Friday, 28 March 2014

An Interview With D.T. Butchino, Also Known As "He Who Will Not Reveal His True Name"

I have a confession to make. 

When I first started talking to D.T. Butchino I had no idea who he was. I mean I knew he was a friend of Charlie McElvy’s (we’ll get to who THAT gentleman is another day/interview) who published his Acts of Villainy role-playing game characters through Charlie’s Xion Studios imprint but that was about it.

We spoke, for hours, online the other week about our mutual love of comic books, in particular the newly returned New Warriors comic from Marvel (PLEASE check it out, the original was my all-time favorite book and I’d love for this one to continue on for some time- it’s great!) and our thoughts on creator-owned ideas and he gave me his awesome take on an Avengers book that I would totally buy (unlike the other 16 that are out there and that disappoint me).

And still I never made the connection to who this guy was.

Two days later I’m working through the last pages few pages of the script for New Guard #2 (of which DT was a big fan of the first issue- just painting a big picture of how I fail here…) and I need a random fill-in name for a character (I hate coming up with names, it takes forever so often I throw one in until I come up with a good one) so I grab the first book within reach, which happens to be Books of Magic, a Mutants and Masterminds role-playing game sourcebook.

I open it to the credits page to grab a random first name and a random last name. THE VERY FIRST NAME I SEE IN THE CREDITS IS… D.T. Butchino.

Yep. The very same. I OWN books with this guy’s name, well his initials at least, in it and I NEVER EVEN MADE THE CONNECTION. Not just one book either. I own a FEW books to which he contributed work on.

Swell. Good job there, Andrew. Sigh.

Luckily, D.T is an incredibly cool guy who would never hold that against me. I hope.

Among the other reasons why he’s cool is his on-going series of releases that I mentioned before- Acts of Villainy, a WEEKLY role-playing game release featuring a new character and write-up for the Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition game. All original characters that he thinks up and draws every week. Every week.

Let’s think about that for a second. Every week he comes up with a new character. He creates something new each and every week of the year in a timely fashion and makes it not only look easy, but look cool.

I don’t know about you but I want to know HOW he does it. Let’s ask him. Oh and don’t mention that whole not recognizing exactly who we was think…k? Just in case he sends his creations after me…because that’s a LOT of bad guys.

1.  So, D.T, if that IS your real name, tell us a little about yourself and what it is you do. And why you see the need to hide behind your initials. Reveal your secrets to us!

Sure thing! I’m the lead designer, artist and writer on the Acts of Villainy and Acts of Heroism line of role-playing game characters for Sketchpad Studio. Currently, I live in Upstate New York with my wife, two daughters and two cats, where I produce most of my work from my at-home studio. I’m an avid fan of comics, games and Legos, which are scattered throughout my studio’s shelves along with some action figures and miniatures.

As for my name, my initials are indeed D.T., though many people may know me better on the web as either “Sketch” or “Sketchpad”, the latter of which is my go-to screen name on the boards I visit. I don’t really see myself as “hiding” behind the initials, but rather like what they afford me. Consider it my secret identity for the most part, I guess, as it helps me separate “business me” from “at-home me”.

2.  Acts of Villainy. First off, cool name. I love it. Second, what brought about this idea?

Thanks! I’m quite happy with the name. I originally conceived what would become Acts of Villainy back in the late ‘90s after some friends and I started talking about gaming material. Over the years, I’ve built up quite a roster of villains to use, with many of them seeing different names, appearances and backgrounds over the course of time. During one evening after a game, a few of my friends and I started discussing what it would take to make a book about the universe and the characters within. 

While it was more of a half-dream at the time, the idea stuck in my head and I ended up getting a degree in design here at the local state university with part of the motivation being such a book.

My initial idea was to make a book like the Handbooks that comic companies had made back in the ‘80s, but with game stats. And, while I had a few ideas after college, I found someone beat me to the punch. In 2005, I started playing Mutants & Masterminds, Second Edition with my group. Looking online for more resources, I found a few PDFs by Charlie McElvy (of Xion Studio) that were pretty close to what I envisioned. Little did I realize at the time that he’d be my publishing partner years later.  All I remember was thinking “Hey! That’s so cool!”

A few years later, I started e-mailing Charlie about how much I liked his PDFs, and we started talking comics and gaming stuff.  Eventually, that got me a gig writing a few adventures in the WatchGuard Sourcebook, as well as a great publishing partner and friend. After chatting a few more times, I finally decided to take the dive myself and started working on what’s now known as Acts of Villainy and Acts of Heroism.

The funny thing is that I can’t remember how I thought up the name. I think I was working on my computer late one night and it kind of hit me. I do remember going through about a dozen titles before I settled on one. I think I drove my family a bit crazy during the process, as I kept changing my mind or not finding a trade dress that I liked.  

3.  Walk us through the process from start to finish. How do you do this week in and week out? No really, have you made some unholy bargain with forces left better unnamed? Are you a mind-reader stealing these ideas as people sleep? Or are you just that good?

Honestly, the secret is hard work and having learned to exist on little sleep. While I keep to a pretty regular schedule, I find myself working much longer hours than a normal job would require. That sometimes means I’m working 9am to 4pm one day, and then 11pm to 4am later that evening, or even sketching up characters and jotting notes while spending time with my family. I’m never working on just one thing. I couldn’t keep the pace up if I were. 

On the average, a writing day consists of working on a character to send to editing, then working on a few others just to get the format and basics in. An art day is usually spent on my drawing desk with a sheet of 11x17 comic board, drawing everything out in blue, then going over with a regular pencil before scanning and prepping for digital inks and colors. When I started the series, I was actually hand inking using pens, but these days I use a tablet to finish the art. Somewhere between art and layout days, I spend some time working up stats or doing research on another character down the pipe. 

The end of the week is always layout day for me, which consists of tying everything together and working on the cover and quote. Finally, once everything is in the right place, I package the file into PDF format and send it off to Charlie for the store Wednesday. Technically, we could put issues on another day, but there’s something cool about releasing a supervillain every comic book day. So, while I wish I could say it was my own superpower to maintain a steady, weekly schedule, a lot of it comes down to working as much as possible. It also helps that everything is done in-house and that my wife is an awesome editor.

4.  AoV number 62 just came out. Where does it end?? Or better yet, what’s next? I know you’ve written an adventure or two before- is that something that you’d consider expanding into? I remember Mayfair Games had a bunch of adventures for the DC game that they had in the 1990s- I bought a bunch of them and thought they were cool.

Where does it end? When I don’t have any more heroes or villains left to share. As for what’s next, more villains of course! As of this writing, I have the next three months of villains plotted out and roughs of several villains afterwards. There are also a few surprises coming up as well. May’s going to be a big month, as will a few weeks towards the end of summer. I’m hoping to finalize the first AoV: Collected issue soon and get that out to stores.

As far as adventures go, AoV almost started with one, but we opted to go the route we did instead. That said, though, I’ve been thinking of a few adventures I’d like to write, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in the future. It really comes down to what the fans would like to see. Like you, I bought a ton of the old DC Heroes modules, as well as many Marvel Superheroes, Champions and Villains & Vigilante ones. In fact, I think I still have a bunch of them on my shelves and have read a few recently.

5.  Have you ever thought about working with someone else’s characters? You obviously enjoy making up stats for characters. There’s a lot of independent comic books these days- have you considered approaching any of them or are you just focused on creating your own?

 Well, to be honest, I have worked with characters beyond my own. In the past, I’ve written source material and adventures for Green Ronin, Khepra Publishing and Xion Studio, in addition to providing art for Blackwyrm Games and Hero Games.  As far as working with independent comic creators on a sourcebook, I’d be all for it if someone’s interested. Just drop me a line in our social media and I’ll be happy to talk about it.

I’d like to think there are several comics out there that would make excellent game books. With so many comic creators heading to crowd sourcing or digital distribution, I’m a bit surprised there aren’t more setting books or even single character sheets being used as promotional material.

6.  What are the odds of seeing some of your characters IN a comic book one of these days? It that something that you’d like to pursue? I want 6 copies at least if you do.

It’s funny, because you’re not the first person to ask me this. I wouldn’t mind doing a comic series some day. Will it be anytime soon? Doubtful, but not impossible. The first hurdle that I’d have to conquer is finding the right talent for the book(s) that I’d like to make. While I like to draw, sequential scenes aren’t my strength. So that would require finding an artist to work with and possibly someone to help with that art. Unfortunately, at the moment, I just don’t have the time or funds to look through portfolios and hire on a team to work with. I have considered short fiction, though, which may be more probable at this point. I’ve considered making a serialized story set in The Tribute Universe that would appear in the PDFs I publish. But who knows what the future may hold. All I do know is that when it happens, I’ll be happy to sign those six copies you’ll get.

7.  We’ve established that you like comic books and all things hero and villain related, I think, so answer this: What is your all-time favorite comic book series and why?

New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, hands down. I came into the series around issue #13 with Robotman battered and strung up on the cover. I remember finding this at the local newsstand and thinking “Whoa! Who did that to Robotman? And why is Robin there?” I’ve always been a big Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing/Batman fan ever since I was a little kid, so I snagged this right away. Little did I realized I’d get so hooked on the comic afterward, as I got to know each character after snagging every back issue I could, as well as continuing forward with the series. By the time they did Judas Contract, I was so invested that the story quickly became (and to date still is) my favorite comic story of all time.

8.  You play role-playing games, right? What are among your favorite games? How many dice do you own?

Yup! I’ve been playing role-playing games for over 30 years and have played a good chunk of what’s been out there. Like most people, I started with Dungeons & Dragons (well, AD&D), but quickly gravitated to other genres and games, such as Star Frontiers, Top Secret and Gamma World. But, being a big fan of comics, I’ve always leaned towards superhero games more than anything else. Marvel Superheroes (aka FASERIP) started it for me. I sold a bunch of my old comics (all of which were pretty banged up) to buy my copy of the old yellow Basic Box and the first module, Breeder Bombs. From there, I started grabbing every module and sourcebook I could until I hit high school and was introduced to Champions, Villains & Vigilantes and DC Heroes. I can honestly say that 9th to 11th grade was a blur of superhero gaming, dice rolling and probably more fun than one can imagine.

Since then, I’ve played so many other games, but always return to superhero gaming. The current group I’m part of is currently a Mutants & Masterminds group and have playtested all three editions of the game. We’ve also played some Icons and have campaigns using Star Wars: Edge of the Empire and Hollow Earth Expeditions.

As for how many dice I own, I have no idea. All I know is that I keep buying more and I need a new container for them. I used to work at a retail store that would give out prizes if people reached sales goals. Having hit mine, I got a copy of Jenga in a huge, vinyl bag that said “Bag of Tricks” on it. Mind you, that was over a decade ago and the bag is now starting to fray under the wear of the dice. I know I have enough dice to hurt if I hit someone with it (since I’ve accidently hit myself with the bag on several occasions) and enough six-siders to play either Champions or Shadowrun.

9.  Outside of gaming and comic books what do you do for fun?

Wait, there’s life outside of comics and gaming? In all seriousness, I play more games. I really like board games and card games, particularly horror-based ones. I occasionally play video games, but most of them are either Lego related or played in spurts to waste time. I draw a lot. There’s a sketchpad on my side of the couch that’s filled with sketches, ideas and goofiness that I tend to visit once a day or so.

I also really dig Legos and have a bunch of sets either built or stored in boxes after being displayed for a time. The prize of the collection is my Millennium Falcon fleet that sits on the entertainment center in the living room. The only one I’m missing is the really big one that came out a few years back, but I’ll find one eventually. I do a lot of reading, particularly the Pathfinder Tales line or a good horror novel. 

Between my wife and I, we have fairly decent music collection that runs from electronic to movie/game scores to metal and eventually into Celtic music. We also watch movies and television, whether it be on the air, in our collection or streaming. Really, thinking on it, I spend time with my family as fun, because that’s what they are: fun.

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