How much more exciting would the world be with just a couple changes?
Like if people could wield magic, for instance? Or if mythical creatures roamed the planet? What if beings with super-human abilities fought to keep regular folk safe?
It’s a question that a subset of people — specifically, geeks — have been obsessed with for a long time. But now, these magical, fantastical and comic-book possibilities are going mainstream, with superhero movies often the latest Hollywood hit, and a book series about wizards and witches selling more than 400 million copies worldwide, according to Scholastic.
But Dennis Detwiller, a recent arrival to Qualicum Beach, isn’t one of the new converts to geek-dom. He’s been obsessed with these fantasy worlds, and many more, since the ’80s.
Not only that, but he’s had the good fortune and the skill to be a part of many of them, first as a comic book artist, then as one of the original art contributors to the Magic: the Gathering card game, then into video games and, more recently, his own tabletop role playing games.
The NEWS sat down with Detwiller to go over his odd and impressive career, touch on some of the famous people he’s met (hint, one rhymes with “owling” and another with “Forge R. R. Barton”) and glean some tips for others who want to not just enjoy but work within these fandoms.
“I grew up in New York and I was obsessed with comic books and Dungeons and Dragons and, you know, the standard geek fair,” said Detwiller in the basement man-cave of his Qualicum Beach home.
“When I was young… 16, 17, I started inking comic books for Marvel and DC,” he said, almost forgetting to explain how he pulled that off.
“I annoyed a lot of Marvel artists because I lived near them,” he said with a smile. Locating and following them around, he eventually found a sympathetic ear in Bob Budiansky, one of the original creators of the Transformers.
“This very, very nice old guy took pity on me and took a look at my portfolio when I was 15 and said, ‘Wow, this is actually pretty good.’”
Detwiller was then taken under the wing of John Romita, a comic book artist known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man and for co-creating the Punisher character. After getting trained up, Detwiller got to work.
“I started doing utility inking, which is someone would pencil a page and draw Spider-Man, really complex, and write ‘Buildings’ in the background, and that (drawing the buildings) was my job. So it was a horrible job,” said Detwiller with a laugh.
“(But) I was this kid who loved doing what he was doing, so I would work way harder than I should for the price.”
After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York, Detwiller soon met Richard Garfield, who had recently come up with the idea for the Magic: the Gathering card game. Detwiller ended up contributing art for the cards, and became a shareholder.
Work on the card game allowed him to travel to conventions all over the world, he said, and meet various people creatives, including George R. R. Martin at Gen Con (a gaming convention) before the release of A Game of Thrones.
“When I was at the height of Magic, sitting at a table with a 200-person line waiting for cards to be signed, George would be over in the corner (promoting the Wild Cards book series that he edited), nobody there, and we would all go out to dinner and hang out with George,” recalled Detwiller.
He’s “a super nice old man,” said Detwiller, who was just in the process of writing A Game of Thrones. “I was super excited,” Detwiller said.
Later, as a mobile video game developer, Detwiller worked on Game of Thrones for mobile, and met Martin again at a work meeting.
Everyone is the room was just like, ‘Hey Dennis!.’ They were like, ‘How do you know George Martin?’
“That was really cool,” Detwiller said.
Work in the mobile gaming industry also gave Detwiller a chance to meet J. K. Rowling, he said.
“She is super nice, and is just a great human being in all ways, shapes and forms. Every meeting with her, she knew my name,” he said.
Most recently, Detwiller’s career has somewhat come full-circle, with a return to pen and paper creating his tabletop role-playing game Delta Green. It’s a game in which a Lovecraftian cosmic terror meets the War on Terror. Detwiller created the first book (which won high praise) in 1997 and decided to make a second. Relying upon online fundraising tools, the project received nearly half a million dollars in pre-orders.
Detwiller called the turn of events “utterly shocking,” saying he had asked for about $25,000.
Now he’s working on a third book for the RPG game, and is working on a new RPG game set during the Second World War.
Asked what tips he would have for people who want to get into one or all of the jobs he has, Detwiller said to never stop learning.
“Autodidact. Learn to teach yourself,” he said.
“If someone tells you you can’t do something because it’s a specialty, especially learn how to do that thing.”