Thursday 2 April 2020

Question-Focused Artwork

For Electric Bastionland I gave Alec a brief that was both specific and broad. I had a few key things that I wanted to feature in there, and gave an overview of the mood of Bastion, Deep Country, and the Underground, but wanted to give him lots of room to throw in any weird ideas he had.

He definitely delivered on that.

As the pieces poured in I was so focused on getting them into the document and looking at the figures in the foreground that I missed a heap of details in the background. Only now the book has gone to print have I had the time to go back and indulge in the fine detail.

I wanted artwork that raised questions, but just throwing every idea against the wall isn't enough. Bastionland doesn't have much canon, but those that exist are deliberately left broad enough to cover a wide range of elements.

For locations you've got four: Bastion, Deep Country, Underground, Living Stars. If you have a cool idea for a location there's definitely somewhere you can fit it.

For weird beings you've got three: Mockeries, Aliens, Machines (and Monstrosities are usually derived from one of the three). Some are more focused (Mockeries tend to look like muppet animals, but not always) but others are left wide open (Aliens are barely described at all in terms of appearance, behaviour, and abilities).

Even mundane people and animals are established to have wildly diverse variety, and some of them have even received augmentation, modification, or mutation.

So I've pulled out some of the hidden details that I think bring the world to life by asking questions. I refuse to give canonical answers, but I've tried to think of three possibilities that would fit.

What are these squirrels doing emerging from this weird cave?

  • They're shadow-squirrels, forged out of darkness itself by a Machine to covertly snuff out all light on the surface. 
  • They're trained by a tree-worshipping cult to carry nuts into the Underground, planting trees that have no hope of ever growing.
  • They're native to the overgrown tunnels and are fleeing some Alien monstrosity that's wandered into under-squirrel territory after fleeing their dead star. 

Who keeps a lion on their roof?

  • The lion performs a call to prayer from a different roof each morning, causing the unfortunate building to be overrun by members of The Feline Church.
  • The lion actually owns the building and is keeping the woman as a pet.
  • It's just a statue, but the tenant believes it to be alive and replenishes its food and water bowls every morning.

What the hell is happening with all the vermin?

  • The swarm is being cultivated by the Verminator company to keep them in business.
  • The building sits on an underground connection to a star where all varieties of vermin have overrun every liveable space, and now they're spilling over. 
  • Genuine rats and bugs are mixed in with Mock Spiders and Mock Possums that are hiding from their debts. The Verminator can't take care of business until these sapient beings are removed from the swarm.

Did somebody draw the constellations in the sky?

  • Aliens are trying to send us a warning.
  • A ridiculously wealthy star cult managed to fit giant beam-projectors to the stars themselves to make their stargazing easier.
  • They're the light-trails of a cosmic crusade currently occurring between the Living Stars. 

What's up with this person?

  • It's just fashion, you know?
  • An Alien that's struggling with the Bastionate Climate
  • They're a remote terminal for a gigantic Underground Machine, living on the surface an an ambassador for their interests. 

Also some questions I'll outright refuse to answer.

Is this cat following fish-tank-head with the intention to eat the fish should they fall over?

What exactly is going on in here?

Is that a Mock Koala watching the Amateur Dramatist perform?? No substantial questions here, I just love him.

What's making this frog so happy? Is he a permanent fixture on her head?

Who would settle on this as their staircase decor?

Why is there just a regular old squid sat on a bench waiting for a train?

What's going on with box-head here? Is there a special place he could get a better fitting hat?

Uhh, what?

Basically every poster in the background is packed with ideas.

Are these people doomed to run away from this train in an endless loop?

Next time you're stuck for inspiration, consider looking in the background of your favourite pieces of artwork as a nice alternative to a random table.


  1. One of those is ridiculously easy to answer.

    The squid can't afford it's own car, obviously.

  2. Okay, goldfish head and watch-cat are pretty sharp. Rather good, I say.

    What made you pick Alec, out of all the other illustrators out there?

    1. He had a style that I felt would really suit a weird city environment, and I loved the variety of how his characters look. Quite different to the vision for Bastion I had in my head, but somehow it fit right in.

      We talk about this a little on the next audio commentary which will be released next week.

  3. Awesome, as ussual.

    I started to read Electric Bastionland yesterday, searching for changes in my previous notes and adding the new stuff to my cheat sheets and can't be more happy and amazed with the final book. Thanks for all of this incredible world.

    Sometime ago I started making a random visual inspiration table based on some of your bestiary, weird object entries and Michael Raston's viual generators. It os a wip (And it will be until I fill all its 999 levels (or more), but I'm quite happy with it.

    In the beginning it was going to be a neast generator but you ca define oddities and even more stuff:

    Thanks again for all the inspiration. Hope everything is fine round there with all the craziness we are living right now, your work surely gave me the rest and inspiration I needed right now.

  4. paciente r, that generator is my new favorite thing. Well done.