Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jack Shear: Game Designer, Writer, Blogger, Reader of the Skull Stickered Books

Jack W Shear first came to my attention through his Planet Motherf**ker source book. At the time I was just getting back into RPGs after a decades long hiatus and this book was a whack on the side of the head for me. I was already familiar with Lamentations of the Flame Princess' amped up Metal approach to game aesthetics and marketing, but this was a little sideways, down the corner, and up the alley from LotFP. Planet Moth**ker was Monster Magnet, White Zombie, Big Daddy Roth and Heavy Metal Comics all rolled into one slim volume of random tables. While I have always been disappointed that PM isn't beefier, I gotta admit that it has indelibly tainted my approach to game world creation, and for that Mr. Shear, I tip my hat to you, Sir.
Of course, Jack has done much more writing and publishing work than just PM. His Gothic Ulverland campaign setting for instance, has three volumes available, but I'll be honest, I'm not very familiar with the rest of his published work. Actually, I feel like I'm the only person I know who isn't well read of Jack's work. I do read posts on his blog, Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, and his posts and comments on G+, but his published work is still on my 'stupid long' list of books I can only buy once I figure out how to sell the house without my wife knowing, or I inherit the world. 
My reason for wanting to include Mr. Shear in Appendix N Happy Meal is the spark of kinship I felt ripping into that Lulu shipment and finally cracking open Planet Motherf**ker a long time ago. I had suspected there would be a lot Jack and I had in common while growing up, and it turns out that we do.

Favorite Toys

What were your favorite toys during child hood? Like, the TOP 3 TOYS of all time and pick your favorite of these toys. What is it about any of these toys you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play/enjoy this toy? (shared or solo play).

Young Jack Shear enjoying a good read.
Jack: The toys I spent the most time with—the toys that really lasted and I never got bored of—were Lego, rubber dinosaurs from discount drug store bins, and D&D action figures. I still have those last two, but who knows where my Legos got to. Legos are especially great because they function as both a toy (you can do stuff with them and be entertained) and also as a toolkit with which you can build all the toys you can imagine that aren't sold in stores. Playing with all of those was mostly a solitary thing for me. I grew up in a pretty rural area, and there wasn't really a “neighborhood” around me per se.

Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite? What did you identify with about these shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Jack: Three shows or films I remember fondly from my childhood were Scooby Doo, Dark Shadows, and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. All three are “horror” media of varying degrees. I've always been drawn to horror movies and things like that. When you're a kid, monsters are both terrifying and fascinating; horror stories also carry that promise of an illicit thrill—you feel like you're about to see something you aren't supposed to see, something that maybe you're not ready to see, and maybe it will help you understand how the world works. Those early tastes of the dark stuff must have left a lasting impression because most of the stuff I watch now is in a similar vein. The last three things I watched were Penny Dreadful, The Innkeepers, and...well, I just re-watched Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Still holds up.

Imaginary Worlds

Think about playtime, did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? If so, please describe an important original game or play world you enjoyed.

Jack: Oh, there was definitely a lot of small-scale world-building going on when I was a kid. Living out in the woods gave me a lot of opportunities to make forts (that were castles, or starships, etc.) and basically retreat into a private inner world. At some point I felt the urge to start writing down some of those made-up worlds. I remember drafting out a sort of “setting bible” for this comic book I was writing and drawing about a team of superheroes who got their powers from Voodoo loa spirits, for example. The whole idea for that stemmed from a book on the Voodoo rites practiced in Haiti that my local library filed in the children's section for reasons I still don't quite understand. I checked that book out so many times! It was certainly a case of being fascinated by something presented as macabre and taking that inspiration and running with it to somewhere new.

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form? 

"I vant your SKULL....stickered books, please." 
Jack: As a child I definitely spent a lot of time alone, and much of that time was spent reading. When I got a little older and was allowed to check out books from the adult sections of the library, I noticed that some books were categorized as “mystery” or “horror” because they had a skull sticker on the spines of their dust jackets. That was like a beacon that said “take me home and read me.” Growing up an only child in upstate New York didn't really provide a lot of opportunities for socialization with kids my own age, so I read on my own instead. Maybe things like clubs or scouts would have provided something I didn't have, but I never felt like I missed out and honestly I've never been much of a joiner.

Playtime Impact on Adult Games

Do you have any thoughts about any aspects of your childhood playtime that might have influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created as an adult?

Jack: If anything, I would say that childhood play time taught me how enjoyable it is just to use your imagination and make stuff up to make your own fun. I really believe those principles are the foundational underpinning of RPGs. Yeah, we've learned a lot about game design and how to present rules and all that stuff, but underneath it all is that naive-but-enjoyable impulse to invent your own fun. As far as influences go, I'm definitely still inspired by all the horror stuff I loved back then; it unequivocally informs the kinds of games I run and the kind of game material I write.

Desert Island Media

What are the top 10 things you would want to have on a deserted island - music recordings - films - books - TV shows - comics - games - or toys? 

Penny Dreadful (tv show)
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (book)
From Hell (graphic novel)
Therion, Vovin (music)
The Vampire Lovers (movie)
The Sandman (graphic novels)
Sweeney Todd (movie)
Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (book)
Taschen's book on the Symbolists (art book)
5e D&D (game, obviously!)

Jack's Blog
Jack's Books on Lulu:

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