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Darlene Jean Pekul (born 1954 in Wisconsin, USA), now known as DARLENE (she legally dropped her surname in 1984), is an American artist and calligrapher whose artwork appeared in early Dungeons & Dragons works published by TSR. Her best-known piece, the full-colour map of the Flanaess that accompanied the 1980 folio edition of the World of Greyhawk by Gary Gygax, was used as the basis of all subsequent Greyhawk publications and maps until Greyhawk publications were discontinued by Wizards of the Coast in 2008.
DARLENE, the third of seven children, grew up on a farm near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Her mother was an artist, and DARLENE followed in her footsteps, becoming a member of the Geneva Lake Arts Association at a young age. She made her first professional gallery sale before the age of 16. After graduating from Elkhorn High School in 1972, she enrolled at Beloit College and majored in art. In 1975, as part of her studies, she spent a term in London, England, where she also studied calligraphy. She graduated cum laude in 1976 with a B.A. in Studio Art, and moved to Lake Geneva, where she eked out a living as a graphic artist by holding down three part-time jobs simultaneously. In 1979, she helped co-found The Wisconsin Calligrapher’s Guild and served as the first editor of its newsletter.
Freelance fantasy artist
In 1977, Mike Carr, one of the first employees of TSR, met DARLENE, when he went to a local graphics shop to order brochures for Gen Con. He and DARLENE started dating, and Carr used his influence at TSR to get her some freelance art assignments. One of her first assignments was to design and produce an outdoor sign for TSR's building in Lake Geneva. She made the sign in the shape of a medieval shield and painted a dragon on one side and the TSR logo on the reverse.
In 1979 and 1980, she received many freelance art and calligraphy assignments, including artwork for:
- Dungeon Master's Guide
- Deities & Demigods
- an accessory book called The Rogues Gallery.
- cover art for the adventure In Search of the Unknown:134
Map of the Flanaess
In 1980, she was given the opportunity to create the piece of art for which she is best known, the full-colour map of the Flanaess that accompanied Gary Gygax’s folio edition of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting. Gygax was busy transforming his home D&D campaign called ”Greyhawk” into a publishable form. His long-range plan–left incomplete when he was ousted from TSR in 1985–was to create an entire fantasy world; however when he asked TSR's printing house about the maximum size of paper they could handle, the answer was just 34" x 22" (86 cm x 56 cm). He found that, using the scale he desired, he could only fit the northeast corner of one continent on two of those sheets. He placed the city and castle of Greyhawk roughly in the centre of the map, in an area that would have about the same temperate climate as his home in Lake Geneva, and made a rough sketch of the rest of the map, an area he called “the Flanaess”. DARLENE was given the assignment of developing a full color map on a hex grid from Gygax's prototype map.
Shortly before World of Greyhawk was published, DARLENE created the cover art for Dragon magazine issue 37. This issue also carried the first episode of “Jasmine”, her color comic strip about a princess whose realm was coveted by an evil prince. The strip ran for 12 issues before being cancelled for not appealing to the magazine's mostly male readers. DARLENE tried to a promote a petition at Origins '81 to have the comic strip brought back, but it gathered few signatures. Shortly after this, she designed and produced the card game Jasmine: The Battle for the Mid-Realm. Although reviews in Gameplay and The Dragon were good—Merle Rasmussen wrote “Jasmine incorporates a few old ideas with many new ones to create a fresh approach in card gaming”—an expected expansion deck never materialized.
Further freelance assignments
She continued to take assignments from TSR, and between 1981 and 1984, her work appeared in White Plume Mountain, Investigation of Hydell, Monster Cards Set 3,:106 the boxed set of the updated and expanded World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, and Legends & Lore.
In 1984, she changed her name to just DARLENE, legally dropping her surname Pekul as well as legally changing the typography of her name to a capital and small capitals. That same year, she left the world of fantasy artwork to enroll in Graphic Design at Indiana University, and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 1987. After graduation, she and her first husband, Michael Price, moved to Plainville, Connecticut, where she was a freelance graphic artist and taught calligraphy and art classes. She developed an interest in Native American spirituality and art, and later an interest in Egyptian art.
She briefly returned to the fantasy art world in 2003, when she was approached by Gary Gygax to again create maps for a project of his. When Gygax had been ousted from TSR in 1985, he had lost creative rights to all of his published Greyhawk material. However, he still had all of his own notes from his Greyhawk home campaign, and decided to publish details of the original castle and city in six volumes. Since Wizards of the Coast (WotC) still owned the rights to the name Greyhawk, Gygax changed the name of the castle to Castle Zagyg—the reverse homophone of his own name. Gygax also changed the name of the nearby city to "Yggsburgh", a play on his initials E.G.G. In 2005, Troll Lord Games published Volume I, Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh. This 256-page hardcover book contained details of Gygax's original city, its personalities and politics, as well as a two-part fold out map of the area rendered by DARLENE.
After the end of her first marriage, DARLENE began a relationship with occult author Vincent Bridges, and for many years they lived in Mount Gilead, North Carolina. Together they founded Aethyrea Books and published several books about the occult.
After over twenty years in Mount Gilead, Bridges moved to Prague so that he could produce a play, "The Donkey and the Cradle", in a historic residence of occultist Edward Kelley, but he died on July 25, 2014, the very day the play was to premiere.
The map DARLENE had created for the original World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting in 1980 continued to be the basis of all future Greyhawk maps, adventures and campaigns created by both TSR and WotC for the next 38 years—including the massively shared Living Greyhawk campaign (2000–2008). However, when Wizards of the Coast introduced the fourth edition of D&D in 2008, publication of new Greyhawk material was discontinued.
- Pekul, Darlene (2007-08-09). "RPG Biographical Data". Darlene the Artist. Archived from the original on July 20, 2012. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
- Pekul, Darlene (2006-11-10). "About Darlene". Darlene the Artist. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20.
- DARLENE: “Among the first jobs I was given to do was to design and produce an outdoor sign for TSR's Williams Street building. I made the sign in the shape of a shield and painted The Dragon on one side and TSR on the other.” "Campaigns: Greyhawk: Darlene Pekul". The Piazza: Old D&D Campaign Worlds. PHPBB. 2012-09-29. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
- Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-653-5.
- "Darlene Pekul". The Rogues Gallery: A Who’s Who of AD&D. Tome of Treasures. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
- Garfield, Simon (2012). On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does. Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-8476-5855-5.
- Gygax: "When I was asked to create a campaign setting for TSR to market, I did a new and compact "world"—that only in part, of course, as that was all I could fit onto the two maps allowed. So that became the World of Greyhawk." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part I, Page 8)". EN World. 2002-09-06. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- Gygax: "I found out the maximum map size TSR could produce, got the go-ahead for two maps of that size, then sat down for a couple of weeks and hand-drew the whole thing. After the maps were done and the features shown were named, I wrote up brief information of the features and states. Much of the information was drawn from my own personal world, but altered to fit the new one depicted on the maps.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IV, Page 11)". EN World. 2003-11-05. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- "Interview: Darlene". Grognardia. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
- The Acaeum: Dragon 37
- "Darlene Pekul". Everything2. 2005-02-16. Retrieved 2013-05-29.[user-generated source]
- Lentz, Patricia (June 1983). "Cards and a Good Deal More". Gameplay. Baltimore, MD: Avalon-Hill: 60–61.
- Rasmussen, Merle (January 1983). "Fun Is In The Cards With JASMINE". THE DRAGON Magazine. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Periodicals.
- Gygax: "I have laid out a new schematic of castle and dungeon levels based on both my original design of 13 levels plus side adjuncts, and the 'New Greyhawk Castle' that resulted when Rob and I combined our efforts and added a lot of new levels too. From that Rob will draft the level plans for the newest version of the work. Meantime, I am collecting all the most salient feature, encounters, tricks, traps, etc. for inclusion on the various levels. So the end result will be what is essentially the best of our old work in a coherent presentation usable by all DMs, the material having all the known and yet to be discussed features of the original work that are outstanding... I hope.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IX, page 81)". EN World. 2005-12-15. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- "In Memorium: Vincent Bridges". Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition. J. S. Kupperman. 27 (27). 2014-09-20. Retrieved 2015-08-23.