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URL: http://www.loonygames.com/content/2.2/uc/


Vol. 2, Issue 2
November 15, 1999
Under Cover :
J.D. "Illiad" Frazer

by Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford

Illiad will be a name very familiar to regular readers of loonygames, well, it should be! Apart from doing the cover for issue 1.29, Illiad's ISP-inspired kinda-sitcom-stype comic series, User Friendly, has been featured inside the hallowed pages of loonygames every day since issue 1.12!

But first things first. Illiad? What sort of name is that? It certainly had me pondering that question for a long time - was it his real name? If not, what does it mean? How is it pronounced? Was it Egyptian maybe? Can it be used to hurt people? The truth behind the name is actually related to one of Illiad's personal interests - poetry - and stems from one of his favorite poems; Homer's epic, The Iliad.

OK, I guess if I had known something about poetry then the name wouldn't have been quite so enigmatic, but the additional 'l' really threw me off the track! (And who'd have guessed that, as well as working in the atomic power industry, Homer was also a poet? Not I!)

So we know that it's not his real name now, but the name, Illiad (pronounced; ILL-EE-ADD), is mentioned everywhere, including on his new book (discussed below) with no mention ever of his real name. So what is his real name? Well (I feel a bit like Shaggy at the end of an episode of Scooby Doo, just about to tear off the mask and reveal the true identity of this weeks baddie!), Illiad's real name is J.D. Frazer!

Ooh, initials! There's still some mystery after all!

Regardless of whether you want to call him Illiad or J.D., history will record him as the creator of the incredibly popular comic strip, User Friendly, a project that started innocently enough, with Illiad drawing a few of his work mates, but it was quickly to become a success that even now is still growing, with plenty of fans in high places. "Eric S. Raymond? Jerry Pournelle? John Carmack? There are others, take your pick!"

Our Editor loonyboi, is also a huge fan of User Friendly and its little group of strange inhabitants. I asked him why he approached Illiad about running UF daily on loonygames. "Because the strip rules. If Dilbert were remotely funny, it still wouldn't be half as entertaining as User Friendly." Actually, the Dilbert reference also comes up in Amazon.com's glowing review of the book:

"User Friendly is to the open-source world what Dilbert is to swarming hives of Windows cubicles." [Amazon.com]

Illiad has a seriously wide-ranging background, seemingly happy to give anything a bit of a go. Take his university career for example. "A year of criminology, two years of geology/planet science, and about two years of classical studies and literature. Never graduated." If nothing else, he could probably write a really interesting book about industrial companies that illegally dump toxins into the atmosphere (!).

His work history reads the same way; Game designer. Writer. Editor. Corrections officer. Graphic artist. Web guy. Production manager for some press publications. Art Director for travel magazine. Project manager. Hang on, did I read Corrections Officer? On the subject of that job, he says, "I was using it as a 'see if I like law enforcement' stepping-stone to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police".

When asked further about his work as a game designer; "I was on staff as a designer/developer for Columbia Games, a paper RPG and war game company. I've written for a fair amount for other tabletop game companies as a freelancer. Titles and lines I've worked on include Harn, Wyrm's Lair and Cyberpunk 2020. There is a pile of other titles I've written for as well."

UF was born while he was working as the creative guy at an ISP, so a lot of the humor comes from real-life experiences and stories. "All of my co-workers are funny...in one way or another."

It didn't take long for the decidedly geeky humor of User Friendly to capture the hearts of a receptive Internet audience, probably because we all see a little bit of ourselves, or someone we know, in the various UF characters.

In fact, User Friendly is Illiad's full time work now, a dream come true for any writer or artist, that recently culminated in the publishing of the first UF book. The book, titled, User Friendly - The Comic Strip, collects together the first year's worth of strips. Published by O'Reilly & Associates, the book has been selling like proverbial hotcakes through places like Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1565926730/userfriendltheco/002-3326990-4834620), Borders, Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton, etc. And he still publishes one comic per day on the US web site (http://www.userfriendly.org), although his creation timetable is a little more erratic. "Sometimes I do five in a day, sometimes I do none. I usually do in between that."

In the early days UF was drawn with a ballpoint pen onto photocopy paper and then he moved onto pencil and inking pens on illustration board. The next step was to a Wacom graphics tablet and UF has been completely digital ever since.

"In the case of the [loonygames] cover I spent about 90% of the time thinking about what I wanted to put on the digital canvas. I just let my mind wander and something usually comes to me, although most of the time the results can be strange. Once that's done, I start with a rough of the image and then I do the real line work. When the line work is finished I apply color and depth and all that other stuff that real artists know about and I only begin to understand."

I asked Illiad what his relationship with art was - was it a necessary evil, required to get the joke across, or something he really enjoys; "I love art, but I have a long way to go as a visual artist. My real art is in my writing."

Outside of "work" (if you can call drawing cartoons 'work', Illiad has a number of (unsurprisingly varied) interests, including playing both computer and tabletop games (there's always another Quake reference just around the corner in the UF universe, and rumor has it that there may well be a UF reference in Quake III: Arena!), reading (science-fiction to historical to philosophical), writing (prose to poetry), long distance running and even rollerblading.

And what of the future? "I want to learn and get good at: horseback riding, scuba diving, and watercolor painting. I also want to write a few books and get them published - I'm not too far from the first one."

Anyway, we couldn't finish this off article without finding out who (or what) Illiad's favorite UF character is?

"A.J. He's a freak."

- Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford is loonygames' Supervising Art Director.


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