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  • David Rowe (b. 1950)


    Adapted from BOX=ART | Interviewed by Adam Gidney in October 2013

    David John Rowe (often signing his pieces “DJR”) is a British illustrator and an early pioneer in the UK and Europe’s box art scene in the early 80s, continuing through the mid-90s. David would become one of Europe’s most prolific and enduring box artists of his generation, illustrating over 70 box arts. 

    David began his freelance career in 1975 after graduating Brighton Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design. During this period and before he made his name as a box artist, David illustrated catalogues and brochures on commission, did acrylic portraits of people’s pets, and lectured life drawing at Southhampton College of Art, where David himself had once taken a foundational course before Brighton. It was then in returning to Southhampton, through a chance meeting with Quicksilva co-founder Nick Lambert, that David got his start in games. 

    Founded in 1981, Quicksilva would soon become one of the UK game industry’s first big companies, where David—along with artists Steinar Lund and Rich Shenfield—would pioneer the use of quality artwork for computer games from 1982. At this time, with the exception of the occasional box art re-used from the United States, there was little in the way of box art in Europe. Still finding its feet, the UK game industry was a modest enterprise and box art in general was either non-existent or crudely implemented.

    David Rowe’s first box art for Quicksilva would be The Chess Player in 1982. He would follow it up with several boxes in 1983, including the classic Ant Attack. Sandy White’s isometric adventure would be well complimented by David’s 50s B-horror movie style box art, so much so that David would also illustrate the Ant Attack’s 1984 sequel Zombie Zombie. David’s box art would remain exclusive to Quicksilva until about 1985, when he began to expand to other publishers, beginning with Electric Dreams and Melbourne House. 

    As David tells it, attending game fairs in London with the team from Quicksilva, he was able to show his portfolio to other exhibitors, resulting in companies other than Quicksilva commissioning David’s work, not just for game boxes but also computer book and magazine cover illustrations. He would enjoy this new artistic expression facilitated by the games industry, stating it almost demanded the art be fun and whimsical. David’s early box arts were a mix of airbrushed liquid acrylics, and coloured pencil.

    To cap off the 1980's, David would create his most widely known cover, Populous (1989).  This box art was used across the globe and was published on no less than three Japanese systems - quite the feat for a western artist's work in the 1980’s.  David would come up with the design after having rare early access to the game at developer Bullfrog’s head quarters. The artist remembers that the finished piece took some at Electronic Arts a little time to warm to - it being mocked as a painting of a golf divot!  However, Populous' wild success soon appeased even its fiercest box art critic...

    With the advent of the 1990’s, David was a busy and sought after box artist, being in demand from big name publishers such as Electronic Arts, Domark and Core Design.  His work in this period, such the fantasy laced Risky Woods (1992) and the cartooned hijinks of The Super Aquatic Games (1992) showcased a broad range of ability and artistic creativity.  Artworks were also becoming more detailed and elaborate, with the somewhat functional covers of 1980's covers such as The Way of the Exploding Fist (1985) giving way to creatively rich designs such as Shadow of the Beast III (1992).  This final "Beast" box art would see David take the reigns from fantasy painter Roger Dean who had painted the first two.  It would be one of David's more complex pieces and one the artist looks back upon fondly.  The lettering would retain Roger Dean’s font.  

    As packaging, advertising and promotion was contracted to large design and PR firms, David shifted to other areas of game art, including in-game graphics for platform hit Alfred Chicken (1993). David was also responsible for producing many magazine covers for Emap, Europress and Future Publishing. Not one to let any media left untapped, he would work within television with his greatest contribution being the interior perspective paintings for the popular ITV children's program Knightmare.

    On his website, David sells high-quality giclée prints of his 80s and 90s artwork for computer games, magazines, books, and television.

    OVGA has included below David John Rowe's full known video game box art catalogue:

    1. The Chess Player (Quicksilva | ZX Spectrum | 1982)
    2. Ant Attack (Quicksilva | Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1983) 
    3. Frenzy (Quicksilva | ZX Spectrum | 1983)
    4. Skyhawk (Quicksilva | VIC-20 | 1983)
    5. Ultisynth 64 (Quicksilva | Commodore 64 | 1983)
    6. Wild West Hero (Timescape Software | ZX Spectrum | 1983)
    7. Fred | Quicksilva | ZX Spectrum | 1984)
    8. Sting 64 (Quicksilva | Commodore 64 | 1984)
    9. Zombie Zombie (Quicksilva | ZX Spectrum | 1984)
    10. Black Thunder (Quicksilva | Commodore 64 | 1985)
    11. Death Wake (Quicksilva | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1985)
    12. Glass (Quicksilva | ZX Spectrum | 1985)
    13. The Way of the Exploding Fist (Melbourne House | Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 16, Plus/4, Commodore 64, Electron, ZX Spectrum | 1985)
    14. Winter Sports (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum | 1985)
    15. Bounces (Beyond | Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    16. Chameleon (Electric Dreams Software | Commodore 64 | 1986)
    17. Dandy (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC-EUR, Commodore 64-EUR, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    18. Dante’s Inferno (Beyond | Commodore 64 | 1986)
    19. Fist II (Melbourne House | Commodore 64-EUR, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    20. Infodroid (Beyond | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 | 1986)
    21. Off the Hook (Electric Dreams Software | Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    22. Prodigy (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    23. R.M.S. Titanic (Electric Dreams Software | Commodore 64 | 1986)
    24. The Sentinel (Firebird Software | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    25. Spindizzy (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    26. Xarq: The Zimmerman Trenches (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    27. Xeno (Bug Byte | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1986)
    28. Deathscape (Ariolasoft | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    29. Delta (Thalamus | Commodore 64-EUR, SAM Coupé, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    30. Dogfight 2187 (Ariolasoft | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    31. Enterprise (Mastetronic Plus | ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    32. Flying Shark | Firebird Software | Amiga-EUR, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST-EUR, Commodore 64-EUR, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    33. Hybrid (Ariolasoft | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    34. I Ball II (Firebird Software | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    35. Mean City (Quicksilva | Commodore 64 | 1987)
    36. River Raid (Firebird Software | ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    37. Tempest (Electric Dreams Software | Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    38. Throne of Fire (Melbourne House | Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum | 1987)
    39. Chubby Gristle (Grandslam Entertainments Ltd. | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
    40. Crosswize (Firebird Software | ZX Spectrum | 1988)
    41. IO (Firebird Software | Commodore 64 | 1988)
    42. Monkey Nuts (Bug Byte | BBC Micro, Electron | 1988)
    43. Pandora (Firebird Software | Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 | 1988)
    44. Peter Beardsley’s international Football (Grandslam Entertainment | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
    45. Speedball (Image Works | Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Master System, DOS | 1988)
    46. Tetris (Mirrorsoft | Amstrad CPC-EUR, Commodore 64-EUR, MSX-EUR, ZX Spectrum | 1988)
    47. Xarax (Firebird Software | ZX Spectrum | 1988)
    48. 3D-Pinball (Mastertronic plus | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1989)
    49. Chambers of Shaolin (Grandslam Entertainments | Amiga, Amiga 32CD, Atari ST, Commodore 64 | 1989)
    50. Continental Circus (Virgin Mastertronic | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum | 1989)
    51. Cygnus XI (Atari | Atari 8-bit | 1989)
    52. Friday the 13th (Bug Byte | ZX Spectrum | 1989)
    53. Kelly X (Virgin Mastertronic | Amiga, Atari ST | 1989)
    54. Micro Mouse (Mastertronic | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1989)
    55. Populous (Electronic Arts | Acorn 32-bit, Amiga-EUR, Atari ST, DOS-EUR, Genesis, Master System, PC-98, SNES-EUR/JPN, X68000 | 1989)
    56. Tank Attack (CDS Software Ltd. | Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS, Electron, ZX Spectrum | 1989)
    57. Tetris (Virgin Mastertronic Ltd. | Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1989) Mastertronic re-release; different art from Mirrorsoft release
    58. Will Harvey’s Zany Golf (Electronic Arts | Amiga-EUR, DOS-EUR | 1989)
    59. F-16 Fighting Falcon (Virgin Mastertronic | ZX Spectrum | 1990)
    60. Flood (Electronic Arts | Amiga, Atari ST | 1990)
    61. Hunter Killer (Mastertronic | Amiga | 1990)
    62. John Madden Football (Electronic Arts | Genesis-EUR | 1990)
    63. Pyramax (Atari Corp. | Amiga, Atari ST | 1990)
    64. Yes, Prime Minister (Mastertronic plus | ZX Spectrum | 1990)
    65. Budokan: The Martial Spirit (Electronic Arts | Amiga-EUR, Commodore 64-EUR, DOS-EUR, Genesis-EUR | 1991)
    66. James Pond II: Codename Robocod (Millennium Interactive | Amiga-EUR, Atari ST-EUR, Commodore 64-EUR, DOS-EUR | 1991)
    67. Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods (Electronic Arts | Amiga-EUR, Atari ST-EUR | 1991)
    68. Silkworm (Mastertronic plus | Commodore 64 | 1991)
    69. Bill’s Tomato Game (Psygnosis | Amiga | 1992) 
    70. Risky Woods (Electronic Arts | Genesis | 1992)
    71. Shadow of the Beast III (Psygnosis | Amiga | 1992)
    72. The Aquatic Games Starring James Pond and the Aquabats a.k.a. The Super Aquatic Games Starring the Aquabats a.k.a James Pond's Crazy Sports (Electronic Arts | Amiga, Genesis, SNES-EUR | 1992)
    73. The Clue! (Kompart UK, Ltd. | Amiga, Amiga CD32, DOS | 1994)
    74. Dark Universe (Max Design GmbH & Co. | DOS | 1995)

    David John Rowe

    David Rowe (b. 1950)
    Born: December 4, 1950
    Nationality: British
    Location: Llanelli, Wales
    Education: Brighton Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design (1975)
    Known For : Populous, James Pond, Shadow of the Beast III
    Years Active: 1982–1995

    Additional Images

    Shadow of the Beast III colour sketch
    Shadow of the Beast III prelim

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