Interviewed July 2016 by Adam Gidney
BOX=ART - Hi Tom, thanks for taking time out to talk to BOX=ART! Let’s start with how you got into the industry?
Tom Dubois - I was working and living downtown in Chicago doing backgrounds for Cap'n Crunch commercials (an American sugar cereal) in the late 80’s. My cousin was a photographer’s representative who got talking with someone at an ad agency called Michael Meyers; they’d recently got in this new client Konami that they were excited about.
They asked him if he knew any illustrators in town who could show them some samples of ‘exaggerated and animated type characters’. Cousin Dave said, "My cousin Tommy can do that!"
I attached some samples and he brought them in to Michael Meyers who liked them, and they asked if I could do this jeep art for an ad they wanted to run in a comic book. The problem was that it was late Friday afternoon and they needed the art by Monday! I worked two days straight and got the job done and that's how I got started. Nothin’ to it!
What was it like working with Konami?
Well let’s just say that the Michael Meyers guys were cool, the people at Konami were not! Only thing I ever heard from them was, "We need this done yesterday!" WTF!
When it came to visual guidelines I can remember only a few times they would supply me with VHS tapes of game play. Never an actual game. I remember they were always in Japanese. I could tell they didn't really want me to take those tapes home with me and were explicit about the importance of their prompt return.
I would also be given character art guidelines, but they were simple and poorly drawn line art. Never like what Disney would supply me with when I was working with them. I faintly remember the art directors telling me to go ahead and embellish whatever I thought best and the guys in Japan, or wherever they were developing these games, would remodel after my enhancements.
For a while it seemed like every week they had a new one they wanted me to do along with a lot of illustrations for the ads. It was great while it lasted though!
Did you always receive art direction?
Most of the covers were art directed at Michael Meyers. I guess Konami trusted the concepts by their art directors. How much freedom they gave me depended on how busy the art directors were on other assignments. I worked with three different guys, but individually on each assignment. It wasn't until the last couple years of working with them before they let me go ahead and do whatever I thought was best. There was never any direct influence from Konami of Japan.
What was your first and final box art?
Off the top of my head, I remember the first actual box art I did was Blades of Steel (1988) and then Bayou Billy (1988). I'm pretty sure the last thing I did for Konami was Lethal Enforcers II: Gun Fighters (1994).
Did you only work for Konami and subsidiary Ultra Games?
Konami was the main group, but I did one or two other box arts for other publishers but I don't remember who they were. I think ‘Mech’ -something was in the game’s title (MetalMech, 1990, Jaleco).
What happened to all the original artworks?
I certainly wish I made more of an effort to keep all the original art. Unfortunately, my rep at the time didn’t get most of them back to me like I asked him to. I know Konami and Michael Meyers kept some. What I did retrieve I sent to a collector from Canada who tracked me down. In return he sent me a new computer!
What were your inspirations for the Castlevania and Turtles character art?
Inspiration for Castlevania? Ray Harryhausen...who else!?
And your work on the TMNT series?
Turtles? I distinctly remember Jim Gasper, the art director for that assignment, telling me to go ahead and have some fun and DO NOT follow the wimpy turtles in the cartoon series. When I said, "what exactly do you want then?" I remember I was smiling on my way out the door after he said; "Just make them look they're BAMF'ers!"
What is your favorite designed box art?
My favorite was Sunset Riders (1993; Alkyd/ colored pencil) because I was able to have some fun developing the characters and didn't overwork the art as much as I usually did.
What art media did you use back then?
Early box art, "Super C" and the Metal Gear poster I remember using Designers Colors. I can tell by the way I lifted off the light areas in that skeleton in the far background. I stopped using the DC's because they were very susceptible to water stains.
Back then the art physically moved around a lot. First to the agency, then to the photographer and then who knows where else. Rarely did I ever get to see any of the art again after it left my studio, but when I did it was ALWAYS a mess even after I tissue & flapped the art before I delivered it.
I found the Acrylics or Alkyds could take the most abuse so that's why I changed. I would also use airbrush ink at times such as on Silent Service, Snake’s Revenge and Mystical Ninja. I mainly painted on 20 x 30 illustration board.
Why did you leave the industry?
Konami went to another agency in New York around 1993, something like that, and it was over. Nothing lasts forever, sadly! Too bad, it was fun work but really hard because they never gave me enough time to really do a good job.
What have you done since leaving the video game industry?
I don't know if these guys are still around but in the early 90's there were a couple large gift product companies in the Chicago area. Bradford Exchange & Enesco. I got involved developing concepts for their licensed gift lines and one of them was Disney.
The Disney work I did put me in a pool of artists that Disney and a publisher, Somerset Fine Art, used and I soon started to develop a series of paintings of their classic films that were going to be distributed as Limited Edition prints. I think they picked me for the project because they noticed the fantasy-type art I did on the video games.
This worked out well enough that Somerset asked me if I would develop another series of images unrelated to Disney that would depict biblical themes. After the success of the first image I did I decided to move to Houston in 1999 to be closer to the publisher in the hope that they would help me put some of these epic-type paintings together. This project was really good for me for a few years but the Limited Edition print industry started to fade out.
I then managed to get by doing portraits and odd illustration jobs around town. One of the bigger projects that came along was designing some pirate posters for a theme park and fifty large decorative paintings for a hotel/casino some rich guy in Houston owned in Atlantic City.
Finally, November this past year I moved back to the Chicago. Fortunately, I was able to start working again for another publisher and this time for a magazine called Good News - which is a Christian journal educating people about the faith, funded by donations and translated into twenty-two different languages and distributed worldwide. Thats it!