Artist Todd James combines Dungeons & Dragons with fashion
Artist Todd James is no stranger to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. He started playing the game as a kid and would eventually find himself working with Wizards of the Coast professionally. He’s created art inspired by the game for the company, including for the cover of Dragon+ magazine. His latest D&D work is the poster design for this weekend’s Force Grey live show in New York City. That art will also be available on a shirt at the event and this won’t be the first time James’ D&D work has found its way to the fashion world.
James designed a Dungeons & Dragons collection featuring a number of shirts that was sold by Mishka in 2015. The shirts are currently sold out at Mishka but, given the opportunity to try two of the shirts from the line (disclosure: shirts were provided by Wizards of the Coast for review), we can say the designs are definitely fun and colorful. For example, one shirt spells out Dungeons & Dragons in green with each letter referencing an aspect related to the game. The styles themselves are more unisex, making a medium a bit boxy for this D&D fan, but it would be great to see these designs on women’s cuts or new D&D art from James on a range of sizes and fits for men and women in the future!
Until then, we decided to find out more about James’ art meeting fashion. We asked the artist in an email interview about Dungeons & Dragons, his process, and more.
How did you get started as an artist? Over the years, how has your art evolved in style and in what inspires it?
Todd James: My artistic inspiration originally began with Saturday morning cartoons and Japanese monster movies as a kid watching TV. I also liked earlier Japanese cartoons like G-Force and Star Blazers. I always liked to draw and began writing graffiti in the ‘80s on subways which is where I consider I began my artistic career. Graffiti is very similar to animation, it’s very much about abstracting and exaggeration forms, both have a lot of impact visually. Music has always been something that inspires me as well. Now as an adult my inspiration is still anchored in cartoons but it expanded out, it can come from anywhere.
When did you first play Dungeons & Dragons and what was it about the game that made you a fan? Have you kept playing over the years?
James: I started playing D&D when I was eight or nine, so around 1978 or 1979 when the Advanced D&D books were coming out and it was really becoming popular. The late ‘70s was the beginning of the tech era and personal computers, the early Atari systems were emerging and also there was a big surge in fantasy. Dungeons & Dragons was a big cultural phenomenon along with all these other things that would intertwine. Dungeons & Dragons is the template for RPG’s so everything from W.O.W. to Destiny is standing on its shoulders. I really loved it, it’s a great escape, a tool for the imagination, and I played it with friends even when we sometimes didn’t fully understand the rules.
At some point in my later teen years and early 20's when I wasn’t playing I still had an interest in it. I actually still have my original books and around 2000 I did an interview with Gary Gygax for Mass Appeal which is a New York magazine that mostly covered hip hop. I finally got back into playing it when 5E came out and have now been to Gen Con for the last three years. It’s been fun to be a small part of D&D’s history via the art for these shirts.
Did you ever combine Dungeons & Dragons and art before your work on the clothing line?
No I don’t think so, but I draw lots of swords and sorcery stuff for fun.
How did the opportunity to create this fashion collection come about? Did you already have experience working in fashion? What was your process like when developing the designs for these shirts? What from Dungeons & Dragons inspired these designs?
To be honest I’ve mostly only done T-shirt designs, in regards to fashion design. The first time my work appeared on clothing was probably for the Beastie Boys. The first professional work I did was mostly music related mostly for hip hop groups in the ‘80s. I have done shirts for Supreme, Original Fake, Stussy, Subware, a cool wind runner track suit and sneakers for Nike and an Adidas collaboration with Pharrell. All these were side projects and every once and a while I will do one.
Most recently I worked with Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons. The first time I was teamed up with Mishka who produced the shirts and they came out really nicely. The process was basically drawing upon my memories of classic D&D icons and art. I thought what I would want to wear as a fan of the game. So I drew up a bunch of ideas, some simple some more complicated and then once designs where chosen they produced them.
I have designed some T-shirts for Wizards of the Coast–one of my favorites is of two goblins running holding up axe blades each shaped like Ds so it reads D&D. There’s one with a group of adventurers in a dungeon and a dragon sitting on treasure. Most recently I drew a gelatinous cube with an adventurer stuck in half way holding his torch hand out. He’s toast and his light is about to fizzle once it fully engulfs him.
What do you think about the relationship Dungeons & Dragons, as well as larger geek culture, has had with fashion over the years?
When I’m at Gen Con I notice lots of Cthulhu fez hats and some ren fair esq outfits. What goes on there is earnest, it’s not influenced by mainstream pop culture and I like that a lot. Comic Con on the other hand is more mainstream because gaming and comics dominate pop culture now so geek culture has merged with popular culture in many ways. I like that some of geek culture [is] perceived as cool but it’s also nice that some things will remain in the fringe.