Friday, February 12, 2021

Zine Quest Interviews 2 - Philippe Ricard

My interview series continues with renewed fervor now that Zine Quest has begun. If you have an active or upcoming ZQ project and would like to schedule an interview, feel free to contact me through email or Discord, both linked on the sidebar.

A: So, would you like to introduce yourself and your project?

P: Yeah, for sure! I'm Philippe Ricard, I'm an illustrator/comics artist/tabletop RPG designer (whew!) from Santa Barbara, California. My Zine Quest project, Lethal Fauna Bric-a-Brac, is a zine with 16+ new monsters for OSR games. Each monster gets a lovely full-page ink illustration by me, as well as the usual stats and description. So, it's a monster book. Pretty simple pitch! But I think it's gonna be pretty dang cool!

A: 16+ monsters - so some of them are stretch goals, I assume? How did you decide which ones had to be in the book, and which could be optional?

P: Good question! So, the main goal of the campaign is to do a 24-page zine. Most monsters get a full-page spread and then there are a couple that get crammed in 3 to a page. I did the math, and the total number of monsters for the 24-page zine would be 16. I guess this is a spoiler, but yes, if we reach certain stretch goals, there will be more pages and thus more monsters in the book. The first two stretch goals aren't for additional pages though, because I recognize that promising extra content sometimes bites people in the ass. As for which ones I included in the book, it was pretty much whichever ones excited me the most?

As I said, I call myself an illustrator, I'm illustrating this entire zine myself, so most of the monsters started as drawings in my sketchbook. That's how I think a lot of the time. So picking the monsters for the book was mainly going through my sketchbook, picking previous doodles to riff on, and then some of them just seemed more conducive to an interesting monster/story than others.

Iterative thinking!

A: Which part do you prefer - the art, or the writing?

P: I really like both. The processes are super different but I love doing both. I guess I would say art, because if I had to choose between this being a no-text or a no-art zine, I would choose no-text.

There's that adventure that Evelyn Moreau did a while back? Gourmand's Larder, I think was what it was called. Not sure how well it worked in practice, but the idea was to be an adventure with all art no text. I think a similar approach could work for a monster book.

A: I think it would, especially with how simple OSR stats tend to be. Speaking of stats, do these monsters tend to have quicker, more basic statblocks, or more involved ability-heavy setups?

P: They're on the quick and basic side. There's a couple examples on the project page of what a full-page spread with stats looks like for the monsters. They follow the B/X format: Hit Dice, attacks, armor class (except i use "as leather" or whatever instead of the number, for increased compatibility), morale, movement. No treasure types because I don't play with treasure types and I don't know anyone who does lol. There aren't a ton of abilities just cuz I would forget them in play, to be honest. The interesting part is mostly the stuff that happens with the monsters BEFORE initiative is rolled!

A: What sorts of thing do you mean by that, and how do your monsters support that idea?

P: So in general, the kind of games I run are ones where one hit from a monster is likely enough to kill you. So, having fat mechanics seems a little silly when combat could be over in one round anyways.
I was talking with someone about my process for writing monsters a couple months ago, and they said "huh that's basically world-building"; as in, each monster has a lot of description with it such that you could go, oh, I could build a whole adventure around that guy. They imply a setting and most are faction-like in that they have things they need and want.

For example, the False Grandfathers. They're sentient grandfather clocks. It would be boring if all I said was, "here's a big clock." So, I thought about what sort of thing they might be doing that's interesting. Oh, they're clocks, they must really like time. So they really like cyclical, repeating processes. They're quiet observers.

And then that raises the question, well, how do other people interact with them? Well, they probably have a funny utilitarian purpose. So, wizards keep them on hand for finding leaks in their castle (since leaks will go drip-drip repeatedly). And then why would you encounter these clocks in the first place? Because a clock salesman was robbed and killed, and now all the sentient clocks from his caravan are just hanging out in the woods.

It's sort of preemptively asking questions and answering them. And then that implies a whole adventure around them, most of which is not gonna be combat.

A: That's a great way to go about monster design, in my opinion. Let's talk about the operation of your Kickstarter itself: the physical copy tier for your zine is only $6 - how did you manage to sell it so cheaply?

P: I'm doing all of the art, layout and writing by myself. So the only actual cost I have to pay is printing and shipping. That's also why my project goal is pretty low compared to other ZQ projects.

Printing zines from Mixam only costs a little over a dollar a book (including the cost of getting them shipped to my house). And that's on the heaviest paper stock they have. So the material cost is very, very low.

With ZQ this year I've seen that the average price is $10-$15. I totally get why people charge that much. RPG stuff is a LOT of work. But personally, I was involved in zine scenes before I was really involved in RPG stuff. And the going price at zine fests for a 24 page black and white zine is more like $3-7 bucks.

Basically, I'm fine with only profiting a couple dollars on each zine I sell. I like that my stuff is accessible. Other people would rather be paid more for their time. It's all fair! I'm not sure if I'm doing it right!

A: I'm not sure if there is a right way to do it, honestly.

This is your second Zine Quest project - what was your first, and what did you learn from it?

P: Yeah! So my first ZQ project was last year. It's called The Beloved Underbelly, and it's a faction-based, low-level OSR adventure. It's a little undercity full of weird factions: beekeepers, feral hogs, sorcerers that really like platonic solids, taxidermists. And it's all illustrated by me, in collage.

What did I learn from it... so, I know I just talked about how I still want my zines to be cheap, but last year I learned that I was selling things maybe a bit too cheap. I did $5 for the physical and $3 for the PDF. I still made a profit, but yeah, I guess I wanted a bigger profit from it just cuz of how much time making the zine took, and because of the labor involved in shipping things. I think the difference between people who will pay $3 for a PDF and people who will pay $5 is not much. So I was making less money while also not making things much more accessible. Lesson learned. Get some self respect.
That book was also my first time laying out an entire text-based zine in inDesign. It took much longer than expected. But hey, I did the Underbelly, and then i took a typography class, and now I'm pretty proficient with inDesign. Cool.

I also learned that people like my stuff?? My online sales outside of the Kickstarter are not very good. But selling through Kickstarter, and then through some RPG distros like Exalted Funeral and Spear Witch, showed me that hey, there's an audience for my weird RPG stuff. It resonates with people! Woah! It's just a question of connecting with the right audience.

A: Now that Lethal Fauna Bric-a-Brac is funded, do you have any plans for your next project?

P: Well I've got to finish this one first! I already know  all the monsters in the book, but I still need to do 12 more final illustrations, and i need to turn my notes into something that people other than me can understand.

I'd like to do the troika sphere jam that's happening this month, but we'll see. I've been working on this project about  knights with melons for heads, originally for a jam, but i missed the deadline. Which is fair enough. I'm not sure if it's an adventure or setting or what. But I've done some art for it already, so it will turn into something eventually!

A: I'll make sure to keep an eye out for any of that. I'm out of questions - is there anything else you'd like to say before we stop?

P: Uhhh I can get gross with self promotion if you want!

A: That's the whole point, isn't it?

P: Yeah! I'm @philippericardart on insta and @thatphilippekid on twitter. Hit me up anytime to talk about RPGS or monsters or art or whatever. Oh also, I'm tryna get together a little google forms or spreadsheet for people making zines who want to trade zines by mail. So ask me about that if you want the link when I get it organized, cuz I think trading zines is really fun!

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