A is for Ankheg, B is for Beholder. At the start of 2022, Canadian ESL teacher John Grubber set himself a challenge. Over the course of the year, he would draw the entire D&D Monster Manual, 300 creatures in all, in children’s book style. Setting off with the Aarakocra birdfolk on January 1, Grubber has kept up the pace, producing one drawing every single day. “These monsters have lived in my head for three decades, and it was time to get them out on paper,” he explains.
Grubber has been a D&D player for pretty much his whole life, beginning in the ‘red box era’, and he even did some writing for the Dragonlance setting many years ago. He’s been making cartoon illustrations for 20 years, and often takes commissions, but lately wanted to create something for himself, “something that would be fun and educational”. A teacher of grades 5-8, and a parent of three, Grubber has read a lot of children’s picture books in his time, so it was easy to find inspiration for the project.
While the drawings are the main focus, Grubber has also found joy in writing his own monster descriptions, in little blurbs he posts to Twitter alongside his artwork. “With character limits you have to say as much as you can in as little space as possible,” he says. “There is so much lore on these creatures going back 50 years really, it’s fun to try and come up with something a bit novel.”
As per his self-imposed rules, Grubber only works in black pencil crayon and pan watercolours for his monster drawings. He says his greatest influence is Sir Quentin Blake, a legendary children’s illustrator whose work appears in the books of celebrated British author Roald Dahl (and on the window of celebrated British cookie shop Ben’s Cookies.)
Grubber taught his own children how to play D&D years ago, and hopes that his family-friendly illustrations could encourage other parents to do the same. “If it got people to be more open to introducing kids to D&D that would be great, I would be happy,” he says.
“I mainly play with my family now, as my group kind of fell apart during Covid,” he adds. Check out the wholesome illustration below – it’s a charming rendition of Grubber’s family D&D party.
“I am exploring the idea of publishing a monster book when this is all done,” Grubber says, though he explains he’ll need to contact D&D publisher Wizards of The Coast, since many monsters are not covered by the Open Game License. “I am hoping to use this as a way to get more commissions and get into children’s book illustration as well, which is a dream of mine,” he says.
For now though, there’s still half a monster manual to get through. M is for Mummy Lord and Myconid.