Brian Le Blanc has been bringing the World of Darkness to life for over two decades. Le Blanc’s art is distinctively his own: visceral, exaggerated, and bold. Like many fans of White Wolf, I first saw Le Blanc’s artwork in black and white, in the tabletop roleplaying books. Le Blanc’s work for Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, however, is in colour, and that’s where his work really shines. He’s a workhorse too, with over 200 pieces of VtES art to his name. I was lucky to have Brian take time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about all things Vampire…
Bindusara: Can you talk me through a little bit about your early career as an artist – where did you graduate, for example, and how did you enter the professional field?
BLB: I didn’t go to school for art. I absorbed painting techniques through reading and practicing from articles in the Artist’s Magazine every month as well as Helen Van Wyk’s ‘Welcome To My Studio’ show on public television. I was very dedicated to learn. I found that desire to learn counts more than for natural talent. Though I did get my share from my dad.
B: You have such a distinct and recognisable style – are there particular artists who’ve inspired you, over the years?
BLB: Thank you. My biggest inspiration was probably Simon Bisley. It was his work on Slaine and Batman that did it for me. Totally blew me away and it never got old for me. I wanted to do that. Over the years I took direction from personal mentors like Steven Butler and Mitch Byrd. I took inspiration from Frank Frazetta, Brom, Burton Silverman and Mike Mignola. As time goes on, I try for a more painterly approach like James Gurney.
B: I’ve seen your work in both Vampire: the Eternal Struggle and a number of White Wolf / Onyx Path titles, for probably going on over twenty years now. Can you share how you first came to working with White Wolf and the World of Darkness? In addition, what’s attracted you to those lines, and keeps you coming back to that IP?
BLB: It was a combination of fortunate events in my case. I was a passionate werewolf fan. And I mean in the sense of movie and literature werewolves.
A friend suggested I try out for a new game company called White Wolf. But I wasn’t yet confident in my own abilities at the time. I remember I was feeling depressed over being screwed by a start-up comic book company. I drew a series of therapeutic drawings of werewolves tearing the publisher apart in the goriest of ways. My girlfriend took the bold step of submitting this to White Wolf and Rich [Thomas] saw potential in it. He commissioned me for illustrating articles in their magazine, so I learned on the job and had a blast doing it.
As for why I keep coming back, it’s the people. I’ve worked for a few companies. But White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing have always been fair and supportive of all my crazy ideas over the years. I grew with them artistically. So, it’s like family in a way. And the stories and monsters I got to draw and paint… so fun. I giggle with excitement when reading manuscripts or art notes. There was some sick, wonderful stuff over the years I gotten to paint. It still continues on.
B: Are you a role-player or card gamer yourself?
BLB: Not really. I never got into the habit. I played a bit but I prefer to work behind the scenes and just try to add my vision to other people’s fun. I’ve always been a bit of a hermit.
B: Are there particular challenges or opportunities that your work on VtES brings, versus other art gigs? For example, does knowing that the image will be reduced to such a small size change how you compose?
BLB: t’s a good thing having work reduced. Good composition should translate in any size. When you do a thumbnail and it looks great, when after all the work is done, it should have all what made it great still present, but fully rendered. Sometimes little details that I obsess over are negated by how small they become. It edits out minutia.
B: What’s your typical process once the brief arrives? Are you someone who likes to use photo reference, for example, and do you do preliminary sketches before committing to the final design?
BLB: I don’t use enough photo reference if anything. My habit is to close my eyes and listen to music, or to do something like walking, a meditation. The image comes back to me from my subconscious. I learned to trust it. From that point, I doodle thumbnails until I have what gives me that first impression in my mind. I seek out reference for details and variety, but everything must jive with the initial vision in my head.
Sometimes I accentuate the sexiness of women and men in my art, as its part of the theme of vampirism. There’s also something about vampires in myth and fiction that comes back to seduction of innocence by the frailty of human vices, and my subconscious can take me there.
There is a contract between the subconscious and the work. I need to step back and let it do what only it can, and work as a support for it.
B: Your work for VtES has been quite prolific over the years. Are there particular sentimental favourites, from the work you’ve done on the game?
BLB: Nothing specific. I once painted an homage to Brom. But not his style. I painted him driving a muscle car for a card. I think they were running over people. Yakuza vampires opening a suitcase of pink panties, or a full cycle of day and night in one painting. I remember little things like that.
I always wrestle with myself to paint the story as if it wasn’t a game element. To make the work feel like it could be a scene from a movie, or from a favorite book.