Epic Level Artistry: Khairul Hisham

Another end of the month, another Epic Level Artistry! Today’s installment is Epic indeed, as the talented and hilarious Khairul Hisham was willing to sit down and answer questions about his love for RPGs, Star Wars and admit he is maybe a little fixated on capybaras. Let’s see what he has to say and check out some of his work!


Barebones RPG Adventure cover cover by Khairul Hisham
Barebones RPG Adventure cover cover by Khairul Hisham

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having this interview with me. I’ve always been a sci-fi and fantasy geek for as long I can remember. First things first: I grew up in a small town in Malaysia in the 70s and 80s where for some arcane reason there is a large fanbase of genre media. Ever since I saw it during its release at my town, I’ve been a huge fan of Star Wars. Not just the movies as stories, but as a universe. I read the comics so I could experience more of this fantastic universe. Suddenly, here was this game from West End Games that allowed you to simulate adventures in that universe. I picked it up as a teen. I ran games for a lot of my friends. I drew their characters and situations. Lo and behold I’m still doing that 25 years later, and I’m enjoying it. There was a long time in the early to mid-aughties where I rarely gamed, but since I’ve discovered the awesome bunch of people that makes up the Gamer of Kuala Lumpur (GOKL), I’ve played Eclipse Phase, Doctor Who AITAS, Warhammer FRP, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents and recently I GMed the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. I’ve also GMed Call of Cthulhu, Azamar RPG and BareBones Fantasy for my 10 year old son. Not as varied as many veteran players, I know, but I takes what I gets.

Vader's Ideas y Khairul Hisham
Vader’s Ideas y Khairul Hisham

What’s your favourite system to play?
My favourite system is my first system, which is West End Games’ D6 system (now known as Open D6) because of the Star Wars RPG. Very adaptable. Very fast and cinematic. There should be more companies out there taking advantage of using the system which has been released into the wild using Open Gaming License.

Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular?
Any system or setting can inspire me to make art for them. For example I played Doctor Who once, but it inspired me to create this penny dreadful cover for the adventure I was in.

Torchwood Penny Dreadful cover! By Khairul Hisham
Torchwood Penny Dreadful cover! By Khairul Hisham

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC?
There is no preference. I was almost always the GM when I was younger, but now I’ve met the fine folks of GOKL I’m finally enjoying playing as PCs. But the aspects of either appeal to me.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
Thanks to a lot of practice, I’ve done a lot of characters, but I also do a lot of creatures, gear, vehicles, robots as well as scenes. Sometimes I plan it out. Sometimes it just comes to life on paper – or screen – naturally without a lot of thought. More so of the latter when there’s capybara blood mixed with kumquat juice.

Revenant by Khairul Hisham. Done for Wicked North Games
Revenant by Khairul Hisham. Done for Wicked North Games

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I work with pencils, brushed inks, watercolours as well as digital work, and some mix.

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
One thing I like about anything about anything in the world can be distilled by one word: diversity. There is room for any type or medium of artwork to be used in gaming, or any sort of dead tree or web publication. You want to use crayons? Go right ahead. You want to use 3D art? Sure. I understand no single medium or style is for everyone, but no one has the right to stop you from working with it. Having said that, I draw the line at using capybara blood mixed with kumquat juice as an art medium.

Void Vultures by Khairul Hisham
Void Vultures by Khairul Hisham

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
One of my favourite RPG artist and influenced me the most is Mike Vilardi who freelanced for West End Games back in the day. Also, I’ve been reading and trying to emulate art in comics ever since I could read, although I suspect it was long before then. I drew using the styles of comic artists in the 70s. Later I would learn that they were people like Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Ernie Chan and the likes.

Mecha RPG: Battle Zone by Khairul Hisham
Mecha RPG: Battle Zone by Khairul Hisham

Did you attend art school? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I did not got a an art school. I did however go to a school that taught me to repair flying machines. But my heart wasn’t into it, so I left that industry and moved to Kuala Lumpur. I found myself alone and surrounded by strangers who I thought were my friends. I found myself further and further from-

Now you’re just quoting Bob Seger
Yes- I- what? Whoo, man… that capybara blood and kumquat juice is a doozy.

How did you get started making art for RPGs?
Because I was a huge Star Wars RPG fan, I thought I’d make a website that offers free SWRPG player character artwork to other websites. I helped Gary Astleford with artwork for his D6 website and we kept in touch over the years. When he started writing games professionally he recommended me to do some interior art for Future Player’s Companion, a d20 Future supplement for The Game Mechanics. As an aside, because of my work to provide free SWRPG art, I was invited to form the Star Wars Artists’ Guild in 2002.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
Since then, I’ve done artwork for companies like Super Genius Games, Wicked North Games, DWD Studios, Kallisti Press, Postmortem Studios, Heroic Journey Publications and also a number of Troll in the Corner products. Currently, I’m working on a number of projects including Brent Newhall’s Monsters of the Shattered World podcast, DWD Studios’ BareBones Covert Ops and Wicked North Games’ Westward.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
Hunting capybaras behind supermarket.

Pono Waniri, Morseerian Soldier by Khairul Hisham
Pono Waniri, Morseerian Soldier by Khairul Hisham

So, Star Wars- ?

What would be your dream job?
I would sell someone’s kid – not mine nor yours – for an art assignment for Fantasy Flight‘s Edge of the Empire . However, looking at the art they churn out, I think I have a long way to go before I can make their cut. My stuff looks horrible when compared to their artists.

Anyway, moving on to our last question, do you have any advice for artists trying to get their work out there?
Be communicative. Be pleasant. Always answer your emails, unless you’ve been mauled by capybaras and dying of blood loss in the bush somewhere. It happens. Being a gamer is being a part of a small but awesome community. If you can draw, show it around. Set up an online gallery. You’ll bound to get a query or two from publishers. Or at least a crate of kumquats. Or something.

Well hello, that was awesome. If you liked what you read and wanted to check out more of Khairul’s artwork, you can check out his gallery. I look forward to seeing his work in many RPG books this year! Thanks for checking in and happy gaming!

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