Interview: Klemens Franz

Last month I started a new monthly series featuring some fan favorite board game artists. If you are like me, you appreciate the art and if so then you might be interested in  learning more about different artists (some are my favorites and the rest will be suggested by other people). I’ll be asking them questions (also some chosen by readers and my Twitter followers) and generally getting to know them and their work a little more. This week Suzanne (@425Suzanne) and Ben Maddox (@benisace)  helped me with some questions.

Klemens' second favorite piece - courtesy of Klemens Franz
Klemens’ second favorite piece – courtesy of Klemens Franz

Let’s sit down and learn a little more about Klemens Franz, the man behind the art of a plethora of board games.

What are your favorite things to work on when you are not working on board game art?

I more or less only work on board games. I stopped doing graphic work like corporate design stuff several years ago. Beside that I like to write … about games. I do some reviews for the boardgame magazine WIN, write about retro games for the PDF mag lotek64 (I‘m a huge C64 and 8/16bit console lover) and everything game-related for an Austrian daily newspaper.

What is your absolute favorite thing to draw/paint?

Answering your questions took only so long because of this one. I cannot give a definitive answer. Tiny medieval people. Probably. And skulls. Tiny skulls of course.

Who is your favorite non board game artist?

Sorry, I cannot name just one. In terms of illustrations I love Rudy Obrero. He did most of the cover paintings for the 80s toy line Masters of the Universe. And that‘s a big part of my childhood (but then I would have to mention the great Alfredo Alcala as well). Regarding children books (remember: 5 kids) I would vote for David Melling (so expressive-cute-adoring-briliant) and then there is of course Chris Riddle with his beautiful renderings of the Edge Chronicles.

Who is your favorite board game artist that is not you?

I have to name two: Doris Matthäus and Julien Delval. Doris has such a friendly and very alive style. You simply have to smile when you look at her illustrations. And Julien is technically brilliant. What he did with the early Days of Wonders games was simply stunning. And again: Very colorful and friendly. Both have a lot in common (and they work mostly – as far as I know – non-digital). I‘m a sucker for that even though I‘m doing it a little bit differently.

Do you play games yourself?

I did play them before I started illustrating them … just kidding. Yes, as often as I can. I love to lose against my wife in 2-player-games. And since we have 5 children – and the older ones are slowly getting in the heavy-gamers-age – we try to show them as much as possible. And yes, I lose again. Besides that I‘m always in for gamin-nights/weekends/weeks. And there‘s almost no type of game I do not like. I‘m gaming‘s b*#!% (which sounds more rude that I thought).

How did you get into doing art for board games?

I basically started by illustrating my own prototypes. In 2006 Lookout ran a contest where you could entry a drawn dragon for a little card game called „Drachenbändiger von Zavandor“. I got in and a little later – during the SPIEL in Essen – Hanno asked me if I was interested in doing a game. I sent him some drafts, a quotation and got back a rulebook for a game called Agricola. And after the game was an instant hit it opened some doors …

How does doing art for a board game typically work for you?

This really depends on the publisher and editor. Sometimes we approach the overall look-and-
feel rather slowly and then I have more or less complete freedom. But in general I like to pick out one piece of the game and do a first version of it. It‘s a starting point that really helps. The rest can evolve around that piece and everything fits together. Hopefully.

Do you play games before you illustrate them?

If possible, yes. But in most cases not more than once or twice. I‘m not a huge fan of crude prototypes. I like finished games. What a surprise.

Agricola by Uwe Rosenberg - courtesy of BGG
Agricola by Uwe Rosenberg – courtesy of BGG

What is your favorite board game you have worked on and why?

In most cases that‘s the game I‘m actually working on, but even if it sounds too predictable: It is Agricola. I never played the prototype before illustrating it and when I finished my first round with the produced game I was simply blown away. What a remarkable design – so complex but still so natural and every time you play you tell a different story. And of course it opened so many doors for me – see above. I wouldn‘t be part of the business without Agricola.

Other games I did that I really like (to play): Walnut Grove, Mines of Zavandor, Orléans, Port Royal, The City …

To what degree do you consider the art contributes to the play experience?

It‘s important. No question. It can help the game, it can change the feeling of the game but art can never make a good game out of a bad one. Art can camouflage but is only one part.

Port Royal by Alexander Pfister - courtesy of BGG
Port Royal by Alexander Pfister – courtesy of BGG

What is your favorite piece you have done for a board game?

The favourite piece of art? Not a whole board game? I would say the pirate on the cover of „Port Royal“. He‘s become somewhat of a mascot for me. Second place would be the Zombie-Pirate for „Grog Island“ (our featured image). He never made it into the game and even though I avoid Zombies, I like him. He looks friendly. I just found out that I seem to like Pirates.

Are the “Easter eggs” you put into the games your idea?

In most cases they are. Cross references in media are always fun because you feel so clever if you catch one. I‘m a sucker for easter-eggs and pop-cultural references. It‘s some sort of my meta-game of work.

Do you consider your art to be archetypal Germanic?

Uh, that‘s hard to tell. But I think my art fits the Germanic taste quite well. It‘s (in a positive) naive; it‘s reduced; it delivers hopefully an innocent feeling. It‘s far from an adult style but I often hear that it takes out of the games a lot of weight. And since Germanic games are sometimes quite heavy, that‘s a nice fit.

If you could use one word to describe your art what would it be (Ben Maddox suggested gemütlich)?

I think gemütlich (I would use comfy to translate it) fits quite well. Probably unschuldig (innocent) or friendly. But gemütlich – even though I would never have thought of it – fits better.

How long does it take you to design for a typical game?

That really depends on the game. A big box game is between 100 and 300 hours. The later is valid mostly for the big Uwe Rosenberg games. But I‘m getting faster there as well.

What are the biggest challenges in doing art for board games?

Putting functionality first without looking to plain. And hitting the taste of the responsible editor. And marketing people. And CEO. And most important: The wifes (or husbands) of those people.

What conventions could people possibly run into you?

Regarding the conventions … I’m always in Essen, at the “Spielefest” in Vienna and “Festival der Spiele” in Graz.

How can people learn more about you and see what you are currently working on?

Facebook would be directly me via: https://www.facebook.com/klemens.franz or Twitter @atelier198

Leave a Reply