Art of the Genre

There is only one time in my life when I can recall actually be scared when it came to a game supplement coming out.  I’m not sure if this was just about that particular time of my life, the fact that I was obsessed with the game in question, or that it struck some primal cord, but for whatever reason, the rise of insect spirits in Shadowrun truly freaked me out, from Queen Euphoria, to The Universal Brotherhood, and at last to Bug City.

Today, I’m taking a look at the art from the latter, Bug City, which was produced by FASA in 1995.  Oddly enough, as I looked through this book I actually found my receipt from Waldenbooks inside that cover dated 04-01-95 and costing me $17.01 from the mall in Bloomington Indiana right before my graduation from Indiana University.

Although this was certainly the tail end of my Shadowrun gaming days, Bug City really being my final campaign I ran in that setting, it was still more fun that I can explain here.  In fact, a thread of the Bug City campaign was actually the one and only time my wife has ever played an RPG, and for that I’m thankful to everyone who created it.

Bug City, for all you who don’t know, was a truly inspired setting.  Basically, Chicago is overcome with insect spirits and the U.S. government decides to nuke the city [it’s the only way to be sure] and then wall off the remains.

Written by Robert Cruz, Tom Dowd, Mike Nystul, Diane Piron-Germain and Christopher Kubasik, the setting is impressive in that there is a consistent thread of post-apocalyptic internet chatter as people inside the city try to figure out what has taken place.  The feel is inspired, and the ‘creep’ factor is off the charts, so there is no doubt that this is exactly how true cypberpunk horror should look.

In fact, as a side story, I was running a group in the ruins and they were dodging insect spirits before taking refuge in the home of an old woman.  It was dark, just a single sputtering light allowing them to see and the woman said she didn’t have much to offer, but provided them a plate of fried bread which they gladly accepted.  Upon further inspection as they ate the crunchy bits of bread, they discovered the plates were actually filled with roaches, and the old woman, a Roach Shaman, then proceeded to try to overwhelm and eat them.  Now that is cyber-horror.

Anyway, on to the artwork!  First and foremost, I greatly enjoyed the ‘bug’ nicknames given to all artists involved in the project, from Jim ‘Giant Mantis’ Nelson, down to Jeff ‘Mant’ Miracola. 

The supplement begins with a huge bang, that of course being a cover so inspired that I really have a hard time seeing it as simply RPG art, not just art for the sake of art.  Rick ‘Beetle’ Berry is credited here with somehow making a scorpion spirit look as glamorous as a night on the town opera goer, and once again I’m struck with just how talented he is.

Inside, we go for a bulk showing of b/w illustrations by Jeff ‘Lightning-Bug’ Laubenstein, Larry ‘The Larvae’ MacDougall, Earl ‘The Grasshopper’ Geist, Joel ‘Bug Eyes’ Biske, Peter ‘The Flea’ Bergting, and Tom ‘Bumble-Bee’ Baxa.

All this talent would make any product sing, and there is no doubt these fellows go to great lengths to make this a setting to remember.  I’m incredibly moved by MacDougall’s creations for this piece, each one more ravaged than the next, and all extremely fitting to the genre.

Inserted color plates are done by Miracola, all of them odd, skewed, and perfectly directed to make a gamer not only cringe, but also want nothing to do with the various spirits they portray. 

In all, I can’t recommend this supplement enough, and I hope that one day I’ll get to visit this place again, even if it costs me many a character.

Artistic Rating: 4.5 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — September 12, 2013

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