If you’ve seen any of my reviews on YouTube, you might have noticed a new piece of artwork being featured at the end of each video. Travis Bolek — one of my friends from Phoenix, Arizona — recently got in contact with me to collaborate on an idea that would combine gaming with music, and this here is the result:
I’ve dabbled with the ukulele and bass guitar over the past few years, so I thought it would be fun to have me playing the bass while our dog Marley Mae could be strumming along on her ukulele. Those with an eye for detail will also notice that my bass is themed like a Sega Genesis, while the ukulele is styled like the Nintendo Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo).
I also wanted the colors to carry the overall themes from the other pieces of GHG art that have been produced by Crystal Ferguson and Laura Carberg, in order the bring consistency to the various social media outlets where I’ve been posting my content.
I’m really happy with the way it turned out, and last week, I had a chance to ask Travis some questions about his art, influences, and gaming:
Gray-Haired Gamer: First of all, thanks for being able to do this interview! So to kick things off, how would you describe yourself in one “back of the game box” blurb?
Travis Bolek: Eye-popping, high-resolution graphics with Dolby Digital surround sound and mind-bending end-bosses!
GHG: What, no Blast Processing? Anyway, what or who got you into art?
Bolek: Definitely comic books and video games. Specifically Spawn, Spider-Man, and Mortal Kombat. Todd McFarlane was a huge influence on my early development as an artist, and I used to read the early to mid-’90s Amazing Spider-Man comics. I even had a subscription to them! I remember copying his poses from those books.
Mortal Kombat was huge for me as I would create characters with my friend for unreleased sequels. They were often terrible, generally being just a palette-swap of the ninjas. Who knows? I probably could have gotten a gig at Midway at that age!
GHG: I know the feeling. Do you remember the first thing you ever drew? What was it and do you remember why you drew it?
Bolek: Hmm, that would probably have to be a picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I drew when I was like four. The only reason I remember this is because my mom framed that picture and it’s still hanging in the living room of my parents’ place! I drew the four turtles in a desert, floating up in the air and one of them is being stabbed by a very long cactus thorn.
GHG: That’s fantastic that it’s still being proudly displayed. I somehow managed to not get stabbed by any cactus needles while living in Phoenix. Agaves, though, skewered me plenty. So, what or who inspires your art?
Bolek: Seeing a lot of the modern digital artists from games and movies are a huge inspiration, as well as artists for album covers. I’m inspired by Mark Riddick. He’s an artist well-known for his death and black metal covers. They’re generally done in black and white in a very detailed pen and ink style.
Ed Repka is another famous metal album cover artist. He’s best-known for his art on the early Megadeth albums. His work is probably what could be considered “stereotypical” of metal themes and style, but he has really good composition, technique, colors and ideas that push what the content of the music is. He knows what to paint that will reflect the album — which I’m sure the musicians have their say — but he’s able to take and elevate it to that final stage.
Dave Rapoza is one of the more recent artists I’ve been into. He does freelance work for videogames and movies, and has done a lot of cool fan art, particularly of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He has a very gritty, hyper-realistic aesthetic to his work. Even though it’s digital you can still see his paint strokes, and his work looks like it could fit on a metal album cover, which as you can imagine, is another draw for me.
Then there’s Derek Riggs, who is best-known for most of Iron Maiden’s discography. Again, he has a mastery of composition, technique, color, and a wild imagination. Somewhere in Time (pictured) is probably my favorite album piece; it’s full of hidden references to past Iron Maiden works and other pop culture references.
And of course there are the other usual suspects, like Frank Frazetta and all the classical greats. Basically, I really enjoy most fantasy and science fiction art.
GHG: Very nice! Speaking of fantasy art, Jeff Easley was one of my favorites growing up. In fact, I think I liked the art more than I did playing Dungeons & Dragons! Getting back to your art, what do you like to draw with and on?
Bolek: I typically draw on a sketchpad using a mechanical pencil with HB graphite (0.7 or 0.5mm width). It’s just something I’m used to doing at this point, and I like to ink my drawings occasionally, though I don’t consider myself to be a good inker.
On computer, I have a Wacom tablet and I use Photoshop for digital painting. I try to keep it simple by limiting how many brushes I use and not using too many layers in order to retain a traditional-looking quality. I do like the ease of digital painting especially when it comes to more mechanical and perspective pieces.
GHG: I’m particularly fond of being able to undo mistakes, of which I make many! Switching to gaming for a bit, are you playing anything right now?
Bolek: Yeah, I just recently finished Jazzpunk, which is a hilarious and quirky adventure game. I’ve also been playing through Spec Ops: The Line and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.
GHG: Never heard of Jazzpunk, so I’ll have to look into that one. Perhaps a cliched question, but if you were stranded on a desert island, what games would you bring and why?
Bolek: Probably the Mass Effect trilogy, with all of the DLC of course. The last two games are not my all-time favorites, but it is part of a great overarching story that really got me invested in the series. Plus, there’s enough to do in those games that it would keep me occupied for a long time. And Wilson can help me out with the multiplayer.
GHG: And you never know — there might be extra games in that FedEx box. I also have yet to finish any of the Mass Effect titles, even though I have them on at least two platforms. My embarrassing gaming confessions aside, are you looking forward to playing anything before the end of the year?
Bolek: Alien: Isolation, Evolve, and Citizens of Earth are looking pretty good to me.
GHG: Citizens of Earth does look cool! What’s your all-time favorite game(s) and why?
Bolek: I’m glad you added that ‘s’ in parentheses, as I do have a few all-time favorite games.
First up is EarthBound. It’s a very charming, cult classic RPG for the Super Nintendo. I’m sure most regular readers of your site are familiar with this game already, so I don’t have to get too in-depth as to why it’s one of my favorites. A short list includes its quirky humor, setting, art direction, music, battle mechanics, and overall story.
Xenogears is another one of my favorites. It’s a very long and engrossing RPG that has a fairly well done — although convoluted at times — storyline. Plus, I enjoy the combat system between it being on foot and in the mech or “Gear” as it’s called in-game.
Fallout 3 is also up there. I played the first one briefly, but the third one really sucked me in. I think it was the setting of it that really captivated me and the moral ambiguity the entire world had. It was good overall, but tainted by the nuclear fallout. Plus it has a wicked sense of humor and great replayability.
And I have to mention again the first Mass Effect. I know a lot of people like the second one because of the combat, but the first just has a better story, which really puts it above some of the minor gameplay flaws it possesses. It was about the journey and discovering oneself, particularly the human race on the galaxy stage of civilization. Plus, the way the Reapers were presented at the time as this absolutely terrifying, unstoppable force really got me. I actually loved the Mako sequences and even enjoyed the elevator rides which were masking the load times, but they added depth to the game world and characters.
GHG: Man, Xenogears had some great music too. Are there any games or genres you don’t enjoy?
Bolek: Genre-wise, I’m not a big fan of real-time strategy (RTS) games. I’ve tried getting into them with Starcraft and Warcraft III, but I’d always get to a certain point and just stop playing to go focus on something else.
I really don’t like Duke Nukem Forever. It’s one of those games that never should have come out. I find it to be juvenile, the poor reviews are a reflection of its quality, and it bugs me that other games that I wanted got canned instead of that one.
GHG: I’ve never been able to click with RTS either. What feature might make you take a second look at those games/genres you don’t like?
Bolek: For RTS games, maybe get rid of the 20 minute endurance missions. For Duke Nukem Forever? Uhh, next question please.
GHG: Fair enough! So, what’s your dream job?
Bolek: My dream job would be working at Double Fine Productions. I love San Francisco and I respect the work and ethic that Double Fine possess. It seems like a really fun place to work, and I’d love to do animation or maybe some modelling or concept art for them.
GHG: They were definitely a great team to work with! Anything in particular you want to say about the Gray-Haired Gamer piece you did?
Bolek: I really enjoyed the back-and-forth that we had with the piece, and I’m glad that my vision prevailed! Haha!
GHG: It turned out looking really cool, and it works so well at the end of the review videos. Speaking of which, I know music plays a big part in your life. What do you like to play and use?
Bolek: I have a couple of electric guitars, an acoustic and a banjo, which I haven’t really touched in a while. I tend to use medium to heavy gauge strings, as they work better with more aggressive music and down-tunings.
For picks, I use heavy gauges there too as I like the pick to be rigid when I pick fast. I have a few pedals (a digital delay, phase shifter, and distortion), but I don’t have them hooked up. I would like to get a wah pedal and a whammy wah pedal, which is something that Tom Morello and Dimebag Darrell use quite a bit.
GHG: Very cool. In addition to those folks, any other major musical influences?
Bolek: My favorite bands are my influences, so there’s Opeth, Iron Maiden, early Megadeth, Emperor, Death, Ihsahn, Nevermore, and Slayer. They all have songs that resonate with me for a variety of reasons, and I have written music that basically aped their style… in a good way, of course.
GHG: We never did get to jam in Phoenix, which I regret. I probably couldn’t have kept up, though! Any other stuff you’re really into?
Bolek: I love bad B-movies, particularly the ridiculous plots and the generally earnest attempts at filmmaking that they possess.
GHG: And finally, would you like to share any websites and/or services you offer?
Bolek: I don’t have my personal site up yet, but I’m working on it! I do have a deviantART page that has some of my work samples.
As far as services are concerned, I offer concept art and logo creation services.
GHG: Thanks again for taking time to do this interview, and please let me know when your website’s ready to go!
Bolek: Will do, thank you!