Meet the Publisher: Denis McCarthy
Updated: May 13
If you've spent any amount of time perusing OSR gaming books in the past seven or so years chances are you come across the illustrations of Denis McCarthy. In addition to gracing the pages of many of the OSR's most prominent authors, you can find his personal work on Drivethru.
Question. Your illustrations have been featured in what seems to be a who's who of the OSR-scene. How did you get started doing illustrations? Do you have formal art training? What's your process when it comes to working with publishers on commissions?
Answer. I had formal art training in the 80's, culminating in a BFA in 1990, but I didn't do much more than a few paintings and set design for a local children's theater over the next few decades.
My first set of fantasy commissions were for an unpublished bestiary of playable creatures for a client in Brasil I met via Facebook. When I joined G+, things picked up. I started my OSR work around 2015 following a prompt to illustrate a set of essays on variety of favorite games for something called tbe Dyvvers project. I flashed around the art on G+ and started getting regular commissions, from John Stater and others. A lot of that work was released as stock art, and it became widely used, resting in inclusions of my art in gaming products from Brazil, England, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Israel.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about what some of your favorite projects have been, and what sort of scenes you enjoy doing the most? Is there anything in particular you're especially proud of?
A. I did a lot of work for Nod and Blood and treasure, that is what got me started. Blueholme came next. Along the way, I regret that some of the people I worked for turned out to be bad actors, and once I knew, I stopped working for them. I Have enjoyed the work I have done with Appendix N Entertainment. One of the products I am proud of, despite never having been commissioned for it, is Warlock! The First edition used my stock art almost exclusively and makes for a great portfolio. I like drawing dungeonscapes, and spellcasters, and diverse people in realistic armor. I believe representation matters, and I want everyone to see themselves in game art.
Q. In addition to doing art for others I know you've written a couple of things as well. Is there anything you've got coming up, or are currently working on, that you'd like to share?
A. I wrote a little vanilla adventure for SWCL that I am in the process of updating to OSE called Beneath the Fallen Tower. A conversion of my home campaign (the game is GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, and SJGames does not have an OGL) for a BFRPG variant, Odesseys and Overlords, is currently in editing with my publisher, Aegis Studios. Once that comes out, I would like to convert it to OSE as well. The piece is called The Redoubt of Chandra, and deals with a rescue mission in a megadungeon. The actual Dungeon is from my home game, and is still incomplety mapped, it would be almost a square mile, and functions more like a pointcrawl of mini modular dungeons. The adventure is based on a failed foray into a dangerous area.
I am also working on a post apocalyptic novella, and a YA fantasy story, but those may be a long way off.
Q. Finally, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started in gaming, what sort of games do you enjoy playing, and so on.
A. I started in 81 with the Magenta box and the PHB, played AD&D from 1e through early 2e before discovering GURPS . I have used it to run cyberpunk, Fantasy, 1920's Horror using converted CoC and also VtM. I had a long hiatus from gaming, and actually gave away most of my gamebooks… until around 2013 when I discovered my first retroclone, and Dyson's blog. I started collecting games, reacquired many of my lost books, and started running a play by post game using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, which has been going since August of 2013.
I started following Necrotic Gnome and managed to illustrate some of an issue of Wormskin, and jumped deep into OSE, and last year started a West Marches style game over Google Meet, but we haven't had opportunity to play in several months.
Stylistically, I take inspiration from Russ Nicholson and Both DiS and DaT, in particular I like drawing Sutherland Orcs., and my clients seem to like them as well. I like the oldies like Rackham, Clarke, Beardsley, Mucha, Findlay, and Alastair. I like Poag, Ray, and Mullen, but I love Evlyn Moreau and am profoundly moved by Scrap Princess.