Tom duBois (dew-BOYSS; not the French pronunciation d-OO-b-w-aa) is an American illustrator responsible for nearly all of Konami’s advertising and box art between 1988 and 1994. Tom worked on some of the biggest franchises in the industry, including Castlevania, Contra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Tom was prolific, carried a bold, dynamic style, and is widely regarded as one of the premier illustrators for home console video game box artwork.
Tom’s unique style made his body of work perhaps the most recognizable of any video game illustrator. In addition to working largely for one critically acclaimed publisher (see: The Man Who Drew Konami, ahem, 'painted'), Tom painted with far more traditional brush work than featured in most contemporary box art and injected into his characters an unmistakable edge and verve. Tom's version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't look like the fun-loving cartoon turtles, they looked like the original, edgier turtles from the early comics with the dial 'turned up to 11.'
Those enjoying the games at their release would not have known who Tom was, but they appreciated his work. Observant gamers, or later art enthusiasts, might have sensed many of Konami's boxes were by the same hand, perhaps similar to how readers of Dell/Disney comic books in the 1940s and 1950s appreciated the unique and wonderful but uncredited work of Carl Barks and simply identified him as “the good duck artist." Among gamers and art fans that noted Tom’s over-the-top facial expressions, his wild and versatile yet almost pastel palette, and the repetition in renderings across many of the prime Konami covers, such as for serpents, trains, and horses, Tom was, perhaps, “the good Konami artist” before his identity became publicly known.
Some of the incredible box artwork for which Tom is known includes: Castlevania 3 (NES), Super Castlevania IV (SNES), Castlevania 2 (Game Boy), Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis), Super C (NES), Contra Force (NES), Contra 3 (SNES), Operation C (Game Boy), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, Sunset Riders (Genesis and SNES), Blades of Steel (NES), Pirates (NES), Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES), and others too numerous to mention here. His impact on the look and feel of the Konami game boxes and promotional artwork for that era cannot be overstated.
Tom more or less stumbled into video game illustration by being a Chicago native at the time when Konami’s US head office was still in Chicago. His cousin Dave led him to a contact at Konami and the rest was history. Tom’s first assignment for Konami featured a Jeep bursting through an arcade monitor and advertised arcade games getting home computer releases. Tom has variably referred to Blades of Steel and A-Jax as his first box art for Konami, though Blades of Steel is the more infamous of the two; the illustration paid well but turned into a net loss for Tom. He had used a reference photo of Wayne Gretzky and Tomas Jonsson for the principal figures in the illustration and Konami was sued by the photographer. Tom had to make Konami whole to continue working with them, and as a result, I'm not sure there is any artist that used less direct reference going forward! The story is told wonderfully in Episode 4 of "Box Art - A Gaming Documentary" and in "Tom Dubois - the Man Who Drew Konami.”
Fun Fact: Although Tom’s work and Konami came to be nearly synonymous, his one non-Konami game illustration from the era was for the 1990 Jaleco release Metal Mech for the NES.
Since 2019, Tom has worked with Limited Run Games and other publishers to produce box art for new projects! The foundation of Tom’s new works are highly detailed pencil sketches on translucent paper that allow him to arrange and compose them before scanning and manipulating digitally, adding color and the copious detail that has become a Tom Dubois hallmark. See https://retrographicbooks.com/about-tomdubois for more details. Tom’s YouTube channel TDart includes video of his recent work, including work-in-progress shots of his pencil sketching as well as his digital process.
A note on misattribution: Some collections of video game work attributed to Tom Dubois include images of TMNT II: The Arcade Game / TMNT: The Coin-Op; these images are the work of Steve Lavigne and are not Tom's work.
Tom on the illustration medium for his box art:
Via Puckjunk.com: [For Blades of Steel, I worked with] a paint called alkyds, which is an oil-based paint. But it has an additive in it called liquin, which makes the oil paint dry very quickly. So, it basically dries overnight. Since I painted on illustration board, it soaks right in, so I was able to have my work dry pretty quick. Alkyds has the same characteristics of oil paint. You can move the colors around. Acrylic paints are a little harder to work with, because you have to work wet, and you have to work in a lot of layers to build up different tones. It’s hard to get good contrast right away. So, I like the alkyds and get some interesting effects that I couldn’t get with acrylic paints.
Via Box=Art: 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.