A very special interview with David LaForce ( a.k.a. DIESEL )

I’d like to start off by giving a huge thanks to Mr. LaForce for taking his time out to do this interview . It’s not everyday that someone in my position is offered a great opportunity such as this. Having success with the first interview I conducted,I thought to myself,”why shouldn’t I do these more often?” I mean what better way to get a sense of accuracy in a good story? This particular interview however,came directly to me,I didn’t even know  if anyone else  in the industry would be interested doing another sit-down with me.  Was I ever glad to be so wrong? But enough about me,I’m certain your more interested in what the interview entails,so once again,here we go! Enjoy!


How and when did you get your start at TSR? What do you remember most about the early days (people and things)? When did you leave TSR?

I started out in the shipping department in 1979 – I was 19 yrs old. I had helped move TSR from the 2-story house that they were headquartered in, to a hotel in the middle of town which they bought. Kevin Blume (the VP) was impressed with my hard work (for no pay) so he offered me in shipping. Shortly afterwards I was approached by Art Department Head, Dave Sutherland who had heard I liked to draw. He asked for some art samples so I went home that evening and drew three pieces. Dave bought two of them for the Dungeons Masters Guide and hired me as an artist in the art department. I stayed with TSR until 1998, a year after WOTC took over.

There is a lot of history that I was a part of. It is hard to give specifics on such a general question about what I remember most. I worked with every artist that was on staff at TSR except Dave Trampier. He left before I came onboard.

I would say the best years were when Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, Keith Parkinson and I were all together. There were some other artists that came in and out during those years but I do consider the days when these core artists were working together to be the “Golden Years” of TSR art. We were all great friends (and still are) and had a lot of good times together.

You are primarily known to most gamers as the main cartographer and mapper of many of the modules and Dungeon magazines etc. What would you list as some of the maps or drawings you are most proud of, or enjoyed working on the most?

That’s a tough one. I really enjoyed the Planescape maps. They were quite free form and actually art pieces. The DragonLance stuff was cool too because I started putting illustrations into the maps. What was nice about that is no one directed me to do that. I just decided to make them more interesting (and fun for me). I am quite proud of the Dungeon magazine maps the first too because I was doing almost every map for few years of the publication.

One map in particular I did with Jeff Butler for the Conan box set was probably my favorite. Jeff did a really great border illustration and I did the map. It is quite large and now hangs in my hallway at home.

As far as illustration work, I have a lot of fond memories of working on the Deities and Demigods hardbound. That was a time I was learning a lot from Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham about the figure and inking. My favorite piece I did from that is the Lizard man that stretched across 2 columns of text. I still have that one.

I had a lot of fun with Star Frontiers as well. I got to design most of the ships used.

There are some folks from the early days that remain active in the hobby and producing of game related material and discussion such as Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, Jim Ward, and Rob Kuntz. There are also others that have disappeared completely for their own reasons such as Dave Trampier. Do you still enjoy gaming? Are you actively involved in playing or writing material for games? What are your general thoughts on this?

I stopped doing anything artistic for a few years. I had to get a full time job because the freelance work wasn’t cutting it. It really is a feast or famine kind of business.

I do work the Art Show at Gen Con every year. In fact I never stopped doing that. I think I have worked every art show but two. I have always had done some kind of participation with Gen Con since I first started with TSR back in 1979.

It was hard to stay away from doing something creative and artistic on a permanent basis. I left a job as a groundsman for a drilling crew 5 years ago and moved to Texas. In Austin I got married and took up sculpting.

I found my former colleague and roommate, Jeff Dee lives 20 minutes from me. I go over and game once a week with his wife and 5 others.

It’s funny I never really played that many games over the years and would be hard pressed to consider myself a gamer. However, I have been immersed in the genre for most of my life. I guess I will always be involved in some capacity.

Did you get involved in any artwork for TSR besides the mapping? I believe it lists in your Wikipedia page you did some art for the Monster Manual? Is this accurate and if so what are some of the drawings you did?

The Monster Manual was already in print when I was hired on. I guess I will have to make a correction in Wikipedia. I started out as an illustrator in the art department and did a lot of illustrations. My first assignment was “C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan”. I really didn’t become an official full time cartographer until years later.

How did the name Diesel come about?

At the time I started with TSR it was pretty small. There were only about 30 employees or so. My first name is Dave and there were three others with the same name so it would get pretty confusing at times because there were almost always two or more Daves in a room at one time. It was natural that some of us picked up nicknames. I had an editor, Mike Carr, who noticed I signed my artwork with my initials DSL. He slurred that into Diesel. Others picked up on it, I really didn’t pay it much attention but it ended up sticking. No one, not even my wife, Lisa refers to me in any other way.

How did you originally get involved in cartography? You were certainly a groundbreaker for many gaming map styles and are still frequently emulated to this day. Did you have a background in drafting?

My only drafting experience was one drafting class in high school. That had nothing to do with floor-plans, only making drawings to show what an objects measurements are. Looking back I think I was pretty good at it. I was very meticulous and detailed.

I guess my real first involvement with gaming cartography was when I first started playing D&D with Rob Kuntz (he was the DM). I was always the designated “mapper” in the party. I always had graph paper at the games. I developed a lot of symbols used in mapping.

The cover artists didn’t really want to do much of the mapping jobs. It was not as interesting as doing an illustration. I didn’t mind. I had great patience and attention to detail so I was a go-to-guy for maps often along with Steve Sullivan. Years later, Cartographer became my official job title.

I am not sure how it happened that different styles were done for different worlds. In the early days everything was done with a parallel rule, triangles, and graphic tapes – very sterile and blocky. I do recall as time went on that I started getting a lot of inspiration from historical maps. As well as being informative, many maps over the centuries were considered pieces of art; so I tried to bring that illustrative aspect into my work. I feel pretty good about some of the styles I gave the maps to certain product lines. I really liked the looks of the DragonLance, Planescape, Birthright, and Dark Sun worlds in particular.

What are you up to these days? I know you live in Austin and do some sculpting. Please let us know what you are up to and if you have a web site that people may visit.

I sculpt, mold and cast my own stuff. I have created wall plaques, urns and jewelry boxes which are made from a Portland cement and plaster of Paris mixture. All my pieces have a fantasy flair to them. You can find my product line at ArtByDiesel.com. I attend a number of comic fantasy/gaming and anime convention mostly in Texas; and of course I exhibit at Gen Con every year as well. I distribute my product to several stores as well. I sculpted a “Fiji mermaid” souvenir statuette for the “Museum of the Weird” located in the Lucky Lizard, a curio shop in downtown Austin, TX. If you are ever in Austin stop by and visit the museum.

I also continue to volunteer at the Art Show at Gen Con each August. It has grown so much over the years. I think we run one of the best presentations of any convention art show. We do an impressive $100,000 in sales over 4 days consistently.

Recently, I have been approached by various companies at some cons to do some illustrations and maps. I think it would be fun to do some of that again on occasion. So start looking for some of my work to start popping up in print.

Once again,I’d like to thank you for your time and effort to conduct this interview Mr. LaForce,check back with us for more of these to come in the near future. I hope you all enjoyed reading the article as much as I did writing it,until next time,keep rolling perfect 20’s my friends.  Remember to visit David’s website if you can,the man knows his stuff!



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About Warduke

I'm a writer, an unschooled artist and I enjoy blogging from time to time. I enjoy cheesy horror films,otherwise known as 'shlock'. My biggest habits however, are playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, after which....I soon discover I've grown a full beard and my house needs cleaning ;) My other hobbies are writing,designing RPG miniatures, and of course my own worlds.