Muskrat Ramblings
The Munchkin Process
posted by John

About a month ago, Steve Jackson Games announced the first new Munchkin core set (different than a “Munchkin Corset,” you’ll note) in three years or so: Munchkin Zombies.

This is a bit different from recent Munchkin releases, inasmuch as those tend to be announced only AFTER the card art is finished and colored and (often) the game is off to the printer. So while I’m drawing the things, I usually have to keep it pretty mum, and not let folks know exactly what I’m working on. “Sekrit #Munchkin Projekt” is a well-worn phrase on my Twitter feed.

But Munchkin Zombies has been announced. And played at conventions. And discussed. And played. A lot. It’s even been previewed at Flames Rising.

Two weeks ago, I received the art specs for it. Last week, I started sketching.

I thought it might be fun to blog a little bit about the art process that goes behind a Munchkin game: the art for Munchkin Zombies as it progresses, specifically. A sneak peek behind the scenes, as it were. Or, this being Munchkin, a “sneaky, bloody, back-stabby” peek. Though without much actual backstabbing. (Which is probably why I’ve never won a game of Munchkin in my life, but that’s another blog).

Steve Jackson and I have been working together on Munchkin for nearly ten years now, and I’ve always felt tremendously grateful to him for letting me play in his sandbox. But over the years, that working relationship has also developed into a friendship, which makes creating Munchkin goodies more outrageously enjoyable than most people could possibly imagine.

Yet there’s another more tangible and direct benefit to being attached to a project for almost a quarter of your life: after a while, you tend to know what specifically the designer wants of your art. On the flip side, I’m fairly certain Steve also knows full well what he’ll see from me, when he gets the art back. This helps.

At some point, it’s as if a shorthand has developed between us. In my mind’s eye, I’ll know exactly what Steve’s thinking, when I read his brief, 10-word specs for a card. I don’t want to say “married couple,” here…perhaps “partners in crime” is more apropos. Many’s the time an entirely bizarre, whacked-out and utterly unimaginable new card will be requested, the only specs attached being “You know what to do, John.”

And, scarily enough, nine times out of ten, yes. Yes, I do usually know what to do.

The first step in any new Munchkin project (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) is usually a little bit of brainstorming. I go to Austin once or twice a year, Steve comes to Madison once a year or so, and often we’ll be guests at a convention together. So brainstorming opportunities are there.

Other Steve Jackson Games folk are usually involved. So are margaritas.

These are both good things.

Art specs come directly from Stave Jackson Games’ “Munchkin Tzar” Andrew Hackard. Andrew and I talk every Monday, just to touch base on what’s coming up, what’s in the pipeline, and to discuss how deadlines are going. And when a Munchkin game is ready to go, when Steve pulls the trigger, Andrew is whom I’ll get the art specs from.

I tend not to send sketches to the Andrew and Steve, mostly because (as noted) I usually have a good idea at what is wanted and needed. But mostly, sending sketches just takes up time, and Munchkin is seldom created with long, luxurious deadlines in mind. So I tend to just send the finished artwork.

Munchkin Zombies is a bit different, though, as it’s a New Game introducing some New Concepts. So I did a bit of concept pencilwork, and sent Steve and Andrew the results. Not really for “Yes” or “No”s on individual cards, but more so they got a feel of how I was imagining the general look, feel and direction of the Munchkin Zombies art.

Here’s what I sent them:

Zombies Sketches

Neither fled in agony. Neither screamed “Noooooooooooo!” I heard no stories of either causing bodily harm to others. There were no reported homicides in Austin – either attempted or successful – that night.

I always take this as a Good First Sign.

So I prepare for the next step: inking.

Yer bestest pal forever,

====== John

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