Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Wayne Barlowe

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 11, 2009

god's demon

Author website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your novel God’s Demon is about?

Yes, by all means. And thanks for asking! GD is set in Hell – nowhere else. It is a story that follows largely in the footsteps of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I read that wonderful poem some years ago and it left a very deep impression on me. But when I finished I felt a bit unfulfilled. the question of “What now?” lingered in my mind. At the time, I was doing paintings that seemed to fit into the canon of his work and yet didn’t. They started to act as catalysts and I started to layer in my own visual vocabulary. The story that unfolded in my mind was one of redemption. Or, at least, the quest for redemption. And that is what lies at the center of GD. The main character is a powerful Demon Major named Sargatanas, a fallen former seraph who has been dutiful – perhaps too dutiful – in his prosecution of the punishment of souls. This begins to weigh heavily upon him and he decides to fight the infernal system. The book concentrates on his quest for redemption in the eyes of those Above. Lots of battles and court politics. And, along the way, we meet a Soul who has his own destiny.

You’re no stranger to the realm of science fiction and fantasy and have certainly made a name for yourself in the field, but it hasn’t been as much for your writing as for something else. Would you care to explain?

Well, I did spend a good 30 years doing a ton of artwork in publishing. I started out doing a Star Wars pop-up book and then moved on to paperback covers and probably did between 200 and 300 of them. But, ultimately, I found them unrewarding. I then began to conceive of my own book projects and Barlowe’s Guides to Extraterrestrials and Fantasy, Expedition, Barlowe’s Inferno, Brushfire and a couple of serious dinosaur books followed. God’s Demon was a real reach for me – an attempt at a novel which was something I had always dreamt of trying. In addition, I have worked on about 20 films, contributing designs for, among others, Avatar, Harry Potter 3 and 4, both Hellboy films, and The Hobbit.

At the risk of making you relive some painful memories, I have to ask how difficult did you find the process of transitioning into novel writing to be?

It was probably the most difficult thing I have ever attempted. Not only was it an extraordinarily taxing and time-consuming endeavor but I was juggling film work at the same time. I learned very quickly that the two worlds could not coexist. So, while I was working on films I resorted to editing the book and not moving forward. It was a really hard lesson to learn because I hate inertia which is what no progress felt like. But when I’m on a film I try to give my all and anything else would have gotten in the way. Even on the weekends.

What have you found to be one of the most rewarding things about being a novel writer?

Truth is, despite having written GD, I still don’t regard myself as a novelist. It still feels a bit anomalous. But, with that said, for me, it is gratifying to have all of my ideas – the ideas that had been gestating for so long – finally between two covers. The book, for better or worse, is all me. The cover, the graphics, my love of descriptive writing, my ideas regarding demons and souls, all of it bears my mark and that feels good.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)? barlowe's guide to fantasy

Okay. Let’s get this over with. I’m a HUGE gamer. I do not play online – I’m never confident enough for that. But I have cartons and cartons of games, all the consoles, PC and Mac. When I was a kid I played Strategy & Tactics magazine games, Avalon Hill games, etc. I’m a big history nut so I played whatever eras interested me – mostly Rome and WW1. Then my dad bought a PC and along with it Steel Panthers and that hooked me on PCs. I spent a good 12 years or so playing RPGs (you name it), strategy games (e.g. – Total War games, anything with Roman troops, all the Warhammer 40K games) and the occasional shooter (e.g. – Ghost Recons, – I’m into sniper action). Then I got fed up with all the virus nonsense, etc. that comes with the PC territory and switched to a Mac, which I’m really happy with. Now, the XBox 360 rules the domain. Games like Mass Effect, GoW, all the Halo’s, Crackdown, are all all insane fun! Love the Box!

Have you ever ventured into online worlds?  If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I did. Once. I was a fanatical Mechwarrior guy and got so bloated on my “skills” in the single-player game that I thought I’d try online play. Well, it was rather short-lived. I had a different way of playing. Because I liked sniping I enjoyed using the more long-range weapon mechs. The other players disagreed with that philosophy and walked right up to me and unloaded Everything. It was really annoying and ultimately boring. So, I bailed. Never to darken the internet again with my pixels. I do play the occasional co-op campaign with my best friend across the country. I love that technology has enabled that to happen!

As someone who obviously has an eye for visuals, what has impressed you in the realm of console and PC gaming?

For my money, Mass Effect pretty much had it all. I’m mostly an SF guy so entering their universe was a kick – it really felt like being in a TV show or film. The designs were great, the game play was deep enough but not overly complex, the story was fun, the characters were as well. So, it kind of had it all. I tend to get frustrated easily if things get too repetitive. So, when that happens a game gets put aside. Sometimes forever. Games aren’t cheap nowadays. So, I have to wonder what is going on when you can’t save Wherever or the puzzle require the “hint (milk more dollars) book”, etc. Games like these have been around now for years. Don’t game designers want happy game players? Or, are they making them for themselves, guys with mad skills that no one can touch? I am confounded by how many games I’ve tried that simply ignore the fact that people of varying skills play them. How about if you try something 20 times … wait for it …. a Hint comes up!!

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

Yes, I would. I don’t particularly want to put my humiliating game experiences in print for all to read forever. What are you kidding???

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as an illustrator or writer? Please explain.

This question gets a definite maybe. In the same way movies have influenced me as=2 0a visually-driven medium, games have probably insinuated their way into my subconscious. The goal-oriented quality of games, the sense of episodic reward, maybe that is in GD in some way. I’d rather let the readers judge that for themselves.

barlowe's infernoHave you worked on any videogames?

I did some work on Prototype, Dead Rush, and EA’s upcoming Dante’s Inferno.

How do you tend to escape these days?

My time, these days is very limited in terms of relaxation. My beloved XBox 360 is mere inches away from my drawing table and writing desk and it taunts me with its insolent proximity. I look for quick fixes when it comes to escapism. So, a movie or a game will fit the bill. Sometimes, rarely, I will start a small 54mm Roman figure and paint it up just so I can do something different with my hands.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

I would say, please, please, be original. Enough with the Tolkien fantasies, enough with the Alien rip-offs, enough with the well-worn tropes of things that we have seen done a million times. And I would say this to screenwriters and game writers as well. We are sinking under the collective weight of commercially conservative ideas that lack any originality or creativity. Think outside the box with the price tag on it.

You wake up to a world in which God’s Demon has been made into a massively multiplayer online game. What race and character class would you be playing and why?

An interesting and pleasant fantasy, indeed. It would be hard to resist being an all-powerful Demon Major but I would hope that with supreme power would come supreme risk. So, I might resist. I’m thinking I would probably be a Salamandrine Man. A leader, hopefully. As the indigenous peoples of Hell, I would suspect (I’m just guessing here – any relation to the sequel I am currently writing is purely intentional) that they would be wise in the ways of their environment and might pose an interesting counter to the new-comer demons. As I said, just a guess.

Would you be able to talk about any of the current projects you are working on?

Other than the aforementioned sequel, unfortunately, no. I have created Something. And I am writing a screenplay based on this Something, right now. And I have interest from Interesting People regarding this Something. And that is about all I can say. Sorry.

When all is said and done would you like to be remembered more for your illustrations, for being a writer, or perhaps just as an artist?

alien life of wayne barloweI suppose I have always wanted to be many things. My mom once defined what a renaissance man was to me when I was very young. While I will never be one, that concept buried itself in my child’s mind. So, to answer your question a bit evasively, I would like to be remembered as someone who was simply creative and original.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I love sushi and NIN.

Will I be going to Hell for having interviewed you?

I don’t think you have anything to worry about regarding Hell. You have to work in Hollywood for that to be a concern.

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