About nine months ago (January 2012), I learned that a friend and former co-worker had been diagnosed with lung cancer. This was quite a shock, especially as Ryan was only in his thirties and had never smoked a day in his life.
A couple weeks after we all learned of this news, his boss at his current job reached out to me. He said his team wanted to do something special for Ryan and my name had come up as someone who could help out. I’d done some artwork for Ryan in the past, and I guess that’s how they knew of me.
As Ryan was a big superhero fan, the initial concept was to do a mini comic book. The basic idea was to feature him as the hero character, fighting the dark forces of cancer, which would be made into a tangible evil organization. Think “Cobra” from GI Joe or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the Bond films. We’d also feature his doctors, friends and family as characters as well.
It was a solid idea, and we were all excited about it. However, it didn’t take long for reality to set in. With everyone’s schedules, even a short book would take quite a long time to complete. It seemed way too ambitious, so we thought of ways to scale back.
My next idea was to instead create a set of trading cards. The overall theme would be the same. Ryan would be the main hero card, with all the villain and supporting characters having their own cards. The characters would have their own stories and stats on the back of the cards, along with things like strengths, weaknesses and other data. I’d been really inspired by other projects like Len Peralta’s “Geek A Week” cards, and I was pretty excited about it.
Then I got to thinking. What if it became a playable card game? I started looking at card games like the ones Cryptozoic makes and the idea started percolating. Staying with the same theme, we’d make a trading card game with hero and villain cards, along with all manner of weapons to combat the forces of cancer. It would essentially be a co-op game where all players were fighting a common enemy. In other words, cancer always loses.
I pitched the rest of the group and we were all hooked. I was more excited about this idea than all the ones previous, and I started to work on research and play testing other games. I had never been a big card game player, so I had to find popular games and learn their mechanics. I can’t begin to estimate how many hours I scoured the web looking at other games, watching videos and reading up on card and board game engines. I felt like I was becoming obsessed, but I was more and more convinced that the game could be something great.
But as before, reality started seeping in. The further down the game road I went, the more I realized this was a huge undertaking that could take a year to make reality. We all wanted to present Ryan with his gift as soon as we could, so we went back to the drawing board. My drawing board, as it turns out.
We finally landed on the idea of a fake movie poster, mimicking the style of an Avengers poster. It would feature Ryan as every character, including Black Widow. It would essentially be the Avengers vs. the cancer organization, which would come to be known as the “Lesion of Doom”.
I immediately went to work, blocking out a basic rough concept. I then did some character concept design for some of the villain elements, including the main boss villain and his flying minions. I played off the idea of the “cancer” constellation, working in some crustacean-like features, like their crusty shells and claws.
I started sketching in late June and finished the piece in late August. It was a ton of work, and I’d never done anything that big or with that many characters before. It was daunting, but was immense fun at the same time, and I got nothing but enthusiastic support from his co-workers. In retrospect, they took a tremendous leap of faith, not really knowing me that well and giving me free rein on the design.
Once the artwork was finished, all we had to do was lay in the logos and fake movie credits and it was finished. It was a great relief and I was anxious to present it. Unfortunately, they wanted to wait until after his next doctor visit, which would be a month away. As someone who is fairly obsessive about posting artwork as soon as it’s finished, keeping this thing under wraps for nearly nine months was pure torture. All I could do was talk about this “secret project” and post a few cryptic screenshots that wouldn’t give anything away.
The good news is that the aforementioned doctor visit revealed that he was now cancer-free! The superhero prevailed. A couple weeks later, we finally were able to present the completed poster, and despite my nervousness, he loved it!
I’m so proud and happy to have been a part of this and so happy with the finished product. I really feel it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made, and it couldn’t have been for a better purpose.
On a side note, after we had decided to do the poster instead, I decided that I’m still going to make the card game. I’m convinced it’s a great idea and the more I think about it, the more excited I get. The overall game idea is still the same, but I’ll also offer a deck that includes a custom-drawn hero card. I can imagine a scenario where a sick kid in the hospital gets this game and inside is a card with THEM as the hero.
All this is still in the early stages, but once I get a couple other things put to bed, this will likely become my main side project. Who knows, maybe making this game (or games in general) is that one “big idea” I’ve been waiting for. But for now, it’s back to the drawing table.