One of the hallmarks of our forthcoming boardgame Miremarsh is its artwork. Dark of tone and content, that artwork perfectly reflects not only the theme of the game, but the nefarious nature of its goblin protagonists. We at Room 17 Games have, amongst others, Mary Safro to thank for not only Miremarsh’s amazing board, but also a swathe of breathtaking environmental paintings that perfectly capture the dank, foreboding nature of Miremarsh’s titular swamp. We interviewed Mary not only about her work on Miremarsh, but also about her background and work in other fields.
Room 17 Games: So can you tell me something about yourself, where you born etc?
Mary: I’m originally from Latvia. I moved to the UK at the age of 17 to study art. Initially I pursued Illustration, but eventually moved to game art at De Montfort University. That’s how I ended up in the games industry.
Room 17 Games: So you moved to the UK to study and then stayed here once you’d graduated?
Mary: Yeah, and my first job was actually Nottingham-based. I started out as an intern at Lockwood Studios doing stuff for the now defunct Playstation Home. I’ve also worked on some social media / casual games back home prior to that, but that was my first proper job in the UK.
Room 17 Games: And what did the job with Lockwood Studios entail?
Mary: I was a 3D artist making character components, mostly clothes and objects for people’s avatars. It was a great learning experience despite all the technical hurdles. I didn’t stay at Lockwood for very long though; after about four months I got a job at Creative Assembly. I spent the next few years working on Total War Rome II and Warhammer games. My job was still making character components and it just never seemed like the right fit for me; I was spending most of my freetime doing things I’d never get to do at work, like comics and illustration,
About a year ago I bit the bullet, quit my job at CA and moved back to Nottingham. Ever since then I’ve been freelancing and working on my comic, and as of now, working at Room 17 Games.
Room 17 Games: So, before we come to Room 17, tell us something about your sequential art. Are we right in thinking you’re pretty into it?
Mary: Here’s where I have to try and not derail the entire interview towards my comic stuff! But yeah, I’m the artist and a co-creator of Drugs & Wires, a cyberpunk webcomic about 90’s tech, virtual reality and terrible life choices. These days it’s written by Io Black, my collaborator, but it started out with just me venting out my frustration in drawing form. Since its humble origins as a bunch of doodles on tumblr back in 2012, it slowly evolved into strips, various short comics and finally, a proper webcomic. It does mean that I spend most of my time being chained to a desk, but it’s a labour of love and I hope to continue working on it.
Room 17 Games: Oooh! Cyberpunk! One of our favourites! How did you become interested in that genre?
Mary: I think it all started when I watched The Matrix as an impressionable teen and became obsessed with the concept of virtual reality in particular. Later on I read Neuromancer and other cyberpunk literature and it left a huge impression on me. That said, we don’t shy away from making fun of the genre and going against the grain with its tropes.
Room 17 Games: Does the demands of a weekly scheduled ever grind you down? It must be hard sometimes, especially on top of your day job with Room 17.
Mary: Doing a webcomic and a full-time job is tough. I managed it with my old job, but after a year of freelance I’ve got even more commitments, like side-comics, Patreon extras, planning a future Kickstarter etc. It’s daunting, but it’s made me value my time and manage it better. I just focus on one thing at a time and do my best not to get too stressed.
Room 17 Games: Yes, there’s a big difference between the art in Drugs & Wires and the work you’re doing for Miremarsh, isn’t there?
Mary: Definitely! Miremarsh is realistic and painterly in style, so I’ve been relearning all the digital painting techniques and trying to match the great work Andres has done on it already. I get to do all this cool dramatic lighting I can’t always fit into my personal work, so it’s been a fun challenge so far.
Room 17 Games: Did you already have experience of working in that painterly style, or have you had to learn on the job?
Mary: Oh, I’ve done some painting in the past, though not necessarily for work. I’ve done a lot more painting at uni along with lifedrawing and landscape studies. I think once you get a hang of the basics of art, you can apply it to anything, be it a stylised comic style or a painting. Lighting, perspective, shapes: it’s all pretty universal. The rest is just different techniques. I still struggle with all the above, though, and I hope to continue improving!
Room 17 Games: Absolutely! That’s all any of us can do, right? Improve?
Mary: Hopefully, yes.
Room 17 Games: So is Miremarsh your first project with Room 17?
Mary: Indeed! My very first task was to create the art for the board itself. After only being responsible for tiny parts of the project at my old job, this felt very different, in a good way, of course. Since then I’ve done series of extra locations for Miremarsh and lots of other stuff that I’m probably not allowed to talk about, but yeah, it’s all very exciting.
Room 17 Games: Yes, sadly, most of your artwork for the game won’t be revealed until the stretchgoals are unveiled, correct?
Mary: That’s correct, yes, but it’s something for everyone to look forward to.
Room 17 Games: Indeed, and we can’t wait to reveal them.
And that concludes this interview with Mary. Miremarsh launches on Kickstarter on July 2nd. You can see more of Mary’s work on her website, Drugs & Wires.