Creative Colleagues: Howard Tayler

Howard Tayler

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Before we met, I knew Howard Tayler’s name on account of his podcast, Writing Excuses, in which he joins Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells to dispense 15 minutes of advice each episode. We first crossed virtual paths when we both wrote fiction for Skull Island Expeditions.

We finally met at Gen Con 2013, where we played a game with Lou Anders, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Howard Andrew Jones. A couple of weeks later at Worldcon, I watched him collect a Hugo for Writing Excuses. He was also nominated for his comic, Schlock Mercenary. In person, Howard appears to be the soul of charm and wit.

Don’t let that fool you. He’s got some funny ideas about punctuation and spelling.


1. Can you tell us how much the creative process differs in writing prose fiction from creating your wildly popular comic, Schlock Mercenary?

How much? LOTS. Once I’m past the outline, they’re completely different… right up until the point that I’m writing dialogue, and then it’s kind of similar because of, well, words. But only kind of similar. The “beats” that are so useful in prose appear in Schlock Mercenary as panel borders and “snapshots” of facial expressions.

Also, when I’m writing Schlock Mercenary I have to remember that an establishing shot that features (for instance) a cityscape will mean more time at the drawing table than a series of shots of faces and hands. I have to pace myself. My art budget is not unlimited.

2. You were one of the three best-dressed men I saw at Worldcon. How much of that is your natural flair, and how much is business presentation? What tips would you offer other writers for making a great impression at conventions?

At this point it’s natural. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my look, so I ditched the billboard t-shirts and the baggy jeans, lost a few pounds, and started shopping for crisper shirts and trousers. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but I noticed a change in the way I walked, and in the way people treated me. I took that as a proof positive that the look was working for me, so I stuck with it.

Advice? Be comfortable, be yourself, but don’t think that those mean “grubbies in public.” Upgrading your attire a notch or two may change the way people see you, and whether or not you think that affects how you see yourself, you’ll notice what’s happening if you pay attention.

3. Like some of the other Skull Island Expeditions authors, you were already a Warmachine player. How often do you stop and think about the mechanics of the game when writing? Or do you leave all that knowledge to your subconscious and focus on other aspects of the story?

I had the cards in front of me a lot when I wrote Extraordinary Zoology, and “Heartfire” (from Called to Battle). But I already owned cards for all of the models in question, and knew what I was getting in to.

4. For those who’ve not yet read Tales from the Monsternomicon: Extraordinary Zoology, what’s your version of the back cover copy? In the Iron Kingdoms, what exactly is The Monsternomicon?

The Monsternomicon is Professor Viktor Pendrake’s magnum opus. For some reason, prior to his work nobody had attempted a comprehensive catalog of the more fantastic (and fantastically dangerous) denizens of the Iron Kingdoms. In our universe it’s the IK answer to the Monster Manual. In the IK Universe it’s a real tome that is just as likely to be found cluttering the coffee-table of the well-to-do Cygnaran as it is to be found weighing down the satchel of the enterprising adventurer.

Back cover copy?

“Lynus Wesselbaum would follow Professor Viktor Pendrake to the ends of Immoren if given the chance. When the Professor gets word of a mysterious village-smashing monster, Lynus and the Professor’s other companions assemble an expedition and set off in pursuit. On the one hand, it would be wonderful if this was something new, something exciting, and something reasonably easy to dissect. Unfortunately it’s far more likely that this is something ancient,  something terrifying, and something legendarily impossible to kill.”

5. The Skull Island Expeditions imprint has three subcategories: Warmachine, Hordes, and Iron Kingdoms. What’s the difference between the stories in those categories? The first two seem obvious, but what’s the difference between those two and Iron Kingdoms?

This question is probably a better one for our editor, Aeryn Rudel, but in my estimation the Hordes and Warmachine stories put meat on the bones of the playable models in the game, while the Iron Kingdoms stories galvanize the reader to collect some friends, roll up characters, and set off adventuring in the IK RPG.

Cover by Carter Reid

6. You sold me on finding one of your short stories at Worldcon. Which of your short pieces would you most recommend to readers of Schlock Mercenary or Skull Island Expeditions? 

Well, if you love Schlock Mercenary and have not read Extraordinary Zoology, that’s probably going to be the most like what you’re used to getting from me. If, however, you’re willing to branch out a bit, pick up Space Eldritch II: The Haunted Stars, and read my military-sf-horror novella “Fall of the Runewrought.” It’s a little bit like the movie Aliens, only with less Dumb Lieutenant and more Absolute Badass.

7. You’re also rare among my colleagues in that I have no idea of your literary influences. Can you name a few from both comics and prose fiction, telling us what you love about each of them?

Tolkien, Donaldson, and Niven on the SF/F front. Watterson, Breathed, and Claremont on the comic strip and comic book front. That takes you through me at about age 20, at which point both lists become far too long to be manageable.


You can peruse the essential dossier on Howard Talyer at his website. 


Creative Colleagues: Meg Maples

Meg Maples

Meg Maples

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I first learned of Meg Maples when I read the painter credit on the Varian Jeggare miniature, which Reaper made as a Pathfinder special for Gen Con 2010. Later, when I was writing stories based on miniatures from Privateer Press, I noticed that Meg was one of their in-house painters. Her work had become even more amazing.

That’s all the nudge I needed to commission Meg to paint both Varian and his bodyguard, Radovan. I passed along the miniatures and a few requests at Gen Con, and she put them in her queue, finishing them recently. The resulting diorama should arrive at my house any day now, and I can stop sitting beside the dog with our noses pressed against the glass waiting for the postman.

Flower Knight Sculpt by Thomas David

Flower Knight
Sculpt by Thomas David

1. How did you end up painting miniatures professionally?

It was an accident, really. I had been painting for about a year. I was making a lot of progress in a short amount of time, and my gaming group offered to throw a little cash my way to paint their characters. Since I was a broke college student at the time and I enjoyed eating more than just PBJ sandwiches or ramen noodles, I took my fellow players up on their offer. Since my group met at the local game store to play every weekend, people ended up seeing my work and wanted to buy minis off of me at the store. Painting minis for money? HECK YEAH!

Then I started competing and placing in competitions. Eventually I painted a few things for Reaper and other companies. Even after I graduated and had a full time job, I would come home and paint for four hours at night.

Then 2008 happened. Lots of badness happened in my life, including losing my job. I had student loans due, a car payment, a newly acquired mortgage… I had to figure out a way to pay my bills, and even though I applied left and right for work, I had no prospects. But I still had commission requests to keep me afloat, and eventually it became a full-time gig, working twelve hours a day.

At this time I also lived two miles from Reaper HQ. I did work for them as a freelance artist until I made my foray into the gaming industry as a caster, photographer, warehouse monkey, and painter for Reaper. It was quite by accident that I found out Privateer Press needed a second painter and was lucky enough to get the job.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to work at Privateer Press, as I met a lot of really great folks that I’m still friends with. I got to meet other painters and I had managers who pushed my painting quite a bit while I was there. As an aside, I caution people about getting into commission work, and it’s not because I don’t want competition. It’s because I recognize it takes a certain kind of crazy, dedication and love of the meticulous craft to want to do it as a full-time job. I’ve seen it kill friends’ enthusiasm for gaming and miniature painting because they’ve agreed to too many projects. They get bogged down, don’t price adequately, and get frustrated with negative feedback. It’s a tough gig. Think very hard before you take on any commission work. If you have any hesitation about doing commission work, don’t do it! Paint for yourself and enjoy it as a hobby that makes you happy!

Isabeau LaRoche Sculpted by Werner Klocke

Isabeau LaRoche
Sculpted by Werner Klocke

2. You recently left a day job to work freelance both as a painter and as an instructor who travels internationally to share your skills. How big a job is it to arrange these classes and travel?

Even before I left Privateer, I had a ton of requests to teach at conventions around the world. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of these offers if I didn’t out on my own again.

I thought organizing classes would only take a little bit of time and not really interfere much with my painting schedule. Boy, was I wrong! Organizing classes at conventions doesn’t take up a lot of time. It’s the classes independent of conventions that take up so much time. I didn’t realize how many hours I’d spend each day posting on forums. I’ve had to visit the forums a couple times a week to answer questions in order to make sure people knew about payment deadlines. Figuring out a good deadline so I could ensure enough sign ups to prove to foreign governments I have funds and a reason to travel to their country so I could get work visas. Booking flights, coordinating with game stores, figuring out which miniatures I could get at a reasonable price within the time frame for each store… it’s a ton of work!

My Australia trip is by far the most time consuming, but that’s because I’m spending six weeks traveling. Originally, I was just supposed to attend CanCon 2014 as a special painting guest in the Warmachine and Hordes tournament area. Then I had Press Gangers, Privateer Press’s international crew of volunteers, ask me to visit their cities to do my two-day Master Classes. I have my flights booked, couches ready to be surfed, visas acquired, and even dance studios to dance at while I’m there. Setting all of this up took about four hours a day for the last two and a half months.

Now that the planning is finished, I can get back to painting six hours a day with two hours a day planning for convention classes and some US classes later in 2014.

Sansa Sculpted by Tom Meier

Sculpted by Tom Meier

3. You have an especial fondness for miniatures of female characters, including some scantily clad or “babe” figures. Why do you embrace those models when others decry them as sexist?

This is a super hard question to answer without getting too preachy. The basic answer, I enjoy painting women. I find it a lot of fun. Let’s face it, the female form is pleasing to a lot of people, and a lot of painters enjoy painting female figures.

Most of the painters I know who enjoy painting females the most are female. I think it’s because it appeals to our girly side, which we don’t get the opportunity to express very often as gamers. What I mean is, female miniatures are like Barbie dolls for women. The form is sculpted for us, and if we want we can sculpt clothing, paint the skin a different and odd color, get creative with hair color, jewelry, tattoos, make ups, and so on. Since women in many societies are adorned more than men through clothing and body art, you have a lot more freedom to do whatever you want when painting female figurines than a male figurine.

The somewhat charged answer is, if someone out there is going to rail against models that show cleavage, ankles, exposed wrists, never mind a perfectly sculpted exposed vulva, well, I think they are taking toys way too seriously.

On the flip side, I have yet to hear men rail against the perfectly sculpted, rock-hard abs and always exposed chests, stomachs, and calves of half-naked barbarian models. If scantily clad male models are perfectly fine, then shouldn’t scantily clad female models be okay? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Why is it perfectly okay to paint a model that has an ax sticking out of someone’s head and blood pooling on the base but not a set of breasts in a corset?

4. You and I share a fondness for the novels of George R.R. Martin. Who are some of your other favorite fantasy authors? And if you could choose any, which fantasy characters that don’t currently exist in miniature form would you most like to paint?

I love Naomi Novik! My first introduction to her writing was through the Neverwinter Nights video games. She did some of the story writing on those. The book series she is writing is based in the Napoleonic Wars, but the fantasy element is having a Dragon Air Corps.

I would love to see Temeraire (the main dragon) and the rest of the cast of characters sculpted so I can paint them. My Dad picked up one of her books first and then sent me the first one. He loved the stories and the characters. It was up his alley as he was a writer and reenactor. One of my Dad’s wishes before he died was that I convert and paint a dragon to be Temeraire for him. I sent a photo to Naomi explaining the project, and she loved it!

Brandon Sanderson is a fantastic author. I am so looking forward to his next books. I’ve listened to all of his stuff currently published that isn’t part of the Wheel of Time series. I’d really like to see his main characters drawn up and sculpted in miniature form, particularly the Steel Inquisitors. The main characters in Elantris I’d love to see sculpted as well, and also the main characters from Warbreaker.

5. Do you still have time to game? If so, what are you playing?

Now that I work for myself again, yes! I just started playing Pathfinder’s Kingmaker campaign for the third time. I’ve been a gamer for almost ten years and have gotten far into campaign arcs before but never finished one. It is one of my goals to complete the entire adventure path.

I’m also taking this December off to paint things for myself and catch up on video games. I haven’t played anything on my PC or Xbox in over a year. Before I moved to Seattle I had started and gotten through a hefty chunk of Dragon Age: Origins but never finished it. I’ve decided my 27-inch monitor is way too small, and I’ll be moving my PC upstairs for December to hook up to our 60″ TV.