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Big Ass Art

If you follow this blog, then you know that I’m a doodlin’ fool. I’ve been drawing pictures since I was a wee tot, and carried this pencil practice all the way through a fancy art school education and into an almost ten-year career as a storyboard artist. When in a pinch, I still fall back on these sketching skills to make a quick buck, scribble to impress a young lady, or, as is too often the case, cover up for budget limitations in my various film works.

In late 2007, a couple of months after wrapping principal photography on Repo! The Genetic Opera, a musical that I co-wrote, I was tasked with a most daunting drawing mission: a rough edit of Repo! was screened that presented lots of plot holes… and our production was out of cash. The film’s director, Darren Lynn Bousman, knew that I was an illustrator, and since I was close to the project—i.e. willing to work for free—I might be able to draw a way out of our production pickle. Voilà! Repo!‘s comic book interstitials were born.

A motion comics prologue was always part of Repo!‘s screenplay, but the hundreds of additional drawings peppered throughout the final film sprouted largely out of necessity. Early in Repo!‘s production, I had fanboy dreams of collaborating with the likes of Tim Sale or Jae Lee, comic book maestros, to create Repo!‘s prologue. Instead, I spent a winter in isolation, hunched over a drawing table, inhaling Sharpie fumes and architecting a mighty fine pile of Repo! drawings.

At the time, I felt out of my depth. I’d never drawn anything so expansive. I’d also never had to produce work that needed to withstand the scrutiny of being projected onto a fifty-foot movie screen. It was a grueling assignment, but ten years later I still regard the work as some of my finest. In fact, I have trouble imagining Repo! without all of the comic book interstitials. The experience was also a great proving ground for many of my art projects to follow.

Early last year, my writing partner Saar Hendelman and I decided to make a board game. After settling on the Donner Party as the subject of American Murder Song‘s latest concept album, we envisioned a series of supporting videos where a map-like board would be used to demonstrate the trail that the the Donner Party followed during their harrowing pilgrimage in 1846. The board quickly evolved beyond a mere film prop into a project that would extend into over ten-months of development, multiple trial runs and a whole ass-ton of drawings.

Ladies, gentlemen, cannibals: I give you “The Donner Party Board Game: The Ultimate Battle Between Food and Evil”

Before getting our hands dirty with the tales, tunes and game tiles of America’s favorite cannibals, Saar and I had no idea how much went into designing a board game. From aesthetics to functionality to manufacturing, it’s an undertaking of meaty proportions… even if one is not dealing with the Donner Party.

At the outset, Saar and I wanted to make a game that we’d actually like to play: a tabletop adventure that could be enjoyed with friends over drinks, one that didn’t require an almanac worth of instructions, that could withstand repeat matches, and worked whether you were an American Murder Song superfan or had never heard of the project.

We also wanted to create a rich visual experience with diverse game components, stylized language, and an accurate history lesson that was so much fun that it never felt like a lecture.

The game’s development included months of research and play-testing where we fleshed-out kinks in design, performance and legibility. For this, we coaxed thirty brave souls into being our game guinea pigs. On six separate game-test nights, Saar and I would hover in corners with lab coats and red pens, jotting down every issue that arose, all the while refusing to assist with game play. It was always an eye-opening and humbling experience to learn in real-time what worked and what didn’t.

Everything from how big the fonts needed to be on tiles and cards, to how large a board could be while still allowing room for beverages on an average-sized table, to how quickly cards were recycled in a deck, to being schooled on the historical accuracy of drawings of Miwok tents… we made adjustments, big and small, for months, and months, and months.

Between the box art, board, cards, player pieces, manuals, and more, the volume of drawings that I created for The Donner Party Board Game definitely rivals what was produced for Repo!‘s motion comics sequences. It also marks my biggest collaboration with Oceano Ransford, who slaved with Saar and I on the game’s graphic design over the many months and revisions.

It gives me great pleasure to share that The Donner Party Board Game is now available for pre-order. It’ll take a couple of months to complete manufacturing, but it’ll be well worth the wait. As a bonus, if you order between now and April 1st, you’ll receive an autographed certificate from Saar and I. As part of the pre-sale, we’re even offering a chance for you to play the game with us, and for you to take home a couple of the original board game drawings too. All purchases help us make more music and more Big Ass Art.


A board game, a fucking board game! Order now:

  • Messr. Night

    Looking forward to getting this board game in my hands. You never cease to astound me with your talents and dedication!

  • Ash

    I’m planning to pre-order with my upcoming paycheck. I look forward to this game and cannot wait to play it!! Thank you for your hard work.

  • Arielle

    I too cannot imagine Repo! without your illustrations. They gripped me from my first viewing. A decade later, I cannot wait to play the Donner board game! The combination of your ambition and talent makes for artistic wonder which us fans love to devour.

  • Malinda Wickham

    Preordered game, bought artwork. Life is good! I’m excited about this game and can’t wait to play it with friends!

  • secretssecrets

    Saving up a bit before making the purchase, but I’m excited for a killer game night (pun fully intended.)

    I love AMS, but I’m also wondering if there are any plans to continue with the Molting?

  • Everything you 2 do is MAGIC!! <3

  • Kristy Jacobs

    Will be pre-ordering the game this weekend, but did purchase a game piece (“The Handsome Irishwoman”). May even pick up a lunchbox and deck of playing cards …

  • Tori Horenstein

    I’m saving up a bit before buying the game, but I’m pumped for a killer game night (pun fully intended.)

    I love AMS, but I also long for continuation of The Molting. Any future plans to continue?

    • Kristy Ray

      Dang it! Beat me to the pun.

  • Kristy Ray

    Looks like a bloody good game! Can’t wait to get it!

  • Nicole Marie

    This makes me such a happy panda! I still want to see a tabletop style gameplay video.

  • Kae Kelley-Ottobre

    Pre-ordered and bought a few other goodies as well. Can’t wait to play this!

  • Stephen C

    When I first saw Repo, it was amazing beyond words. That first masterpiece production has led to the awesome Devil’s Carnival, American Murder Song, now the Donner Party. I have just preordered the game, I am starving to play it. I shall spread the word far and wide.