my setting, and I wanted to do something special for that.

Rather that simply draw new art for the crests, I opted to reuse and re-purpose existing medieval art. It makes everything seem so much more authentic, and it’s been a fun deep-dive into this historical skill.

Of course we re-purposed the art for multiple uses, because it had become a thing of it’s own.

Go here!