OSR Artist Interview: Mustafa Bekir
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
This is the first of a hopefully long-running series of interviews with the artists bringing the Old School Renaissance to life. I'm sure anyone reading this blog has an appreciation for retro gaming and fantasy art. But there are incredibly talented artists working today who take cues from the '702 and '80s fantasy artwork we all know and love. While working in a genre defined by the pen-and-ink illustrations of RPG books from the early '80s, these artists keep things fresh and characterful, and are putting out to-notch work we should all pay attention to.
Today we sit down for a chat with Mustafa Bekir, the man responsible for the incredible illustrations that fill this site and perhaps the leading artist of the OSR revival. Our interview with him follows, interspersed with some of his incredible art. (My questions are in bold, and his answers are in regular text).
Before we dive into the interview, here is some of his latest work. We'll be interspacing artwork throughout the interview (look for italicized text). First up, the cover of Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland and a piece for the Give 'Em Lead Blog
1. When did you start creating art?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. My old school textbooks and notebooks were covered with square jawed guys with robotic limbs, or goblins and other such creatures.
As for actually drawing for other people, you have Alex Bates at Forge of Ice to thank for that. I sketched a chaos warrior for fun and posted it on a Facebook group to see what people thought of it. Alex saw it and commissioned me to do a few pieces for him. That’s pretty much what got the ball rolling.
2. What tools and creative processes do you use?
I use markers from my local 100¥ shop and Sakura fine liners. I steer clear of expensive or high end gear as I’m too lazy to take care of it.
(Picture of artwork and the artist's tools.)
3. What would you like to experiment with or on?
I would like to try woodblock printing at some point. I draw with pretty thick lines and a few people have told me that my pictures look a bit like woodblock prints, so maybe I should give the real thing a go.
4. What are the biggest influences on your art?
All the usual stuff really. White Dwarf, Fighting Fantasy, and 2000AD. I think those three would probably pop up on the list of most Brits my age.
(The above is an illustration for Advanced Fighting Fantasy.)
5. What are your favorite artists or artworks?
(The Prancing Peacock Inn for Dunkeldorf.)
Well, there are artists whose work I love to look at, and those whose work has had a huge influence on how I draw.
Simon Bisley, Frank Frazetta, Norman Rockwell, and Paul Bonner are four guys whose work I could spend all day looking at. To me, they are in a league of their own. I don’t aspire to draw like them as they are above what the vast majority of people will ever be capable of. I’m happy to just admire them from afar.
Gary Chalk, Pete Knifton, Carl Critchlow, Sean Äarberg, Robert Crumb, and Gary Ward are the guys whose work has had a huge influence on how I draw.
Gary Chalk’s Lone Wolf and Heroquest stuff is still a constant reference for me.
Pete Knifton’s illustrations for BloodBowl blew my mind when I saw them as a teenager.
Carl Critchlow’s pics in Rogue Trader of Logan’s World pretty much shaped my vision of the 40K universe.
Sean Äarberg’s Dungeon Degenerates is such a unique setting. It’s a fantastic blend of punk and fantasy. He draws with quite thick lines like I do, but still crams in so much detail.
Crumb’s lines and the chunkiest of his characters is fantastic.
Gary Ward’s pics in Caverns of the Snow Witch are a lesson on line shading for me.
6. What are your favorite subject matters to illustrate/draw/paint/sculpt?
Love me some goblins! I also like dwarves and halflings too. Maybe I just like drawing short and chunky things.
7. What got you into fantasy art, particularly the retro-style illustration reminiscent of the 1980s you are known for?
Pretty much the same answer as question 4. White Dwarf, 2000AD, and Fighting Fantasy were so inspirational. I’ve always liked drawing, and the artwork in those three in the late 80s/early 90s drove me to pick up the pens.
(Coming soon to a Death or Glory book.)
8. What projects are you working on now?
I’ve got a few things on the go at the moment.
Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland is a project I'm working on with Brian Shutter. It is basically 80s Saturday morning cartoons combined with a post apocalyptic setting.
If you’ve ever wanted to see sewer dwelling mutants fight radiation zombies then it’s definitely the game for you.
The second Dunkeldorf Kickstarter, Dunkeldorf: The Prancing Peacock is something I’m doing a few pieces for. Nicki and Nana are true role play game enthusiasts and it shows in the attention to detail and effort they’ve put into both of their Kickstarters.
Death or Glory with Yoji Momiyama is introducing old school gaming to Japan. Yoji is even more of a grognard than me!
(For the Just One More Fix zine.)
9. What projects do you hope to work on in the next year?
I’ve got an idea kicking around on my head to do a bestiary. It’s just an idea at the moment, but I’d love to basically illustrate an A-Z of every creepy crawly and monster imaginable. Not sure how practical an idea it is, but who knows.
10. What is your favorite project you have worked on so far?
That’s hard to answer. I’m basically enthusiastic about whatever I happen to be working on at the time. I really enjoy the process of brainstorming new ideas so get pretty excited about every new project I start.
Saying that, the Pantheon of Chaos Kickstarter I worked on for Knightmare Games will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first big project I ever worked on and I got to be part of an incredible team of sculptors and illustrators. There was me, Dave Stafford (Mr. Saturday's Mumblings) and Rochie Rochfort (Bured Under Lead) on illustration work, and Alessio Cisbani (Wolfbane Art), Christian Af Bjärgö, and Boris Szuster Woloszyn doing most of the sculpting.
(An illustration for a hopeful future. Maybe someone will sculpt?)
11. What has been the most difficult project you have worked on so far?
None of them have been what is consider difficult, but the Dunkeldorf project forced me to work outside my comfort zone as the miniatures were mainly non combatants and included a lot of female characters. I do think that it really helped me raise my game though so it was an invaluable experience.
12. Do you have any advice for budding artists?
Draw hands, draw women, and draw ordinary (non heroic) people!
Illustrations for role play games predominantly feature men and as a result I think that many people, myself definitely, aren’t as good at drawing women. I certainly need to practice. And hands. Hands are a proper bugger to draw well.
13. What is your favorite OSR game right now?
Right, confession time. I don’t actually play any OSR games. I love reading them and looking at all the fantastic pictures that everyone is doing, but I’m a wargamer mainly.
(From the back of Warlock!)
14. What other OSR artists/illustrators do you look up to?
13. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
(And finally, some color illustrations of Gretchin...)